Best museums in Portland, Oregon

Top 15 of the Best Museums in Portland, Oregon

No city break is complete without at least one museum visit and if you’re on a Portland break, the Oregon city is home to some of the best museums in the NorthWest. From important historic buildings to places housing all kinds of art, here are the must-see museums in Portland, Oregon…

1. Portland Art Museum – one of the oldest museums in the world where you can appreciate art

Portland Art Museum - Oregon

The Portland Art Museum was one of the first art museums on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1892, visitors have been able to enjoy a wide-ranging, elegant collection of art that spans two buildings.

The museum’s collections include art and drawings by European masters, ancient sculptures, and pieces from Asian civilizations. The strongest collections in the museum are the Native American and Northwest art collections. Be sure to check out the collection of masks and canoes made by the Native American tribes of the Northwestern Coast as well as the local artists displayed proudly next to American masters.

  • Address: 1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205, United States

2. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry – one of the country’s leading science center

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry - Oregon

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is a must-visit destination even if you don’t consider yourself a STEM person. The vast collection, which includes a planetarium, tactile exhibits covering everything from earthquakes to chemical experiments, and even a retired navy submarine docked outside, there is something for everyone here.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is particularly popular among children, who get to enjoy the novelty of a museum where they are actually encouraged to touch many of the exhibits. However, OMSI (as the museum is called for short) also takes care of its adult visitors with “After Dark” 21+ events.

3. World Forestry Center, Discovery Museum – the best museum for the nature lovers 

World Forestry Center—Discovery Museum - Oregon

If you like nature but want to know more about the beauty that you are witnessing when you get out in the wild, then the World Forestry Center, is the museum for you. The museum’s goal is to teach visitors of all ages about the complex ecosystems that make up forests and to instill a love of sustainability.

Interactive exhibits include a simulated raft ride on the Clackamas River, a Timberjack harvester that visitors can try to operate, and videos showing how forests all over the world interact. Spend some time outside the museum proper and explore a giant petrified Sequoia stump and a vintage steam locomotive parked outside.

4. Oregon Maritime Museum – a distinctive museum located on the Willamette River 

Oregon Maritime Museum - Oregon

As a coastal state with several important navigable rivers, Oregon has an important maritime history. Part of this history is displayed at the Oregon Maritime Museum, which is located on board a vintage steamboat called the Portland. The boat is worth a visit in itself because it is the last wheeled tugboat of its kind in the country.

Exhibits include information about Portland’s sea-faring history and about the technical capabilities of historic boats such as this one, all manned by enthusiastic volunteers.

5. Freakybuttrue Peculiarium – a unique museum for adults

Freakybuttrue Peculiarium - Oregon

The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is not so much a museum as a collection of oddities perched inside one of America’s oddest cities. The museum is dedicated to anything weird, creepy, and unsettling, so it is probably best for older visitors who won’t have nightmares from some of the more intense exhibits.

When you walk into the Peculiarium, you can expect to find art dedicated to cryptids and monsters made by local enthusiasts, exhibits dedicated to gory facets of modern life, such as execution by electric chair, and even aliens. There are plenty of photo opportunities if you want to freak out your family and friends back home.

6. Pittock Mansion – a French renaissance-style château turned into a community landmark

Pittock Mansion - Oregon

The Pittock Mansion is one of the best museums in Portland for lovers of history. The house was built in 1914 by the Pittock family and it was made to mimic a Renaissance-style chateau. Take a tour of the interior to see the unique architecture and design, which was very modern for the time.

However, much of the draw of Pittock Mansion is actually outside of the house. The mansion has extensive grounds, part of which are immaculately sculpted, but the back part of which was left to run deliberately wild by the nature-loving original owner. Explore the grounds to catch the famous view of Mount Hood.

7. Oregon Historical Society Museum – history museum located in the heart of Portland

Oregon Historical Society Museum - Oregon

The Oregon Historical Society is a must-visit destination for history buffs making their way to Portland.

You can explore the history of the state, including the pioneer spirit that helped found it, thanks to the comprehensive exhibits maintained by the local Historical Society. Highlights include Experience Oregon, a permanent exhibit dedicated to the many people who made the state what it is today and the Portland Penny, which helped give the city its name.

Researchers can look at the Historical Society’s extensive papers kept in the library, but the exhibits are more than enough for casual visitors. Combine it with the nearby Portland Art Museum for a day of culture.

