It’s 9 in the morning, and your child has already asked you 350 questions. Need a break from the endless cascade of “Why?” Take ’em to the museum! Families can celebrate curiosity and encourage a lifetime of learning at Portland’s many excellent museums— without breaking the bank. Mark your calendars for free and discount days at these popular family destinations. Or look into a Discovery Pass with the Multnomah County Library, and take advantage of free admission on a date that works for your family’s schedule. Read on for cheap and free museum days for Portland families.

Photo via shutterstock

Always Free

Oregon Historical Society

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

For Multnomah County Residents, the Oregon Historical Society is free year-round, and features three floors of rare documents, artifacts and permanent and traveling exhibits. You and your family can check out permanent exhibits like History Hub, designed to help families explore the topic of diversity in Oregon through interactive objects and pictures. Current and upcoming special exhibits for 2020 include a narrative exhibit on DREAMers, and a look at voting rights for women in Oregon, just in time for Women’s History Month in March. For visitors who aren’t residents of Multnomah County, the museum offers free admission to families with EBT cards, and all children under 5.

1200 SW Park Ave.
503-222-1741
Online: ohs.org

Hoyt Arboretum

Free day: Every day (grounds are open daily, 5 a.m.-10 p.m.; the visitor center is open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-3 p.m.)

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Every day is a free day at this outdoor museum, home to more than 6,000 trees. That’s over 2,000 species and they’re spread across 189 beautiful acres, accessible year-round at no charge. A 1-mile stroller-suitable route and covered picnic areas make it family-friendly, with regular tours geared toward kids and families to further sweeten the deal. Free Pop-up Nature activities created by volunteer naturalists allow kids and families to engage with the arboretum on self-guided tours, and guided Tree Time walks are held at 10 a.m. on Mondays year-round. For the low cost of $3 per child, preschoolers and their caregivers can learn about their natural surroundings on this tour that ends with a nature-themed craft. See the website for even more family and youth programming.

4000 SW Fairview Blvd.
503-865-8733
Online: hoytarboretum.org   

photo: Portland Children’s Museum via yelp

Oregon Rail Heritage Center

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

Just about every small child goes through a train phase, and this is the perfect place to take them. Located near the waterfront in the Brooklyn Roundhouse, this working facility houses three vintage steam locomotives, lovingly rebuilt and maintained by expert volunteers. You can take a tour of the Southern Pacific 4449, the Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197, and maybe even watch repair work in progress. Plan your visit for a Saturday to take a ride along the Willamette River on the Oregon Pacific Railroad (tickets are $5/person, free for kids age 2 & under). For young engineers with busy hands, there’s a train table with miniature trains to play with near the entrance.

2250 SE Water Ave.
503-233-1156
Online: orhf.org

Photo: via shutterstock

Free Days

Portland Art Museum

Free day: Children under 17 always free; Free admission First Thursday of every month, 5-8 p.m. Check the calendar for quarterly and other special free days (Miller Family Free day coming up on May 3).

This sprawling museum offers delights for the senses, with galleries containing more than 42,000 objects. The permanent exhibit of modern art features many large paintings in bright colors that captivate young eyes, including several installations with neon and colored lights. The Netsuke Menagerie exhibit contains a collection of small carved animal sculptures. And a rotating selection of visiting exhibits keeps things fresh, so you’ll always find something new to come back to. Pack paper and colored pencils and encourage older children to sketch what they see!

1219 SW Park Ave.
503-226-2811
Online: portlandartmuseum.org

World Forestry Center Discovery Museum

Free day: Quarterly community free days; Dates vary, check the website for announcements.

A must-see for locals and tourists alike, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum teaches visitors of all ages to see trees in a new light. With a focus on environmental sustainability and the essential role of trees and forests in our ecosystem, the museum brings Oregon’s long history of forestry to life with exhibits on how to plant, maintain and protect forests. But it goes even further than that, teaching visitors how people manage and interact with trees and forests around the world. Jump on board a simulated white-water rafting ride or check out the 10,000-pound petrified tree stump— an incredible five million years old!

4033 SW Canyon Rd.
503-228-1367
Online: worldforestry.org

Five Oaks Museum

Free day: Family Free Mornings, second Saturday of every month, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. March-November

Formerly the Washington County Museum, this historical museum showcases stories and objects from the Tualatin Valley. Tours, special programs, and ongoing learning activities geared toward families bring this place’s history to life in a range of community voices, with a Guest Curator program that allows local people to design their own exhibits to tell their own stories. Exhibits like This IS Kalapuyan Land and Timber in the Tualatin Valley help children and adults to connect to the complex layering of local history and its interaction with the natural environment. Not to be missed!

photo: via shutterstock

Discount Days

Portland Children’s Museum

Discount day: Second Sunday of every month, $4 per person between 9 a.m.–noon (then stay to play all day.)

Designed for children ages 0-12, the Portland Children’s Museum is chock-full of opportunities for hands-on, play-based learning. Duck into the Clay or Maker’s Studios to create works of art together (you can even have your child’s clay creation kiln-fired and return to pick it up later!) Budding engineers can build their own machines in the Construction Zone, while thespians have an entire kid-sized Theater to commandeer, complete with costumes. Outdoor areas offer opportunities for climbing trees, splashing in water, and scooping sand. Check the calendar for storytimes, musical performances, and more!

4015 SW Canyon Rd.
503-223-6500
Online: portlandcm.org

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.

Discount day at OMSI is a popular choice with local families, because this museum is perfect for the insatiably curious kid in all of us. Take preschoolers to the Science Playground, where sensory exhibits allow little ones to explore water and sand. Kids ages 4-8 can try their hand at windpower or make music at the Curium. Or head to one of several Innovation Stations to challenge older kids’ STEM design skills. Check the calendar for upcoming exhibits, such as the celebrated Body Worlds. You can also take in a film in the Kendall Planetarium or step aboard a real submarine docked just outside in the Willamette!

1945 SE Water Ave.
503-797-4000
Online: omsi.edu

-Melissa Poulin

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