Portland's Best Attractions Include Art, History, Science and Children's Museums

Visiting a museum is always a unique experience, as each one has its own distinct characteristics, style, and of course, content. Museum subjects vary greatly from city to city, and can range from firefighter's museums to fine art, to sports. The city of Portland, Oregon offers an extremely diverse list of museums. If you need help making a selection, our 10Best museums in Portland list highlights the top spots to visit in Portland. Portland is known for being an artsy city, so it’s no surprise that they are home to an internationally recognized art museum, The Portland Art Museum, the 7th oldest museum in the nation. Find out everything you ever wanted to know about Oregon and more at the Oregon Historical Society Museum. Portland is home to the wildly popular OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) an amazing hands on science center that is perfect for families with children. Also included in our list are two other kid friendly museums with mostly hands on exhibits, the Portland Children’s Museum and the World Forestry Center. Despite not being a traditional museum the Architectural Heritage Center had to be listed because of the unique opportunity to go out into the city and learn the rich historical context of Portland’s local neighborhoods.

The Interpretive Center at the End of the Oregon Trail
Oregon City is an easy drive from Portland, and the Interpretive Center, with its covered-wagon-style buildings, is worth the journey. The Center is especially great for kids since it has costumed interpreters and plenty of things to see and touch. Theaters present videos of the journey west, and exhibits provide details of pioneers, Black families in the West, and the coming of the railroad. A craft workshop offers visitors hands-on activities, and the summer months bring a host of special events. If you need souvenirs or other gifts, the museum store will set you up right. (503-657-9336)

Oregon Maritime Center and Museum
For a real taste of maritime travel and commerce in years past, you'll want to visit this intriguing museum. Its exhibits feature navigation instruments, model ships, photographs, memorabilia and artifacts from actual vessels. Exhibits are housed on the last operating steam-powered sternwheeler "Portland" moored in the river. The U.S. Portland is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Volunteers will guide you through the ship including the engine room and pilot house. There's a children's corner where children can touch nautical objects and blow the ship's whistle. Active duty military recieve free admission and so do children 6 and under. (503-224-7724)

Historic Belmont Firehouse
Jeff Morris Fire & Life Safety Foundation and Portland Fire & Rescue have teamed up to bring you a remarkable facility known as the "Safety Learning Center & Fire Museum," at the Historic Belmont Firehouse. Tours are usually last an hour or more. During the tour you can experience the "Fire Engine Experience" emergency response simulator and the firehouse fire pole. Exhibits include the "Greater Alarm Dispatch Board", a firefighter photo display, the "Destructive Power of Fire" exhibit, and the fire engine pump panel exhibit. They also have a theater room showing safety education. You will see antique equipment like the 1859 Jeffers Sidestroke Handpumper, the 1879 Amoskeag Steam Pumper, the 1860 Hose Cart, and a variety of hand tools used over the past 150 years. A 30 minute audio tour is available for $1. They also have a gift shop and safety store. ((503) 823-3615)

Architectural Heritage Center
The Architectural Heritage Center hosts a variety of programs, educational seminars, tours, and exhibits. Each summer from May to September they host walking tours on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings around the city in historic neighborhoods. During the tours you will learn about the buildings and a lot of history surrounding them. Every first Friday they participate in First Friday Art Walk with a free art exhibit and reception. Once a year they offer home tours giving you a chance to see some of the best home architecture in the city. Check their website to what kind of upcoming program they are offering and to rsvp. Their events often sell out well in advance. ((503) 231-7264)

Pittock Mansion
Built for Henry and Georgiana Pittock (who lived in the house from 1914 to 1918), the Pittock Mansion is a stunning architectural specimen and a repository for elegant furnishings. Pittock Mansion has 22 rooms and the gardens outside having stunning views of Portland and Mt. Hood. It was eventually purchased by the state and opened to the public in 1965. Henry remains a Portland icon, well-known for his involvement with the local paper, The Oregonian. Georgiana was a major player in community projects and initiated the renowned Rose Festival. House tours provide insight into the life of the wealthy in Portland's early days. (503-823-3624)

World Forestry Center
This impressive museum next door to the Oregon Zoo is styled like a contemporary lodge and educates visitors on forests around the world. The role of woodlands in nature and in human life is detailed, and old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest and rain forests of the tropics serve as prominent examples. Ecology, wildlife and conservation are all addressed, and a giant, artificial Douglas fir serves as a talking guide for visitors. Many of the exhibits are hands on and great for kids. Special exhibits are displayed regularly, and a gift shop sells relevant merchandise. On some evenings they offer a special time for those 21+ to learn and drink. (503-228-1367)

