"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Mamas: Your best free activities & low-cost shopping?

For some of us, low-cost living is the reality.  We just don't have dual incomes or excess funds to go around.  Even when we are pinching pennies, there is still plenty to do with the kids.  We are sure of it!  What are your favorite free haunts?  Where do you go?  What about for household or children's items?  Where can you find decent quality, low-cost goods?  An urbanMama emails:

Can you give me ideas for how to go out and about (or stay in!) with my 3 kids (ranging 3-12) without spending money - or spending very little?!  I am up-to-speed with the library and the parks, but need more inspiration!  Also, shopping suggestions - both for household and childrens stuff.  Thanks (ps. the naked mamas party was a huge help!)


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We love to take nature hikes in Forest Park or go out to Sauvie Island. We live in NoPo, so it's not too far from us. Even if its chilly, we bundle up and take the dog.

McMenamins Kennedy School also shows family-friendly movies (very cheap) and they have a warm soaking pool for a nice afternoon.

For low-cost groceries: Winco, especially their HUGE bulk foods section. I've noticed that many of the bulk items are from Bob's Red Mill (I saw the labels on the bags when an employee was refilling bins). I've also found decent organic items there (Pacific chicken broth, bulk spaghetti, salad, even organic apples.) On the flip side, they have plenty of rock-bottom-cheap generic food and household staples too, from canned goods to TP. You must bag your own groceries and they don't take credit cards (debit cards are OK).

Look up the SUN Community Schools to see if there's one near you. They're typically located at lower-income schools. They offer very low-cost classes, often for adults, too. They even have scholarship funds available. Each SUN school also hosts a number of "Family Nights" throughout the year. My son's school has a Health and Wellness Fair coming up, and in other years they've had a Multicultural Fair, a Science Night, and Art Night. These Family Nights are free and EVERYONE is welcome, whether they have kids at the school or not.

For little ones who like riding a train, try picking up the MAX inside fareless square and riding around downtown or plan an excursion to the main library via MAX.

Another low-cost option is to visit Scrap in close-in NoPo. Pick up art supplies and wacky crafty stuff at extremely low prices. Then come home and break out the glue.

Go to Goodwill or another thrift store and buy a couple of sheets or tablecloths. Add in some clothespins and the kids can turn any space into a tent/hideout/fort. Maybe your 12-year-old would be too old for this? But little kids sure love it.

p.s. the Kennedy school pool is free for residents of the Concordia neighborhood. A very nice perk!

For shopping, the Village Merchants (34th and Division, SE) and Rerun (7th and Fremont, NE) are the best! They both have used/consigned clothes, household, kids stuff, furniture, books, movies, etc., all for cheap. And they are locally owned an fun. Definitely worth checking out.

A few nature/outdoor ideas for you...

We love the Audubon Center which is FREE. They have resident birds that have been rescued that cannot return to the wild (owls, falcons, hawk and now a turkey vulture!) and they have a small nature center with displays. And there is plenty of easy hiking in the sanctuary. More info: http://audubonportland.org/

We did a post on some favorite in-city family hikes that you may enjoy:


In that post is a link to Tryon Creek State Park. Tryon Creek has a free interpretive center which always has some interactive activities. They also have a lot of guided hikes and activities in addition to tons of hiking in the area. Hoyt Arboretum is also listed in that post. They have free guided hikes and is just another great area to check out.

I realize that gas isn't free but, if you want to take a trip out of town, Bonneville Dam and Fish Hatchery is a family fave as well (Exit 41 I-84).

At the hatchery you can see the sturgeon and trout at the hatchery (you can feed the fish for 25 cents, bring quarters). At the dam, you can enjoy the museum - free - as well as check out the fish ladder to see salmon trying to pass through the dam. Nearby is a favorite hike - Walchella Falls - we posted on this hike and other Gorge hikes awhile back:


Out in Hillsboro is Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve which has some easy hikes, viewing areas and a fun and interactive nature center, suggested $2 donation but pay what you can they aren't hard-nosed there:


Speaking of wildlife, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge is also a fave:


The River S Unit offers an unique auto tour and a seasonal hiking trail (the Kiwa Trail which is an easy, level 1.2 mile loop).

The auto tour takes almost an hour. We have toured this area countless times and commonly see herons, egrets, ducks of all sorts, blackbirds, nutria, and much more. It use to be free, now they charge $3 per vehicle (a bargain).

Last one, cause now I am on a wildlife kick...another family favorite - Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden:


Admission is free to all from Labor Day through February. From March through Labor Day, admission is free Tuesdays and Wednesdays.


We also enjoy the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden.http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=27&action=ViewPark
And they are free from Labor Day until February. It is a nice stroll and fun feeding the ducks.

when the weather isn't too bad, we take the max out to the airport and watch the planes. the zoo has a free day once a month. i love goodwill, dollar tree and winco too! also, check out wantnot.net for lots of good shopping links and freebies.

Here's a great blog that has wonderful info on free activities in Portland. Tends to focus on weekends, but fabulous compilation of info: http://aroundthesunblog.com/

The Japanese Garden in Washington Park will be free (with two cans of food) on Monday November 12th for Veteran's Day. Should be beautiful this time of year.

The Museum of Contemporary Craft is always free and they offer Family Discovery Sundays the last Sunday of the month - free including supplies!

And, I think the Value Village in Hollywood has great kids clothes - and books too.

The Multnomah County Library "Research Topics: Parenting" page has a section called Rainy Day Activities that has links to low cost and free activities for families:


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