11 Awesome Portland Museums That You Really Should See

Share this post -

Portland, Oregon, is a bustling hub of urban life in the American northwest. If you need a break between tide-pooling on the beaches and hiking in the Cascade mountains, by all means, come to spend a few days in Portland.

With that in mind, here's a list of 11 great Portland museums worth exploring.

11 Awesome Portland Museums That You Should Explore

Why add Portland Museums to your itinerary?

Portland, Oregon, is well known for its gardens—so much so that its nickname is "City of Roses"! Having visited the city twice already, I can attest to the blessings of that wet northwest climate when it comes to creating beautiful gardens.

Check out my post about the Portland Japanese Garden for a visual feast of just that.

However, this is such an awesome urban hub - bringing together more than 2 million inhabitants when considering Portland's suburbs - that you'll find many attractions far beyond beautiful gardens.

Whether you're into art, history, or science, you'll find something to do in one of the awesome Portland museums. This list even covers one small and strange museum that doesn't fall into the above categories!

With that in mind, let's start with the list of 11 Portland museums worth adding to your itinerary. This list includes addresses, opening hours, and admission fees to help you plan your visit.

Please remember - if you decide to visit one of these Portland museums, check their website (also included here!) to ensure the times and fees are still accurate. If something has changed, let me know in the comments below. Thank you!

Here are the top 11 Portland Museums worth exploring

#1 Portland Art Museum

One of the oldest art museums in the US, the Portland Art Museum is also one of the top 25 museums in the country, with the largest exhibition and gallery space. 

The building looks pretty small outside, but wait until you are inside! The place is massive enough to contain more than 42,000 objects to admire.

Portland Art Museum

The Portland Art Museum houses other exhibits and galleries that mirror art history throughout the ages—items that will permanently preserve the spirit of art and culture for generations to come.

Your time in Portland will never be complete without a visit to this popular museum, so even if you're keeping your list of Portland museums short (and you really shouldn't!), make sure to include this one.

Location: 1219 SW Park Avenue, Portland, OR 97205
Website: https://portlandartmuseum.org/
Opening Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday: 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. – Thursday and Friday: 10 A.M. to 8 P.M. – Saturday and Sunday: 10 A.M. to 5 P.M.
Admission Fees: Members: FREE – Children 17 and under FREE – Adults: $19.99 – Seniors 62+ and College Students: $16.99 – Adult Group Tours (with reservation): $15.99

The chinese lanterns hang above Fred Meyer Plaza at the front entrance of the Portland Museum of Arts in Portland Oregon.

#2 Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Now, this one is a colossal science museum. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is possibly the best science museum in the USA and one of the best in the world. We visited the OMSI when our boys were 7 and 9 and spent a full day there. They pretty much had to kick us out when they closed.

The OMSI offers an all-in-one experience of science for the entire family, including-

  • Detailed educational exhibits, including simulators and many interactive hands-on exhibits
  • Science laboratories
  • Science demonstrations around every corner
  • A science Playground exclusive for kids up to 6 years old
  • A planetarium that will make you see the world in a more profound way using state-of-the-art technology
  • A giant, four-story theater screen perfected by Dual Christie 4K projectors and Dolby Atmos audio - said to be the most advanced in the state.
  • They even have a submarine docked outside! The USS Blueback Submarine is a fast-attack, non-nuclear submarine of the US Navy – the last of its kind. 

There are many attractions in OMSI; all it takes is curiosity to discover the wonders within. Having visited leading science museums in London, Washington DC, and other cities, I can say the OMSI is a MUST for any family traveling to Portland. If you're traveling with kids and can only include one of the Portland museums, let it be the OMSI.

Location: 1945 SE Water Ave in Portland, OR
Website: https://omsi.edu/
Opening Hours: Museum – Tuesday to Sunday – 9:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M.
Admission Fees: Museum – Adult – $14.50 – Youth (3-13) - $9.75 – Senior (63+) – $11.25

#3 Oregon Historical Society Museum

This gem of a museum lives up to its name. The Oregon Historical Society Museum offers more than a dry historical account; it’s the perfect place to appreciate a good story and get an education.