Portland Children's Museum
This interactive museum seeks to stimulate children's interest in the natural world and in society. Hands on exhibits foster an understanding of such concepts as sound, gravity and medicine by promoting experimentation and fun. Kids can toy with light and shadow, manipulate water-powered machinery, create with clay, play dress-up, and work on art projects too. A grocery store and cafe provide them the opportunity to experience the world of adults and expand their boundaries even further. They also have rotating exhibits like Dinosaurs: Fire and Ice, where kids have the chance to explore dinosaurs and the environment they lived in hands on. (503-223-6500)

Oregon Historical Society Museum
History buffs and novices alike will enjoy a visit to this informative museum that tells the tale of the Native Americans and hearty pioneers that settled the Oregon Territory in the mid 19th century. The Oregon my Oregon exhibit will walk you through Oregon's entire history with 50 separate displays that include the Oregon Trail, the Great Depression and World War II. Located downtown across from the Portland Art Museum, the museum houses approximately 85,000 artifacts, photos, books, map and videotape as well as a research library that relates Oregon's history from early days until present. The historians that work their are highly educated on all things Oregon and interesting to speak with. (503-222-1741)

Portland Art Museum
Founded in 1892, the Portland Art museum is the seventh oldest museum in the nation and the oldest in the Pacific Northwest. The Portland Art Museum is renowned for its extensive permanent collection, which showcases everything from rare and expertly restored ancient works to veritable contemporary masterpieces. Highlights include a diverse collection of Native American art, authentic English silver, a 5,000-work collection of 19th and 20th century photography and a collect of European art including their most famous piece Vincent van Gogh's The Ox-Cart. The campus also includes the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art, Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts, and Northwest Film Center. (503-226-2811)

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
Dedicated to technology and science, this museum offers interactive educational exhibits that everyone can enjoy. The museum's six huge halls are filled with hands-on displays related to everything from outer space to computers. Labs throughout the museum offer more in-depth exploration with exhibits like the chemistry lab and the life lab, which houses various live animals and insects. Upstairs they offer a large area just for younger children where they can play and learn through hands on exhibits like a sand area and water area. Downstairs they have rotating national exhibits like Lego's and Bodies. Beyond the exhibits, the museum features an Omnimax theater, planetarium and motion simulator. They offer special OMSI after dark nights that are only for adults and includes cocktails. (503-797-6674, 800-955-6674)

Meagan Shamy is an Oregon resident by choice and thinks Portland is a tremendous city that everyone should visit. Originally a Texas girl. She has lived all around the United States, compliments of the US Air Force. After living in Texas, Mississippi, Oregon, Idaho, Florida, and Nevada, she chose to return to Portland, OR and make it home.   Meagan graduated with a History and English degree from the University of Texas. Being a military wife has led her on adventures around the world, including two of her favorite places Honduras and Scotland.   Her work can be found on several websites including 10Best.com and TravelingMom.com.

Read more about Meagan Shamy here.

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Maps and Directions

The Interpretive Center at the End of the Oregon Trail 10Best List Arrow
Type: Attractions, Family Friendly, History Museums, Museums
Oregon Maritime Center and Museum 10Best List Arrow
Type: History Museums, Museums
Neighborhood: Old Town
Historic Belmont Firehouse 10Best List Arrow
Type: Family Friendly, History Museums, Museums
Neighborhood: Central Eastside
Architectural Heritage Center 10Best List Arrow
Type: Architecture, Art Museums, Museums
Pittock Mansion 10Best List Arrow
Type: Architecture, Historic Sites, History Museums, Museums
Neighborhood: Nob Hill
World Forestry Center 10Best List Arrow
Type: Family Friendly, Museums
Neighborhood: Nob Hill
Portland Children's Museum 10Best List Arrow
Type: Children's Museums, Museums, Science Museums
Neighborhood: Financial District
Oregon Historical Society Museum 10Best List Arrow
Type: History Museums, Museums
Neighborhood: Downtown
Portland Art Museum 10Best List Arrow
Type: Art Museums, Family Friendly, Museums
Neighborhood: Cultural District
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry 10Best List Arrow
Type: IMAX Theaters, Museums, Planetarium / Observatory, Science Museums
Neighborhood: John's Landing
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