We love our local libraries for their storytimes, special events and their free cultural passes. Your local branch will always have a special place in your heart, and rightly so. This list of special destination libraries is for when you want to try something new or check out some of the area’s unique libraries that go way beyond just books.
From interactive play areas to history, nature, hands-on creating and more, here are some great libraries to explore:
This big, modern library in downtown Vancouver is a great place to take the littles. There is an expansive area for younger kids, with lots of interactive areas, activities and nooks to explore. It is like a small children’s museum with a literacy focus. For older kids, there is a dedicated area with lots of books, games and puzzles.
The fifth-floor balcony is a fun place to take in the great view, eat a snack and count the airplanes flying overhead.
Rockwood Makerspace is a fabulous space for teens and adults to get creative and hands-on. During Open Labs, teens can use a 3D printer, make a game, jewelry or clothes, do crafts, laser cut on wood, or work on robotics projects. The 1,000-square-foot makerspace also offers an adult lab, and special workshops and classes for teens, such as Girls Who Make, designed to inspire the next generation of people who identify as girl designers, creators and engineers.
The makerspace is only for kids in grades 6 and up. It’s great to see this type of free, community-based programming for our older kids.
Located next to Jefferson High School on N. Killingsworth Street, the North Portland Library dates back to the early 1900s and features interior lighting and furnishings designed to honor its history. North Portland Library houses the Black Pacific Northwest Collection, which contains many selections for kids and teens. It also hosts a Black Storytime on Saturday mornings.
The Central Library is an urban gem. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, and was originally built in 1913 and renovated in 1997. It maintains many of its original Georgian architectural details. It is a grand, impressive building, and the large children’s area has a bronze sculpture of a tree and an extensive children’s book collection. Despite its size, the librarians are friendly and helpful, and get to know their regular patrons. There’s also a delightful gift shop at the entrance with lovely cards, notebooks and book bags, plus used books at great prices.
This library boasts a large, welcoming and colorful kids section with many books, plus some toys and interactive spaces. There’s also a dedicated teen area, and an auditorium that shows family and kids movies!
It’s right next door to a great splash pad and playground, and on Saturdays, you can check out the large and popular Beaverton farmers market.
The Brookwood branch in Hillsboro is great to explore inside and outside. It has walking paths around a man-made pond and lots of ducks and geese. On our visit, we had fun exploring the lovely grounds before we went inside.
There are great play spaces and interactive areas in the children’s area. There’s also a Sesame Donut cafe in the lobby. If you’re a Washington County resident, take advantage of their Library of Things, a unique collection of items to borrow, including toys, musical instruments, a GoPro camera, tools, an air fryer, an Instant Pot and more.
After this original list was posted, a reader recommended we include the Oregon City Public Library! It’s a great find – with two fun outdoor areas, a spray park and a small playground, right out front. The large children’s area is bright, colorful and inviting.
There are lots of toys, including legos, a play kitchen and more, and there’s also a cozy reading nook. Since we were in the area, we also rode the Oregon City Municipal Elevator and explored the promenade.
Note: depending on your library system, you may not be eligible to check out books and other materials. But even without checking out materials, we think these are fabulous libraries to explore. You can always do some reading together while you are there.