I moved to Eugene from Massachusetts in November of 2018 as a stay-at-home Mom. I had no friends and an active toddler. The first few weeks here were rainy and lonely. I remember someone recommending Adventure! Children’s Museum in Valley River Mall to me, and I was dubious.

A museum in a mall? I thought. Gotta be a chintzy cash grab.

Well. I was very, very wrong.

We bought a membership after our first visit. Money was tight, but I immediately saw the value of having unlimited access to this space. Lydi loved the exhibits, even if she was too young to understand much of them. And it was a great way to meet other families. When visitors came to town, it was always our first stop. We really went once or twice a week until Covid hit.

Adventure closed its doors from March 2020 to March 2021. And we missed it. I think I was more excited than Lydi when we got to go back last summer for 90 minutes sessions with just our other “pod family.” And now they are open for drop-in once again! We went last week for the first time in two years and had a fantastic time. Even though Lydi is now four instead of two AND we have a one-year-old tagging along, Adventure still met all our needs. Just as I thought, it grew with us.

Here are five reasons I love Adventure Children’s Museum:

The Staff

The staff is always fantastic. They understand that their clientele of toddlers and preschoolers is not the most reasonable and thoughtful demographic. And they are always so patient and kind. I often think of a particular incident from the Summer of 2019. Lydi (who was two at the time) was totally obsessed with this hideous glitter-covered stuffed hamster we’d been carting around—named Howard. We accidentally left him at Adventure, had lunch at the food court, and were about to leave the mall when we realized our mistake.

We rushed back up the escalator and were met by Amelia, who is the founding director of Adventure. It was a very easy toy to describe – a rodent who looks like a member of ABBA. Amelia knew exactly what we were talking about and explained to us that when she found him, he was damp (our fault), so she had thrown him in the wash and hadn’t had a chance to dry him yet. She brought him out wet from the wash but swaddled carefully in a dry washcloth. And presented him to Lydi like he was a newborn. Lydi was thrilled and carried him around in that washcloth for days. So much care was put into that small gesture, and I’ve never forgotten it.

The Variety of Activities

Lydi’s first visit in 2018 and most recent visit.

There are so many different exhibits (and some rotate!), so every time you visit can be a completely different experience. On our most recent trip, Lydi spent about 80% of the time pretending to be a vet in the vet exhibit. She is very into cats and playing doctor right now, so this was right up her alley. However, on other trips, we’ve spent huge chunks of time pretending to be pirates in the pirate ship or selling fruits and vegetables at the produce stand. And since we have a membership and go often, there’s no pressure to see it all. I can feel comfortable letting her do a deep dive into one area, knowing we’ll be back soon to try something else.

The Atmosphere

At Adventure, they’ve created a very welcoming space – for both children and parents. If you read my Nearby Nature post, you know I love a good “low stakes” activity, and this is another one. You are surrounded by other families with similarly aged children in a really great space for the kids to explore. There are no long lines (although sometimes to get in, there’s a wait) or high-pressure activities. They have bathrooms and changing tables on site. Before Covid, there was even a place to stop and have a snack. (One time, I forgot to bring a snack, and 2-year-old lydi walked up to a family, said “cracker pweese,” and returned proudly with a Ritz – like a stray dog.) Everything you need for an enjoyable time with little kids is there.

And if you’ve arrived and your toddler decides today’s the day to just scream like a banshee for no apparent reason, you can just leave. If you have a membership, it costs you nothing except the Starbucks you treat yourself to on the drive home. And if you don’t, then it’s just $10 ($5 per person) you’ve flushed down the toilet as a result of the unreasonableness of a toddler.

It’s in the Mall

Yes, the location is what brought on my initial judgmental hesitation. However, I feel like having a toddler had increased my appreciation for the mall to what it was when my Dad was dropping me off with friends so I could buy rhinestone headbands at Claire’s. The mall is great! The summer before Covid was very hot and we didn’t have AC in the main living area of our house. So where did we go? The mall! We’d play at Adventure. Do some laps around the stores. Get a pretzel. Explain to Lydi for the 40th time that maybe she can Build-a-Bear on her birthday. Kids love the mall! And now that Covid numbers are going back down, I’m looking forward to safely loitering in the mall with my children once again.

It’s More than Just a Museum

Adventure does great stuff out in the community too! They do a virtual 10K/20K to encourage families to get active together called Fawke’s Trot. (It’s named after their mascot, who is an adorable fox.) They work with other nonprofits in town and act as a donation drop-off site when needed. You can buy seasonal craft kits to take home. During the summer they offer camps. In December, they have Gingerbread Night for building gingerbread houses. They create a Pumpkin Scavenger Hunt through all of Eugene during the month of October and a Spring Scavenger Hunt that’s going on right now! They are such a positive presence here in our town.

So on behalf of all the families who have benefited from Adventure! Children’s Museum, I’d like to wish them a very happy birthday. The minds behind Adventure are constantly coming up with engaging and delightful ways for us to interact with our community and our families. We are so lucky to have them.