Christmas 2017: Portland + the West Side

Christmas 2017 AGoodGray

There are so many ways to make merry this holiday season! Try out some of these Portland-area activities with your family.

Season-long Festivities:
Pittock Mansion Christmas Exhibit (Portland, Nov. 20 to Dec. 31, 10 am to 4 pm): Their annual holiday exhibit doesn’t disappoint. Walk through “A Very Portland Christmas” while local musicians play. Adults $11, Youth (ages 6-18) $8, Children under 6 FREE.
Winter Wonderland (Portland, Nov. 24 to Dec. 26): Come see the largest light show in the Northwest spanning the track at Portland International Raceway

ZooLights at the Oregon Zoo (Portland, Nov. 24 to Jan. 7, 5 to 9 pm): The zoo dazzles with a million and a half lights. Prices vary, members are free. It gets busy, so plan for a crowd.
Winter Village at Orenco Station (Hillsboro, Nov. 24 to Jan. 1): This growing holiday tradition brings the only open-air ice skating rink to the area.

The Grotto’s Christmas Festival of Lights (Portland, Nov. 24 to Dec. 30, 5 to 9:30 pm): Walk through the impressive light displays at the Grotto, a 62-acre Catholic Shrine and botanical garden. There are half a million lights, holiday concerts, and outdoor caroling.
Christmas Ships (Portland, Dec. 1 to 21, 7 to 8 pm): Since 1954 Portlanders have paraded down the Willamette and Columbia Rivers with their boats and ships blingged out for Christmas. Find a spot on the waterfront and enjoy the fun.
Christmas in Dairyville and Storybook Lane at Alpenrose Dairy  (Portland, weekends until Christmas, times vary): This charming little Portland-area tradition runs throughout the Christmas season. Admission is free.
The Nutcracker Ballet (Keller Auditorium, Portland, Dec. 9-24, times vary): Share the magic of the Nutcracker ballet with your child. Performed by the Oregon Ballet Theatre.
Peacock Lane Christmas Lights (Portland, Dec. 15 to 31, 7 to 10 pm): These neighbors have a long gone all out providing beautiful Christmas displays. FREE. It gets busy, so it’s best to park far and walk more.
The Polar Express by the Mt. Hood Railroad (Hood River, various dates and times until Dec. 27): Join Santa on this magical train ride based on the popular book and movie “The Polar Express.” You’ll get treated to hot cocoa, music, and a special gift. Buy tickets in advance!
24 Days of Music at the Portland Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Lake Oswego, Dec. 1 to 24, 7 pm): Come to the visitor center for nightly choirs and performances. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

December 1 (Friday)
Starry Nights and Holiday Lights (Tualatin, 5 to 8:30 pm): At the Lake of the Commons you can catch the tree lighting, Santa, and holiday choirs.
Downtown Tigard Tree Lighting (Tigard, 6:45 to 9 pm): Santa, local choirs, and the tree lighting, of course!
Festival of Trees (Portland, 10:30 am to 8 pm): At the Oregon Convention Center you can catch this annual tradition. Come see 25 themed trees, visit with Santa, and enjoy the entire winter wonderland.

December 2 (Saturday)
Hillsboro Holly Days (Hillsboro, 5:30 pm): Come to downtown Hillsboro for the tree lighting and holiday vendors.
Holiday Open House & Tree Lighting (Beaverton, 4:30 to 7 pm): Come to the city library to see Santa and celebrate the season.
Festival of Trees (Portland, 9 am to 5 pm): At the Oregon Convention Center you can catch this annual tradition. Come see 25 themed trees, visit with Santa, and enjoy the entire winter wonderland.
Holiday in the Grove (Forest Grove, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm): Enjoy holiday fun all day long, including Santa, a holiday market, wagon rides, music, and more.
Sherwood Robin Hood Festival (Sherwood, 4 pm): Community parade, archery tournament, holiday music, and the tree lighting.

December 9 (Saturday)
The Nutcracker by Ballet Forest Grove (Forest Grove, 1 and 6 pm)
Santa Visits the Streets of Tanasbourne (Hillsboro): Santa will arrive by horse-drawn carriage and then start visiting with little friends. Enjoy hot chocolate and free carriage rides!

