Whether it’s too cold, too hot, too wet, or your allergies are just driving you crazy, sometimes it’s best to find your fun indoors. Fortunately, there are plenty of fun and educational options around our metro area. And lots of them are FREE! Here are some favorites…
2250 SE Water Ave., Portland
I don’t know what it is about trains, but little kids just love them. You might develop an appreciation, too, after visiting the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. It’s a great spot to take in all the history of rail transport in Oregon and see some seriously awesome locomotives. Maybe there is one named Thomas! Nah, probably not. Mom tip: This spot is just a block away from OMSI (not free), which makes it an easy double-play. You can also take an urban hike or bike ride up the Eastbank Esplanade if you have particularly energetic kids.
1115 E. Fifth St., Vancouver
If seeing the awesome trains at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center wasn’t enough, consider taking your tykes to the Pearson Air Museum in Vancouver. There they can get up close to a variety of airplanes, and the older ones will be able to appreciate the history of the Army air base that the museum commemorates. Admission is free, but if you have a few bucks to spare, make it a double and head across the road to the Fort Vancouver National Site (ages 15 and younger are free, otherwise it’s $3 a head) where you can tour the site of the old fort.
900 SE 35th Ave., Portland
Located in the Historic Belmont Firehouse, the Safety Learning Center and Fire Museum’s purpose is pretty self-explanatory. Open on Wednesdays and the second Saturday of every month, this gem in east Portland has exhibits showcasing the history of fire fighting, plus it helps kids understand the importance of safety. Mom tip: The Belmont Firehouse is located only about 5 blocks away from Laurelhurst Park, where your kids can play off their energy climbing on the playground or hiking around the pond. Just remember to be safe.
(Free for Multnomah county residents)
1200 SW Park Ave., Portland
Oregon’s history is filled with hundreds of years of events, people, cultures, and development, and the Oregon Historical Society is devoted to the memory of it all. Their museum, located near the Portland Art Museum, is open to everyone but only free for Multnomah county residents. (Proof of residency is required for free admission.) Their current exhibits are numerous: for history aficionados, a visit to the exhibit on WWI and WWII propaganda posters might be in order, and see the history of Oregon’s residents of African ancestry. Art lovers might take an interest in the photography collection of the Oregon landscape. Science geeks (ahem, that’d be me) will flock first to the exhibit showcasing the state’s geology, and moms and dads particularly may also enjoy visiting the Oregon Wine exhibit.
Mom Tip: If the weather is good, pair this destination with an outing at Waterfront Park, which is about 7 blocks to the east. Pack a picnic lunch and play in the fountains near Salmon Street.
Library Cultural Passes
(Washington and Clackamas counties only)
Have you ever wanted to see the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum? How about Pittock Mansion? These destinations and so many more are included in the Cultural Pass program from two local library systems: the Washington County Cooperative Library System and Libraries in Clackamas County. (Sorry, Multnomah County, you’re going to have to sit out this round.)
The Cultural Pass program in intended as an introduction to the pass destinations. Both library systems have multiple passes available for both indoor and outdoor destinations. Washington County’s program features A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Museum, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, The Oregon Garden, Pittock Mansion, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, the Washington County Museum, and Rice NW Museum of Rocks & Minerals. Clackamas County gives access to the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, the Portland Japanese Garden, the Lan Su Chinese Garden, Pittock Mansion, and the Portland Art Museum. The passes work just like a membership card: bring the pass to the destination for free admission. Each pass works a little differently and can admit different numbers of people depending on the destination, so visit your library’s website for details. I recommend you reserve your chosen pass in advance, but be careful to also return them the same day as there is a high penalty fee for returning them even a day late. And whatever you do, do not lose the pass. Obviously, you will need a library card to access this program, so if you aren’t already signed up, what are you waiting for? (Note: Hoodland, Tuality Health Resource Center, and Oregon College of Art & Craft libraries do not participate, and Mollala Library has limited offerings.)
Library Story Times
Public libraries aren’t just warehouses of books; most are buzzing with community activity. One of the most ubiquitous is the regular story times. Lead by storytellers who are capable of enrapturing a room full of bubbly kids with a literary adventure or two, these sessions sometimes also include rhymes, songs, or a bit of dancing. In addition to story times, public libraries are host to numerous classes, groups, and activities for both kids, adults, and the whole family. There is literally something for everyone, from knitting groups to movie night to homework help to craft sessions to…should I go on?
For a full calendar of activities for the your local library, please refer to these links to your county library and find your local branch’s website there.
Washington County Cooperative Library Services
Multnomah County Library
Libraries in Clackamas County
Fort Vancouver Regional Library District
(Free First Friday of the month after 4 p.m.)
4015 SW Canyon Road, Portland
The Portland Children’s Museum has long been a destination for kids, with a convenient location right next to the Oregon Zoo. The Children’s Museum is a kid’s paradise, featuring exhibits intended to foster learning through play. From the General Store to the water area to the bicycle building center, this place is full of indoor fun. In case you are able to find yourself at the Children’s Museum on a dry day, they also have a new (in 2014) Outdoor Adventure exhibit, where kids are free to run, jump, climb, dig, and just do what kids are best at. Admission to the Children’s Museum is free on “Target Free First Friday Night,” which is always the first Friday of the month from 4-8 p.m., courtesy of Target.
(Free Fourth Friday of the month after 5 p.m.)
1219 SW Park Ave., Portland
Get lost in the minds of some great artists at the Portland Art Museum, where every fourth Friday of the month, admission is free after 5 p.m. If you have a budding artist like I do, treat them to the place where imagination has no bounds. It will be worth your time.
I have one kid in particular who is always leaving little plastic tools and building supplies laying around. If you can relate, then you should check out a Home Depot’s Kids Workshop. At participating stores, kids ages 5-12 can attend a workshop where they are instructed to build something fun, like bird houses, airplanes, planters, or cars. Plus, there is just something funny about a kid trying to properly wield a hammer.
Kids Workshops are held at all Home Depot stores on the first Saturday of every month between 9 a.m. and noon. It’s first come, first served, so get there early. You can also register online at the website linked in the title above.
Do you have other free indoor activities around town that have been a hit with your little ones? Share them below in the comments!