Ten Geeky Places to Visit in Portland

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Salt-and-pepper chess set at the Oregon Culinary Institute.Salt-and-pepper chess set at the Oregon Culinary Institute.

Salt-and-pepper chess set at the Oregon Culinary Institute.

My family spent spring break in Portland, Oregon, where we once lived for four too-short years. While a lot of our time was spent visiting beloved friends and savoring foods from our favorite restaurants, we did manage to make a few geeky trips as well. Here, in brief, are ten geeky places we visited.

Six Geeky Places We Took the Kids:

OMSIOMSI

OMSI

OMSI

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, will get its own detailed post later. But with a T. Rex skeleton on display, the IMAX theater, and a warehouse-sized area filled with fun science to play with, it’s a great place to spend an a day. Here, my kids are playing with balls and hoops on a turntable.

Oregon ZooOregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo

The zoo is always a good bet for the kids; although if you head there on a rainy day you might have better luck avoiding the crowds. We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time at the zoo as we would have liked, but we did get to see the new African predators section and a baby elephant. The Red Ape sanctuary is currently under construction so unfortunately we missed a lot of the primates this time around. (My six-year-old is “observing” a dwarf mongoose.)

Rose City ReptilesRose City Reptiles

Rose City Reptiles

Rose City Reptiles

Rose City Reptiles is a tiny little shop on SE Division near our old apartment. While it’s not the cleanest pet store I’ve been in (and has gotten some mixed reviews), the owner Thuyn is certainly one of the most accommodating people I’ve met and he’s got a fantastic collection of snakes, lizards, and turtles (and mounted insects). When we were watching the chameleons, he asked if we’d like to see them eat, and fetched a cup of crickets to dump into the terrarium. The same with the poison dart frogs (which moved so quickly that I never actually saw a tongue shoot out—just a nod of the head, and a fruit fly would vanish). And when we got to the snakes, he asked if we’d like to hold one, which my six-year-old enthusiastically did. To top it off, Thuyn then fed this corn snake a live mouse, a process my daughters watched with fascination. If you’re in the Southeast, definitely worth stopping in to take a gander.

Northwest Children's TheaterNorthwest Children's Theater

Northwest Children's Theater

Northwest Children’s Theater

My wife and kids had the opportunity to attend “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”—a musical based on Mo Willem’s popular book. Not all the shows at the Northwest Children’s Theater are targeted for the wee ones, but this one was high on audience interaction and my kids loved it. (Here they are hounding the Pigeon for autographs.) Our local friend tells us that the shows are generally well-done, and a lot of the actors in the plays are teens at the school, which is a cool way to get your own geeklets interested in theater.

Portland Saturday MarketPortland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market

Portland Saturday Market

The Portland Saturday Market has always been one of our favorite weekend destinations. Everything at the market is made by the sellers, and you can find anything from tutus to wooden toys to the fantastic Spoonman creations and everything in between. Oh, and the famous Duct Tape Wallet—back in 2000 when I made myself one, my co-workers said I should make a bunch and sell them for $20 a pop. I really should have taken their suggestion, because there are a couple guys who are now making all sorts of very cool wallets out of colored duct tape. When you need a break from shopping, have lunch at one of the many food carts. (The Horn of Africa is one of our faves, but you can also get some pretty good BBQ, Mexican food, or just a good ol’ elephant ear.)

Southwest Community CenterSouthwest Community Center

Southwest Community Center

Southwest Community Center

You can make the call whether this is geeky or not, but this community center at Gabriel Park in Southwest Portland has an awesome pool, including this fantastic two-story water slide which both my six-year-old and three-year-old enjoyed. There’s also a huge shallow pool area for the little kids, with a section of geysers and a huge pipes-and-buckets play area perfect for cooling off on a hot day. (And a hot tub for the grown-ups to warm up on a cold one.)

Mural at Floating World Comics. Photo: Jonathan LiuMural at Floating World Comics. Photo: Jonathan Liu

Mural at Floating World Comics. Photo: Jonathan Liu

And Four Geeky Places I Went Without the Kids:

Floating World ComicsFloating World Comics

Floating World Comics

Floating World Comics

I don’t frequent comic book stores, but I do like to stop in occasionally to browse. Floating World Comics is overwhelming in its selection (this photo only shows a portion of the store) but it’s a great place to pick up the latest issue of your favorite comics, as well as discover an entire room-full of things you may never have heard of. It’s located near Old Town/Chinatown in downtown Portland, and the people there are quiet but friendly.

Compound GalleryCompound Gallery

Compound Gallery

Compound

Nearby, a weird gallery/shoe-and-clothing store that I first discovered while living in Portland. I’m not much for the ultra-hip clothes and shoes, but I dig the upstairs art gallery (note: not always kid-safe) and the huge collection of figurines. I won’t even try to list the vast selection of cute little things you can get for your cubicle, and if you’ve got a bigger budget you can go for the big stuff, like this impressive set from “Where the Wild Things Are.”

(And a bonus geeky spot: right next door is Backspace, a coffee shop/art gallery/LAN gaming facility.)

Powell's Technical BooksPowell's Technical Books

Powell's Technical Books

Powell’s Technical Books

Not necessarily a place you can’t take your kids (they do have a section of kids’ books and activities near the front of the store) but definitely on the geeky end of the various Powell’s bookstores. If you’ve never heard of Powell’s, it’s a fantastic independent bookseller in Portland. Their flagship store, the City of Books, takes up an entire city block and comes with a map—it’s a book lover’s nirvana. A couple blocks away, there’s the smaller store that focuses on technical books: the table display as you walk in is filled with books on science and math and game design, and Fifty Dangerous Things was prominently displayed, too.

Drop your kids off at the nearby playground, and wander around for an hour or two.

Rainy Day Games

Possibly the biggest board games store in the Portland area (at least the biggest one I’ve been to)—its collection of store copies that you can open up and try out is larger than the entire inventory of some other games stores. Rainy Day Games is tucked into an unassuming storefront in a strip mall way out west, which is why I didn’t make it out much while I lived in Portland, but if you’re a gamer this is definitely worth a trip. Walking in can be kind of overwhelming if you’re not familiar with games, but the staff is friendly and knowledgeable if you need help. (And, equally important to me, they’ll also leave you alone to browse if that’s more your style.) Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo while I was there.

There are plenty of games and puzzle-type toys for kids, so it can be a kid-friendly place; I just happened to have a free hour sans kids and I appreciated the time to peruse the collection on my own. Alas, due to luggage constraints I didn’t buy anything this time around, but I did get some great ideas for future additions to my own games collection.

There you have it.

Obviously, there are so many places I missed—other games and comics stores, the Children’s Museum and the Academy Theater (with on-site babysitting!)—but you can only do so much on one trip. Portland is definitely a great place for geeks. If you have any other favorite locations to add to the list, please feel free to add them in the comments!

All photos by Jonathan Liu.

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