Portland's Cultural District's 10 Best Museums, Parks and More

Portland, Oregon is home to a thriving Culture District that spans over 12 city blocks. Here you can find a wide range of activities and attractions. In the middle of the Culture District is the South Park Blocks where you can see multiple statues and public art. These South Park Blocks are essentially the hub of the Culture District and all the attractions we've selected can be found along these blocks. We took a great area with so much to offer and have narrowed in down into the 10 best attractions found here. We started with two of the best museums in Portland. Portland's internationally recognized art museum, Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society Museum where you can learn everything there is to know about the state of Oregon. Portland has many examples of great architecture and we included two of the most beautiful in Portland, the First Congregational United Church of Christ and the Portland Center for Performing Arts which is home to the exquisite Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. We included one of the newer parks which also happens to be a locals favorite Directors Park, where kids can run through the fountains. We chose the Portland Farmer's Market, a massive farmer's market at the south end of the Culture District at Portland State University that everyone should go to at least once. We are confident that you will leave the Culture District having fallen in love with one of these ten places, if not all of them.


Financial District

This branch of the Portland Art Museum, which is actually housed within the Portland Art Museum downstairs, hosts the Portland International Film Festival each February and March. They also host other events in Portland throughout the year, including on the roof tops of popular Portland hotels. The rest of the year you can find documentaries, independent films, art films and foreign films showing every week. It is a treasured institution where you can see a black-and-white, silent French film accompanied by original, live cello music. They even offer film classes for those looking to take their love of films to a new level.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: Portland's go to place for documentaries and independent films.

Meagan's expert tip: If attending on of their events at a different location considering bringing your own chairs.

Read more about Northwest Film Center →

Cultural District

Right across the street from Keller Auditorium in downtown Portland, Oregon you will find one of the most unique fountains Portland has to offer. Keller fountain is a multi tiered fountain that you can actually sit in and wade in on a nice hot day. Some of the areas are deep enough to swim in and you can go under the waterfalls. There are some severe drop-offs so be sure and talk to your kids about where they can and cannot play. There is not a bathroom in this park, but there is one nearby inside a parking garage like structure.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: Keller Fountain is a one of kind attraction in Portland, Oregon

Meagan's expert tip: Wear your bathing suit and go for a dip on a hot day.

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Housed in a five-story building that occupies an entire city block, calling Powell's a "City of Books" is hardly hyperbole. By far the largest book store in Portland, Powell's claims to be the largest independent book store in the nation. Ever been to The Strand in New York? Powell's is bigger. Selling both new and used books, shoppers will be able to find pretty much anything in print at a great price. With 1.6 acres of floor space, shoppers may have to use a map (free at the front desk) to navigate through the many color-coded rooms. The Powell's coffee shop is one of the best places in Portland to bring out of town guests for an afternoon snack. Aside from the "City of Books" Powell's has several satellite locations throughout the Portland area, including three at the airport. Online, Powell's Books competes head to head with Amazon.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: A Portland landmark that is close enough to the Culture District to be included in the list.

Meagan's expert tip: Check out the Rare Book Room on the 5th floor.

Read more about Powell's City of Books →


Despite its name, the Portland Saturday Market is open on Sundays too, every weekend from March through December. Located on the West Bank of the Willamette River, the Market is sheltered by the Burnside Bridge and a glass-roofed structure custom made for open-air shopping on rainy days. Scores of venders sell their art and crafts – all original creations, unavailable anywhere else. All sellers at the Saturday Market only sell that which they fashion themselves. This includes the freshly cooked, international food which shoppers can eat while sitting in front of the stage featuring free, live music every market day. Buskers throughout the area round out the entertainment.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: A fun way to spend your Saturday discovering some of the best of what Portland has to offer.

Meagan's expert tip: Come early on summer mornings, as the market can get very crowded in the afternoon.

Read more about Portland Saturday Market →

First Congregational United Church of Christ
Photo courtesy of First Congregational UCC

First Congregational's church building, with its unusual Venetian Gothic architecture made from stone and sandstone, is 120 years old and on the National Historic Register. It is currently owned and occupied by the United Church of Christ. It was designed by Swiss architect Henry J. Hefty to resemble the Old South Church in Boston. The windows of the church, designed and made by Povey Brothers of Portland, are works of art. The bell tower is 175 feet tall and was started in 1891. The Church is right next to the Oregon Historical Society and you can admire the Church from the Museum's patio.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: A stunning piece of architectural history not to missed.

Meagan's expert tip: Call to arrange a tour of the inside of the church.

Read more about First Congregational United Church of Christ →

Director Park is a public piazza right in the heart of downtown Portland. This park sits on top of an underground parking garage. Here they have a large fountain feature that doubles as a splash pad for kids on hot days. Director Park offers free activities for all ages year round like concerts, art events, trivia nights, chess, plays, cooking, and more. It's a great place to spend your lunch break. They have plenty of sitting with chairs and tables sprinkled throughout the piazza. There is also concrete benches to sit on. Elephants Cafe has a location here that serves lunch and dinner.They also sell drinks and ice cream.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: A wonderful place to hang out and relax in one of Portland's neatest spaces.

Meagan's expert tip: Pack a picnic on a hot day and let your kids play in the fountain.

Read more about Director Park →

The Portland Center for the Performing Arts (PCPA) is the umbrella organization that includes five performance spaces in three buildings. These facilities include the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, affectionately known as "The Schnitz" and home to the Oregon Symphony Orchestra; the Newmark Theatre, home to performances by the Oregon Ballet Theatre; and Keller Auditorium, home to performances by both the Oregon Ballet Theatre and the Portland Opera. It's their Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall that can be found in the culture district. It's a gorgeous building with a stunning lobby. The theater is even more beautiful than the lobby and has amazing sound.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: An absolutely beautiful building offering some of the best performances in the city.

Meagan's expert tip: Check the calendar to see if there is an event here you can enjoy while visiting.

Read more about Portland Center for the Performing Arts →

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.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: Oregon has a rich history that is brought to life through the extensive exhibits at this museum.

Meagan's expert tip: Multnomah county residents receive free admission.

Read more about Oregon Historical Society Museum →

Cultural District
South Park Blocks
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

South Park Blocks is spread out along 12 city block in downtown Portland and basically forms what is known as the Culture District of Portland. Every block contains public art. Some of the art work seen here is the 1926 Joseph Shemanski Fountain, "Rebecca at the Well", designed by Carl L. Linde, with drinking wells, including special drinking wells for dogs and Paul Sutinen's "The Shadow of the Elm". Also here is three large blocks of granite titled "Peace Chant" and two large statues, one of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse, designed by Alexander Phimister Proctor, commissioned by Roosevelt's personal friend and Portlander Henry Waldo Coe and added in 1922, and one of Abraham Lincoln, "facing north, slump-shouldered and pensive", added in 1928. During summer months the Portland Farmers Market can be found on the south end near PSU.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: These are the 12 blocks that primarily make up the Culture District.

Meagan's expert tip: Visit on a Saturday to also be able to enjoy the Portland Farmers Market.

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Cultural District
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.

Recommended for Cultural District's Best Attractions because: This is an internationally recognized art museum for its permanent collection and special exhibitions.

Meagan's expert tip: They offer several free seminars for teachers throughout the year.

Read more about Portland Art Museum →


Meet Meagan Wristen

Meagan Wristen 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,...  More About Meagan