Even a non-Oregonian will feel like he’s been part of the state’s rich history after a few hours of touring this place.

Oregon Historical Society Museum
Photo by Steve Morgan

The museum has three floors, with permanent exhibits on the first and third floors and new displays on the second floor. 

When visiting the museum, start at the top floor and work to the ground. A moving video on the first floor will take you through Oregon's industrial, cultural, and social evolution.

The Oregon Historical Society has worked hard to preserve this enormous collection of photographs, artifacts, manuscript materials, maps, films, books, and oral histories. 

The museum is a testament to Oregon’s powerful history, which reflects the history of the Great American West. The museum’s special exhibits tend to change regularly, giving you a reason to return if you still haven't had enough Portland museums.

Location: 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205
Website: http://www.ohs.org/museum/
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. – Sunday: NOON to 5 P.M.
Admission Fees:  Adults: $11 – Students (with ID) and Seniors (60+): $9 – Youth (6-18): $5 – Children (5 under): FREE

#4 Portland Children's Museum

Now, here’s something to treat the kids to over the weekend. The Portland Children’s Museum has many exhibits and activities that will keep any child busy. The place is ideal for any youngster, from toddlers to preteens, and offers many “hands-on” interactive exhibits.

Portland Children's Museum
Photo by EncMstr - Wikipedia

Children can enjoy so many activities here. For example, they can enjoy crafts in the pottery room (complete with a fired output) and recycled crafts room, Or they can play in detailed settings and pretend to work in a restaurant or a grocery store. 

Kids can play, and every visit is a great learning opportunity. The museum offers classes where you can enroll your child in an immersive learning experience.

While even a 14-year-old may find things to do here, this place is best suited for younger children and toddlers. You might also want to come in earlier; the place tends to become extremely busy with more people later in the day.

Location: 4015 SW Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221
Website: http://www.portlandcm.org/
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.
Admission Fees:  $10.75 (Family packages available)

#5 Oregon Rail Heritage Center

If you’re a fan of trains, there’s a museum in town that showcases nothing but real, historical trains! The Oregon Rail Heritage Center is new; the engine house opened in 2012. But what’s inside it are old, city-owned treasures.

Oregon Rail Heritage Center - Portland Museums gem
Photo by Steve Morgan

The railway museum was built thanks to the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation. The center is home to three Portland steam locomotives that have survived the test of time. Two of them are perfectly restored and operable—like living legends!

The Southern Pacific 4449, nicknamed “The Daylight,” is the last of its kind. The Spokane, Portland, and Seattle 700 is also the only surviving E-1 class 4-8-4 Northern type steam locative and the oldest (of its type). Ultimately, the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co. 197 is a gem of a train – which will celebrate its 113th birthday this year.

There are still some other attractions at the center but, of course, they are all related to trains. Admission is free, but the museum is grateful for any donations. There are proposals to build new facilities and program developments that depend on the people’s support.

Unlike its colossal counterparts among the Portland Museums, this place isn't huge, but it's large enough to house important rail memorabilia and the three large steam locomotives. Their impressive collection will make you leave the center awe-struck, especially if you’re into trains.

Take note the parking lot is FREE across the street.

Location: 2250 SE Water Avenue, Portland, OR 97214
Website: http://www.orhf.org/
Opening hours: Thursday and Friday: 1 P.M. to 5 P.M. – Saturday and Sunday: NOON to 5 P.M.
Admission Fees: FREE

#6 Wells Fargo History Museum

The Wells Fargo History Museum is part of several museums in several states. Run by the Wells Fargo bank, it offers a free experience that tells the story of Wells Fargo and how it evolved in the American West.

This may be a small place, but it's worth visiting. We haven't been to the Portland one, but we visited the San Francisco Wells Fargo museum and spent a nice hour there. Wells Fargo's story is an important part of the entire American West.

