That look when interest is peaked and a desire to learn more is a spark in your child’s eyes is one that parents know and search for with each new experience. When that spark has been ignited, whether by animals at the zoo or a new-found love of the unknown, a more in-depth glimpse can be an educational and exciting experience for the whole family. Read on to see five (plus!) behind-the-scene encounters in the Portland-area.

Oregon Zoo Encounters and Experiences

Animal-lovers get an up-close look at their favorite animals and the ability to learn from the keepers that handle them at the Animal Encounters and Experiences at the Oregon Zoo. Experience life inside the Insect Zoo at The Bug Encounter. Experience barn animals in the Family Farm Experience. Feed African Tortoises during Tortoise Time. Other encounters include: Porcupine Encounter, Sloth Encounter, The Macaw Experience, and Sea Otter Encounter.

Cost: Ranges from $10-$100 per person depending on the chosen experience
Details: Animal encounters take place between April 1 and Labor Day. Check for availability for your chosen behind-the-scenes experiences on the Oregon Zoo website.
4001 SW Canyon Rd.
Portland, OR
503-226-1561
Online: oregonzoo.org/encounters

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Chocolate Decadence Tour

Do you have a family full of chocoholics? Portland is chock-full of chocolatiers making some of the most delicious truffles, bars, drinks, and more. Portland Walking Tours offers a delicious look at some of the best of the best in Portland chocolatiers. Guests will enjoy treats at six to eight locations getting a behind-the-scenes look at how chocolate concoctions are sourced and created. 
 
Cost: $59 All Ages (Note: Some of the locations serve alcohol and guests under the age of 21 can join, but will be served non-alcoholic beverages.) 
Details: The walking tour takes less than 2.5 hours and is less than 1.5 miles of walking with no hills and 15 stairs. The all-ages tours are Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3:30 PM. 
701 SW 6th Ave. 
Portland, OR
503-774-4522

LAIKA Sundays

Whether your little one is a budding animator or just a fan of animated films, they’ll enjoy the family-inclusive tour and immersive look into the LAIKA animation process. Portland Art Museum (PAM) and its Northwest Film Center presents Animating Life: The Art, Science, and Wonder of LAIKA. The October 217 to May 20, 2018 exhibition focuses on a behind-the-curtain look into the artistry and technology of the animation studio that brought us films such as Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), and Kubo and the Two Strings (2016). 
 
For a deeper look into the LAIKA studios join PAM each third Sunday through May 2018  for a day of all things LAIKA Studios. Each LAIKA Sunday will include opportunities to meet some of the artists who make the magic happen, get creative with some analog animation activities, participate in a LAIKA-inspired family tour, and even watch a LAIKA film or other classic animated work. 
 
Note: The exhibition contains a zoetrope that produces a strobing effect and may trigger visitors with photosensitivity or epilepsy. 
 
Cost: Free with Cost of Admission to the Portland Art Museum. PAM members receive  free admission. Non-member admission costs are as follows: Adult, $19.99; Student, $16.99, Seniors 62+, $16.99; Child 17 and under, free. 
Details: Visit the LAIKA exhibit any time, but get the full-day LAIKA experience at LAIKA Sundays. LAIKA Sundays are every third Sunday from February to May 2018. 
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, OR 
503-226-2811

Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour

Part of Portland’s lore, and part of what keeps the city weird, is that the city is haunted. The Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour from Portland Walking Tours is an all-ages exploration of Portland’s most ghostly places. The paranormal-loving family will enjoy using ghost-hunting equipment and getting a behind the scenes look at Portland-area hauntings.

Sound fun, but too spooky for the whole family? Try the 18-and-over tour for a spooky date night.

Cost: $23 Adults, $19 Senior (65 & up) and Youth (11-17), $9 Child (5-10), $0 Tots
Details: The walking tour takes less than 2.5 hours and is less than 1.5 miles of walking with no hills and limited stairs. The all-ages tours are scheduled on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings at 6 PM. The 18-and-over only tours are the same evenings beginning at 9 PM.
131 NW 2nd Ave.
Portland, OR
503-774-4522
Online: portlandwalkingtours.com 

Behind-the-Doors Look at Pittock Mansion

Ever visit the historic Pittock Mansion and wish you could see the rest of the house? Explore areas of the Mansion not ordinarily open to the public including basement passages, Henry Pittock’s private den, the Otis elevator room, and more. This behind-the-scenes tour is not recommended for children under 14.

Cost: Members $7, Non-members $19
Details: Reservations required for this unique look at Pittock Mansion. The tour is designed for ages 14+. Tours are hourly from 10 AM to 3 PM April 28, May 26, and June 30, 2018.
3229 NW Pittock Drive
Portland, OR
503-823-3623
Online: pittockmansion.org

Have a slightly younger history-buff? Children ages 8-12 may enjoy a look at life in 1914 where day-campers go back to experience what life was like 100 years ago.

Cost: Members $25, Non-members $35
Details: Reservations are required for this day camp designed for children ages 8-12. The day begins with a tour of Pittock Mansion’s 23 treasure-filled rooms and areas not ordinarily open to the public. They then will try their hand at turn-of-the-century skills. The camp runs from 9 AM to 12:30 PM on July 17th or 18th.
3229 NW Pittock Drive
Portland, OR
503-823-3623
Online: pittockmansion.org 

Which behind the scenes look would you and your family most like to see? Share in the comment section below! 

—Jenni Bost

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