Portland, Oregon is a bustling hub of urban life in the American northwest. If you need a break between tidepooling in the beaches and hiking in the Cascade mountains, by all means come spend a few days in Portland. With that in mind, here’s a list of 11 great Portland museums that are well worth exploring.
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 where it comes to creating beautiful gardens. In fact, 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 you consider Portland’s suburbs – that you’ll find many attractions here, 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. In fact, this list even covers one small and very strange museum that doesn’t fall into any of the above categories!
With that in mind, let’s start with the list of 11 Portland museums which are worth adding to your itinerary. This list includes addresses, opening hours and admission fees to help you plan your visit. Just please remember – if you decide to visit one of these Portland museums, first check their website (also included here!) to make sure the times and fees are still accurate. And if something has changed, let me know in a comment 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 on the outside, but wait till you are inside! The place is massive enough to contain more than 42,000 objects to admire.
The Portland Art Museum houses other exhibits and galleries that mirror the history of art throughout the ages – items that will permanently preserve the spirit of art and culture for the 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
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
#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 museums in the USA and one of the best in the world. We visited the OMSI when our boys were aged 7 and 9 and spent an entire day 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 and all it takes is a little 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
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 is true to its name. The Oregon Historical Society Museum offers more than just a dry historical account; It’s the perfect place for both appreciation of a good story as well as getting 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.
The museum consists of three floors with permanent exhibits in the first and third floors and new displays on the second floor. When visiting the museum, make sure to check the top floor first, and work your way to the ground. The first floor alone will take you to the industrial, cultural, and social evolution of Oregon through a moving video.
The Oregon Historical Society has put a lot of effort into preserving this enormous collection of photographs, artifacts, manuscript materials, maps, films, books, and even oral histories. The museum exists as a testament to Oregon’s powerful history which really reflects the history of the Great American West. The museum’s special exhibits tend to change regularly, giving you a reason to come back for the second time around if you still haven’t had enough of Portland museums.
Location: 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. – Sunday: 12 P.M. (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 a lot of exhibits and activities in store that will keep any child busy. The place is ideal for any youngster from toddlers to preteens and offers a lot of “hands-on” interactive exhibits.
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 not only have a chance to play but every visit is also a great opportunity to gain knowledge. 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 a larger volume of people later in the day.
Location: 4015 SW Canyon Road, Portland, OR 97221
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 kinda new; the engine house opened in 2012. But what’s inside it are old, city-owned treasures.
The railway museum was built thanks to the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation. The center is now home to three Portland steam locomotives that made it through time. Two of it 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 for all, but the museum is grateful for any donations. There are proposals to build new facilities and program developments which depend on the people’s support.
This place isn’t huge – unlike its colossal counterparts among the Portland Museums – but it’s large enough to house important rail memorabilia and the three, large steam locomotives. Their collection is impressive and you’ll 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
Opening hours: Thursday and Friday: 1 P.M. to 5 P.M. – Saturday and Sunday: 12 P.M. (NOON) to 5 P.M.
Admission Fees: FREE
#6 Wells Fargo History Museum
The Wells Fargo History Museum is part of a group of museums you can find in several states. Run by the Wells Fargo bank, they offer 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 have visited the San Francisco Wells Fargo museum and spent a nice hour there. The story of Wells Fargo is an important part of the entire American West. In Oregon, the company caused international immigrants (mainly Chinese) to flock into the state during the early years. Beginning with the Gold Rush, this bank has built an empire that drove the state into a powerhouse of business.
The Portland Wells Fargo History Museum is located right at the lobby of Wells Fargo Center – a towering 40-story building which happens to be the tallest skyscraper not just in Portland, but in the whole Oregon itself. 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 the historical legacy of Wells Fargo and how they dominated several business industries. 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
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Admission Fees: ALL – FREE (need to book first prior 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 place is small and also has a ‘curiosity’ shop with lots of interesting items. This is also the perfect spot to buy souvenirs. Most of their items are hilarious and the entire museum has a great of sense of humor.
The displays are highly peculiar – obviously their inspiration for the name. While some people find their trip here quite memorable, others find it not worth to visit. It will suit most teenagers and adults, but not entirely recommended for very young children due to some horror stuff 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 lots of opportunities to take photos; all of which are unlike any picture you can capture with the rest of Portland. So make sure to charge your phones before heading to this place or simply 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 around that will probably last for under an hour. Moreover, group visits will have discounts. There’s a way, however, to get a free pass. Wearing a decent costume will get you inside for free. Again, not a giant among Portland Museums but definitely a peculiar little option!
Location: 2234 NW Thurman St. Portland, Oregon 97210
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. And this one is a floating legend: An actual museum on the Willamette River, right on Portland’s Waterfront Park.
The vessel is quite historic being the last of its kind. Visiting here provides you with a good opportunity to change the scene, get on the river and on board a steamship. You will be guided by knowledgeable docents who also volunteer to keep the boat alive.
The museum is open three days a week but they also offer a weekend cruise limited to 100 passengers only. The event is so unique that you need to book your spot months in advance. Note that the cruise is strictly for 10 years old 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
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 the 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 but it also covers local Oregonian Jewish history, offering a look at what Oregon history’s 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 the Native American, African American, Asian, and other ethnicities.
If you visit this one, try having a lunch at their Lefty’s Café, browse in their interesting gift store, and probably bring back a good book with you. 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
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 is 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 with 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 – greatly implying that the gem of the exhibit is not the overall gallery but with 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 actually by the Portland Art Museum, celebrating the gallery’s 40th anniversary. It’s pretty awesome to see Portland museums being so supportive of one another.
You might also want to spend time in their public research library. Like many other Portland museums, they have 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 here often. It’s free so there’s no reason not to visit at all!
Location: 122 NW 8th Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97209
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 12:00 P.M. (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 – take a visit to the Real Life Exhibit Portland. This place has a 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 with little-to-no access to life-sustaining health services up to this date.
Being in the Real Life Exhibit Portland is the closest thing you can have next to personally seeing the condition of the people that inspired their exhibit. There is crisis, in different forms, storming low-income countries and it’s not fiction. There are real people out there exposed to communicable diseases, health risks, injury, and violence.
And the media has little-to-no coverage in the unfortunate things happening to these people. With that in mind, The Medical Team International founded the Real Life Exhibit Portland and it’s totally free. You’ll see pictures, illustrations, and visuals of how it looks like to live in these countries.
While there are museums that focus on the historical sense with priceless artifacts from the old ages, the Real Life Exhibit takes you the current era.
The exhibit is not exactly in downtown Portland – you’ll have to ride around 18 minutes from downtown to the MTI Headquarters in Tigard.
Location: Tigard Exhibit, MTI Headquarters, 14150 SW Milton Ct., Tigard, OR 97224
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!