December 10 (Sunday)
The Nutcracker by Ballet Forest Grove (Forest Grove, 1 and 6 pm)


2017 Turkey Day Races in Portlandia

Want to burn some calories before the big feast this Thanksgiving? Bring your families and tie up those laces, and head to one of these fun turkey-trot races.

November 21 (TUESDAY)
Youth Turkey Trot (Hillsboro, Hare Field, 4:00 to 7:00 pm): Come to the 22nd Annual Hillsboro Turkey Trot for preschoolers through 8th graders. Winners take home a turkey!

November 22 (WEDNESDAY)
Turkey Trot 5k Run/Walk + Kids Trot (Portland International Raceway, 7:00 to 10:00 pm): Register to run through the raceway’s holiday lights. Dogs and strollers welcome!

November 23 (THURSDAY)
Turkey Trot at the Oregon Zoo (Portland, 8:00 to 9:45 am): This 4-mile fun run or walk winds through Washington Park and ends at the zoo. Children events included, and jogging strollers welcome. Register today.
Give ‘n’ Gobble (Sherwood High School, 8:00 am): This 5k walk or 10k run with a food drive is a Thanksgiving tradition. This race sells out, so register in advance.
Oregon Turkeython at Bridgeport Village (Tigard, 8:30 am): This fun morning includes a 5k, 10k, and Kidathon. Register online.
Oregon Food Bank Turkeython (Portland, 8:30 am): This race at Rock Creek Country Club is for kids and famililes. Register in advance.


Portland Japanese Garden

What: Portland Japanese Garden
Where: 611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland

When: Winter Mon. Noon to 4 pm and Tues.-Sun. 10 am to 4 pm; Summer Mon. Noon to 7 pm and Tues.-Sun. 10 am to 7 pm (Member hours earlier)
Why: The lush, meticulously-maintained gardens are breathtaking and peaceful
Cost: Children 5 and under FREE, Ages 6-17 $10.45, Students $11.95, Adults $14.95, Seniors $12.95

A Good Gray Portland Japanese Garden

My sister, who’s been an Oregonian for a few decades now, recently told me she’d never been to the Japanese Garden. I hadn’t been either, but she was especially frustrated it’d been on her bucket list forever, taunting her. Well the beautiful fall weather this week was just begging for an outing, so we decided to make. it. happen! I’m happy to report that my son, my sister, and I fiiinally made it to the Japanese Garden.

As my sister said afterwards, it met AND exceeded our expectations. It was absolutely gorgeous. Designed and started in the 1960s by a Japanese professor, this 9-acre garden has been called the most authentic of its kind outside of Japan.

You’ll find the towering evergreens and mossy grounds like any Northwest forest, but there are also plenty of water features, trees, and bushes that must look lovely in each season. There are two large rock gardens that are serene and peaceful. The grounds also include a cafe, gift shop, gallery, and learning centers (and the architecture is delicious).

Children are welcome, but they may need help navigating the quiet spots where you’ll find people seated and contemplating. You can do the whole garden quickly in 30 minutes, but allow more time to soak it all in. There are many stairs throughout, but if needed you can skip a lot of them if you use the shuttle from the parking lot.

The garden is located in Washington Park, right by the International Rose Test Garden. Parking is tricky and can be time-consuming, especially at peak times. Also brace yourself: the entrance fees are steep! Cultural Passes are not currently available to the gardens, but this could change because they’ve been available in the past. Also, families that receive SNAP benefits can get FREE admission.

Treat yourself to a gorgeous bit of a nature, whether it’s the vibrant changing trees or the bursting spring blossoms. I really think you and your family will love it!

End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

What: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
Where: 1726 Washington Street, Oregon City

When: Daily 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (no tickets sold after 4:00 pm)
Why: It’s must-see-history for Oregonians
Cost: Children 3 and under FREE, Ages 4-12 $7, Adults $13, Seniors $9

A Good Gray End of Oregon Trail

Once upon a sunny day, my kids and I headed to Oregon City for the first time. This city marks the end of the Oregon Trail. Boom. The End. Fin. It’s busting with early Oregon and pioneer history, including the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Going here is just part of the Oregon experience.

The grounds of the center are quite large. The first thing you notice are the massive covered wagon frames lining a great lawn, outdoor stage, and pavilion. We started with a picnic (lunch was a necessity) and a walk around the outdoor displays.

When you’re ready to go in, start with the smaller building. It houses the gift shop and a welcome counter where you can buy tickets. The staff will direct you back outside to the larger building. And here your life as a pioneer begins.

