There’s a reason why Portland is often cited as one of the best cities to raise a family. This small city is filled with plenty of fun activities for parents, kids, and pets.
My husband, Ryan, and I live in the Rosemont neighborhood of Portland with our two young daughters, six-year old Eva and two-year-old Hartley. They couldn’t be happier when we tell them we’ll be spending the next 36 hours downtown—and sleeping in a hotel! We pick up the kids from school, stop by the house to grab our bags for the weekend, and of course we don’t forget our dog, Merlin.
Our first stop is our hotel. The lobby of the Residence Inn by Marriott Portland Downtown Waterfront is spacious enough for our young toddler to stretch her legs while we check in. Since the hotel is dog-friendly, we consider stopping at the bar downstairs for a drink, but decide instead on a cup of coffee to take up to our room. When we open the door to our home for the weekend we find two baskets filled with locally made Haven’s candy for the girls and a bottle of red wine for Mom and Dad—a promising start to our adventure.
After we drop off our bags, we check out the new cocktail bar, soda fountain, and burger joint the Black Cow. I notice Susan Axelrod, the managing editor of Old Port, sitting at the bar with her adult son. We quickly say hi and eye their delicious spread. The restaurant is crowded and the atmosphere is trendy, with stylish lighting and old-school music playing on the jukebox. I order a vodka mule, one of the many Moscow mule variations mixed up by the talented bartenders, and Ryan gets the Substance Ale by Bissell Brothers. The kids’ grilled cheeses are perfectly melty, with aged cheddar on lightly toasted housemade English muffins. Ryan and I are both impressed by our burgers, also on housemade buns. We’ve heard good things about the basket of fried veggies that rotates based on the season. Ours is filled with a medley of root vegetables coated in a light tempura-like batter.
We head back to the hotel to put the girls to bed. All of the rooms are suites, so we’re lucky enough to have all the amenities of home, including a working kitchen. The girls go to sleep in the bedroom and we relax in the living room while planning out the next day over a glass of wine.
An extensive breakfast is included in the stay. We adults opt for yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit (and eggs and sausage for my husband). The kids make their own waffles at one of the many food stations. It’s still early so we decide to take Merlin for a walk down by the water. We spend a while looking at the boats from the Ocean Gateway Terminal before continuing down Commercial Street to Standard Bakery—a must for coffee and chocolate croissants. After dropping the dog off at the hotel, the Portland Science Center is our next stop, and just happens to be down the street. The Planet Shark exhibit has been on our list for a while now. We get our tickets and are instantly transported under the sea. The exhibit has touch screens to learn fun facts about sharks, models cast from real sharks, plus teeth and jaws and rare fossils, some up to 370 million years old.
You can’t take your kids to Portland without a stop at Treehouse Toys on Exchange Street. The small shop is packed with a combination of games, books, and well-crafted classic toys. Above the cash register the wall is lined with a variety of figural pendulum clocks, including a unicorn I might come back for later. We then go across the street to the children’s boutique Little for a baby shower gift. I decide on an adorable outfit by the beloved brand Tea, along with an all-natural teether in the shape of a green apple.
I made reservations at Empire for a dim sum lunch so we walk (and stroll) on over. The restaurant originally opened its doors under the name Empire Chop Suey in 1916. The building on Congress Street that houses the restaurant is a historical landmark and apparently one of the inspirations for Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting Chop Suey. We start with sautéed pork potstickers with a tangy dipping sauce and Peking duck buns. The kids need their vegetables (don’t we all) so we get some sautéed baby bok choy and kale and noodles. The kids’ favorite dish is the bacon fried rice.
After lunch I take my oldest daughter to STRIVE Rocks, the annual family-friendly weekend at the Cross Insurance Arena. When we walk in we can’t help but join everyone dancing to the live band. There are bounce houses and inflatables everywhere! While we’re there we stop by the petting zoo, take a picture with Merida, the princess from the movie Brave, and do an inflatable ninja warrior challenge. The proceeds from the event support STRIVE services and programs that help more than 900 young adults with disabilities in Greater Portland.
Meanwhile my husband and Hartley decide to do their own exploring in downtown Portland. They stroll down Commercial Street, passing the wharfs and piers, and happen upon a lovely painted rock with a heart. Hartley adores dogs, and pulls my husband towards the pet store Fish and Bone. They talk to the manager, Tracy Tingley, also known as the Hula Hoop Lady in town. Hartley is particularly fond of Tracy’s black lab, Otter. Before they leave they settle on a moose antler for Merlin (it’s his vacation too).
It happens that the Girl Scouts’ 106th birthday is being celebrated at Happy Wheels roller- skating rink in Portland. My daughter is a Daisy Girl Scout and is excited to get on the rink. We both rent the classic brown roller skates, throwbacks to the 1970s. They play classic hits from the last three decades and the girls get the most excited about the “Hokey Pokey.”
We work up an appetite from all the roller- skating and go back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Flatbread Company is a staple in Portland for families. It not only serves up some of the best wood-fired pizza, but also there are over 21 beers on tap. The atmosphere is exactly what we’re looking for because there’s enough surrounding noise to cancel out our kids’ singing. Our waitress couldn’t be nicer. She brings over pizza dough, along with crayons and paper to keep the kids entertained. After speaking with the manager, Tom Cancelliere, we decide to start with the house salad with the addition of Sunset Acres goat cheese and order a couple of pies. The pizza is done just right and our favorite is the homemade sausage pizza. It is the perfect mix of savory fennel sausage with sweet caramelized onions and sundried tomatoes.
We wake up, put on our bathing suits, and go downstairs to the pool for a quick swim and hot tub. Breakfast is at the Holy Donut on Exchange Street. The potato-based donuts are like nothing you’ve ever tasted. We decide to order a medley of delicious flavors: maple (to celebrate Maine Maple Sunday), chocolate sea salt, lemon, and the girls’ favorite, pomegranate. It is a sweet end to a fun-filled 36HRS family weekend. To cap it all off, it only takes us 10 minutes to get back home.