8. Oregon Rail Heritage Center – railway museum that features three vintage steam locomotives and celebrates trains of the past

Oregon Rail Heritage Center - Oregon

The railway was crucial in building Oregon and connecting it to the rest of the country. The Oregon Rail Heritage Center celebrates this important technology and is a must-visit for train enthusiasts of all ages. Highlights of the center’s collection include three vintage steam locomotives as well as the American Freedom Train.

Besides pretty trains, the historical exhibits cover important moments in rail history. The Rail Heritage Center also offers opportunities to experience the joys of travel by rail in a more hands-on way by joining the 10-mile train rides on Saturdays and Holiday Express train trips around Christmas.

  • Oregon Rail Heritage Center 2250 SE Water Ave, Portland, OR 97214

9. Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education – the largest museum devoted to the history of the Jews of Oregon which includes a memorial

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education - Oregon

Many different communities have helped make Oregon the state that it is today, including the Jewish community. This museum is dedicated to the history of the Jewish community in Oregon, celebrating the resilience as well as commemorating historical tragedies such as the Holocaust.

The only museum of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, the Oregon Jewish Museum has exhibits on the history of Jewish people in Oregon as well as historic artefacts. The Holocaust Education Center is dedicated to teaching new generations about the genocide and about the importance of preventing hate.

10. Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum – a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserve the aviation legacy

Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum - Oregon

Located slightly outside Portland, near the Ken Jernstedt Airfield in Hood River, this museum hosts one of the country’s largest collections of antique aircraft and automobiles, making it a must-visit destination for transport enthusiasts. All of the vehicles in the collection are still operational.

Other historic artefacts are scattered throughout the museum, such as rifles and fishing lures, to give you a taste for what life was like in decades past. Highlights include an antique fire truck and fighter planes from World War II.

11. Oregon Trail Interpretive Center – a place where visitors will learn about Oregon’s trail journey

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center - Oregon

Whether you’re familiar with the trail thanks to history class or the classic video game, you probably know that the Oregon Trail is crucial to this state’s history. The Interpretive Center is the perfect opportunity to learn about this important moment in Oregon’s past. Located just outside of Oregon at the point where the historical trail ended, this center helps bring the Oregon Trail to life.

The Interpretive Center has the typical exhibits that you might expect from a museum, but the real draw is the living history component of the center. Walk through a real covered wagon trail and talk to volunteers who embody the lives of people who crossed the trail.

12. Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals – a museum nationally recognized for its fine rocks and minerals

Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks & Minerals - Oregon

Located in a Portland suburb, this museum is a great place to go for any amateur geologists or lovers of shiny objects. Exhibits include all of the best that earth science has to offer, including fossils, minerals, meteorites, and more, spanning over 20,000 objects.

When visiting the museum, be sure to check out the building itself as the historic ranch house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

13. Museum of Mental Health – an institution where you will gain an understanding of the history of mental health near Portland

Museum of Mental Health - Oregon

The Museum of Mental Health is part of the Oregon State Hospital complex and tracks the history of mental health care.

The museum does not shy away from the more brutal origins of mental health care, which Oregon State Hospital was often complicit in, and exhibits are dedicated to the darker side of care, which included brutal treatments such as forced sterilization. Other exhibits focus on innovative therapies such as art therapy and challenging the stigma around mental health.

If the building looks familiar, that might be because the location was where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed, making the Museum of Mental Health an important part of medical and film history.

14. Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center – a Japanese American museum that shares the legacy of the Nikkei community

Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center - Oregon

Oregon owes its current success to many groups that helped build the state, including a once-thriving community of Japanese immigrants. This small but mighty museum honors the history of the Japanese community in Portland, located where Japantown once stood.

Exhibits include photos and artefacts that span the Japanese community’s history, from the days working on the Oregon railroad to the shameful period of America’s past when the government interned Japanese people in concentration camps.

15. International Hat Museum – a museum where you can learn the importance of hats

International Hat Museum - Portland - Oregon

Lovers of historical fashion will adore this small museum in Portland dedicated exclusively to hats. Located in a historic house, the museum has over 1,000 historic hats, ranging from everyday wear to fancy bonnets used in Hollywood films.

You do have to make a reservation before visiting, so be sure to call ahead.

Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland and the UK but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and has also just started his own blog called Bars and Spas. As well as Rome he also counts Melbourne and Tel Aviv among his favourite places and now permanently resides in Dublin. Follow Scott on Google+ and Twitter

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