Best Museums in Portland

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 train 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.



Learn about trains and how the railway worked at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Here visitors can see three historic steam locomotives two of which still operate, the Southern Pacific 4449, the Spokane Portland Seattle 700, and the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197. Other trains here include a diesel, and some rolling stock. They offer guided tours of a caboose and have other trains you can go inside and see. For children there are toy train sets to play with and on Saturdays they offer $5 train rides on the Oregon Pacific Railroad passenger train to Oaks Bottom Reservoir and back.

Recommended for Museums because: Portland is the only city in the United States that owns two operating locomotives and they are found at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

Meagan's expert tip: Visit on a Saturday to enjoy a 45 minute train ride along the Willamette River.

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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.

Recommended for Museums because: The Interpretive Center at the End of the Oregon Trail is fun for all ages.

Meagan's expert tip: Be sure to check their hours before driving out to visit, they have odd hours.

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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.

Recommended for Museums because: The sternwheeler Portland, is the last operating steam-powered sternwheel tug in the U.S. and it's on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Meagan's expert tip: Children 6 and under recieve free admission.

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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.

Recommended for Museums because: They offer a fantastic opportunity to learn in depth about the various neighborhoods around Portland.

Meagan's expert tip: Pre-registar for the event you want to attend, because they usually have limited space and sell out.

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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.

Recommended for Museums because: The perfect place to see eclectic architecture of that time period and artifacts.

Meagan's expert tip: Visit around Christmas time to delight in the decorations.

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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.

Recommended for Museums because: A truly unique museum for hands on learning about the forests around us.

Meagan's expert tip: They offer $3 admission on the 1st Wednesday of each month.

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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 Museums 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.

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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 Museums 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.

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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.

Recommended for Museums because: An impressive science museum with something for everyone, including a learning area just for babies.

Meagan's expert tip: Visit on the 1st Sunday of the month for $2 admission.

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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