Eugene offers multiple options to keep your family entertained and well-fed. For this piece, I visited Eugene, and I also consulted with Melanie Willson, a Vancouver Island mom that lived in Eugene for several of the past few years; she still visits regularly. I trust Melanie’s opinions and found her Eugene-with-kids suggestions wonderful and spot-on accurate. I hope you find them equally useful.
Here are over 15 things to do with kids in the Eugene area:
Ride a six-foot wave at Splash! At Lively Park in Eugene’s neighboring city of Springfield, about 20 minutes from downtown Eugene. This swim center is a lap above similar community pools; there’s a baby pool, a corkscrew slide, hot tubs – and oh yeah – that crazy, deep wave pool that tosses swimmers around like driftwood. In a fun way, of course. This is one of my favorite pools in the Pacific Northwest.
Once you’re done playing in the pool, a giant climbing playground waits outside for a second round of fun (as in, yes, you should bring lunch/snacks – you’ll be here a while).
My favorite Eugene experience? The University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, where kids can consider ancient traditional slippers and examine dioramas of traditional Native American life. Then, inquisitive kids give archeology a hand in the “Think Like a Scientist” lab, where they can use a magnifying glass to unravel bone and fossil mysteries or wonder at the evolution of a horse’s hoof.
The compact, child-friendly area of the museum is clean, new, and stocked with interesting artifacts and hands-on options that make history and science come alive.
Spy an eagle or falcon at the evergreen-sheltered Cascades Raptor Center, where over 60 resident birds represent 33 species in outdoor cages. Each bird’s short story is right next to their cage, so you can discover more about each raptor – or maybe even “adopt” one. Wear sturdy shoes, as the ground is uneven.
Play for an hour or two at the Science Factory Children’s Museum & Exploration Dome, the petite, well-loved cousin of science museums. You won’t find the multi-story experiences offered in the big cities, but it’s a fine way to spend an half-hour or so, and admission is only $4/person.
Check the website for the current exhibit; when we were there, the museum focused on balls and ramps.
Run it off at RiverPlay Discovery Playground, where kids can uncover fossils in sand dig, climb a 25-foot replica of Skinner Butte or make a dam of sand and water in a replica Willamette River.
Browse nature’s bounty at the Eugene Saturday Market; farmers deliver fresh produce to downtown Eugene while artisans sell their eco-wares. Order lunch from an on-the-go restaurateur dishing up Mexican, Thai, Indian cuisines or US-style sandwiches. Listen to live music and give the kids a few bucks for a treat or two. “More tie-die stands than any other market I’ve encountered,” Melanie says, “and awesome Afghani food in the food court. The adjacent farmer’s market with everything you can imagine from the Willamette Valley, from duck eggs to huckleberries.”
Hike the 209-acre Mt. Pigsah Arboretum with your family – and bring the camera for photo-ready moments along wildflower meadows and in Evergreen forests. Check the website before you go and see if there’s a guided family walk on the calendar – then sign up for an educational ramble through the woods.
If you’re going to visit a toystore in Eugene for travel-ready playthings, The Elephant’s Trunk should be your destination. Located in downtown Eugene, this shop crams hundreds of toy options into a tidy, well-organized store. Dolls, animals, toddler toys and more.
The store’s nestled in the adorable, flower-strewn shopping center 5th Street Public Market.
Eating Out with Kids in Eugene
Dig into Thai at Ring of Fire, located in an unassuming strip mall. Ask for a seat in the back room, where your family can sit under giant umbrellas. This is a good option with adventurous, older children.
“So many kinds of beer from all over the world, the best local and far-away microbrews, and simple soups and delicious panini,” Melanie says of The Beer Stein. “It’s where U of O students and faculty often head for a beer, and where my playgroup would occasionally meet. As a Canadian used to paying 3-4 times as much for beer, I was in heaven.”
“Hideaway Bakery has a sandbox under cover on their patio, which is also heated,” Melanie says. “They have a terrific brick oven and yummy breads and treats, and the sandbox is filled with baking stuff for digging, like measuring cups, ladles, etc.”
Pluck a pie or pick up a tart at Sweet Life Patisserie. This patisserie takes its sugar seriously, with dozens upon dozens of cakes, pies, cupcakes, cheesecakes, tarts and tiny delectable chocolates, all laid out in several glass cases (try to refrain from licking the cases, it’s just not becoming of a mom). An amazing selection – even Eugene’s vegans are catered to — and it’s hard to go home with just one dessert.
Get in touch with your inner tofu-yoga queen at Morning Glory Café. Yes, this is crunchy hippie food (you will find tempeh and sprouts) but there’s lots of food (split plates!) and those scrambles taste good. This café sits within a stone’s throw of the railroad terminal, so toddlers will have something to watch for, while you’re watching for breakfast’s arrival. A good option for those sensitive to wheat, dairy and other issues. “Don’t overlook their amazing tea blends,” Melanie says.
Laughing Planet and Café Yumm are both solid options with babies, toddlers, preschoolers and other picky personalities. The menus offer simple and straightforward wrap, soups and bowls with Mexican and Asian twists. “Café Yumm is a Eugene classic,” Melanie says. “Rice and bean bowls with the ubiquitous Yumm! sauce that all of the locals are so addicted to that there are cafe yumms all over town, and sauce to buy and take home if you can’t wait for your next fix.”
How about Laughing Planet? Melanie made up a song to entertain toddlers en route to the popular stop: To the tune of Frere Jacques: Laughing Planet, Laughing Planet/ Where are You? Where are you? / I want a burrito, I want a burrito/ And some soup, And some soup. “The soup of the day is generally delicious and the Che Burrito (Plantain, black bean and sweet potato) is not to be missed,” she says.
“In a city with lots of Thai restaurants, Sweet Basil is the place we went for consistent and delicious curries,” Melanie says. “”Good, basic Thai food at reasonable prices.”
“Iralia serves amazing Mediterranean food,” Melanie says. “They use simple, whole ingredients and a variety of influences to create amazing hearty dishes. Iraila is Eugene’s best kept secret.”