: Oregon Coast Aquarium

What to Expect at Oregon Attractions During COVID-19

September 4, 2020 (Updated March 3, 2021)

 Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s new COVID-19 guidelines mean for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Here’s what to know about Oregon’s outdoors right now.

Top Things to Know:

  • Make reservations or buy tickets in advance
  • Group size is limited
  • Plan a return trip when less restrictions are in place
  • Explore virtually
  • Support local businesses
  • Bring food and drinks as on-site restaurants may be closed

While COVID-19 put a temporary pause on Oregon’s attractions, new guidelines by the Oregon Health Authority have made it possible for museums, aquariums, galleries and shops to safely reopen with new protocols to keep everyone safe. (Regulations for entertainment establishments vary depending on which part of the state you’re in, so be sure to check your county’s Risk Level status, which determines capacity limits and whether or not a venue can offer indoor dining.)

This is great news for many who’ve felt cooped up and are longing to check out the latest art installation or family-friendly exhibits. Before you head out, make sure to bring your face covering — they are required for everyone age 5 and up in all indoor public facilities statewide, and outdoors whenever it’s not possible to keep 6 feet of distance. Here are some other tips and changes to keep in mind to make your trip safe and fun for all when it’s safe to travel.

Masked visitors sit spaced apart as they watch an eagle demonstration.
The High Desert Museum offers timed tickets, available for purchase two weeks to an hour before your visit. (Photo courtesy of High Desert Museum)

Buy Your Ticket in Advance

Along with the Oregon Coast Aquarium, other attractions across the state are opting for staggered entry times to help manage the amount of people inside a building at one time. (The aquarium is also currently requiring reservations.) The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland and the High Desert Museum in Bend are both offering timed-entry tickets. While you may be able to walk in without a ticket if capacity allows, availability will depend on the day, time and attraction’s popularity. In general, it’s best to purchase tickets beforehand, especially if you have your heart set on a certain attraction. OMSI, for example, strongly encourages online ticket purchases, which can be redeemed by presenting a ticket order via cellphone or by picking up physical tickets at the museum’s front desk.

Outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the USS Blueback Submarine sits in the water.
OMSI welcomes guests with staggered ticketing times, including for tours of the USS Blueback Submarine. (Photo courtesy of OMSI)

Smaller Group Sizes

Many indoor attractions are limiting group sizes to 10 people. As you explore the space, you’ll see signs reminding you to keep your face covering on and stay at least 6 feet away from others. Some attractions are finding creative ways to accommodate visitors. Reopening for the season in mid-March, the Baker Heritage Museum in downtown Baker City will accept larger groups by appointment and will work to accommodate some visitors outside its regular hours — think of it as VIP treatment. For the most part, museum director Teresa McQuisten says, the patrons she’s seeing come into the museum are individuals or families pulling off the side of the road, making it a perfectly safe stop on your Eastern Oregon road trip. “Social distancing is not too big of a deal; we normally don’t have a lot of people visiting at once,” she says.

A sea otter does an enrichment activity at Oregon Coast Aquarium.
In addition to debuting the new Indo-Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, the Oregon Coast Aquarium reopened its permanent indoor and outdoor exhibits. (Photo courtesy of Oregon Coast Aquarium)

New Exhibits Unveiled

While staying closed to help prevent the spread of the virus, some attractions have also been hard at work renovating and installing new exhibits that are now ready for viewing. For instance, the former Oregon Kelp Forest at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport has now been transformed into a colorful Indo-Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, featuring some of the most diverse species in the world. Visitors can now get up close to see colorful tropical fish such as yellow tang, birdnose wrasse, yellowband angelfish, sea goldies and more. Those outside include the vultures, otters, seals and sea lions, seabirds and aviary, and rocky-habitat exhibits. Tickets must be purchased online ahead of time. Attendees are required to wear a face covering at all times, for both indoor and outdoor exhibit viewing.

Plan a Return Trip for More

Some Oregon attractions have closed off certain parts of their space to adhere to new safety protocols, so call ahead to ask about anything you particularly want to see. For example, at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, you can tour the cargo deck of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, but tours of the famous plane’s flight deck are currently not offered because of space and airflow concerns. Hands-on exhibits at attractions around the state are also closed, including aquarium touch tanks and other exhibits and play spaces meant for children.

Inside the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is Howard Hughes' famous - and massive - Spruce Goose.
You can tour the cargo deck of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville.

Don’t Come Hungry  

Before you head out, know that the cafe or restaurant on-site may not be open. While the High Desert Museum in Bend continues to operate its Rimrock Cafe with safety modifications in place, other attractions including OMSI, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum have all closed their on-site eateries. Bring your own picnic to enjoy nearby, or stop for takeout before or after your visit.

Explore Virtual Opportunities

As you may have discovered in past months, many of Oregon’s museums and galleries have started to offer more content online. Some institutions, including the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, are keeping that content fresh even while they’ve reopened to the public. “A lot of our patrons are older, so we’re trying to provide content for the population that doesn’t feel comfortable coming in,” gallery manager Carolyn Hopkins says. Though you can visit the gallery, the theater remains closed. To fill the void, you can now go to the organization’s website to catch its Spotlight Series of videos of performances including lectures, plays and live music. You’ll also find videos of artist interviews, live feeds of exhibit openings and hosting artwork inventory online. Find more ways to explore Oregon’s outdoors virtually.

Support Local Businesses

Shopping for clothes or gifts can be a fun pastime, but not if you’re stressed about being indoors with others. Right now, small shops and boutiques present the perfect solution, as they’re not known for having high traffic and thus make it much easier to maintain social distance. “We don’t need hundreds of people to walk in the door to have a good day. I could have two customers a day and my day is made,” says Amy DiCostanzo, who owns Papillon Rouge Boutique and La Strada Boutique in Medford. DiCostanzo says that her staff sanitizes after every visitor, and her stores typically only see a few shoppers at a time, though she isn’t afraid to ask a customer to come back another time if the space is looking full. She’s also been able to offer appointments for customers with compromised immune systems, which is easier to do as a small-business owner serving your neighbors. “You can support local [businesses], shop small and be safe,” she says. “You’ve got those three things all in one.”

About The

Emily Gillespie
Emily Gillespie is a travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, CNN Travel and Afar magazine. She’s lived in three of Oregon’s seven regions, currently calling Portland home. She and her husband look for every opportunity to hike to a view, bike through wine country and eat their way through a new city.

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