Sand in the City: Exploring Natural Play in Portland



When you have a toddler, your summer exploration spots shift. While we may not be ready to hike Dog Mountain as a family, we are currently soaking up the amazing outdoor play areas in Portland. Many seasoned mamas have their summer go to spots, however, we are still discovering new gems all the time. When we don’t want to head too far from town or hit up a splash pad, these parks make our current top five play areas to stay cool. What do they all have in common? The glorious combination of sand and water! And yes, restrooms, they all have accessible restrooms. I mean, I’m still pregnant and this has become a new must for our playground choices.

1. George Rogers Park & Sandy BeachSand in the City

This small beach tucked away on the Willamette River offers hours of sun and sand play for all ages. If your little one isn’t feeling the beach, there is an upper playground with a sand pit full of diggers and trucks to share. The beautiful lawn between the beach and park are great for picnicking or generally running around to tire your tiny ones out.

2. Harper’s Playground

I love the history of this inclusive natural playground with a mission to “create innovative playgrounds for people of all abilities.” You can feel this is a special spot that does just that with its sand area providing a great little nook for sensory play. While it is a small area, the fountain adds a touch of water to the fun and increased castle-building potential.

3. Kʰunamokwst Park

We recently met a friend here and loved being introduced to this new spot. It is another one of Portland’s newer natural playgrounds that also has a sand and water feature next to the playground. The paved walkway around the park is great for scooting, riding or walking. Additionally, they have a nice large restroom and plenty of green lawn space.

4. Outdoor Adventure at Portland Children’s Museum

While this option isn’t free, our membership to the PCM has been well worth it. Their outdoor natural play area is over an acre and complete with a sand pit, water features, and lots of space to roam. The bonus to this spot is that there are indoor bathrooms and a café with quick access to coffee and snacks.

Sand in the City5. Westmoreland Park Nature Play

This park is always a hit and a regular go-to for our family. It has one of the largest sand areas with tools and supplies scattered among the tiers of water pumps. The natural playground next to the sand park offers limitless creative options for play. We love arriving early to play when things aren’t quite as busy and finishing with a picnic lunch on the lawn. 

For these sandy summer spots remember to come prepared! Make sure to pack change of clothes, towels and all the sun and play gear your little one might need. We started keeping a summer “go bag” in the car so we’re ready for a spontaneous outdoor messy adventure anytime. And snacks! Don’t forgot lots and lots of snacks!  

What are your favorite sand and water play zones in Portland? Please share in the comment!


  1. Orenco Woods Nature Park in Hillsboro! Still a work in progress, but visible progress can be seen every time we go. The sand and water features keep my kids (ages 2 & 5) busy for HOURS. The trails are gorgeous. The natural willow art forms (similar to the ones at Portland Children’s Museum) are super fun for hiding and seeking. Swings and a tall rope maze/climbing thing are fun as well.

    • Thanks Amanda! I love hearing about new spots and we’re totally willing to travel for the right spot. I’ll have to check it out soon.

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