Best Museums in Portland, OR: 11 Must-Visit Portland Museums & Exhibits

Best Museums in Portland

One of the most popular activities in Portland is checking out the city's top museums, where visitors can enjoy a glimpse into art, history, science, and the unique. Explore world-class exhibits at the Oregon Historical Society, interactive fun at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and artistic treasures at the Portland Art Museum. Check out these must-visit spots for every interest, ensuring you find the perfect Portland museums for you.

Key Takeaways

  • The Oregon Historical Society explores the state's past, emphasizing interactive experiences and inclusivity through exhibits like Experience Oregon and Oregon Is Indian Country.
  • The Pittock Mansion, a symbol of Portland's golden age, wows with its French Renaissance architecture and historical innovations, such as an in-house elevator and a unique shower system.
  • OMSI serves up science with a side of fun for all ages, with interactive labs, planetarium shows, and special events such as OMSI After Dark.

Oregon Historical Society

The Oregon Historical Society is the perfect option for those who want to learn about the state's history. Located in Downtown Portland, the museum boasts an extensive collection of artifacts and documents that showcase Oregon's unique and diverse culture. Visitors will learn about the native tribes of Oregon, explore their traditional lifestyles, and gain insight into how those cultures have changed over time.

The museum also features interactive exhibits on topics such as pioneers, politics, transportation, and industry, providing an engaging experience for all ages. Through the various programs and events it hosts, designed to support education and appreciation for historical research and scholarship, the Oregon Historical Society is a valuable resource for both lifelong learners and visitors alike.

With exhibits such as Experience Oregon and Oregon Is Indian Country, visitors can journey through the state's diverse past and its commitment to inclusion. Interactive exhibits, including History Hub and Camp Namanu, A 100-Year Journey Toward Inclusion, engage visitors through storytelling and hands-on learning.

This isn't a museum that's stuck in the past, though. Online exhibits like Racing to Change—Oregon's Civil Rights Years and The Fred Meyer Story bring history to your fingertips, detailing various aspects of Oregon's development and environmental history. The Oregon Historical Society is a must-visit for anyone seeking to understand the state's rich history, from its expansive coastlines to its historic agricultural practices. If there's one museum to visit upon moving to Oregon, the Oregon Historical Society is it.

Oregon Rail Heritage Center

The Oregon Rail Heritage Center is a must-visit for train enthusiasts, housing historic steam locomotives like the famous Southern Pacific 4449, Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700, and the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197. The museum, one of the top things to do with kids in Portland, is one of the most unique sites in the city.

But the Oregon Rail Heritage Center isn't just about admiring these magnificent machines. It offers scenic 45-minute train rides along the Willamette River and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, allowing guests to experience the thrill of rail travel firsthand, reminiscent of the historic Oregon Trail.

Pittock Mansion

Explore the History of Pittock Mansion

Experience the grandeur of Pittock Mansion, a stunning chateau that was once home to Oregon pioneers Henry and Georgiana Pittock, nestled in the Kings Heights neighborhood in Northwest Portland. Visitors can explore this historical landmark for a glimpse into Portland's past:

  • Tour the lavish 23-room mansion with its breathtaking views of downtown and beyond.
  • Explore over 46 acres of gardens and grounds to see how it has been restored and maintained since 1914.
  • Learn about the fascinating history of Henry Pittock, who rose from humble beginnings to become one of Oregon's most successful businessmen.
  • Take part in special events, educational programs, and tours throughout the year.

Pittock Mansion is an opportunity to experience Portland's rich history up close in an elegant setting—a must-see when visiting Portland. Nestled in the West Hills of Portland, the Pittock Mansion is a testament to the city's golden age. Designed by Edward T. Foulkes in 1909, this French Renaissance-style mansion boasts:

  • Four floors
  • 23 rooms
  • A blend of eclectic interior design elements
  • Steep rooflines
  • Pointed turrets

The mansion near the beautiful Washington Park is a sight to behold.

But the Pittock Mansion isn't just about its stunning architecture. In its heyday, it was outfitted with cutting-edge amenities like an in-house elevator, intercom, and even a unique multi-directional shower system. Despite nearly facing demolition after the Columbus Day Storm in 1962, it was preserved by the City of Portland and lets visitors learn about the luxurious lifestyle of the early 20th century.

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI)

Discover the wonders of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), a modern-day science museum that offers an incredible array of interactive exhibits for visitors of all ages. From the Omnimax theater to the hands-on experiments in the Science Lab, OMSI helps engage visitors with science in a practical, hands-on approach. Its educational merits and hands-on experience make it a popular field trip destination for schools in Portland.

Located on the Willamette River in East Portland, just a mile west of the historic Ladd's Addition neighborhood, this museum allows visitors to explore and spark their interest in applied sciences. Experience flight simulators or take a tour through its submarine exhibit. With over 200 interactive displays that range from physical sciences to astronomy and engineering, there's something for everyone at OMSI.

Other interactive exhibits include:

  • Turbine Hall
  • Natural Sciences Hall
  • Physics Lab
  • Chemistry Lab
  • Discovery Lab
  • Paleontology Lab

The museum regularly hosts special events such as OMSI After Dark for adults ages 21 and up, which welcomes local vendors and artisans for a memorable night out. Visitors can also enhance their museum experience with shows at the Kendall Planetarium, screenings at the Empirical Theater, and dinner at the Theory Restaurant overlooking the beautiful Willamette River.

OMSI also provides focused features like the Science Playground and Teen Tech Center, with designated hours from afternoon until evening on weekdays and extended hours on Saturdays. Science has never been this fun!

World Forestry Center Discovery Museum

Welcome to the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, where you can explore the importance of forests and learn about sustainable forestry methods while enjoying the serenity of one of Portland's best parks, Washington Park. Housed in a lodge-inspired building adorned with totem poles and local wildlife exhibits, the museum offers an inviting space for nature enthusiasts of all ages.

