This summer I’ve fallen in love with street art. I think it started when two blogging friends and I hit up some of our favorite murals in Southeast Portland, Oregon. Lisa from This Beautiful Day, Jenni from A Well Crafted Party and I caught up (and goofed off) in front of some of the city’s most dramatic street art. Just about every chance I’ve gotten since then, I’ve made detours and special trips to visit Portland murals—and have been bringing my kids along, too. One of my favorite trips was a mini mural crawl in North Portland that both kids joined me for.
This mural crawl for kids was one of the most fun family activities I’ve done recently, partly because it was even more enjoyable for me than it was for the girls. (Pretty sure I’m not alone in planning 99% of our family activities around what the under-5 set wants to do—but not this time!) That said, Peeper and Kiwi really got into the kid-friendly mural crawl in North Portland. (See the photos for proof!)
Part of the fun was the novelty of the family activity: We’d never done something quite like this. Peeper loved directing me and Kiwi so she could take a photo. (She has a good eye, doesn’t she?) Plus, the girls were fascinated by street art. Their wide eyes seemed to say, “Wait, you mean artists can paint giant pictures outside? I thought you said we couldn’t paint on walls!”
Uh-oh, I might live to regret this Portland, Oregon mural crawl. Oh well, it was worth it!
Mini lessons for the mini mural crawl
Kiwi and Peeper had plenty of questions the day of our mini mural crawl in North Portland. First, they wanted to know what we were doing, and why. Then Peeper asked what exactly a mural was. I explained that a mural is an extra-big painting on a wall, and murals share the artist’s ideas with everyone who passes by.
As we walked between the North Portland murals, I sprinkled in little facts I’ve learned this summer: That street art has long straddled the tension between public art and real estate development, between self-expression and controversy. That Portland’s murals face threats from construction and tagging alike. That Portland’s murals are whimsical, serious, educational and thought-provoking. That most of all, Portland’s street art is a fantastic way to start conversations and build community. (Start with the Portland Street Art Alliance’s article for more about the history of street art in Portland.)
The girls didn’t get a lot of this, of course. But I’m pretty sure they soaked in the very basics—and that they’re developing a love for Portland murals, just like their mama.
Kids’ mural crawl in North Portland
Portland has a wealth of street art, but I knew I had to keep my destinations few and close together for a kid-friendly mural crawl. After all, cranky, tired, hot kids do not appreciate street art.
So we saw a bunch of murals in Portland’s Alberta District, a historic cultural neighborhood with a high density of street art. I picked a stretch of Alberta where we’d have to walk only a couple of blocks to see the murals—and finish before the girls were, well, completely finished.
If you’re looking for a new family-friendly outdoor activity and want to do a mini mural crawl with kids in Portland, Oregon, here’s what we did!
North Portland mini mural crawl
- Start with the giant rabbit mural on the north side of Alberta between 18th and 19th. Kids can’t see the rabbit up-close (it’s on the wall of a bar’s patio, so no minors allowed!) but you can see it from the sidewalk. It’s a great mural to start with because, well, kids and rabbits.
- Walk east on Alberta to the Keep Your Chin Up mural on the north side of the street between 21st and 22nd. When we visited this mural, it was tagged a ton. Instead of skipping it entirely, though, we took some detail shots. I sure hope this iconic Portland mural is restored soon.
- Head another half-block east to 22nd and Alberta. Start with the You Are Confined Only by the Walls You Build mural. If your kids are bigger than mine and will safely stay put, take a wide shot of the whole mural from across the street; if not, explore the many details and different patterns of this gorgeous Portland mural.
- Just across the street, the slightly psychedelic, majorly fun mural celebrating music was a big hit with my kids. They liked the bright colors—and the bike racks. (I definitely have two monkeys on my hands.)
- If your kids are still feeling up to it, walk one more block east to the elephant mural on the southeast corner of 23rd and Alberta. My kids didn’t make it, but I must have mentioned the elephant mural because now every time we talk about street art, Peeper says, “I think it’s going to be the elephant mural.”
- Walk back to your starting place, definitely stopping for ice cream at Salt & Straw along the way. And see if you and your kids can spot this tiny example of street art—a much smaller counterpart to the giant rabbit, perhaps? See—street art doesn’t have to be large scale!
Let me know if you and your kids do a mural crawl in Portland—or just look for street art, no matter where you live. I’d love to hear about it!