Your Family Insider’s Guide to Portland’s OMSI

kids look at the telephone exhibit in the tubine hall at OMSI in Portland @omsi

Planning a trip to OMSI with the kids? We’ve got you

If you’re a Portland parent, it’s pretty much impossible to have never taken a trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (a.k.a. OMSI). It’s the epicenter of kid play in the city, boasting everything from hands-on science exhibits to a planetarium; they even have a science playground (think: epic indoor playground) that’s worth the trip alone. Whether it’s your first tip or your fiftieth, we’ve got everything you need to know about this Portland museum, including the newest exhibits that are totally worth it and tips like how to save on admission when you visit. No matter when you go, you’ll be prepared to make a day of it with the kids.

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Psst…here’s a sneak peek of some of our favorite OMSI exhibits. You’ll find even more details below.

OMSI’s Best Exhibits & Experiences

Turbine Hall 

If you want to know where all of the action’s at, look no further than Turbine Hall. Located just inside the doors, off to the right, it’s pretty much OMSI’s main exhibit, and it’s always included with general admission. What will you find in there besides throngs of kids looking to learn and play? Plenty. It’s where kids can explore everything from sound and light to earthquakes and tsunamis, with hands-on activities that are just their speed. Families can easily spend a few hours or more exploring the space and still have things to do on the next visit. But these are a few highlights you won’t want to miss:

The Curium is where all the cool tots hang out. No really. The space is especially designed for preschoolers and school-age kids, giving them the chance to play with air, light, and sound—elements that are forever fascinating and hard to play with IRL. Just watch them make music on an oversized string instrument, while friends turn on disco lights and change up sounds to match the mood. Helpful hint: you can also find family restrooms and a nursing room here.

In the back corner, you’ll find the Port of Portland exhibit where kids can drive LEGO filled trucks around a play mat and load LEGOs onto cranes to move them around the Port. An oddly engaging exhibit, kids love to play here for more than a few minutes. This is also where you’ll find the air pressure exhibit. A chance for kids to design and test out paper airplanes and other flying objects, this spot is usually full of kids testing out what flies and what doesn’t.

Shifting plates that create earthquakes and tsunamis are a real thing for Portland kids. So it only makes sense they want to test the waters for both (no pun intended) in Turbine Hall. Hop on the earthquake simulator to see what it feels like to experience both minor and major (we’re talking 9 points on the Richter scale) ‘quakes. Then test building strength and fortitude against unstable conditions using LEGOs on both land and water. 

Finally, the Chemistry Lab and the Physics Lab are hits with older kids. Stop in to see artifacts from the past (like typewriters and Morse code transmitters) and maybe even try a few experiments yourself. Helpful hint: You may have to wait to get into the Chemistry Lab, depending on how busy it is. 

Natural Sciences Hall

Earth science is the name of the game at the second floor Natural Sciences Hall. From the moment you set foot in this part of the museum, you’ll be thinking about the impact humans have on our planet. It all starts with a trip Under the Artic as you make your way through a permafrost tunnel and come out on the other side, thinking about climate scientists and the important work they do. See what happens when permafrost melts, check out smells from underground tunnels, and see if you can find fossils under the microscope in this area. 

When you need to take a break, do it in front of the giant Earth projector that shows real changes in the planet’s climate starting in 1884 and running through 2012. It’s as mesmerizing as it is educational. Don’t forget to stop in the two labs in the back of this exhibit. They feature fossils and some of the coolest creatures you can find looking through a microscope that’s easy enough for preschoolers to use.

Science Playground

If you have kiddos on the younger side (ages six and under), your favorite place at OMSI is sure to be the Science Playground. Located on the second level, it’s as close to that dream playroom you wish you had at home as you’ll ever find. On busier days expect a wait to get in (don’t worry, it’s never too long). But once inside your kids can climb through the rope maze, sit down at LEGO tables, construct with imagination playground equipment, and play with water (you know this is every kid’s favorite spot). There’a also a spot for little ones to play in the center. Soft climbers and sensory stations abound here.

