A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village is a hands-on children's museum spread across three historical houses that reside in Riverfront Park. It is named after A.C. Gilbert, a Salem native, toy magnate, and inventor of the Erector Set. True to a life spent creating educational and scientific toys, his namesake museum provides a place for kids to interact with exhibits that encourage play and provoke thought. From a giant model of an animal cell to a faux paleontological dig full of ancient bones to musical instruments like a South American rainwheel, the museum's stations encompass a number of scientific and cultural disciplines—though little ones might only interpret each activity as fun. Furthermore, youth can heal stuffed animals in the Village Vet Room or scale a 52-foot edifice that is one of the world's largest Erector Set towers, boasting three slides, and a maze.
Named the top pumpkin patch in Willamette Valley in 2011 by The Statesman Journal, the Bauman family has been sharing the soil's annual harvest with locals since 1894 through pumpkin patches and family-friendly autumn activities. After picking through gourds in search of the next jack-o'-lantern or latest replacement mannequin head, guests can visit vivacious livestock at the animal barn, defy gravity at the ziplines, and race through the obstacle course. A rock wall challenges visitors’ nimbleness, and the corn tunnels, playground, and tire castle tickle tykes' imaginations. Outdoor adventurers can take the barnyard experience home by picking up a homemade apple-caramel pie and fresh produce (not included in today’s Groupon) or by painting cow udders under dad's car.
For John and Kristi Heiser, moving out to the farm in 1991 meant raising a family of self-sufficient kids. The farm began humbly enough, producing strawberries, melons, and a thriving pumpkin patch. Before long, folks in the surrounding area began to cotton on to the family-friendly atmosphere, and the homestead became a destination for school trips and weekend outings. With the recent acquisition and remodeling of a neighboring Dust Bowl-era barn, the Heisers started hosting social events.
During harvest time, the farm whirs into high gear. A nostalgic John Deere trundles by, towing a train of hay-filled wagons. The Grand Island Railroad carts around passengers on its miniature train cars, much to the chagrin of squirrel commuters stuck at its crossings. Visitors forage in the pumpkin patches in search of one to take home, while amateur cannoneers shoot the spherical squash from air-powered devices. To infuse the farm with macabre fun during Halloween, the Heisers transform the pastoral corn maze into the haunt of spooky spirits.
Oregon Dream Ponies sits surrounded by hillside vineyards and orchards that pose as a serene backdrop for pony rides, horse rides, and special events. The roster includes ponies of varied sizes and ages that ensure kids of all ages can ride comfortably and confidently. While visiting the ranch, children as young as two years old learn how to interact with ponies, how they're groomed, and what they eat. Pony rides hand-led by staff members either at the ranch or during on-location pony parties give children a supervised opportunity to learn to ride. Other sessions allow children to guide ponies through a series of obstacles, from crossing a bridge to trotting over logs to solving complex algebraic equations.
Spread across 52 acres of varied pastureland, Rosse Posse Acres shepherds 70 head of elk on a working ranch with a vast natural habitat and plenty of orchard grass hay for meals. A guided tour takes guests through the ranch, beginning with an educational lecture in the barn where they can learn about antlers and the difference between a bull's and cow's ivory teeth. Tours then travel through the handling facility for a view of the hydraulic squeeze chute and handling pens before a stop in the pasture for a close-up look at the elk to see if their antlers are really made of marshmallows.
Though guests are not allowed to touch the elk, they can release their urge to pet at an on-site petting zoo, where smaller animals such as Fallow deer, pygmy goats, miniature donkeys, and a wallaby named Tucker are eager to make friends. In addition to ranch tours, Rosse Posse sells wapiti roasts, tenderloins, and strip steaks by the pound, when available. The meat is processed at Buxton Meat in Sandy, OR under USDA inspection.
Portland Aquarium, a December 2012 addition to Milwaukie, introduces visitors to thousands of waterborne species. Guests can slide their hands along the smooth flesh of a stingray or the knobby arms of a starfish or engage in staring contests with a leopard shark. Other planned exhibits include a jellyfish exhibit, a cold-water tank filled with fish native to Oregon's coast, and a rainforest-themed jungle gym for children. The tropical touch-tank woos visitors with its displays of vibrant-color aquatic life while amphibious wonders, including poison dart frogs, thrill visitors. Those seeking bigger thrills may hoist various pythons species–including a15-foot reticulated or 9-foot albino burmese snake–upon their shoulders or get their picture taken with a lorikeet. Landing-loving iguanas and panther chameleons also lurch around in the mix.