Portland: Soccer City USA
One more reason for families to visit stunning Portland, Oregon, in just three words: Professional. Women's. Soccer.
. . . of epic proportions. Portland has a main stage for your kids to watch female athletes play this sport at the highest professional level.
The atmosphere in the downtown Providence Park stadium is electric. The Thorns average 17,653 fans per game; double any other professional women’s soccer club. Plus, a brand new stadium expansion - this season - means the game is even better. Both the men’s MLS Portland Timbers and the Thorns play in the same venue — sometimes within days of one another. Catch both.
Getting Around the Rose City: Car-Free
Saunter around downtown, hit genuine forested trails in Forest Park, nosh at food carts and famed restaurants — all without setting foot in a car or Uber.
Between Portland International Airport's MAX Train connection and the historic Providence Park stadium, you can handily rely on public transportation.
What should a family do in between matches? My suggestions for a car-free trip, staying close-in to the downtown core:
If you are lucky enough to be a tourist in Portland mid-week, you can dine like a local (read: without waiting in lines!)
Brekkie: Since you’ve got time on your side, I’d recommend hitting up breakfast hotspot on a weekday, including Mother’s Bistro, Besaw’s, Broder Cafe or Gravy. All are kid-friendly, often locally sourced and delish. And then there's the donut situation -- all over the city: Blue Star, Pip's Original and the gold-standard of Portland-ness, Voodoo Doughnuts.
Lunch: The food carts, are always a good choice - OR - a kid favorite, Boxer Ramen. Slurp!
Coffee: This is Portland, after all. You wouldn’t think of a day without a dark cup of salvation. Don’t fret at the number of choices. Almost any roaster still in business in Portland serves a solid cup. I personally frequent a few: Sterling, Barista and Water Avenue Coffee.
Dinner: We often hit-up brewpub happy hours around the city with our brood; light fare, light prices, relaxed vibe. Kid menus are often available. For a sit-down Portland meal at one of the hot-spots, dinner reservations are pretty standard. Long waits - even at casual spots - abound. But, you can never go wrong for a family of any age with almost any McMenamins pub for a unique atmosphere and pub fare (locals may disagree on service, but we all still flock here). There are nearly 60 them smattered in historic and modern sites across the region. Other great family spots include: Boke Bowl (ramen and steam buns) and Mother’s Bistro & Bar, a family spot with a comfort-food as it’s theme. Mother’s recently relocated to a large and swank new location - the street-level lobby of the Embassy Suites Hotel (conveniently, across from the famed Voodoo Doughnuts.) For casual pizza on a great street, my kids love Life of Pi on NW 23rd Ave.
Beer: Solid brewers include: Breakside (any location), 10 Barrel and Deschutes Brewing.
If you’re an active family over the age of about 8, and hiking is your game, the 4T Trail is a free self-guided hiking, walking city/forest adventure. Consisting of a citywide loop including the Trail, Tram, Trolly, and Train. This trail will take you through a pacific northwest conifer forest to the highest point in Portland at 1,073 feet above sea level (with multiple volcano views, too!) and back down through a maze of the city’s unparalleled public transit system.
Other downtown to-dos depending on ages and adventure level:
Portland Art Museum (kids are always free!).
Shopping and eating your way down NW 23rd St with stops along the coffee houses, donut and ice cream shops (especially good for teenagers).
Take the MAX train through the West Hills tunnel and get off at Washington Park where you can hit up The Oregon Zoo, Portland Children’s Museum and World Forestry Center in one stop.
Portland Farmers Market, every Saturday, year round. A local diner’s delight.
No list would be complete without Powell’s Books. Let your older kids and teens roam the famed bookstore and get caught up in the literary magic.
During summer months, the Oregon Zoo typically has concerts. Check availability of last-minute tickets. Epic sunset setting in the middle of a forested zoo.
Keeping with the soccer them (and, as an alum), I might add, the University of Portland Pilots Division I soccer program puts on pretty good matches nearby.
Thorns & Timbers Team Stores: Prep for your soccer weekend by ordering gear online in advance. Or hit up the store while you’re in town at their storefront.
Wildfang: For a very Portland and feminist fashion moment, check out the bricks-and-mortar version of this US-based women's apparel company featuring tomboyish clothing with a social message. The company was founded by two former female Nike executives and has a cult following among power women across the country. The designers have even done a special collaboration with the Thorns, check it out.
Portland Gear: Teens (and parents) who want to go home with the perfect wearable gear, head to Portland Gear Shop, located just across from Providence Park. Wool and cotton are transformed into the ultimate, modern but retro fan gear you’d expect from a baseball park ... but we’re all cheering for Portland!
Nike: For some teens, no trip is complete with a trek to the home base; the mecca of shoe and sports apparel design. For this, you can hit up the downtown Nike Store. This store does sell the product, but is also a museum to all things Nike and located across from the Pioneer Place mall downtown.
Boys Fort: Great emphasis goes into sourcing a very Pacific Northwest menagerie of rotating items: including grooming products (mustache wax!), hand forged jewelry, leather goods, novelty items (sling shots! vintage lighters!), team pennants and furniture — all with a throwback “masculine” feel. But never precious. It’s like walking into your great-grandpa’s very, very cool garage. This collection of handmade local, US made products and vintage goods is hands-down the ultimate Portland shop.
Will Leather Goods: Located on NW 23rd Ave. (a must-saunter street!) these heirloom-level leather goods are the perfect artisanal Portland keepsake. Plus, each purse, belt, backpack, satchel comes with a lifetime guarantee (and the shop serves incredible complimentary coffee while you shop.)
Some families love a private rental (Airbnb) but as a mom, I looooove the amenities a hotel gives me (even an affordable hotel). Translation: no kitchen + housekeeping + front desk = happy parent on vacation.
The list of amazing hotels has grown exponentially in the downtown districts, so check-out the latest lists and deals. Some standouts with proximity to Providence Park include:
Heathman Hotel: If you want to stay downtown in a unique, bespoke vintage hotel (and the lap of luxury), book your family in one the newly refurbished Heathman Hotel rooms. Each guest room features original Portland art and the hotel boasts a massive guest library. Enjoy the hotel’s famed Russian Tea inside the storied Tea Court Lounge. Created by James Beard award-winning Vitaly Paley, this tea is loaded with sweet and savory Russian bites and teas. ($38 for adults and $16 for children). Even if you’re not staying at The Heathman, you can call ahead for a booking.
Residence Downtown/Riverplace: right on the Willamette River and a stone’s throw across the water (and a skip across the Hawthorne Bridge) to OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry).
The Inn at Northrup Station is right on the trolley line and in the center of the NW Historic District and the revitalized and happening Slabtown. Plenty to walk to and historic architecture to peruse.
Travel Portland always has a great list of Downtown and Northwest District accommodations.
I always love to hear other’s experiences, must-see stops and travel ideas — feel free to leave your comments and travel tips in the comments below ↓.