Parents dish on where to play, eat, and find family fun.
Much of what is written about life in Portland makes it look like grownups have all the fun. There’s no doubt that for adults—of any age—who enjoy food and drink, the arts, and the outdoors, this is a great city in which to live and play. But just because we don’t read about it in Bon Appetit or on Thrillist.com doesn’t mean Portland isn’t also a pretty special place to be a kid, and to raise them. To find out what that’s like first-hand, we invited five local families to hang out with us at Get Air trampoline park—a kids’ happy place if there ever was one—and chatted with the parents about their favorite things to do with their children in and around the city.
Getting outside, in every season, is something all the parents listed as a top priority.
“We do our level best to be sure we go and see the ocean each week,” says Birch Shambaugh, who lives in Portland with his wife Fayth Preyer and their children, five-year-old Cordelia and two-year-old Wayland. Longtime surfers who want their children to join them in the sport (a foam board already hangs above Cordelia’s bed), Shambaugh and Preyer, owners of the Portland restaurant Woodford Food and Beverage, say that checking out the waves—even if it’s from the car window in bad weather—keeps them grounded. “In the summer we will leg up to Popham Beach, a family favorite, or if we can get our act together we will go out to Long Island,” says Shambaugh.
The Chamberlain-Kennedys are Popham Beach fans too. “Our family loves the winter beach even more than the summer beach,” says Bre Chamberlain, a regional ombudsman for the Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. “There’s something really magical about the light there, and it’s nice to have it all to yourself.” She and her husband, Graeme Kennedy, director of marketing and public relations for the Portland Museum of Art, live in Yarmouth with their daughters Ramona, five and a half, and Maude, three. They also frequent Cape Elizabeth beaches Crescent and Kettle Cove, which “in the off season is great for the tidal pools and so much rock climbing for the kids,” she says.
Chamberlain cites family walks in the woods as ideal opportunities for her family to focus on each other. “Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport is a favorite, but in the last year we’ve really gotten into exploring the Royal River Conservation Trust preserves and trails,” she says. “There are so many different ones, and it’s so rare we see anyone else on the trail.” Falmouth residents Krystal and Yegor Malinovskii like to take their boys, Kingston, 6, and Beckham, 3, for hikes on the trails near their home and in Portland. “They get plenty of digital entertainment, so it’s important to stay in touch with nature,” says Yegor. “They love hiking in the snow—we like the cold and winter—and exploring the rivers and the trees,” says Krystal.
Josh and Jamie Sevigny take full advantage of winter by spending most weekends at
their home near Sugarloaf, where their kids, nine-year-old Danica and three-year-old Jarrett—known as JJ—are in the Bubblecuffers ski program. “We leave on Friday as soon as they get out of school for the mountain,” says Josh, owner of Sylvain and Sevigny Builders. “They know the entire winter that they’re not sleeping in, because we have to be at Sugarloaf at eight,” says Jamie. Staying active is important, so on weekends when they’re not at the mountain, they often take the kids to bowl at Easy Day in South Portland, or to bounce on the trampolines at Get Air; Danica is tall enough for the “big air” Main Court, and JJ likes to slide down the vertical trampolines in the Kiddie Court. Come summer, the Sevignys trade skis for life jackets aboard their boat on Casco Bay. “It’s like a floating camper,” jokes Josh. “We go to a different island every weekend.”
From their home on the East End, Shannon and Galen Richards can easily access one of the city’s great green spaces, the Eastern Prom. Shannon, managing partner of Caleb Johnson Architects and Builders, and Galen, a painter, have three children: Rye, eight, Asa, six, and Evi, four. “It’s also nice to just walk out the door, walk downtown, and wander around,” says Shannon. “I love to bring them down to the Old Port; we walk down to Treehouse Toys,” says Galen. “Rye’s a reader, so we go to Casablanca Comics. He’s big on Bull Moose Music too, mostly for the comics.”
As city dwellers and busy parents, the Richards are regulars at a variety of local restaurants. “We go to places where Galen and I can grab a good beer and have a bite to eat with them,” says Shannon, pointing out Bayside Bowl, Oxbow Blending and Bottling, and the Portland Hunt and Alpine Club as some of their favorites for both food and drink. “Right in our neighborhood, we also like Lolita,” Galen chimes in. “I took Asa on a father-daughter date there once—that was really fun.” Boda, the Honey Paw, and Bao Bao are also on the Richards’s list, and when their kids crave sushi, “Yosaku is our go-to,” says Shannon, adding that the restaurant has been especially accommodating to her young family. “They will not eat a hot dog, but they will put down 40 dollars worth of raw salmon in one gulp,” she says.
For these families, dining out with children is no longer confined to places where your food comes on a paper plate. “We’ve been taking Kingston and Beckham to restaurants since they were little,” says Yegor Malinovskii, market president at Berlin City. “They know how to behave at Fore Street or Five Fifty- Five, where we go for our annual Easter Brunch.” For more casual meals, the family heads to Empire, Flatbread, or Boone’s Fish House Oyster Room, where the boys ask to sit outside so they can listen to the music from the deck at the Porthole next door. “They like to dance while they dine,” his wife Krystal says with a laugh. The Sevignys, who live in Cape Elizabeth, eat regularly at Bird Dog Roadhouse near their home, but don’t hesitate to venture across the bridge into Portland. “We also like the Honey Paw, Benkay, Street and Company, Pai Men Miyake, Boda—our kids eat basically everything,” says Josh.
The Chamberlain-Kennedys gravitate to restaurants where both they and their kids
can relax. “Veranda Noodle Bar is by far our favorite,” says Chamberlain. “There’s a server that’s been there for Ramona’s entire life. We’re met with this really warm reception; she comes over and talks to her.” The family also frequents Pat’s Pizza, near where they live in Yarmouth. “There’s no stress and it’s a godsend. There are always kids that are being louder than your kids,” Chamberlain says. Also close to home is Woodhull Public House, a new addition to the growing Yarmouth dining scene. “The food is so good, and [owners] Katie and Seth are two of the most awesome people you’ll ever meet,” she continues. “Incredible food at a family- friendly restaurant? It’s the mashup that almost never happens, and it’s happening there.”
As both parents of young children and restaurant owners, the Shambaugh-Preyers have a distinct perspective on dining with children. “We bring our kids to our restaurant, and we’re always acutely aware of unleashing our sideshow on everyone else,” says Shambaugh. They head for 158 Pickett Street in South Portland, “if we can beat the eager weekend throngs,” says Preyer, and in season, Harraseeket Lunch and Lobster in Freeport. “Our kids love clam chowder, mussels, and sucking on lobster legs,” she says. “The whole kids’ dining thing is something we’ve spent a ton of time thinking about, and that we experience daily in both our personal and working lives,” says Shambaugh. “As an unexpected byproduct of that, we’ve gotten an opportunity to be in a place where all these kids are having seafood experiences for the first time in our restaurant. I never considered how much fun it would be to be a young parent, and also to be part of other young parents’ parenting experience.”
The families concur that indoor trampoline parks like Get Air are ideal for harnessing kids’ energy, especially in bad weather. With summer on the way, however, they are all eager to spend as much time as possible outdoors. “One of the amazing things about Portland is the proximity of natural splendor,” says Shambaugh. People of any age who live in and around the city would certainly agree.