Story and photos by Niki Billsborough

Looking for a fun day trip with the kids? Miss the Portland Children’s Museum? Just want to get out and about? I have the perfect “back to play” outing for you and your family at the Gilbert House Children’s Museum in Salem. There are also fun spots to visit nearby if you’d like to make a day of it!

Gilbert House Children’s Museum

I recently took my kids to the Gilbert House Children’s Museum where we enjoyed two hours of reserved play-time during Back to Play. We had ample time to explore the exhibits in the Rockenfield and Gilbert Houses, Nature’s Workshop, the amazing Outdoor Discovery Area, and the new exhibit, Bill’s Bubble Factory.


Since the Bubble Factory is new, you are scheduled for a half-hour reserved time slot to enjoy the exhibit as a small group (depending on the size of your party you may share the exhibit with another group). There are four bubble stations in the Bubble Factory to explore making bubbles using air, water, and your own bubble-making powers. The best part of the factory was the big bubble maker. We made a bubble that was over five feet tall!

After visiting all the indoor exhibits, we spent most of our time exploring the outdoor areas and enjoying the sunny weather. Outside there are designated eating areas to take a break and enjoy water and snacks. There were so many things to explore that my kids did not want to leave when it was time to go.

From a COVID perspective, our visit felt safe. The museum is requiring masks for all visitors ages 5 and up, and the houses have one-way paths to help with social distancing. There are plenty of hand-sanitizing stations throughout the museum. They also enforce the departure time for each session to allow time for cleaning before the next session. With the limited capacity and safety measures, it was very easy to social distance ourselves from other groups and enjoy all the exhibits and fun the museum has to offer.

Reservations must be made in advance by purchasing tickets on the Gilbert House Children’s Museum website. Back to Play is limited to 40 visitors during each of the two-hour blocks of playtime with slots Tuesday to Saturday at 10:00 am, 12:30 pm and 3:00 pm. Make sure the time and day works for you because the tickets are non-refundable, nor can they be rescheduled. General admission tickets are $10 each, and members are free.

Day Trip Extras

If your family has some time and wants to do more exploring before or after your visit, here are some great spots to check out:


Riverfront Park: There is a fun play structure and lots of paths to enjoy, including a pedestrian bridge to Peter Courtney Minto Island Park with 1200 acres of woods and wetlands. The park is adjacent to the Gilbert House Children’s Museum.

Salem’s Riverfront Carousel: This carousel is located at the Riverfront Park. They are currently open Thursday to Sunday.

Adelman Peony Gardens: The Adelman Peony Gardens in Brooks (north of Salem) are open until June 15 from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. If you like the Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival, then you may also enjoy exploring the 500 different varieties of peonies in this 25-acre field. This is a free activity, and we had a great time when we stopped here on the way to the Gilbert House Children’s Museum.

PDX Parent Staff
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