For some, it’s floating on roller skates listening to music. For others, it’s the wind rushing through their hair looking out over Portland from a Ferris wheel. And then there are those who love the feeling when their stomach is left in the dust as they spin, twirl and drop on a roller coaster.
Thrill seekers, mini-golfers, go-carters and people watchers all have something to do at Oaks Park, Portland’s own version of a boardwalk. There is so much to do, see and ride at Oaks Park, that an article could be written about each attraction.
For example, Emily MacKay, promotions manager with the Oaks Park Association – the park is a non-profit where all proceeds go back into improving the attraction – loves the roller skating rink.
“It is the last of what was a common American experience from the Victorian through disco eras,” MacKay said.
The rink opened in 1906 and is the largest, oldest roller skating rink in the country. MacKay said when the live Wurlitzer pipe organ is being played it’s a one of a kind experience.
“I am a four time National Champion artistic roller skater and my daughter just won her first nationals, so we can be found in the skating rink pretty much any time of the night or day,” she said.
The rink is open year-round, while the rest of the park is open from mid-March through Ocotober, and while the rink is by far the most well-known attraction, the carnival atmosphere that can be experienced Tuesday through Sunday during the summer months shouldn’t be missed.
One minute you can try to win a stuffed animal, while the next minute enjoy an ice cream while watching a small-gauge railroad train travel around the park. Approximately 750,000 visitors wander through the park annually, and they also host about 600 special events in the park’s picnic area and dance pavilion.
But the one thing that Oaks Park has, is where it is located. Let’s face it, we have all been to county fairs or carnivals and just wanted a few minutes of piece and quiet while we ate our pretzel or corndog. The park, sitting on the Willamette River, has a beautiful picnic area away from the rides and games where you can take in the wildlife and boats on the river, and even get a glimpse of downtown Portland.
Families can regularly be seen sitting on the grass enjoying a packed lunch taking a break from the fun.
And the way the park is set up keeps the littler kids from mixing with the older kids, with rides and games for the younger age group at one end of the park, while the daredevil, Captain Insano rides – like Disk-O – are at the other end of the park.
However, MacKay said there is one ride, in the center of the park that people miss, that is the crown jewel of the park – the carousel.
“It’s a little hard to see, but worth looking for!” she said.
The antique 1911 Herschell Spillman hand-carved menagerie carousel, is one of the oldest still in operation in the country. During hot days it’s very cool while riding, and what kid or adult doesn’t like to ride a carousel?
The newest attraction at the park is a miniature golf course that opened in 2011. It’s right on the riverfront with great views of the west hills and downtown. The 18-hole course was built around the park’s famous oak trees, so during the summer it’s cool, shady and a great way to pass an hour or two.
“We are always adding or refurbishing items on the park, so check our web site to see what our latest additions are,” MacKay said.
About the Oaks Park: Oaks Park first opened its gates in 1905 and has been the center of fun in Southeast Portland ever since. Today the park networks modern thrill-rides with the classics of yesteryear, so expect to see everything from a “Screamin’ Eagle” to a Ferris Wheel. The park is non-profit and all proceeds go to keep the park operating and improving.
Tips: If you can manage it, weekday evenings are less busy than the weekends. Oftentimes during the weekends parking isn’t a problem, but expect a pretty long walk to get from your car to the park. Also, credit cards are accepted at food vendors and ticket booths, so don’t feel like you have to hit the ATM before you visit. If you come during the wet months, the roller skating rink is a must-see for anyone interested in a classic attraction.
Season: The park is open in the middle of March through September. There are usually special offers going on, while admission to the park is free, you do need to purchase tickets, or an all-access bracelet, to enjoy the rides. For specific times and prices visit the website.
Getting there: 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, Portland, OR 97202 is the address. The park’s web site has a list of detailed directions under the ‘Directions’ link in the 'Quick Link' row.
By Patrick Johnson