I loved how they set up the center. It’s completely self-led, but the displays and signs are really informative. All along the way there are interactive learning tools and kid-friendly activities–we made candles, did a scavenger hunt, made dolls, dressed up, and more. You start in Missouri, loading a wagon and learning about the beginning of the Oregon Trail and the people that made the journey. Then you continue through the center and onto the trail, discovering how they survived and the challenges they encountered. There’s a theater with a 20-30 minute movie that was pretty darn good (but not popular with my due-for-a-nap toddler… ay caramba). As you leave the theater, the next room welcomes you to the final section: Oregon City! There you learn about the lives of those remarkable people.

It should be said that I’m a sucker for history, so I question if this is for everyone. But my kids legitimately enjoyed themselves, and we all learned a great deal. So get to know your roots, and bring your little Oregonians here!

Halloween Haunts 2017

A Good Gray Halloween 2017 Portland OR

Here’s what’s spooky and silly this year on Portland’s west side:

Great Pumpkin Hunt at Garden Home Recreation Center (Portland, 6 to 8 pm, $10): Come for games, crafts, a bouncy house, and bring a flashlight and hunt for pumpkins out back. Register now.

Monster Mash Morning at Bridgeport Village (Tigard, 8 to 9:30 am, 9:00 to 10:30 am): Ways & Means Oyster House and California Pizza Kitchen are each hosting a fun morning for kids. Registration required.

Night-time Walkabout at Jackson Bottom Wetlands (Hillsboro, 6 to 8 pm, ages 8 and up): Register for this FREE event

Squishing of the Squash (Oregon Zoo, 11:00 to 11:30 am, FREE with zoo admission): Some of the world’s largest animals squish some of the area’s largest pumpkins
Enchanted Trail and Haunted Trail at Mary S. Young Park (West Linn, 7 to 11 pm, various prices): Bring kids 8 and younger to the charming storybook-themed Enchanted Trail, or wait later to bring the big kids to the freaky Haunted Trail.

Howloween at the Oregon Zoo (Portland, 10 am to 3 pm, FREE with zoo admission): Dress in costume and participate in this fun but educational scavenger hunt at the zoo, collecting treats and prizes.
Harvest on Main (Hillsboro, 10 am to 1 pm): Downtown Hillsboro’s former “Safe n’ Sane” event is now Harvest on Main, and includes more activities and longer hours. You can still bring kids for trick or treating at local businesses as well as fun activities.
Villains in the Village at Bridgeport Village (Tigard, 11 am to 12:30 pm): Wear your costume and come fight villains at this fun, free event
Dia de los Muertos Crafts (Beaverton Library, 11 am to noon)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Beaverton, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm): The funny, family-friendly retelling of a spooky classic.
Oaks Park Halloween Spooktacular (Portland, 1 pm and 7 pm): Skate in costume to Halloween music–games and costume parade too
Spooky Dance Party at Shute Park Library (Hillsboro, 7 to 8:30 pm): Dress in costume and come shake it to spooky (but not scary) music. For preschoolers and elementary schoolers.
Enchanted Trail and Haunted Trail at Mary S. Young Park (West Linn, 7 to 10 pm, various prices): Bring kids 8 and younger to the charming storybook-themed Enchanted Trail, or wait later to bring the big kids to the freaky Haunted Trail.

Howloween at the Oregon Zoo (Portland, 10 am to 3 pm, FREE with zoo admission): Dress in costume and participate in this fun but educational scavenger hunt at the zoo, collecting treats and prizes.
Not-So-Scary Halloween (Portland Children’s Museum, 10 am to 2 pm): Trick-or-treating, crafts, and games
Oaks Park Halloween Spooktacular (Portland, 1 pm and 7 pm): Skate in costume to Halloween music–games and costume parade too

Candy-Free Halloween (Portland Children’s Museum, 10 am to 1 pm): Trick-or-treating, crafts, and games
Spooky Babies Dance Party (Beaverton Library, 10:30 to 11:15 am, up to age 6): Bring your little ones in costume for a parade and fun.
Halloween Dance-o-Rama (Tualatin Public Library, 10 am to 11:30 am, ages 6 and under)
Trick-or-Treat at the Streets of Tanasbourne (Hillsboro, 1 to 3 pm or while supplies last, ages 12 and under)
Trick-or-Treating at McMenamins’s Grand Lodge  (Forest Grove, 4:30 to 6:30 pm, all ages)
Mall-o-ween at Cedar Hills Crossing (Beaverton, 5:30 to 7 pm): Trick-or-treat at participating stores


Anything fun I missed? Please comment below!