The museum's exhibits examine the roles of forests in our lives, showcasing sustainable forestry methods and advanced technologies such as mass timber. It also educates visitors about environmental issues, including the impact of climate change and the threat of catastrophic wildfires to forests.

Historical aspects of forestry are equally well-represented at this Arlington Heights area museum, with exhibits on:

  • The Old Forestry Building from the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition
  • The Langdon Plate Collection
  • The Forestry Leadership Hall honors individuals who have advanced forest conservation

Oregon Maritime Museum

Explore the History of the Oregon Maritime Museum

Docked at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park on the Willamette River in the Old Town district, the Oregon Maritime Museum invites you aboard the historic sternwheeler Portland. This centerpiece of the museum is the last operating steam-powered sternwheel tug in the U.S., an authentic slice of maritime history.

The museum is home to a vast collection of maritime artifacts, ship models, and memorabilia related to steam power, sailing vessels, and the battleship USS Oregon. But this is more than a museum; it's an immersive experience where you can take volunteer-led tours of the steamer and even participate in the Willamette Sternwheeler Cruise series.

Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals

The Rice Museum of Rocks and Minerals is known for its rare and unique specimens. From the world-class Alma Rose rhodochrosite to the unique fluorescent minerals in the Rainbow Gallery, the museum is a treasure trove for nature enthusiasts.

The Rice Museum is in the Hillsboro community, one of Portland's best suburbs. The museum's galleries offer a diverse range of specimens, including:

  • An extensive petrified wood collection
  • The largest opal-filled thunderegg in the world
  • The Fossil Gallery features displays like dinosaur eggs and Tucker, a three-dimensional baby psittacosaurus

Step back in time and explore the fascinating exhibits in the museum's collection, all just 15 miles away from Downtown Portland.

Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

From its interactive exhibits to its bizarre taxidermy collection, the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is a must-see for those looking for an unforgettable experience. A visit to this unique Portland museum showcases:

  • Life-size horror movie characters
  • Strange artwork from local artists
  • Quirky and nostalgic artifacts
  • Interactive games and activities
  • Classes on peculiar topics like cryptozoology
  • Lectures by paranormal experts
  • Gag gifts at the gift shop
  • Bizarre souvenirs like pickled animals and shrunken heads

At the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium in the Slabtown area of Northwest Portland, one of Portland's most walkable districts, you can explore all of these oddities in a safe and entertaining environment.

But the Peculiarium isn't just about strange exhibits. It offers unique interactive experiences like using a theremin, lying in a simulated coffin, and posing with an alien dissection. And if you're in the mood for a bit of shopping, the museum's gift shop is filled with gags and quirky gifts, reflecting the peculiar theme of the museum.

Portland Art Museum

Explore the Art of the Portland Art Museum

Located downtown, the Portland Art Museum is home to over 42,000 works of art from around the world, with a collection that features European and American paintings and sculptures from the 18th century onward. In this museum, you'll find Native American, African, and Oceanic art; modern and contemporary art; prints and photographs; and Asian, Latin American, and contemporary Northwest works. The museum's five galleries feature rotating exhibitions and an interactive education center designed for children.

In addition to its art exhibits, the Portland Art Museum also hosts lectures, workshops, films, concerts, and other special events throughout the year so that you can always enjoy a new exhibit to shake things up and broaden your artistic horizons. With its diverse collections and educational programs, the Portland Art Museum offers a unique cultural experience that everyone will appreciate.

Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is a celebration of aviation innovators, pilots, and veterans in the city of McMinnville. Its centerpiece is the massive Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose.

The museum features over 150 aircraft, exhibits, and displays, including:

  • Notable military and civilian aircraft
  • Spacecraft 
  • SR-71 Blackbird
  • Space exploration through the Titan II

Visitors can check out a 3D film in the Giant Screen Theater or take a ride on a flight simulator to experience the thrill of flying. Wrap up the day at the museum's Aviator Cafe, which offers a full menu of meals and sweet treats.

Portland Puppet Museum

Behold the wonders of the Portland Puppet Museum, located in the Sellwood-Moreland neighborhood. Founded in 2012, this unique Southwest Portland museum is home to over 2,000 puppets from all around the world. It's grown to become one of the largest puppet museums in existence. Visitors can explore a diverse collection featuring marionettes, hand puppets, ventriloquist dummies, and more.

The museum offers exhibits on local and international puppet makers and educational programs for kids and adults. Guests are invited to participate in workshops to learn about different cultures through their traditional folk art forms. Additionally, visitors can attend live performances by some of the finest puppeteers in the world.

The Portland Puppet Museum provides an incredible opportunity for visitors to discover something new and explore a unique form of entertainment that dates back centuries. Thanks to its knowledgeable staff and engaging exhibits, this museum is highly regarded among locals and tourists alike.

Discover Portland's Best Museums Today

Whether you're a history buff, art enthusiast, science lover, or just someone seeking a unique adventure, the diverse array of museums scattered across some of Portland's best neighborhoods has something to offer. From state artifacts at the Oregon Historical Society to the bizarre oddities of the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium, this city is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be explored. Plan your visit and embark on an unforgettable journey through Portland's museums.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who designed the Portland Art Museum?

The Portland Art Museum was designed by Pietro Belluschi, an architect known for his landmark designs in the city.

How much is admission to the Portland Art Museum?

The entrance fee to the Portland Art Museum is $25 for adults, with discounts for seniors and college students. Children 17 and under are free.

What is the most famous piece at the Portland Art Museum?

The most famous piece at the Portland Art Museum is "Madonna and Child With Two Angels" by Francesco Granacci from 1495.

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