Oregon certainly is green, but that doesn’t mean money trees grow in our backyards. Fortunately, with all of the opportunities for fun that summer offers, there are plenty that don’t cost a thing. So save a buck (or twenty) and try some of these free outdoor activities in the Portland metro area.
Interactive fountains/Splash pads
Do you know what strikes instant anxiety into my boring, old heart? The suggestion that I take my three small kids to the pool. I don’t think people without small kids appreciate how much energy it takes to simply keep them ALIVE–and now I’m supposed to watch all three of them at the same time in a chaotic pool and make sure their cute little faces are above water? NOBODY HAS THAT MANY EYEBALLS. All this to say, God bless the inventor of the interactive public fountain. That person deserves a medal. Now my kids can have some water fun without mommy turning into a frazzled scary person.
Sure, you’ve got your usual neighborhood haunts, but you should also check out our list of unique Portland play areas to change it up a bit.
Free Summer Meals
During the school year thousands of area kids benefit from the reduced or free lunch program through the public schools. In order to fill the need created when school ends in June, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon has teamed up with the Oregon Department of Education to provide free summer meals to any child who wants one at a multitude of locations around the state. The program is called the Summer Food Service Program, and it’s available for all children. There is no registration, application, or proof of income required–simply show up during the scheduled meal time and receive a full healthy meal for each child aged 1-18. I’ve taken my kids to a few different locations over the years, and the workers are nice, the food is nutritious, and my kids enjoy meeting the other kids there. Please spread the word to your friends who might benefit from this program! (Also, apparently the Oregon Zoo Animal Presenters are bringing a piece of the zoo to different parts of Beaverton during the free meal program, so check that out if you live in the area.)
Where do baby fish come from? Do they come from their mommy’s tummies? Oh, they have eggs? Do they have shells? Do the mommies have to sit on the nest? Answer your kids’ fish questions and more during a trip to the Bonneville Dam and Hatchery. Nine miles east of Multnomah Falls on I-84, turn left (north) at Exit 40 and follow the signs for public parking. You can take a self-guided tour of the outdoor parts of the facility, and there are quite a few educational areas and ponds of salmon and even sturgeon. (We went last year, and it was really neat!) To make a day out of it, take a picnic and walk over to the Wahclella Falls trailhead for a lovely hike, or drive over to Hood River and drive the Hood River County Fruit Loop.
Oregon Ballet Theater
Do you have a child who loves to dance? Take him or her to Oregon Ballet Theater’s event, OBT Exposed, at Pioneer Courthouse Square during the week of August 25. You can watch the professional dancers rehearse, and then your little one can participate in a kids’ class. There’s an adult class in the evening, and a special demonstration scheduled for Monday and Thursday. It’s completely free, and sounds like an amazing experience for a young (or young at heart) dancer.
A Multitude of Gardens
Do you have any budding botanists or growing gardeners in your crew? Take them to a garden that’s open to the public. Portland’s most famous would be Washington Park’s International Rose Test Gardens. The blooms are gorgeous and smell wonderful, plus it’s near other free activities, like the playground and hikes at Washington Park (although you will now have to pay for parking). Washington and Clackamas county residents, you have access to your library’s cultural passes, which will get you free admission into several different area gardens, including the Japanese Garden (also located in Washington Park), Lan Su Chinese Gardens, and perhaps the Oregon Garden in Silverton and the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. (Check out our info on Library Cultural Passes here for more information.)
Much, much more
There are so many more free things to do this summer, from Portland’s travelling climbing wall to Newberg’s Old Fashioned Festival. The Oregonian has a list of unique and free summer happenings including the Red Bull Flugtag, Estacada Timber Festival, and the PDX Adult Soap Box Derby. To find more activities near you, find your town’s (or your local parks & recreation department’s) webpage and look for the events calendar. You’ll probably find hidden gems that I didn’t include here. And if all else fails, wait for a downpour and dance in the rain.