A Family Guide to Visiting Portland

Ash Street, Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon is a great family vacation destination featuring a massive range of experiences and sights. From Portland’s urban kaleidoscope and foodie playground to its awe-inspiring mountains and majestic waterfalls (all within two hours of the city center), every direction you go offers something new and different. The best part is that you can explore the city with endless coffee and donuts before completely unplugging in the nearby mountains. After an action-packed weekend in the city, nothing refuels your soul and reconnects your family as much as a no wi-fi cabin getaway.

Here's our guide to planning the most well-rounded trip for families in Portland.

Planning Your Trip to Oregon

When planning your trip, it’s best to think of Portland as your “home base.” Every adventure can begin and end in the city, so plan to sprinkle in Portland’s cultural landmarks, dining and sipping throughout your trip. Once you land at Portland International Airport (PDX), it’s easy to pick up your Alamo Rent A Car and start your trip. The airport is only 15-minutes away from downtown Portland. Book your accommodations in an area that has nearby restaurants and coffee shops so you can maximize the city’s sidewalk scene. Two of our favorite downtown Portland hotels, both located on Harvey Milk, are The Hi-Lo Hotel or Ace Hotel Portland. If you’re traveling with your dog, the Woodlark Hotel is pet-friendly.

Food Trucks in Portland

Portland is an amazing convergence of culture and adventure. Here are our tops dining and experiences when exploring the city:


Food Truck Pods: Portland was one of the earliest cities to embrace the mobile food scene and has long been ranked as one of the top cities for food trucks. Now you can find food carts clustered together, creating micro-restaurant-rows. For families and travelers looking to taste a wide variety of the city in only a few sittings, these pods are great options. Cartopia is one of the original food truck pod destinations, featuring three firepits, tent seating and eight unique carts. This intimate spot is family friendly with cuisines including chicken wings, artisan pizzas, Thai food and tacos. Cartlandia is another great option, open daily, with 30 carts including Puerto Rican soul food, cheesesteaks, ramen, bagels and Thai food. 

Best Food in Portland Sink your teeth into a wide range of cuisines at Portland's food truck pods.


Things to Do in Portland

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI): From the interactive “innovation stations” to the science playground for kids six and under, there is something for all ages at OMSI. Our four-year-old loves the Curium, a space where she can play with wind power and make music.

Portland Mural Crawl: Connecting a series of murals into a half-day long city tour gives families a targeted way to explore the urban side of Portland, with plenty of room to personalize the trip. There is a guide to start your tour on TravelPortland.com, and you can expand it to include the downtown artwork.

Best Waterfalls in Portland

The Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Drive certainly lives up to the hype. Along this stretch of highway and byway, there are over 90 waterfalls to take in; some only a few feet from your car and some just a short hike. Each waterfall is well marked with easy parking lots or areas of road designated for parking. Our suggestion is to plan your day trip to visit the waterfalls in advance, inclusive of dining and hiking spots, so you and your family can know what to expect and be prepared. Here are our favorite waterfall adventures:

Multnomah Falls: This is the most spectacular waterfall on the drive and is also one of the most traveled. It is best to park in the lot that splits I-84, as this is the only view of the falls that truly captures its mammoth size. From there, you can walk to the upper bridge and continue to the upper viewpoint (approx. 2.5 miles round-trip). Following this route, you can experience all Multnomah Falls has to offer. Tip: Plan your visit midweek to avoid crowds and arrive early for easier parking.

Waterfall Loop: If you want to see waterfalls, but a day of hiking isn’t ideal, Waterfall Loop is a great option. The Waterfall Loop is a drive that spurs off the highway, before Latourell Falls, and passes a handful of falls rolling along the roadside. Along the way you’ll pass Latourell Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Sheppards Dell Falls, Horsetail Falls and Multnomah Falls. Watch the signs, as certain portions of the road don’t permit parking. The best time to view, to avoid crowds, is morning or late afternoon and during the week.

Multnomah Falls in Portland Parents and kids alike will love gazing at the majestic Multnomah Falls.


