Portland’s The Grotto with kids: Outdoor Christmas fun

This week we checked off a Portland bucket list activity: Visiting Portland’s The Grotto with kids. The families from Kiwi’s homeschool preschool planned a p.m. field trip to see the Christmas lights there, and since I didn’t exactly know what was in store, this Portland Christmas activity gave me so much more than I expected!

Visiting The Grotto with kids is a painless, fun outdoor activity to get in the Christmas spirit in Portland.

If you’re looking for a family activity in Portland that’s

  • inexpensive
  • easy for little kids and entertaining for older kids, too
  • not stressful

then I recommend visiting The Grotto with the whole family. (I didn’t receive compensation or free entry for this post; I just really enjoyed our visit and am glad we finally went to see the Christmas lights there!)

Family Christmas activities in Portland: The Grotto with kids

Family Christmas activities at The Grotto in Portland

I knew The Grotto, a Catholic shrine and botanical garden, put up Christmas lights every winter; I didn’t know they hosted a bunch of other festive Christmas activities in Portland, too.


Visiting Portland, Oregon's The Grotto with kids is a wonderful Christmas activity for the whole family. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

We listened to a middle school choir in The Grotto’s beautiful church, carolers in a sheltered tent and a man playing what I think was a dulcimer near the gift shop. Kiwi loved the variety of Christmas music and bopped along, dancing to Carol of the Bells like it was her job. She wins the #ChristmasSpirit award.

Petting zoo

There were supposedly a bunch of farm animals on hand when Baby Jesus was born, so it totally makes sense to have a petting zoo at a Christmas event, right? Either way, the kids loved seeing goats, sheep, llamas and even a camel up close. Volunteers did a really good job of scooping up poop so the sawdust and hay underfoot was free of unpleasant surprises. Word to the wise: Don’t touch the llamas or the camel on the head. Apparently they don’t like that, and nothing ruins a Christmas activity like getting bitten by a camel.

Visiting The Grotto with kids in Portland Oregon has fun Christmas activities, including a petting zoo. Ten Thousand Hour MamaVisiting The Grotto with kids in Portland Oregon has fun Christmas activities, including a petting zoo. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Unrelated side note/trivia: Did you know the llama’s scientific name is lama glama? Well, they *are* rather glamorous with those fancy long eyelashes!

Puppet show

A volunteer put on a kids’ puppet show at The Grotto, too. We didn’t stay long enough to catch the story—by that time Kiwi, who hadn’t taken a nap, was practically horizontal in the stroller. Other kids seemed to like it though!


Visiting The Grotto in Portland, Oregon: Family Christmas activities and travel. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Our homeschool preschool group went to an early dinner before visiting The Grotto with kids, but we could have eaten among the Christmas lights! The food smelled fantastic, and it was definitely a step up from popcorn and elephant ears. The waffle sandwiches looked particularly delicious.

One thing to know: I only saw one table (which was near the exit, just outside the gift shop), which might make eating with kids tricky. There are benches throughout The Grotto, but take the lack of tables into consideration if you plan on eating there.

Christmas lights

Portland Oregon Christmas lights and activities: The Grotto. Ten Thousand Hour MamaPortland Oregon Christmas lights at The Grotto - Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Of course Christmas lights are the main attraction at The Grotto. The lights aren’t nearly as elaborate as those at Portland’s Zoo Lights, but the kids still enjoyed looking at all the colors! There is a series of paths that are fairly flat and quite short where you can walk to see Christmas lights in addition to the main display.

Tips to visit The Grotto with kids at Christmas

The key to any successful outdoor family activity is planning ahead; visiting The Grotto with kids is no exception. Keep these tips in mind for a family Christmas trip you’ll all enjoy.

Visiting Portland, Oregon's The Grotto with kids is a wonderful Christmas activity for the whole family. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

  1. Dress warmly. The pocket of Portland where The Grotto is located is a bit colder and windier than other neighborhoods, and you’ll be outside, so add one additional layer than you think you’ll need. Better to be too warm than too cold.
  2. Take a family photo first. Ask a friendly stranger to take a photo of your family or group when you first arrive, before the kids are overtired. They’re more likely to be cooperative (though Kiwi still hid her face, the shy girl!).
  3. Bring a stroller. The Grotto’s paths are stroller friendly, so if you think your child will get tired or enjoy riding instead of walking, bring the stroller. (You’ll have to leave it just inside the doors if you go inside the church.)
  4. Arrive at sunset. The Grotto Christmas lights turn on at 5pm every night now through December 30 (with the exception of Christmas Day), so arrive as close to that time to avoid bedtime crankiness.
  5. Don’t stress. We’ve done Zoo Lights and now The Grotto as a family, and The Grotto is way less intense. I love Zoo Lights too, but if you are intimidated by the zoo’s Christmas event’s long lines and crowds, The Grotto’s Christmas display is a low-stress alternative.
  6. Have fun! Enjoy this special time as a family!

Christmas activities in Portland Oregon: Visiting The Grotto with kids. Ten Thousand Hour MamaChristmas activities in Portland Oregon: The Grotto. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Have you ever been to Portland’s The Grotto with kids, or by yourself? 

8 thoughts on “Portland’s The Grotto with kids: Outdoor Christmas fun

  • December 7, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    I haven’t been to The Grotto in ages, and I really want to take my kids to see the lights this year. Your tips for families are spot on!

    • December 8, 2017 at 11:58 am

      I hope you guys have fun! I still need to go during daylight hours!

  • December 7, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I’ve been meaning to go to The Grotto this year for their Christmas lights etc. Thanks for the sneak peek!

    • December 8, 2017 at 11:58 am

      Absolutely! It was our first time too and I’m so glad we went.

  • December 8, 2017 at 10:53 am

    These are great tips, thank you! I’m going to the Grotto tomorrow with my 3 year old nephew, so these tips are great to keep in mind.

    • December 8, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Hooray! Have fun!!

  • December 8, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I’ve heard so many amazing things about the Grotto and would love to go sometime… The crowds make me a bit nervous but your tips will definitely help!

    • December 8, 2017 at 11:57 am

      We went on a weeknight and the crowds were so manageable. I get anxious in crowds, and I was totally fine.


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