Family Field Trip: Multnomah Village
Close-in SW Portland is a swirl of neighborhoods. They closely resemble each other with acres of housing developments and wooded roads. If you don’t know your way around, you end up driving endlessly in circles looking for the entrance to I-5 or the rest of Capitol Highway or Barbur Boulevard, which, to the novice, seem to appear and disappear around each bend.But just five minutes south of downtown, if you take the Multnomah Blvd. exit to Capitol Highway, you will land in the center of what looks like something out of Portland’s younger days: Multnomah Village. For your field trip, you can keep this simple – lunch and an ice cream – but you can also easily make this neighborhood center a frequent destination for your family to visit and enjoy.Multnomah Village dates to the 1910s, when a community sprang up around an Oregon Electric Railroad station. Portland annexed it starting in the 1950s, but they still celebrate “Multnomah Days” with a parade and a street festival in August. They have all the regular suspects – a bank, a Starbucks, a bead shop and antique store – but what makes the Village unique are a the handful of extraordinary shops and restaurants: the historic Fat City Café, an authentic sweets shop, a restaurant serving Dill Pickle soup, a toy store that outshines its peers in hands-on entertainment for your under eight set. When you couple these offerings with one of the gems of the Portland Parks system, the Multnomah Arts Center, you have a reason to come back again and again.The best field trips center around an activity. The MAC offers classes for all ages in woodworking, textiles, ceramics, painting, photography, dance and theater. This MAC, unlike the athletic club of the same acronym downtown, doesn’t require you to pony up big bucks and dress appropriately for the elevator. Instead, you can simply walk in, sign yourself and your kids up for some light or intensive arts training, then go out to lunch in the Village.
Of course, you may prefer a more unstructured, spontaneous day. If so, start at Fat City Cafe, right in the epicenter of the Village. This is not a place for delicacies or diets. With a road-themed décor and a limited breakfast and lunch menu that features the same ten ingredients mixed in different ways, Fat City holds no pretension. You can truly relax among the regulars, let the kids be themselves, and maybe even sit in the booth where the infamous, art-exposed Portland mayor Bud Clark fired the police chief.
For dessert, walk right out and into another old fashioned shop, Sweets Etc. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch a kid’s eyes bug out when faced with the high art of candy. Candy in bins, jars of jellies, sweets in the shape of ribbons, toys and ladybugs, chocolate of all types, plus taffy, sours and sticks of horehound – this place is a fantasy of sugar. You can also get a scoop of Umpqua ice cream to eat at one of their little tables while you watch your children memorize every stick and dollop of confection in the joint.
Now it’s time to take a stroll along the main drag to take in the quirky and cozy shops and have an impromptu storytime at the old-fashioned Annie Bloom’s Books. Your children will probably be itching to get down to Thinker Toys, though. Inside they have built a tiki-style playhouse full of pint-sized furniture and toys for your kids to enjoy while you browse for their cousin’s next birthday present. You can also buy a kite and head off of the village’s main drag to Gabriel Park.
The beautiful park, full of rolling hills, will be home to a new skate park this summer. Bring a novel and relax while your budding skate rats roll endlessly up and down the new concrete wonderland. The park is adjacent to the Southwest Community Center, where you can opt to spend your field trip activity shooting down their water slide.The pool here is fantastic, and you’ll work up an appetite for that Dill Pickle Soup.
You can enjoy this rarity at Otto and Anita’s Bavarian Restaurant. Otto and Anita have given a lot of thought to their menu, including what best to feed your children. Their kid’s menu features real food like linguini with carrots in cream sauce for $3.50 and chicken strips (not deep fried!) with carrots, rice and fruit for $5.50. They know what you want (schnitzel!), but they also know you want something besides fries as a vegetable for your hungry and sometimes cranky charges.
If you are expecting a quaint strip of quirky shops and restaurants, Multnomah Village will not disappoint. What will surprise you is the depth of activity in this tiny Southwest enclave. Take a class, go swimming, enjoy the outdoors and have a great meal – this little burg will give you many reasons to add one more neighborhood to your cache of places to go with things to do with the kids.