Must-See Mountains in Portland

Part of Portland’s allure is its accessibility to the rugged Pacific Northwest (PNW) landscape. From the city, you can head off-the-beaten-path by drive to the mountains in less than two hours where you and your family can unplug and disconnect. The three largest mountain peaks near Portland are Mount Hood, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens.

Mount Hood: It’s nearly impossible to resist Mount Hood’s magnetism. On a clear day, the mountain is a beacon of rock spying over the city. Mount Hood offers a mix of outdoor experiences such as hiking, snow skiing and canoeing.

  • Winter Sports: Mount Hood Ski Bowl is one of the only places in the U.S. where you can ski virtually year-round.
  • Water Sports: Trillium Lake allows you to rent canoes or kayaks with Mt Hood Outfitters, which will allow you to spend as much time as you’d like out on the water. The season typically begins at the very end of May and goes until around October. Bring water, picnic goodies, and make sure you have a few dollars in cash to pay for parking.

Mount Saint Helens: To ensure you reach the closest and best view of the mountain, we recommend the Johnson Ridge Observatory. Once you’re there, you can hike up the most popular trail, Harry’s Ridge (about eight miles round trip).

Snow angels at Mount Saint Helens Take a break from your hike at Mount Saint Helens to play in the snow.

Mount Adams: Mount Adams is much less developed and traveled than the other two nearby mountains. This is a perfect destination for day trips and overnights with plenty of tucked away cabins dotting the landscape. Getaway House, a cluster of tiny house cabins without cell service, is a great option for escaping it all. Bring groceries, storybooks and marshmallows to spend an evening together as a family. These little moments of taking time to slow down and be with each other will be the highlight of your whole trip.

Expand your taste buds, experience a new adventure and reconnect as a family with a vacation that combines the culinary adventures of Portland with the nearby rugged outdoors. While there is no “one way” to visit a city, we hope this itinerary gives you the best of the PNW and will leave you ready for a return visit soon.


Is Alamo open during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?

Yes. Alamo is an essential services provider that remains open to meet critical transportation and personal mobility needs.

How do I rent a vehicle from Alamo during the COVID-19 outbreak?

You can make reservations via our website or Alamo mobile app. To save time at the rental counter, you can check in online with your driver’s license information and rental confirmation number.

To streamline your rental experience further and enable you to safely practice social distancing when picking up your rental vehicle:

  • You can skip the counter (for select locations) in advance after activating Online Check-In. Then, you can go straight to your car without visiting the counter or kiosk.
  • Another option is Alamo’s Self-Service Kiosk at select locations. All you need to check in is your driver’s license and credit card. When you’re finished, just show your rental agreement and driver’s license at the exit booth before you hit the road.

What steps are being taken to clean the rental cars?

Clean vehicles have always been important to us, but at this moment in time, we know vehicle cleanliness is even more critical. Each rental vehicle is thoroughly cleaned between every rental and backed with the Complete Clean Pledge. This includes washing, vacuuming, general wipe down, and sanitizing with a disinfectant that meets leading heath authority requirements, with particular attention to more than 20-plus high-touch points including:

  • Key / key fob
  • Steering wheel
  • Steering column
  • Seat belts
  • Center console
  • Door interiors
  • Door pockets
  • Interior door handles
  • Exterior door handles
  • Seat pockets / seat surfaces
  • Areas between seats & consoles
  • Areas between seats & doorjambs
  • Cupholders / compartments
  • Instrument panel
  • Accessory panel / touchscreen
  • Rearview mirror / side mirrors
  • Visors / visor mirrors
  • Dashboard / vents
  • Gear stick / gear shift
  • Trunk release
  • Among other high-touch areas

As part of the Complete Clean Pledge, we've also extended our already rigorous cleaning protocols to our shuttles and rental locations.

Read more COVID-19 FAQs.

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About the Author

Jade Broadus and her husband Bob are the founders of the travel blog, Vagabond3. Jade originally hails from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and now lives in Los Angeles with Bob and their spunky 4 year old daughter. With over 250 trips under their belts as a family, they aren’t stopping anytime soon.