If you polled a bunch of parents and asked them what they wanted most when it came to a new idea for where to take the littles – their answers would likely gravitate towards a few key must-haves. An amazing environment for creativity and learning. An interesting space, that isn’t crazy crowded and has many exhibits and interactive elements for kids of all ages. Lastly, a fantastic outdoor play world, but still more than enough going on inside to make it worth visiting again and again. Done, done and done. Behold AC Gilbert Discovery Village.

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Invention is the Mother of What, Again?
AC Gilbert was the creator of the erector set and apparently, from the wild and wooly streets of our neighbor to the south – Salem. In his honor, one of the most fab dens of indoor merriment for the kidlets has been…you guessed it…erected. Comprising three pretty, sweet houses and one crazy awesome outdoor playground, this kiddo museum is a little bit of ev-er-y-thing.

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There’s a grocery store, vet clinic, visit to China, and a submarine hatch. You can read giant storybooks, milk a cow or learn about nano science. Time travel, caving and tower-building are also part of the village and your trainiacs can literally climb into a model train table of Salem’s waterfront and help make ‘em run. Discovery Village is quite simply homage to a toy man who gave us one pretty cool way to build. We salute his ingenuity and clearly now the next gen can, too.

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The Village People
This joint has it going on. It is spotless; with their staff of practically invisible elves sneaking in behind your crew to cleanse and restock whatever’s been handled. Midweek it’s empty and most weekends aren’t nutty either. There are bathrooms everywhere and tons of light coming in through the big windows. It’s homey, quiet, and wheelchair accessible. Having a stroller might get annoying with all the floors, narrow-ish hallways and multiple buildings. Leave it in the car if you can.

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The team here run all kinds of fab activities like Preschool First Thursdays, Art Studio Tuesdays, Get Moving Thursdays and Discovery Saturdays. There’s a café onsite with coffee, drinks and sandwiches and perhaps best news of all, it’s FREE if you’re an OMSI famdamily member. Otherwise it’s a worth-every-penny fee of $7 for adults, $5.50 for seniors and $3.50 for kiddos aged 2+, with the under 2s free. D-Village is open every day of the week 10:00 – 5:00 pm except Sundays when they open at noon and they do close for most major holidays.

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Giant Fort, Anyone?
If the weather is cooperating, then outdoor play you must in the Outdoor Discovery Center. Built over 19 days with two miles of lumber and more than 2000 nails, this fresh air effigy to the erector set itself is one giant wooden land o’ fun. The slides alone are worth the trip, but check out the sand box, dino bones, giant chess set and places to climb, climb, climb.  If the weather is rotten, it may be closed for safety reasons. Check their blog if this is a must-do for your crew before you head out.

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An Hour Away Keeps the Crazy Away
If all of this is simply not enough, there’s Salem’s famous Riverfront Carousel beckoning. A quick hop, skip and jump (by car) over from ACGDV and with rides for $1.50, this roadtrip just keeps getting better.  It’s indoor, covered and open year-round. On nice days they open the floor-to-ceiling doors and let the fresh air blow through.  The carousel’s building is part of Riverfront Park, so there’s another playground to uncover plus room to run before getting back in the car. And of course, more bathrooms.

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Let The Good Times Roll
Salem’s about an hour’s drive but we often treat it like it’s another planet. It truly is close enough to go often (for a half or full day-o-play), while also being far enough away to feel like an adventure every time you make the trek. Use the drive to your advantage with naps, meals, family sing-a-longs, or quiet time avec iPad,  and you’ll easily engineer (pun intended) a fab day of play for all.

AC Gilbert Discovery Museum
16 Marion St NE
Salem, Or 97301
503-371-3631

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Have you visited AC Gilbert Discovery Museum? What do you love most about it? 

— Liz Overson

Thanks for the photos Abby Kindrick, AC Gilbert Discovery Museum Facebook page and Liz Overson.