In Oregon, the company caused international immigrants (mainly Chinese) to flock to the state during the early years. Beginning with the Gold Rush, this bank built an empire that drove the state into a business powerhouse.

The Portland Wells Fargo History Museum is located in the lobby of the Wells Fargo Center, which is a 40-story tower that is the tallest skyscraper in Portland and Oregon.

Like the other Wells Fargo museums, this one is fairly small. It has a decent gallery of photos and bygone artifacts that will give you a glimpse of the company’s glorious past.

Kids will probably enjoy the real stagecoach! Other attractions include captivating displays that reflect Wells Fargo's historical legacy and how it dominated several business industries. It's not a " must-see," but for a free attraction, it's a nice little gem among the big Portland museums.

Location: 1300 SW 5th Ave 2nd floor, Portland, Oregon 97201
Website: https://www.wellsfargohistory.com/museums/portland/
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Admission Fees: ALL – FREE (need to book first before your visit)

#7 Freakybuttrue Peculiarium

If there’s an award for the weirdest gallery in the world, the Freakybuttrue Peculiarium is the ideal candidate. The small place has a ‘curiosity’ shop with many interesting items. This is also the perfect spot to buy souvenirs. Most of their items are hilarious, and the museum has a great sense of humor.

The displays are highly peculiar—obviously, they inspired the name. While some people find their trip here quite memorable, others find it not worth visiting. It will suit most teenagers and adults, but it is not entirely recommended for very young children due to some horror that might frighten them.

Appreciating this little museum all depends on personal opinion. The museum presents urban legends, historical oddities, and Sci-Fi art exhibits. If you tend to be creative and open to strange objects, the oddness of the place perfectly balances the coolness of their concept.

The gallery gives you many opportunities to take photos, unlike any picture you can capture with the rest of Portland. So charge your phones before heading to this place, or bring a power bank.

Here's a short and cool video of the Peculiarium, including an interview with the owner and the curator!

You’ll pay five bucks for a trip that will probably last under an hour. Moreover, group visits will have discounts. There’s a way, however, to get a free pass. Wearing a decent costume will bring you inside for free. Again, it's not a giant among Portland Museums, but it's a peculiar little option!

Location: 2234 NW Thurman St., Portland, Oregon 97210
Website: http://www.peculiarium.com/
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday: 11:00 A.M. to 6 P.M. – Friday and Saturday: 11:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. – Sunday: 11:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.
Admission Fees: ALL – $5

#8 Oregon Maritime Museum inside the Portland Steam Tug

Forget modern fancy yachts and try this humble steam sternwheeler instead. The “Portland” is the last operating sternwheel steam tug in the US. This one is a floating legend: An actual museum on the Willamette River, right on Portland’s Waterfront Park.

Sternwheeler "Portland"
Photo by Steve Morgan

The vessel is quite historic, being the last of its kind. Visiting here provides a good opportunity to change the scene, get on the river, and board a steamship. You will be guided by knowledgeable docents who volunteer to keep the boat alive.

The museum is open three days a week but offers a weekend cruise limited to 100 passengers. The event is so unique that you must book your spot months in advance. The cruise is strictly for 10-year-olds and up, so your curious little preschooler may not make it onboard.

A great option among the Portland Museums for something a "little different"!

Location: On the Willamette River near Waterfront Park, SW Naito Parkway at Pine St, Portland, OR
Website: http://oregonmaritimemuseum.org/
Opening hours: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday – 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Admission Fees: Adults: $7 – Senior (62+): $5 – Students (13-18 with ID): $4 – Youth (6-12): $3
– Youth (under 6): FREE – Active Military (with ID): FREE

#9 Oregon Jewish Museum and Center For Holocaust Education

The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center For Holocaust Education is a beautiful museum with a noble purpose. The center’s mission is to research and preserve Jewish culture by curating and displaying unique items in an educational and visually pleasing way.

The brand-new museum consists of three permanent exhibits that are all educational. One of the main themes of this museum is the Jewish holocaust in Europe. Still, it also covers local Oregonian Jewish history, looking at Oregon history from a unique perspective.

