Raising kids in Portland means there’s no shortage of magical and awe-inspiring places that capture our kids’ imaginations (and keep ’em entertained for a few hours!). Good news: many of these institutions offer free or cheap admission days. Read on to find out when you can enjoy Portland’s finest museums without breaking the bank.

Girl museum CC Lotzman Katzman via flickr

photo: Lotzman Katzman via flickr

Hoyt Arboretum

Free day: Every day (grounds are open daily, 5 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; the visitor center is open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.)

Who says a museum has to be indoors? At the Hoyt Arboretum, you’ll find more than 6,000 trees representing 2,000 species across 189 beautiful acres. Take a walk with your children along two miles of stroller-suitable trails, have an afternoon snack in the lovely A-frame picnic shelter and stop by the visitor center to pick up a Meet the Trees activity map. If your kids manage to complete it, they’ll receive their very own Tree Buddy badge and certificate.

4000 SW Fairview Blvd.
Online: hoytarboretum.org


Oregon Historical Society

Free day: Every day for Multnomah County residents (Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun., noon-5 p.m.)

Treat your children to an engaging trip back through time when you visit the Oregon Historical Society, where you’ll find three floors of rare documents, artifacts and permanent and traveling exhibits. Your kids will especially love the Oregon My Oregon exhibit, a 2005 MUSE Award winner that features 7,000 square feet of interactive displays, two theaters and models of a Hudson’s Bay Company ship hull, an 18th century explorer’s tent and a 1940s mercantile store.

1200 SW Park Ave.
Online: ohs.org

Boy at a museum CC leadfoot via flickr

photo: leadfoot via flickr

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Discount day: First Sunday of every month, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., when admission is $2/person and the theater, planetarium and submarine tours are $5/person.

There is no shortage of kid-friendly pastimes at OMSI, where everyone from toddlers to full-grown adults will find something to touch, tour and learn about. The Science Playground is ideal for youngsters who want to splash and dig through water and sand, while the Earthquake House allows kids to experience the full motion of historic earthquakes. You can even tour the decks of the USS Blueback, where visitors can look through the periscope, touch a torpedo and experience everyday life aboard a real submarine.

1945 SE Water Ave.
Online: omsi.edu

Oregon Rail Heritage Center

Free day: Every day (Thurs.-Sun., 1-5 p.m.), although donations are appreciated!

Is there a little train lover in your family? Perhaps someone who can’t get enough of Thomas, James and Percy? Spend an afternoon at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center to learn about Portland’s historic locomotives and railroad equipment. Take a tour of the three big engines—the Southern Pacific 4449, the Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197—or plan your visit for a Saturday, when you can take a ride along the Willamette River on the Oregon Pacific Railroad (tickets are $5/person, free for kids age 2 & under).

2250 SE Water Ave.
Online: orhf.org

Girl at a museum CC anjanettew via flickr

photo: anjanettew via flickr

Portland Art Museum

Free day: First Thursday of every month, 5-8 p.m. Bank of America credit and debit card holders also receive free admission during the first full weekend of every month.

It’s not every child who will appreciate a trip to the Portland Art Museum, but burgeoning art lovers will delight in this beautiful facility’s 112,000 square feet of galleries that contain more than 42,000 objects. Stop by the Netsuke Menagerie exhibit to see a collection of small carved animal sculptures, or encourage your little ones to use their imagination as they tour the exhibition of the 2016 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards. They just might come away inspired.

1219 SW Park Ave.
Online: portlandartmuseum.org

Portland Children’s Museum

Free day: First Friday of every month, 4-8 p.m.

There’s something for all ages and interests at the Portland Children’s Museum, which offers a plethora of exhibits to encourage problem solving, hands-on experiences and joyful learning. Watch your kids build works of art in the Clay Studio, invent their own machines in the Garage, tend to their furry friends in the Pet Hospital, play with light and shadows on the Twilight Trail and find their way out of the Zany Maze. No matter what they choose to do, it will be a fun-filled experience from start to finish.

4015 SW Canyon Rd.
Online: portlandcm.org

Boy playing CC James Hill via flickr

photo: James Hill via flickr

World Forestry Center Discovery Museum

Discount day: First Thursday of every month, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., when admission is $3/person.

A Portland icon since 1971, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum teaches both children and parents about environmental sustainability and the vital importance of trees and forests. And as they learn, kids can take a simulated white-water rafting ride and see how to plant, maintain and protect forests. They’ll even catch a glimpse of a 10,000-pound petrified tree stump that is an astounding five million years old.

4033 SW Canyon Rd.
Online: worldforestry.org

What are your favorite museums in Portland? Let us know in the comments below!

— Maura O’Brien