Downtown Salem  is bordered to the west by the Willamette River, and Riverfront Park is a good place for a stroll, a carousel ride, or a riverboat excursion. The carousel horses (101 Front St. NE, 503/540-9301, www.salemcarousel.org , 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m. Sun. June–Aug., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun. Sept.–May, $1.50) were hand-carved by volunteers, and it’s no antique; it was built in the late 1990s.
Along the river near the carousel, find the Willamette Queen (200 Water St. NE, 503/371-1103, www.willamettequeen.com ), a stern-wheeler that cruises the Willamette year-round. Lunch cruises are offered noon–1 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday ($22 adults, $16 children 4–10); one-hour afternoon cruises without food are less expensive (2 p.m., $12 adults, $6 children) and allow you to eat at a good restaurant a short walk away in downtown. Dinner and Sunday brunch cruises are also offered. This is a good way to get a decent look at the river and, if you’re lucky, some of its wildlife.
Also in Riverfront Park, find A. C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village (116 NE Marion St., 503/371-3631 or 800/208-9514, www.acgilbert.org , 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–5 p.m. Sun., $5.75, $4.25 seniors, $2.75 toddlers ages 1–2), a cheerful cluster of restored Victorians that also houses the national Toy Hall of Fame. Inspired by A. C. Gilbert, a Salem  native whose many inventions included the Gilbert Chemistry Set and the Erector Set, Discovery Village’s hands-on expositions incorporate art, music, drama, science, and nature.
Whether you’re designing a card or bookmark in the craft room, putting on a puppet show, or disassembling a parking meter, the outlets for creativity here are adaptable to any mood or mind-set.
If you don’t have participatory inclinations, you can still enjoy fascinating exhibits like the one dedicated to A. C. Gilbert, whose Olympian athletic exploits and proficiency as a world-class magician were overshadowed by his inventions. As you might expect, even the gift shop here is a winner.