Columbia River Maritime Museum

A Good Gray Columbia River Maritime Museum

What: Columbia River Maritime Museum
Where: 1792 Marine Drive, Astoria

When: Daily 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
Why: It offers hours of history and activities for your whole family
Cost: Kids 5 and under FREE, Kids ages 6 and over $5, Adults $14, Seniors $12

This summer my in-laws treated us all to a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum right on the riverfront of charming Astoria, Oregon. I knew it’d have boats and history, but it seriously exceeded my expectations! We easily spent over 2 hours here, discovering and learning.

The main focus of the museum is the history of the Columbia River as well as general maritime information. I was also fascinated by the information on the Coast Guard, weather systems, and the many, many shipwrecks on the Columbia sandbar. The displays are large and creative–and usually to scale–and they’ve created exhibits with every age in mind. Adults can find plenty of information while kids crawl through certain displays, captain their own ship, and even give a weather report with a green screen.

Museum admission includes a tour of the lightship Columbia. It was decommissioned in 1979, and now sits docked behind the building. Walking (and stumbling!) through it gives you a real taste of ship life.

For an extra $5 each we also watched their 3-D movie “Hurricane 3D,” which I found interesting but not earth-shattering (although I did have a wiggly 2-year-old on my lap).

While you’re in Astoria, you can also check out the Astoria Column (and throw a toy plane from the top!), drive by the Goonie’s House, or ride the Astoria Riverfront Trolley. Sometimes I get snooty because Astoria isn’t on the ocean, but really, it’s a delightful place to visit.

Mount St. Helens Visitor Centers

Mount St. Helens Visitor Centers A Good Gray

On a clear, cloudless day, we can see Mount St. Helens from the Portland area. The 1980 eruption greatly diminished the peak, but it’s still a mighty member of the Cascade Range. And oh man, does it have stories to tell.

If you want to give your kids a healthy respect for Mother Nature, take them to one of three operating visitor centers for this volcanic neighbor:

  1. Johnston Ridge Observatory: This center is at the end of highway 504, with an incredible view of St. Helens. There are several interactive exhibits (many kid-friendly) and a large theater with shows impactful enough to leave my sensitive 4-year-old in horrified tears. True story. There are also outdoor trails and an amphitheater used for a cool Music on the Mountain series in the summer. (Open mid-May to October, admission is FREE for kids under 15, $8 for adults).
  2. Forest Learning Center: This location is within the 1980 blast zone, and is provided by Weyerhaeuser Company. It includes extensive information on the eruption and the recovery of the forests and animal life, and includes kids exhibits. There’s also a FREE eruption movie and an exterior playground. (Open end of May to October, FREE admission)
  3. Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake: Located at mile 5 on Highway 504, it’s the original Visitor Center built in 1993 and the gateway to the mountain. It’s farthest from St. Helens and a bit dated, but it’s closest to I-5 and includes a movie and a scenic walking trail along the lake. (Open year-round, admission is FREE for kids under 6, $2.50 for kids 7-17, $5 for adults, or $15 per family).

Sadly the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center, just 8 miles from the crater and a powerful memory for me as a kid, closed in 2007 due to budget restrictions. Boo!


Tillamook Forest Center

What: Tillamook Forest Center
Where: 45500 Wilson River Hwy (Route 6), Tillamook

When: Spring, Summer, and Fall (closed December to February)
Why: It’s a beautiful, fun, and educational stop along Highway 6
Cost: FREE

Tillamook Forest Center A Good Gray

On our drives down Highway 6 towards Tillamook and the central coast beaches over the years, we’ve often passed the Tillamook Forest Center. I’d heard it was a fun stop for kids, but we’d never had a good opportunity to stop… until now.

The Tillamook Forest Center is tucked in the middle of the lush, green Tillamook State Forest. The highway cuts through the forest along the Wilson River, and the forest center is just off the road about 30 miles from Highway 26 and 22 miles from Tillamook.

