It may be thousands of miles away from the Smithsonian, but the Oregon History Museum is pretty impressive. Tucked in the Southwest Park Blocks neighborhood of downtown Portland, right next to other popular family-friendly museums such as the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon History Museum is run by the Oregon Historical Society. Don’t let the history museum part scare you off – OHS is passionate about teaching children the fascinating details of Oregon’s history and it shows – no stuffy curators or dusty exhibits here!

When to Go
We highly suggest putting the OHS Family Days on your calendar for a visit to this Oregon history hotspot. Not only are kids free with the paid admission of an adult (up to two children), but they specifically plan these days with children in mind, bringing in experts that are kid-friendly and who speak history, but with short attention spans and curious minds as a strong consideration! There is a Family Day once each month, typically the third Saturday of the month.

If you can’t make it to the museum on one of those Saturdays, we suggest a morning visit during the week. Insider tip: Call the museum first to see if there are any school tours that day, which can get a little crazy if you’re visiting the museum with small children.

Don’t miss Oregon History Day on Saturday, May 5, 2012!

Getting There
Although it’s located in downtown Portland, getting to the Oregon History Museum is actually quite easy and there is typically plenty of parking available close by. However, parking is not free in the Park Blocks, so plan to spend a few bucks (at least!) on metered street parking, a parking lot or a parking garage. Want to avoid paying for parking on this outing? The Pioneer Square MAX stop is just four blocks away from the museum and you can also get close using the Portland Street Car or the Tri-Met bus system.

What to Bring
The museum is not gigantic, but there is enough room to bring an easy to maneuver stroller along, if you need to keep a small child contained while visiting the museum (in other words, leave the huge, double-wide, fixed-wheel jogging stroller at home for this one!). Remember that you’ll need to carry whatever you bring with you through the museum, as there is no storage available for visitors, so pack as light as possible.

What to See
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Oregon history? Lewis and Clark, natch! Kids love the story of these two brave explorers who were the first to arrive in Oregon and are going to think they are uber cool. They’ll also be ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the Volcanos of Oregon exhibit (Volcanos? In Oregon? Who knew?) and a mainstay at the Oregon Historical Society, the Treasures of the Vault exhibit, which is a collection of over 85,000 incredible and fascinating artifacts from Oregon’s rich history – many pieces that kids will get a kick out of, like the upright piano called the “Happiness Machine” from the 1930s (pictured). Be sure to take a stroll through the museum store on the way out – it’s a great place to pick up unique kid birthday presents!

Where to Eat
A trip to the Oregon History Museum is definitely a pack your own lunch type of outing. There is not anywhere to eat at the museum, but if the rain is holding out, you can head into the South Park Blocks and pull up a grassy spot or a bench for some true al fresco dining. Even pulling up a warm spot on the brick outside of the museum store can be the perfect place to fill up those hungry little bellies before making the trek home.

Multnomah County Residents and children ages five and under get free admission to the Oregon Historical Society. Non-country residents are $11.00 and children aged six through 18 are $5.00. If your family ends up loving the Oregon History Museum, consider becoming members – a Family Membership is $80 and includes unlimited admission to the Oregon Historical Society for two adults and two children, plus a slew of other great benefits.

Good to Know
There is a strict no food and drink policy once you’re inside the museum, so be sure to give your kiddos one last sip of water and store away your toddlers container of crackers before you enter.

Be sure to give your kids a museum etiquette chat before you arrive at the Oregon History Museum – although they don’t need to whisper while visiting, inside voices are appreciated so that other guests can enjoy their time as well, and running around is certainly frowned upon.

Oregon Historical Society Museum
1200 Southwest Park Avenue
Portland, Oregon

Hours: Closed Monday, Tuesday — Saturday from 10:00 AM — 5:00 PM, Sunday from 12:00 – 5:00 PM

— Katie Kavulla

(Photo Credits: Little boy with skeletons photo from the Oregon Historical Society Facebook page and the Happiness Machine photo from the Oregon Historical Society website)