A Family Day at OMSI

Catch a dinosaur exhibit, a laser show, a large-screen movie or a science-filled night out.
May 20, 2019 (Updated March 4, 2024)

Think back to your favorite time exploring science as a kid. Did you skip stones or build a dam at the beach? Make a model volcano erupt? Test paper airplanes for the best flight? Use a telescope to spot constellations that you still find on your favorite stargazing nights? Whether you’re playing with robots or rocking out to a laser show, you’re never too old for science. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI, as it’s better known) is Portland’s top spot for exploring the wonder of science all over again, whether you bring your kids for the day or pop in for a grown-up experience. Here’s how to spend the day — and night — at OMSI.

Science Playground (Photo provided by OMSI)

Getting messy and eating local 

You can easily spend a few hours here, or an entire day. I’ve been a regular visitor since my two boys — now both young adults — were just starting to walk. The Science Playground is a 7,000-square-foot area designed for children up to age 6. It’s filled with all sorts of educational hands-on activities for this tiny set. In this just-for-little-kids fun zone, safely gated off to prevent escapees, I have vivid memories of the boys toddling around with chipmunk costumes on, playing peekaboo through tree roots, building giant block structures and making sparkle-covered Flubber to transport home. 

When they get hungry, which will be much sooner than you planned, head downstairs to the Theory Restaurant for a sandwich or personal pizza or stop into Empirical Cafe for fresh-roasted Nossa Familia coffee. 

Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family exhibit (Photo provided by Evergreen Exhibitions)

Behind the scenes of exhibits

Dedicate at least an hour to exploring the featured exhibits at OMSI. Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family (at OMSI through September 8, 2024) explores the most feared and revered dinosaurs that walked the Earth more than 65 million years ago. Featuring life-sized tyrannosaur skeletons, fossil bones and a 30-foot tunnel where you can watch tyrannosaurs walk around modern-day Portland, this exhibition is not to be missed.

Late afternoon is a great time to get outside and re-energize in the fresh air. Visitors age 3 and up (or 36 inches tall) may take a 45-minute submarine tour as an add-on purchase to general admission. The USS Blueback is a real decommissioned U.S. Navy sub, anchored off OMSI for educational purposes. A knowledgeable guide will take you through the space, where you’ll get to peek through the periscope and see everything from the torpedo room to the crew’s cramped bunks and eating quarters. Kids will look at their comfy bedrooms with new appreciation.

See what crazy concoctions you can stir up in the Chemistry Lab — and find more hair-raising experiments in the popular Physics Lab. (Photo provided by OMSI)

Reveling in nature by hand and large screen

Back in the museum, prepare for a few more hours of good, old-fashioned hands-on fun (read: kids not glued to technology). In grade school, my boys spent countless hours in the Natural Sciences Hall. This is a paradise for nature-lovers, as it explores the natural systems through unique displays, immersive exhibits and rotating experiences. 

Downstairs in Turbine Hall, the Chemistry Lab and Physics Lab are spaces for discovery in the guise of learning. Mix chemicals, experience static electricity, play with wheels, gears and levers and more — all with no cleanup required at home. It’s hard to pry them away from the labs, but I’ve learned to save a treat for the end: a show at OMSI’s giant-screen movie theater, the largest in Portland. A rotating schedule of shows includes everything from current blockbusters to Earth-based documentaries such as “Blue Whales.” These tickets are add-ons to general admission.

Teens can enjoy a space all to their own at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center, a safe out-of-school spot just for ages 13-18, where they can explore their ideas, develop skills, and express themselves through technology. Budding musicians can play a variety of instruments, hone their DJ skills, and mix and record music in the sound booth and audio station. Have a teen interested in fashion, or creative design, coding or 2D and 3D modeling? Teens have access to instructions, programs, software, and supplies to design and create as their imagination allows.

Sometimes you just want an evening to yourself. Book a babysitter, grab your partner or a group of friends and snag tickets to an OMSI After Dark event, for visitors 21 and older. Here’s your chance to shoot water rockets, learn about robots or take a deep dive into oceans, astronomy or the science of craft cider and beer making with a glass of wine or beer to enjoy (and most importantly, knowing you won’t be the geekiest person in the room). Astronomy fans will especially delight in OMSI’s Star Party series, with monthly all-ages telescope-viewing events throughout the summer at Rooster Rock State Park and L. L. Stubb Stewart State Park, both just outside of Portland. Prepared to be wowed all over again.


If you go:

Conveniently located in Portland’s Central Eastside, on the east bank of the Willamette River, OMSI is open year-round — but double-check for hours on holidays, and know that weekends and no-school days will be busiest. Parking at OMSI is $5 + fees for 2 hours or $8 +fees for all day parking. Visitors can pay for parking through the Parking Kitty app or at the parking kiosks in the north and south parking lots. 

Learn about OMSI’s Admission Access Program and Accessibility Services. If you can, consider taking public transit or going by bike — it’s not far from the bike- and pedestrian-friendly Tilikum Crossing.

OMSI participates in the Arts for All program! With an EBT card and matching ID, OMSI provides up to four discounted general admission tickets priced at $5 each and up to a 55% discount on any level of individual membership.

About The

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson is a longtime journalist and travel writer/editor who is now Travel Oregon’s Content & Community Manager, helping to align content for visitors via social media, print and web. She’s called Oregon home for 25 years and loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

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