The center is absolutely free, although donations are welcome. The center is new, well-crafted, and staffed with super helpful guides. Inside you’ll find great information on the history of the area, the great Tillamook Burn (I had no idea!), and the unique wildlife of the forest. There are many, many “please touch” activities for kids, tons of interesting visuals, and a gift shop. There’s also an award-winning film that plays regularly called “Legacy of Fire” (we didn’t have time for it, so the nerd in me deffffinitely wants to go back).

Outside you’ll find this impressive 40-foot replica of a lookout tower (our girls practically ran up all those stairs!) as well as an amazing suspension bridge out back crossing over the beautiful Wilson River.

Our stop was short, but I will gladly go back. This is the sort of place you could visit regularly and always find something new to explore, indoors or out. Plus, as you take in the beauty and rich history of this forest, you just might fall in love with Oregon a little bit more.

Bridal Veil Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

What: Bridal Veil Falls
Where: Columbia River Gorge

When: Year round
Why: These beautiful falls are only a short hike away
Cost: FREE

A Good Gray Bridal Veil Falls

Last July we hiked with my husband’s entire family—2 grandparents, 6 parents, and 10 kids ages 1 to 12—headed to the Gorge. Before showing them Latourell Falls, we stopped to check out the nearby Bridal Veil Falls for the first time.

Bridal Veil Falls was perfect for our group—it’s absolutely gorgeous with fairly easy access. It’s just a few miles west of Multnomah Falls off of the Historic Columbia River Highway. There’s a free parking lot with public restrooms (also free) (just to be clear).

There are actually two trails for Bridal Veil. The upper trail is a half mile round trip, and takes you around the precipice of the cliffs of the Gorge. Apparently you get a great view of the Pillars of Hercules, which is a big basalt tower with a killer name.

The lower trail is only about a mile round trip (but very steep), and it brings you up close and personal to the falls. That’s the route we picked. It was shady with some great glimpses of the Columbia.

Once you reach the roaring, tiered falls, you can view them from above at a platform and then climb (carefully!) down to the rocks. We spent tons of time exploring, tossing stones, and enjoying the refreshing spray by the pool. The lush, moss-covered scene even in the middle of summer will warm your Oregon-loving heart.

Save some energy for the hike back up, because the incline was a bit much for little legs. But overall this is an easy hike with a breathtaking payoff.

Portland Races for Families

A Good Gray Portland Races for Families

Want to be more active as a family? Try one of these local races that are juuuust right for families.
Dates for 2017 have been included.

ORRC Hagg Lake Runs (Gaston): May 6, 2017, 10.5 miler, 10k, 5k; strollers welcome
Cinco de Mayo Run/Walk (Portland): May 7, 2017, Half Marathon, 10k, 5k, Kids Half-Miler; jogging strollers welcome
Lake Run (Lake Oswego): May 13, 2017, 10k, 5k, Kids Dash;
Run Mama Run (Portland): May 14, 2017, 10k, 5k, Kids Fun Run; stroller friendly
Health Hillsboro Family 5k (Hillsboro): May 20, 2017, 5k; $5 adults, FREE under 18, stroller friendly

Grateful Dad Run/Walk (Portland): June 17, 2017, Half Marathon, 10k, 5k, Kids Half Miler; this fun Father’s Day has a beautiful route along the Columbia River
Summer Solstice Sundowner at the Oregon Zoo (Portland): June 22, 2017 at 7:00 pm, 5k, Kids Run, Tot Trot; course runs entirely through the zoo
Color Fun Fest 5k (Portland): July 22, 2017, 5k; kids 12 and under free, wear white to this family-friendly run and brace yourself for some color!
Beaverton Sun Run (Beaverton): July 23, 2017, 10k, 5k, Kids Dash
Ladybug Run for CDH Awareness (Tigard): July 29, 2017, 10k, 5k, Kids Runs; this race raises money for children and families affected by CDH, a condition our sweet nephew, Jake, was born with
Garlic Run/Walk (North Plains): August 12, 2017, Half Marathon, 10k, 5k; no strollers

Hero-Up (Tigard): Sept. 2, 2017, Half Marathon, 5k, Kids Run; this fundraising race helps commemorates the life of the organizer’s son and raises money for children’s cancer research
Portland Marathon Kids Runs (Portland): Oct. 8, 2017, Marathon, Half Marathon, Kids and Toddler Runs

Any I missed? Let me know of your favorites!