When I first heard that McMinnville Oregon’s Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum was one part aviation history museum, one part military vehicle and firearms collection, one part 3-D theater, and one part water park (yes, water park), I couldn’t imagine how it all fit together. I worried that the 70,000 square foot indoor water park would seem gimmicky in comparison to the museum, which would feel overshadowed. I didn’t know what to think of the firearms, and most of all, I worried we wouldn’t have enough time to see it all.
After visiting this spring, I’m happy to say I was 1) wrong (the water park is extremely well designed) 2) wrong (the aviation museum shines in its own right) and 3) wrong (the firearms collection was my tween son’s favorite part), and 4) right (visitors definitely want to dedicate a full day to Evergreen). Since it opened an hour earlier on the day of our visit, we started at the museum, which I definitely recommend. After your kids get a taste of the water park, it will be hard to pry them away. (Bear in mind: admission is separate at the museum and water park.)
The museum and theater:
The museum is spread out in several large bays, and it’d be easy to miss a big section if you’re not careful. Directly after paying admission, you enter at the general aviation and military craft collections, which will definitely catch your children’s eye. Most impressive however, is the towering body of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, which visitors can board. If you’re not a military history buff (and all those planes look the same to you, like they did to me), never fear: there’s comprehensive signage and literature on everything, including very appealing videos and interviews that really draw you in. Most fascinating was learning about the early smoke jumper fire fighters, and the WWII air strike battles. Our school-aged kids were engrossed, but even if you have young children, there’s so much to see in the bay, they’ll be happy for a good amount of time. The firearms exhibit, which my boys went crazy for, is on the second floor; don’t miss it if you have gun enthusiasts (or boys of any age).
Best of all, the many docents stationed around the museum were simply excellent. They answered all our questions, particularly about WWII, and engaged the kids with questions of their own, stories, and even paper airplanes sailed at their heads.
Tip: Additional aircraft are open to tour as well, but there’s an additional charge for most.
The space flight exhibits take visitors from early space program history to present day, and includes a Titan II missile booster rocket, which kids can explore from inside its silo. The theater offers a 3-D IMAX-style viewing (which can be added onto your ticket), which I’m sure is impressive (but which we ran out of time for). Outside, a fun space-themed playground is available to burn off energy, before touring the military tanks along the lawn. Tip: This is a good area for a picnic between visiting the museum and the water park.