This uniquely ethnic establishment among Portland museums explores more than just antisemitism. It takes a universal approach and discusses ethnic and racial discrimination aimed towards Native American, African American, Asian, and other ethnicities.

If you visit this one, try having lunch at their Lefty’s Café, browse in their interesting gift store, and probably bring back a good book. You might also want to group in tours (at least seven people) because you’ll only pay half the price. If you want free admission, come every first Thursday of the month – they are open as early as 5 am and will close as late as 8 pm.

Location: 724 NW Davis Street, Portland, OR 97209
Website: http://www.ojmche.org/
Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursday: 11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. – Friday: 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.:
Saturday and Sunday: 12 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Admission fees: Adults: $8 – Students: $5 – Seniors (62+): $5 – Children (12 and under): FREE

#10 Blue Sky Gallery

While the word in the title is "gallery," this place belongs among the Portland Museums. The Blue Sky Gallery was founded as the official Oregon Center For The Photographic Arts. Local artists contribute to this gallery, making it the hub of Portland’s photo community.

Interestingly, the Blue Sky Gallery is actually in the same building as the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center For Holocaust Education (#9 on the list), literally just behind it. You can check one right after the other.

The gallery has a minimalistic feel. The photos are hung against a pure white wall, implying that the gem of the exhibit is not the overall gallery but the individual photos that speak for themselves. If you’re looking for a photography paradise when looking into Portland Museums, the Blue Sky Gallery is your best bet.

Apart from the local community, the gallery also showcases artists from outside of Portland and even international ones. There are viewing drawers where you can spend hours admiring dozens of emerging artists and their art by pulling out and viewing through.

Here's a taste of what you can see at the Blue Sky Gallery. This clip is by the Portland Art Museum, celebrating the gallery's 40th anniversary. It's pretty awesome to see Portland museums supporting one another.

You might also want to spend time in their public research library. Like many other Portland museums, it has a really good one. Imagine a floor-to-ceiling library of mostly printed photo books! Blue Sky Gallery has up to 30 exhibits annually, so you might want to come back often. It’s free, so there’s no reason not to visit at all!

Location: 122 NW 8th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97209
Website: http://www.blueskygallery.org/
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday: NOON to 5:00 P.M.
Admission fees:  FREE

#11 Real Life Exhibit Portland

To complete your city experience—and this list of top Portland Museums—visit the Real Life Exhibit Portland. This place has solid advocacy, and you’ll feel the impact of the message they want to convey.

Seeing their exhibit will take you on an international journey to the places on the planet where human welfare is hanging in the balance. There are countries that have been suffering from poverty for decades and have had little to no access to life-sustaining health services.

Being in the Real Life Exhibit Portland is the closest thing to personally seeing the condition of the people who inspired their exhibit. A crisis, in different forms, is storming low-income countries, and it’s not fiction. There are real people out there exposed to communicable diseases, health risks, injury, and violence.

The media has little to no coverage of the unfortunate things happening to these people. With that in mind, The Medical Team International founded the Real Life Exhibit Portland, which is totally free. You’ll see pictures, illustrations, and visuals of what it looks like to live in these countries.

While there are museums that focus on the historical sense, with priceless artifacts from the past, the Real Life Exhibit takes you to the present era.

The exhibit is not exactly in downtown Portland—you’ll have to ride around 18 minutes to the MTI Headquarters in Tigard.

Location: Tigard Exhibit, MTI Headquarters, 14150 SW Milton Ct., Tigard, OR 97224
Website: https://www.medicalteams.org/home/real-life-exhibit/online-reservation
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Admission fees: free

Closing words about this list of Portland Museums

So, is that it? Nope, of course not! If you happen to be fortunate enough to be spending a few weeks or even months in Oregon, by all means, explore in even further depth. The purpose of this list is just to inspire you to find one or two museums to explore.

Have you been to one of these museums? Or maybe you've been to another museum in Portland that you think should be on the list? Let me know in a comment below!

Share this post -