A gem in the heart of downtown Portland, Oregon, the beautiful Lan Su Chinese Garden turned out to be a great outing for an afternoon with our four children. Nestled in the heart of Old Town and Chinatown and spanning one entire city block, this walled Chinese garden transports you to a setting seemingly far from the ebb of a bustling city.
With gorgeous Chinese architecture flanked by water and thousands of authentic plants, the garden offers a glimpse into Chinese culture, history and ways of thinking.
We were delighted to discover that the garden is a treasure-trove of delights for visitors of all ages. At every turn, stories and legends from Chinese culture are unearthed in this educational garden. As you move amongst pavilions through zig-zag stone paths, mysteries await as you help children see both “what is revealed as well as what is concealed”.
You can join in on a docent-led tour or use a helpful Family Discovery Guide, revealing items to look for while touring the garden. In the Boathouse, the Family Discovery Guide challenges guests to spy five bats flying among clouds found in a wood carving somewhere in the premises. Later, children can search for the double rainbows resting in the Clouds Bridge or the five bats inside a bat-shaped drip tile.
My kids loved learning how the stones in the Tranquility Courtyard were used similarly to reflexology to stimulate the feet, body and mind. Each stone was hand-placed and configured to create a design and to serve a purpose.
We sniffed our way through the Fragrance Courtyard, exploring nooks and crannies and learning about new varieties of plants, trees and flowers, along with their uses. Trees and plants more than 100 years old flanked the winding pathways.
Pulling Fortune Sticks
One of our favorite discoveries were the Chinese Fortune sticks that we pulled to determine our upcoming good fortune.
Chinese Fortune Stick
Appropriately, my son’s read “Wealth will come to you through marriage or home.”
Our tour guide shared that a popular activity is to try to count all the fish in Lake Zither, so the boys jumped to the challenge.
Searching for fish in Lake Zither.
I highly recommend participating in the docent led tours. Our engaging, knowledgeable tour guide entertained all four of our pre-teens with her captivating stories, information and note-worthy identifications throughout the tour.
Throughout the week, various events take place at the garden ranging from Calligraphy, Mahjong, Tai Chi and live music, for example. Check the upcoming event calendar to plan your visit.
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is open to visitors seven days a week, year-round, closing only on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Winter Hours run November 1 – March 31 from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and during the Summer Hours running April 1 – October 31 from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Admission gains access to the Garden, Teahouse and for public tours and exhibits and costs $28 for a family pass covering two adults and two students; or $9.50 for adults; $8.50 for Seniors; $7.00 for students ages 6-18 and college students with identification. Children five and under are free.
On the premises, a teahouse serves tea and traditional snacks while numerous Chinese restaurants, just beyond the walls of the garden, offer traditional Chinese fare.
Post garden visit, the kids loved sampling the varieties of Dim Sum and tea found in a nearby restaurant.
This was a surprisingly fun adventure and unlike any destination my kids and I had ever explored before. We recommend you immerse yourself in the culture of China and get lost inside this enchanted garden.