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Nearby Getaway: Springtime in Portland Brings Tulip Festival and Lego Expo


An episode of The Simpsons once joked, “Why should we leave America for America Jr.?” about a trip to Canada. Sometimes traveling from Seattle to Portland can feel a little like that. Sure, we have a tulip festival here in the Seattle area, but Portland’s is a little earlier and a bit less crowded, and as any good Northwesterner knows, more color in the gray of March is a vital element to staying sane around here.

Oregon’s Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest runs March 23-April 29 and offers 40 acres of bright, colorful flowers in creative patterns, with a stunning view of Mt. Hood hanging in the background. It’s about 45 minutes south of Portland, and once there the ticket price ($5/per person over age 13) includes access to the flower fields, a tram or hay-wagon ride, with a children’s play area that includes duck races, slides, tire swings and photo cut-out boards. On weekends, the event ramps up with wooden-shoe-making, steam tractor demonstrations, balloon artists, pony rides and a meet-and-greet with the Tulip the Cow mascot, who loves high fives and taking photos.

Head back into Portland proper and decamp to the stylish AC Hotel (888 SW 3rd Ave.). The new concept hotel from Marriott brings a European feel with streamlined, sleek rooms that feel a little fancier than the average family-sized suite. Hotel staff are helpful and can supply both a crib and excellent advice on kid-friendly food and activities — starting with the huge waterfront park across the street with endless space to run around.

While Portland is rightfully famous for its food trucks, eating outside in spring with small children can be a challenge. Enter Pine Street Market (125 SW 2nd Ave.), a huge food hall that opened in 2016. Parents can order a glass of wine and a bowl of ramen while kids dig into a slice of pizza. Maybe your menu choices are more along the lines of roast chicken or foot-long corn dogs, Korean-Southern barbecue fusion or classic burgers: it’s all here. With concepts coming from John Gorham of Toro Bravo and Tasty n Sons, James Beard Award winner Ken Forkish, and Olympia Provisions sausage savant Elias Cairo, there are no bad choices. Save some room for dessert at Wiz Bang Bar, a soft-serve spot from Portland’s innovative Salt & Straw ice cream shops.

The first weekend of the tulip festival also happens to coincide with another amazing, kid-friendly festival: Bricks Cascade , which brings Lego models to life. With tens of thousands of square feet of Lego models by hundreds of builders, the public exposition shows off the incredible, intricate work of experts: castles, sports stadiums, entire cities, even favorite television and movie scenes. The expo — part of a larger conference at the Oregon Convention Center (777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) — costs $11 per person, or $40 for a family of four, and includes access to all the models, vendors selling new and vintage Lego sets, even Lego jewelry and art. And if all this impressive Lego sculpting inspires your young ones, there’s even a Duplo building area for them to make their own imitations.

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