: Oregon Coast Aquarium

What to Expect at Oregon Attractions During COVID-19

September 4, 2020 (Updated May 25, 2021)

Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Follow all COVID-19 guidelines, get vaccinated before you travel and remember to bring your face covering.

Top Things to Know:

  • Make reservations or buy tickets in advance
  • Group size is limited
  • 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 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 — some businesses are requiring them for visitors. Here are some other things to keep in mind to make sure your trip to Oregon’s attractions is safe and enjoyable.

Masked visitors sit spaced apart as they watch an eagle demonstration.
The High Desert Museum in Bend offers tickets for timed entry. (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 number 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 stay at least 6 feet away from others. Some attractions are finding creative ways to accommodate visitors. The Baker Heritage Museum in downtown Baker City, for example, breaks up larger groups. 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

During their closures, some attractions were hard at work on renovations and new exhibits which are ready for you to enjoy. For instance, the former Oregon Kelp Forest at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport has been transformed into a colorful Indo-Pacific Coral Reef exhibit, featuring some of the most diverse species in the world. Visitors can get a close-up view of 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.

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 on-site cafe or restaurant at Oregon’s attractions may not be open. For example, OMSI’s Theory Restaurant is closed but its Empirical Cafe is open. Learn the details by visiting the website for the attraction you’re interested in visiting, that way you can plan your meals accordingly. You can always bring your own picnic 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 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 go to the organization’s website to catch its Spotlight Series of recorded performances including lectures, plays and live music. You’ll also find videos of artist interviews and live feeds of exhibit openings. 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. 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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