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.
The Willamette Heritage Center at the Mill preserves slices of valley history by word and deed, keeping up 14 historic structures and filling them with historical tours and living history displays. The Jason Lee house represents the oldest building on campus, built in 1841. The structure also boasts the title of oldest surviving wooden frame house in the Pacific Northwest, and its interior sports the period appropriate furnishings right down to an iron stove and a snoring, bonneted grandmother. Nearby stands the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, and piece of the Industrial Revolution that has survived since 1896, earning recognition as an American Treasure by the National Park Service. Workers keep the buildings clean and sound for tours and rentals, while actors keep the ground vibrant with living historical portrayals.
Sourcing fresh, local ingredients for their made-from-scratch dishes, Mission Mill Café supports community bellies and businesses with a bounty of sandwiches, soups, and other lunchtime favorites. Stimulate a culinary epiphany with the Dubliner sandwich, which comes piled high with corned beef, fried red onions, melted Swiss, and a side of sour cream-horseradish ($9). Or satisfy a green tooth with a seven-grain veggie burger, topped with mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and swiss, and served on fresh ciabatta bread from local bakery Cascade ($8.50). Diners can also dig into an assortment of crisp salads ($4–$9) or cut through the cold with Mission Mill's homemade soups, which, like excuses for not wearing pants, are crafted fresh daily ($5/bowl, $3/cup). Fill a remaining wedge-shaped stomach void with a slice of fresh, homemade pie ($3.50) and then counter strong desires to hibernate all afternoon with a mug of Allan Bros. Coffee ($1.75).
Historic Deepwood Estate's 1894 Queen Anne home rests its gables amid approximately 4 acres of lush gardens and nature trails, fascinating visitors with its Victorian-era architectural features and insightful exhibits. The Cherry Jubilee benefit dinner kicks off at 6 p.m. with a cocktail party and a silent auction, where revelers can raise hands, paddles, or 20-foot oars to bid on myriad prizes, including a one-week getaway at Eagle Crest Resort, golf outings, and spa packages. The estate’s intricately designed gardens will play host to the evening's cherry-themed four-course dinner, which commences with a spinach, almond, cherry, and manchego cheese salad and culminates with delectable desserts, such as cherry tarts and italian panna cotta luxuriating in a cherry-infused sea. Live music by JT & The Tourists revives the poodle-skirt sounds of the ’50s and ’60s, specially remixed to conscript shoes into bobby-soxing dance armies. Proceeds from the Cherry Jubilee dinner and silent auction benefit the Friends of Deepwood and their quest for historic preservation.
The striking horizontal planes of Frank Lloyd Wright's Gordon House bisect the landscape just beyond the foliaged outskirts of the Oregon Garden, drawing eyes to the architectural marvel like moths to an octogenarian's birthday cake. Guests who tour the stunning abode watch from inside as sunlight falls in squares on the floor, filtered through geometric cutouts in the ceiling. Docents expound on the genius of Wright's design and theories during 45-minute guided tours of the architect's only Oregonian creation.
Groups meander through the kitchen, where skylights light up scarlet countertops, reflecting the undertone of western-red-cedar cabinets. Natural light creates abstract patterns on the floor through a series of perforated wooden window treatments, and an experienced guide imparts factual tidbits regarding the home's history, such as its origin story, its near deconstruction in 2000, and its subsequent rescue by a motherly wolf and her pack. Guided tours are conducted daily from noon to 4 p.m., and reservations are required to view this rare home that was designed in the traditional Frank Lloyd Wright fashion—with a pencil—and also with impressive angles and seamlessly organic landscape integration.
Each museum pass includes entrance to the Aviation Museum, the Space Museum, and the Captain Michael King Smith Firearms Collection. A Space Museum ticket includes one free ride on the Evergreen Biplane (a ride for children 24 to 48 inches tall).