Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals

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What’s to Love:  While certainly an unusual location and facility, the Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals offers kids and families a unique opportunity to view an expansive geological collection. Yes, it’s in a house, but don’t let that deter you from taking a visit out to Hillsboro.

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World of Speed

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What’s to Love: A car museum out in Wilsonville, Oregon? I have to admit, it took me a long time to visit this unassuming museum located off I-5. I was a bit skeptical of what I might find. My wife and younger son visited years ago. They both loved it, but I never got around to a visit. I’m glad I did! The World of Speed is a beautiful, clean, and exceptional museum featuring incredible cars, motorcycles, interesting exhibits, hands-on simulators, and all located only 20 minutes from Portland. If your kids are interested in cars, you’ll want to put this museum on your to do list.

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Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

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Ridgefield Wildlife RefugeWhat’s to Love:  As stated on their website, “The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge was established (along with 3 other refuges in the Willamette Valley of Oregon) in 1965, in response to a need to establish vital winter habitat for wintering waterfowl with an emphasis on the dusky Canada goose whose nesting areas in Alaska were severely impacted by the violent earthquake of 1964. Ridgefield Refuge is currently approximately 5,300 acres of marshes, grasslands and woodlands.” This Refuge is a must do for young hikers who might enjoy bird watching.

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Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark

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Wings & Waves WaterparkWhat’s to Love:  I can’t say enough good things about the entire Evergreen facility, which includes a space museum, aviation museum, digital 3D theater, and the Wings & Waves Waterpark. These are beautiful museums that will ignite your child’s imagination and fascinate the whole family.  The sheer magnitude of Evergreen astounds me.  All of these facilities are on par with anything on the national level, and believe it or not, they are located just 40 miles from Portland.  

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Jackson Bottom Wetlands

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Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is just outside downtown Hillsboro, Oregon. It’s a nice location for hiking with younger children and viewing birds/wildlife. There is a beautiful Education Center with a gift shop and exhibit hall.

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Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum

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IMG_0986What’s to Love:  File this under “MUST VISIT NOW!”  This place is AMAZING!  Even a week after the visit, our kids were still talking about it, and I’m trying to fully grasp and articulate our experience.  I cannot believe we hadn’t visited these incredible museums.  Out in what seems like the middle of nowhere, Portlanders have access to aviation and spaces museums that rival anything you’d see at Cape Canaveral or Washington D.C., or anywhere else for that matter.  These museums are squeaky clean, full of helpful volunteers, and will literally make you just stare in awe.

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Audubon Society of Portland

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PavillionWhat’s to Love:  Their message – “Audubon Society of Portland is devoted to the conservation of Oregon’s last remaining wild places.  Our first articles of incorporation written in the early 1900’s reflect this sentiment, ‘to use any and all lawful means for the protection of the wild birds and animals for the State of Oregon and elsewhere.’  We have taken this task very seriously over the years.”  (source)  After seeing some injured birds live (falcon, owls, turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk), I believe their commitment.  However, I believe the Audubon Society is somewhat off the radar for family fun, but for me, it’s an absolute must for small children.  Here is why…

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Tualatin Hills Nature Park

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What’s to Love: Tualatin Hills Nature Park (THNP) can seem like Nike’s trail running course – it’s literally in the company’s backyard. I’m usually a bit leery of a “Nature Park” in the middle of a giant suburb. However, our visit to Tualatin Hills Nature Park was perfect! The weather was fantastic, the trails were immaculate, the biking was fun and just right for a 4 year old without training wheels, and the picnic area was relaxing and quiet. I invite your comments on this wonderful park. Read more…NOTE: Just visited again on March 5 – hadn’t been there for a couple of years, and it’s still awesome!

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Tillamook Forest Center

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Tillamook Forest Center LookoutWhat’s to Love: Just like the World Forestry Center in Portland, the Tillamook Forest Center (TFC) really surprised me in a positive way (in terms of family fun). However, unlike the World Forestry Center, admission to the TFC is free! There are so many wonderful, hands-on exhibits inside their beautiful visitor center, an award-winning film about the Tillamook burn, educational classrooms, and a really nice gift shop. It’s an hour drive from Portland, but well worth it.

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Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge

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Sign for Tualatin River National Wildlife RefugeWhat’s to Love: Right off the very busy highway 99W in Sherwood, OR is a very pleasant surprise. The first thing you’ll notice when pulling into the Refuge is the beautiful new interpretive center. The interpretive center houses exhibits, restrooms, a small gift shop, a spotting scope, and some very helpful and friendly volunteers. Because of traffic, getting to this place can be a real pain, but it’s definitely worth the trip.

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OMSI

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Lobby and Ticket Area at Oregon Museum of Science and Industry OMSIWhat’s to Love: Where do I start? The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (affectionately know to all as “OMSI” ahm-zee), is almost a pointless post. Most people in the Portland area are well aware of this incredible community resource, and everyone seems to love OMSI. I should probably break this up into 5 or 6 different posts, because there are so many things to love about OMSI. However, since OMSI offers a plethora of general information via their website, I’m going to stick to my usual format – trying to pinpoint what might be extra special just for parents and their kids.

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World Forestry Center

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What’s to Love: Around 2005, the museum received a 7 million dollar renovation, and it shows! Most of the exhibits are family-friendly. The building itself is beautiful. Adults will marvel at the woodwork, hand carvings, and Cascadian-style architecture. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting too much (in terms of family fun) when we decided to give the Forestry Center an initial visit, but I was pleasantly surprised.

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Sticky: Oregon Zoo

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What’s to Love: Of course, there is an underlying debate of whether or not zoos are a good or bad thing. I’ve been to some zoos where I felt the integrity of the entire business was suspect. However, the Oregon Zoo (located in Portland’s Washington Park) is not such a place. This is the best zoo I’ve ever visited. They may not have the most animals, or the largest square footage, but it’s clean, well managed, eco-conscious, friendly, and a great time for kids! Even the cafeteria has responsible food choices on the menu offering many local organic/natural products. The Zoo has a “Green Team” that strives to make the Zoo an “Earth Friendly” operation (read more here).

The exhibits are well thought out, and it’s easy to navigate throughout the premises. Our son loves seeing the giraffes, elephants, sea lions, hippos, zebras…all the animals; however, most of all he loves riding the train! The train takes a pleasant trip into Forest Park. During most of the year, the train makes a stop at the Rose Garden where you can get off and re-board later. The Zoo is also a good spot to check-out holiday lights during the Christmas season.

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Children’s Museum

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What’s to Love: Location, location, location! Portland’s Children’s Museum is right next to the Oregon Zoo, Forestry Center, and Hoyt Arboretum. It’s easy to make a whole day out of a trip up to this area of Portland. The $7 admission fee can add up, but they do offer a $55 two-person membership,which is excellent if the same parent takes the child to the museum. A family membership is only $80/year and $95/year gets you the family package plus 1 guest. The museum itself was one of my favorite places to take my son 12 months to 3 years. It’s a clean a well kept – there are so many great exhibits and things to do here, and you can easily occupy an entire morning or afternoon. My son has always been partial to the kiddie shopping area where he could push around a shopping cart, grab some fake fruit and vegetables, and proceed over the the checkout lane.

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