Aviation enthusiasts, space nuts, preschoolers who like “things that go,” and even your most skeptical of teenagers will likely be quite impressed with the array of planes and spacecraft on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, about a hour’s drive southwest of Portland. The associated educational exhibits are truly fascinating. While I only had a short time to explore the two museum buildings — couldn’t miss my spa appointment at the nearby Allison Inn & Spa, you know — I’d recommend at least an entire morning to explore and learn at the exhibits (with or without children). Then spend your afternoon at the indoor Wings and Waves Waterpark, also on the massive museum complex grounds and featuring ten water slides and a wave pool.
I suggest starting your exploration of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in chronological order. That is, begin in the building that traces the history of aviation from the Wright Brothers through World War II. Here you’ll find the most famous of the “residents” of the museum: the Spruce Goose. This is the “flying boat” that Howard Hughes had built in the 1940s; it is the largest airplane ever made — and it’s constructed totally from wood!
Besides the Spruce Goose, you’ll find a myriad of private planes, military aircraft, helicopters and much more aviation memorabilia in the cavernous “aviation” building of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
Walk across a pedestrian path — also dubbed The Solar System Walkway — to the next building which covers aviation and space travel from the Korean War to today.
You can ask for free guided tours from ultra-knowledgeable volunteer docents or make your way through the exhibits yourself, as I did. Note: These (mostly) elderly fellows take their aviation very seriously; many are former military pilots. When one white-haired gentleman noted I was moving quickly from exhibit to exhibit (remember, I had a pedicure to get to), I got a bit of a scolding, something to the effect of, “That’s no way to appreciate what’s here, young lady.” Oops.
There is also a firearms collections (accessible via the general admission fee) which traces firearms through American history, as well as a 3-D theatre (additional fee) and a large outdoor playground for young children. Don’t forget to check out — and pose for photos in front of — all the great aircraft outside the buildings, too.
One other side note: If you’re looking for some grown-up-only entertainment, consider spending some time in downtown McMinnville. It’s features the cutest retro downtown filled with cafes and restaurants (La Rambla’s tapas menu caught my eye), bookshops and clothing stores, as well as wine tasting rooms. Truly charming, I’d love to return to this town someday to enjoy its culinary delights and wine options!
Thanks to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum for hosting my visit and Travel Oregon for arranging my quick visit to your pretty state. I’ll be back!