Good to Know: There’s more than one family restroom in the Science Playground.

Added Experiences at OMSI

OMSI Planetarium & Theater

If you’re looking to go beyond the general admission experience at OMSI, you can’t go wrong with adding tickets to the Kendall Planetarium or the Empirical Theater. Both are something you’ve got to try at least once. The Kendall Planetarium is a 200-seat, 52-foot domed theater that plays everything from a super cute Sesame Street star gazing program to laser shows that’ll make you think you’re in the ’70s. Our tip? Take the kids to see One World, One Sky: Big Bird’s Adventure when you visit. 

Movie lovers should definitely check out the Empirical Theater. Usually playing the latest and greatest in nature or science themed movies during the day, and box office blockbusters at night, you’ll spend about what you’d spend at the local theater to see a flick here on the big screen.

Tour the USS Blueback Submarine

Just outside the museum in the Willamette is the USS Blueback submarine, and it’s open for tours every day. In 45 minutes, you and the kids can wander around the last active duty diesel-electric submarine used in the U.S. Navy, looking at artifacts, living quarters, peering through periscopes, even seeing real torpedos. Kids must be at least 36 inches and 3 years old to tour this ship. 

New Exhibits at OMSI

Marvel fans of all ages will enjoy OMSI’s latest exhibition—Marvel: Universe of Superheroes. The hands-on exhibit features hundreds of artifacts from the Marvel Universe, including costumes and props from Marvel movies you’ve probably seen with the kids. It traces the history of the company that spans over 80 years and its influence on popular culture. Tickets to the exhibit are an add-on to the general admission cost. The exhibit will be at OMSI through April 9, 2023.

Plan Your Day at OMSI

Plan your time well. We suggest either doing just the museum in a morning or afternoon or spending the entire day to experience all of the exhibits. In other words, don’t expect to do the museum, planetarium, submarine, and theater all in one trip, unless you’re planning on hanging out all day. If you are planning an all-day, all-inclusive visit, check out the Museum Combo tickets—it will save you a few bucks on admission.

Where to Eat at OMSI

Packing a lunch isn’t necessary – believe it or not, the OMSI Market Café is far better than you’ll find at most attractions. It’s not cheap, but you’ll get a good-sized portion that actually tastes good! The hamburgers (made with free-range beef) and smoothies are particularly popular. Outside food is also welcome at OMSI, so feel free to pack a lunch, snacks and drinks for your visit as well.

OMSI After Dark

You don’t have to bring the kids to enjoy OMSI. In fact, the OMSI After Dark program is a favorite for Portland-area parents, as well as grown-ups who don’t have kids, but love geeking out on science programming while enjoying an adult beverage. A great date night option, the program is usually held on the last Wednesday of the month and includes a local vendors, artists, and intriguing science content paired with alcohol. Science Pubs at Theory Restaurant is another adults-only program that’ll get you out of the house and learning about fascinating science topics that rotate monthly. 

OMSI Membership

We know the question on most parents’ minds is: is membership worth it? For a family of four, a membership pays for itself in just a couple of visits. Plus, you can save money on parking, get discounts on special exhibits and events, and get free (or discounted) admission to the add-ons—the submarine, theater, and planetarium.

Tips for Visiting OMSI:

1. Keep an eye on the OMSI website for up-to-date information about current exhibits and events you won’t want to miss during your visit.

2. If you’re coming in from out of town, give the museum a call before you head out in the morning to make sure all the exhibits are up and running that day. There’s nothing more disappointing to kids than getting to the museum and having their favorite OMSI spots shut down for maintenance or upgrades.

3. If you’re looking to avoid crowds, skip visiting on days when public schools have breaks or holidays. That’s when the exhibits will be packed and can get pretty crazy, Same goes for three-day weekends and discounted admission days.

4. Speaking of discounted admission days, OMSI offers reduced admission on the first Sunday of each month. It’s just $2 per person to visit then, and significant discounts on special exhibitions, the Planetarium, Submarine, and Theater are usually also offered.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
1945 S.E. Water Ave.

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