From trains and forests to science and art, these Portland museums offer educational experiences at the right price
Your child has already asked you a million questions today, and you’re ready for a break. Why not let a museum take over with answers to everything they’d ever want to know about history, science, and art? We’re happy to report Portland families can celebrate curiosity and encourage a lifetime of learning at the city’s many excellent museums without breaking the bank. How? Simply, mark your calendars for free and discount days at these popular family destinations.
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These Portland Museums Are Free Every Day
Oregon Historical Society
You don't need to wait for special free and discount museum days here because The Oregon Historical Society is free year-round for Multnomah County residents (with proof of residency). The museum also offers free admission to families with EBT cards, active duty military personnel through the Blue Star program, and kids 5 and under.
This spot 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 exhibits for 2022 include "The Immigrant Story," a narrative and photographic exploration of Asian American experiences, and "A Century of Wonder," documenting the beauty and diversity of Oregon's 254 state parks in celebration of their 100th birthday.
1200 S.W. Park Ave.
Related: Travel Through Time: Portland's Coolest Historical Sites
Every day is a free day at this outdoor museum, accessible year-round, and home to more than 2,000 species of trees and shrubs from six continents spread over 190 ridge-top acres. A one-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! Preschool Walks are held at 10 a.m. on Mondays and Saturdays. For the low cost of $3 to $5 per child, preschoolers and their caregivers can learn about their natural surroundings on this tour that ends with a nature-themed craft. Looking for more family and youth programming? You can find it online.
4000 S.W. Fairview Blvd.
Oregon Rail Heritage Center
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 $14 for adults ($10 one selected Saturday a month) and $6 for kids. For young engineers with busy hands, there’s a train table with miniature trains to play with near the entrance.
Good to Know: Although this museum is free every day, donations are appreciated.
2250 S.E. Water Ave.
Take Advantage of Free Days at Portland’s Best Family Museums
Portland Art Museum
Editor's note: Free First Thursdays are on hold due to staffing issues but will begin again soon. Get updates online.
Free day: Always free for kids 17 & under and members. Check the calendar for free and discount museum days, such as Smithsonian Magazine Museum Day on September 17.
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. A special exhibit open through mid-November features more than 60 pieces by local BIPOC photographers made during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. 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 S.W. Park Ave.
Related: How to Score Free Tickets to Over 1,000 Museums in September
World Forestry Center
Editor's note: World Forestry Center reopened in June 2022, and isn't currently offering any regular free days yet.
Free day: Always free for kids 2 & under. Plus the Center will be participating in Smithsonian Magazine Free Museum Day on September 17.
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. Spend your free and discount museum days on board a simulated jeep ride to tour the world (with stops in Siberia, China, South Africa, and Brazil) or check out the 10,000-pound petrified tree stump at an incredible 5 million years old.
4033 S.W. Canyon Rd.
Enjoy Discounted Days at These Area Museums for Families & Kids
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)
Discount day: Admission is $2 per person the first Sunday of every month, along with discounts to the theater, planetarium, and submarine tours.
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 James Cameron - Challenging the Deep, an immersive experience following the famous filmmaker's explorations and achievements in deep-ocean science. You can also take in a film in the Kendall Planetarium or step aboard a real submarine docked just outside in the Willamette.
1945 S.E. Water Ave.
Five Oaks Museum
Editor's note: As of publication, Five Oaks Museum is closed to the public; please check back for re-opening dates.
Free day: Family Free Mornings, 10 a.m.-1 p.m, second Saturdays each month (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 help children and adults to connect to the complex layering of local history and its interaction with the natural environment.