It’s getting to be the time of year when the weekend day trip is not just on the menu; it might be a must. And depending on where you go, you might need a stop for the kids to stretch their legs and get the wiggles out, and it never hurts for the parents to get a chance to get some fresh air and maybe even some coffee.
If you head to the central coast or, more specifically, Lincoln City, the outlet mall actually has a pretty neat playground. The grown folks can head over to Salt for a pick-me-up and do some window shopping while the kids go to the playground in the far corner of the center. With a synthetic surface and fun structures to climb that are suitable for most ages, every kid will have a blast on this little escape from your escape. There are certainly other parks on the coastline, but you may have missed this one if you’ve been too busy finding the best deal on jackets and jeans at the mall.
If you head east to Hood River, you may have been to their waterfront park before. And while you probably were not excited about the playground equipment (or lack thereof), you should have gone a few blocks up to Children’s Park on Eugene Street. Stop in Doppio Coffee first and then wander a few blocks over to the park that will blow your kids’ minds. Multiple play areas, multiple play structures, and a fun fort theme make this the place to stop before you get back on the highway.
It’s understandable if you get to Troutdale on your way to Hood River and just decide to pull off 84. The drive from Troutdale to Hood River is storybook gorgeous, but it can also mean never getting back home if there is traffic going through Portland and you have to head west to go home. That’s fine. While Hood River hosts some of the most beautiful scenery in the NW, there are some really neat spots in and around Troutdale that will have you wondering if you should have stopped there. They have their own outlet mall and a really awesome campus of McMenamins, but that’s not where I’m sending you. Your first stop will be at Cafe Delirium (technically on the Gresham side) for a spot of coffee and maybe even a snack. Hang out in their cozy reading chairs for a while or hop right back on the road for a quick 10 min drive to Imagination Station, which is the park of all parks. We stopped there recently and wondered if we had accidentally entered an amusement park without buying tickets. With a massive play structure with lots of PNW spots built into the park and a huge play area, as well as a more synthetic surface to keep adults’ and kids’ feet from getting sore, this place has it all. Since it shares a property with Reynolds High School, they even open up the concession stand on weekends when the little leagues are in play.
If you don’t want to venture too far south or east, that is understandable. If you live on the east side of the Portland area, check out Happy Valley Park. Before you go out to the park, stop at Elka Bees on Sunnyside and check out a very unique cafe. Order an iced coffee or tea to go, and make sure you get one of their great in-house pastries. Then head up 122nd to the park, and don’t stop at the main entrance; that’s a beginner’s mistake. Keep driving through the park until you see a two-story play structure, and that’s not all. Next to the play structure, there is a separate activity area with a variety of things to climb or ride or, in some cases, both, and both areas have synthetic walking surfaces. The whole park was designed to be accessible to all ages and all skill levels, and it’s a really neat place. If you happen to get stir-crazy, the park has lots of walking trails, and if you haven’t seen the ice cream man in a while, there were multiple at the park last time we stopped there, so make sure to bring a few bucks – you don’t want to be the only parent not giving their kid their energy boost.
If you live on the west side of Portland or just want to visit that side, go to Maplewood Coffee and then head towards Vermont Ave, and you’ll be at Gabriel Park playground in no time. Set in the hills just north of Multnomah Village, the whole playground looks like it was brought to life out of a six-year-old’s dream. With rolling hills of multicolored synthetic walking surface that looks like cotton candy and a slide tower and in-floor trampoline, among many other awesome things to do, this place has everything. Like Happy Valley Park, it was designed for accessibility so that all kids of all ages and all skill levels could access and enjoy it, and they really knocked it out of the park, pun intended. The slope of the surface can be tricky at times, but most kids seem to navigate it pretty well with the occasional tumble. Parking can be tricky, but there are a lot of spots on the street and a small parking lot if you can find room. Even if you have to walk a little way, it’s worth seeing this place in person.
Casey Mabbott is a husband and parent first, and also an experienced and dedicated writer and researcher. Born and raised in the Portland area, when Casey is not spending time with his family gallivanting around Portland and the surrounding areas, he genuinely enjoys helping people (especially families) find the “hidden gems” in the Pacific Northwest. In today’s world of lightning fast information at our fingertips, it’s truly a wonder to stumble across a place, an experience, or an activity you’ve never heard of.