Best Free & Cheap Family Activities in PDX

Best Free & Cheap Family Activities in PDX

With COVID spiking again, families are stuck with more family time than ever. Fortunately, there are tons of safe activities to do together in Portland, and many of them won’t break the bank. Our beautiful city knows how to bring the fun while staying health-conscious at a price everyone can afford. From museums to parks to theaters and more, we’ve got our favorite free or cheap family activities below.

Head to a Park
Portland has no shortage of parks, and it’s always a treat to visit your neighborhood green space. But why not shake things up sometimes and visit a park in a different neighborhood? Climb over logs at Westmoreland Park’s nature play space, check out the fountain at Peninsula Park or enjoy the universally-accessible equipment at one of Portland’s all-inclusive playgrounds. Set a family challenge to visit a new Portland park each weekend this summer. You can find all of Portland’s parks at the Portland Parks and Recreation website. Then pack some snacks and head outdoors!.

Get Wild at the Zoo Now that the zoo has reopened, it is time to get reacquainted with with your favorite animal friends! Take advantage of the second Tuesday of each month, when admission to the zoo is only $5. You can visit the zoo’s new education center before scoping out your little one’s favorite animals. From porcupines to pythons and cheetahs to chimpanzees, there’s enough to keep your whole group occupied and exploring for hours. (Note: Discount rates currently discontinued due to COVID)

Oregon Zoo
4001 SW Canyon Rd.

Science and Submarines at OMSI
From the tiniest tots to the grandparents and every age in-between, there’s something fascinating for everyone at the hands-on interactive exhibits at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Visit the Physics Lab, explore the Science Playground or hop aboard the USS Blueback Submarine. On the first Sunday of every month, admission at OMSI is just $2, and Submarine tours, Planetarium shows and the theater are just $5 per person. (Note: Discount rates currently discontinued due to COVID)

1945 SE Water Ave.

photo: Annette Benedetti

Sled or Tube at White River Sno-Park

Pick a spot, any spot, on this unregulated hill between Mt Hood Meadows and Timberline, about a half mile uphill from the parking lot. It’s free and offers a variety of terrain, but be sure to choose a spot well away from the river, and watch for exposed rocks when snow is low. With beautiful views of Mt. Hood, it’s also a popular destination for snowshoeing. Get there early on snowy weekends to grab a parking spot.

Free, Sno Park Pass required. 
Oregon Highway 35 approximately 4 miles north of US Highway 26.

Horse Around
Ever noticed the tiny toy horses tethered to metal rings on Portland streets? Welcome to the Portland Horse Project! While these rings were once used to hold real horses and horse-drawn vehicles as far back as the 1900s, they now are adorned with toy equines of all shapes and sizes. Your little sidekicks will love exploring the city for a glimpse of a horse, or adding one of their own to an empty ring. (Plus, it’s a great way to recycle some of those old horse toys!) You can upload your own horse photos on Facebook and tag them on Instagram with #PortlandHorseProject. 

All Aboard!
If you’ve got little train lovers, be sure to make a stop at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Railroad enthusiasts can check out historic trains and browse the latest exhibit. Admission is always free, although donations are accepted and appreciated. The center is open Thursday- Sunday from 1-5 p.m. 

Oregon Rail Heritage Center
2250 SE Water Ave.

Learn Fire Safety (Currently Closed)
At the Historic Belmont Firehouse, families can explore hands-on exhibits, stories and history while learning fire and safety education. Kids will love checking out the fire pole and the emergency response simulator, as well as all of the firefighting tools and equipment. Every Wednesday is Open House, and families are welcome to come and visit free from 9 a.m.- 3p.m. The firehouse also offers Safety Saturdays on the 2nd Saturday of each month. Visits and tours at other times must be scheduled in advance.

Historic Belmont Firehouse
900 SE 35th Ave.

Brush up on History
For history buffs, the Oregon Historical Society awaits you. Located downtown and always free for Multnomah County residents (with proof of residency), the museum houses a variety of exhibits designed to bring Oregon's history to life. The permanent History Hub exhibit, with content that spans K-12 with a focus on 4th-8th graders, delves into the topic of diversity, with hands-on activities and displays.

Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave.

Browse Some Art
Kids 17 and under are always free at the Portland Art Museum, where families can get inspired in the enormous galleries full of art. Let kids take the lead by chatting about the colors and shapes they see, or which pieces they particularly like. Feeling more adventurous? Check out some of the artwork online together before you go, and then make a scavenger hunt for kids to find the pieces they recognize! For adults, the museum offers free admission every first Thursday from 5 -8 p.m. You can also check out the museum on Friday evenings, when admission is just $5 after 5 p.m. The museum also participates in the Blue Star Museums Program, which offers free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families. (Note: Discount rates currently discontinued due to COVID)

Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Ave.

Catch a Flick
At McMenamin’s Kennedy School, families can enjoy second-run movies while relaxing on comfy couches and snacking on pizza, burgers and salads from the menu, along with wine, beer and ciders for those over 21. (And don’t forget the popcorn and candy!) Movie tickets are $4/adult, and just $2 for age 11 & under.

McMenamins Kennedy School Theater
5736 NE 33rd Ave.

Head to an Indoor Play Space
At Playdate PDX’s spacious indoor play space, kids can climb through a three level play structure, crawl through tunnels, shoot ball cannons, and play games on an interactive dance floor. On Mondays after 5 p.m., admission is free! You can also get free admission on the last Wednesday of every month with two canned goods per child. Along with the massive play area, Playdate PDX also has a designated toddler area for smaller explorers, as well a full menu for dining. Kids will love mixing and matching items to create the perfect Kids Meal ($7), while parents can enjoy paninis, salads, wraps, beer and wine. (Note: Discount rates currently discontinued due to COVID)

Playdate PDX
1434 NW 17th Ave.

Take a Hike!
Pack up some snacks and water, slick on the sunscreen and head out for a glorious hike on one of the many trails around Portland! Younger kids might enjoy adventuring around Hoyt Arboretum, which has a variety of walks and trails, including a 1-mile paved path that is suitable for strollers. Tryon Creek State Natural Area has plenty of nature trails, and activity sheets that families can print online and take with them to enhance the experience. Kids will also love trying the scavenger hunt as they explore the flora and fauna of the Leach Botantical Garden. (Print the scavenger hunt from the Garden’s website, access it on your phone or pick up a laminated copy in the gift shop when you arrive.)

For kids who can do more serious hiking, Latourell Falls has a 2.4 mile loop, gorgeous waterfall views and is often less crowded than Multnomah Falls. For fascinating city walks, pick up a copy of Laura O. Foster's The Portland Stairs Book at Powell’s or the library, and do a self-guided tour of Portland’s most interesting urban hikes, including hidden staircases that you never even knew existed.

Make a Splash
Grab your suits and take a dip for a Family Swim, Open Swim or Parent/Preschool Swim at one of the local pools through Portland Parks and Rec. Admission varies slightly by location, but is generally less than $6/person, with kids 2 & under swimming for free. Swim times also vary with each location, so check each pool’s schedule through the Portland Parks and Recreation website for the most current information.

Portland Parks and Recreation Swim Pools and Lessons

Take a Ladybug Walk
Perfect for the littlest legs! Preschoolers age 2-5 and their parents can explore parks around Portland with Ladybug Nature Walks. Environmental educators guide children and their grown-ups on exciting journeys to find bugs, plants, and other wonders of nature. Walks are $4/child, with no charge for adults. Locations vary, so check the website for the most current schedule.

Ladybug Nature Walks

Big Fun in a Little Bookstore
There’s always something magical happening at Green Bean Books, the sweet bookstore nestled along Alberta. Although technically a store, one glance at the schedule shows plenty of free events and activities that families can join. Stop by for story times, the Middle Reader Book Club, craft times, author book signings, musical Spanish story time and much more. Both kids and adults will love the fun surprises tucked all through the store, along with the outdoor space, which is perfect for sunny days.(Note: All events are currently cancelled due to COVID)

Green Bean Books
1600 NE Alberta St.


—Annette Benedetti


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