Dreaming of a family-friendly afternoon filled with hands-on learning? You can’t do much better than the Portland Children’s Museum. Located steps away from the Oregon Zoo, World Forestry Center and Hoyt Arboretum in Portland’s Washington Park, this fun-filled museum hosts more than 300,000 visitors each year.
Portland’s first director of parks and recreation, Dorothea Lensch, founded the Junior Museum and Adventure House in 1946. Original exhibits included arts and crafts classes, natural history displays and even a pet lending library! In 2001, the museum, now known as the Portland Children’s Museum, moved into the expansive former home of Portland’s best known children’s museum, the Oregon Museum of Science and Technology, in Southwest Portland’s Washington Park.
With more than a dozen permanent exhibits, there’s always plenty for little ones to explore at this experience-based learning center. Here are a few of our favorites:
Armed with toddler-sized tools and hard hats, budding builders tear down walls and play with plumbing as they hone their motor skills and learn about the material world.
Kids turn found, recycled and earth-friendly materials — think cardboard tubes, egg cartons, yarn and old magazines — into imaginative creations, which they can either take home or donate to a communal art project.
Visitors delight in digging into piles of child-safe rubber mulch with a slew of shovels, chutes, buckets and movers.
Little animal lovers perform medical check-ups on stuffed pups, examine real X-rays of cats and dogs, and learn how different creatures’ bodies work.
Boat races, water cannons and a 12-foot-high (3.6 meters) waterfall give this room all-ages appeal, with smocks and dryers on hand to avoid any damp clothing disasters.
This outdoor labyrinth is made of hedges tall enough for children to feel hidden, but short enough for adults to peer over and keep an eye on the kids.
And that’s not all! The museum also houses a clay studio, tree house, theater and grocery shop stocked with plastic snacks, among other attractions.
The museum’s newest permanent exhibit, opened in 2014, the outdoor adventure area transforms 1.3 acres (4.85 hectares) of land into an interactive outside play space. Children can build forts, dig in the dirt, hike along ADA-accessible trails and explore a grove of evergreens and oak trees. On sunny days, they can cool off in the creek, complete with waterspouts and a working dam. When the little adventurers need a rest, the entire family can picnic in the verdant meadow or shady pavilion, or catch a show at the outdoor amphitheater.
Housed amidst a host of other family-friendly attractions in Washington Park, the Children’s Museum is easily accessible by MAX light rail (Red and Blue lines) and is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Tickets and more information are available at the Portland Children’s Museum website.