When family is in town and the weather is gorgeous, it’s a lot of fun to revisit the classics.
And in Portland, when you have kids of all ages together, it’s a good idea to start with a place that has been a local favorite since it opened 110 years ago. Think about that — there is a place here in Portland that opened up the year before The Great Earthquake of San Francisco, and it’s still operating today. And it’s still fun.
Oaks Amusement Park.
For those not familiar, it’s a mini-amusement park that sits along the Willamette river, sitting in a beautiful glen of woods with partial sun and shade. It’s unabashedly old-fashioned, and it’s this anachronistic quality that is a big part of its charm. It’s a little down-market, but sweetly so, as Chippy the Chipmunk walks around, nearly everyone is walking around with a Slushee, and you see many generations walking around together.
You can’t help but feel like it’s a tradition passed down from one generation to other, and it’s a place for a lot of firsts: first kiddie ride, first time being let loose with a buddy and nearly hurling after the Screaming Eagle, first roller date, first family outing with a toddler. All in one little spot.
It’s as close to Coney Island as many of us are going to get, and having been there (and a number of other small -mid-sized parks around the country), I can tell you
Here are Seven Reasons Why Going to Oaks Amusement Park is Worth a Trip:
1. There’s mucho bang for the buck. Okay, the rides aren’t nearly as modern or thrill-inducing as ones at newer and bigger parks, but it’s just enough excitement for a couple hours; who really enjoys being at an amusement park for longer than that, anyway? I went to Disney recently, and the exorbitant cost meant that I stayed about 6 hours longer than I would have liked to; I needed to eke out as much friggin Magic as I could in one day because I knew that a repeat visit wasn’t happening — at least until I am handed a grandkid for the trouble.
Pay attention to deals on the website; there always seems to be some kind of deal going on (except for the very peak times mid-summer) and this brings down the cost further. This past weekend I brought 5 kids in and I got them each the deluxe bracelet, and the whole thing cost me just over $45 dollars. Come on — you can spend that much on one ice skating rink visit or one hour of trampoline for a small group of kids.
We were there three hours, and there were very few people there for much of the time, so our crew probably got to do a total of 15 rides in that much time (and we could have gone on for another 5 hours had we wanted to). All rides except for the go-carts and miniature golf were included, making this is a screaming deal.
2. They only charge those who are actually going on the rides.
Play your cards right and if your party likes similar rides (or they’ve brought like-minded friends), you can just sit pretty (and cost-free!) in the shade while they goof around. Three hours to chat with my beloved sister, flip through cookbooks and sort through photos on my phone while our kids are happily occupied? I am so in.
3. You can bring in everything but alcohol and firearms — so why not carry in something like these to enjoy?
Ever been to a place where they go through your bag looking for contraband refreshments? That is a colossal bummer and it irks me to no end. Not here. We brought in all kinds of luxuries from the PSU farmers’ market (like these cookies from Two Tarts) to nibble on and it wasn’t that no one noticed — they didn’t care! They even made it easy for us to enjoy it with empty picnic tables to be used at no cost.
We were so well-stocked (with two picnic baskets and a cooler bag) that we heard not one shakedown from the kids for a soda, refreshments or treats; Oak Park’s offerings were there if we wanted them, but we didn’t need to indulge.
This further added to the economic appeal and relaxation of the place. I know personally if I can fill my craw with goat cheese, baguette and Tastebud Farms salad on a plate of my choosing (with a cookie chaser), I am a much happier person because of it. Thanks, OAP.
4. Small blueprint means not a ton of walking or schlepping.
I like my kicks, but I like them even better if they’re close. If you get there early enough, parking is available right at the front and you can stake out a picnic table right next to the ticket counter. Even if you didn’t sit on your keister for much of the time like I did, the biggest, most intimidating rides are just a minute or two walk from the tamest ones, so there is no way you are going to tire yourself out traversing the park.
5. You can’t beat the setting.
Situated on the riverbank in Sellwood, it’s so nice to take a break and take just a few minutes to walk down to the beach below; you can catch a glimpse of the skyline, watch kayakers glide through smooth waters, skip a couple rocks or just catch some shade in a lovely tree-lined meadow.
6. You can channel your inner derby girl and roller skate.
The ride bracelet we bought entitled us to unlimited roller skating inside a air-conditioned wood rolling rink; lining the walls were photos from its colorful past (and I hear competitions continue here to this day) and apple cheeked teenagers patroled the rink making sure no newcomer got in over their head. When you go, check out the vintage Wurlitzer that hangs over the middle of the rink from a lowered platform — and fall in love with Journey and The Steve Miller Band all over again. Is there any situation that The Joker doesn’t make just a wee bit better?
7. Oaks Park is decidedly no-tech — and in this day and age, that can be a very good thing.
Don’t you want your kids to remember how fun it was to put down their phones and race their buddy down a giant slide on a piece of burlap?
On a sunny afternoon, with the best of friends, it really doesn’t get any better.