The Top 10 Museums in Oregon

Portland Art Museum
Portland Art Museum | © Parker Knight / Flickr

Oregon is home to some fascinating history. From the Oregon Trail to the rich Native American culture that flows through the state’s veins, there’s a lot to learn, and a lot of museums to educate visitors and locals alike.

But Oregon’s best museums don’t just focus on these two subjects. Art, industry and science, nature, and aviation also abound in the Beaver State. These are the top 10 museums in Oregon.

1. Portland Art Museum


Portland Art Museum_06 | © Jinho Jung/Flickr
© Jinho Jung / Flickr
The Portland Art Museum has been around for a while. Indeed, it was founded in 1892, making it the oldest museum in the Pacific Northwest and the seventh oldest in the U.S. The gallery is known for its variety of collections, including Native American, Northwest, Asian, contemporary and modern art centers, as well as an outdoor public sculpture garden. It houses 42,000 pieces in its permanent collection alone and amasses 112,000 square feet (10,405 square meters) of space, making it one of the top 25 largest museums in the country.

2. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Museum, Theater

© Christopher Chen / WikiCommons
If you grew up anywhere near Portland, the chances are that you had a field trip to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. OMSI has 200 interactive exhibits and other activities for all ages. It also has eight labs, rotating shows, submarine tours, a theater, a motion simulator, a planetarium and a museum, which hosts almost two dozen events monthly, making it one of the best science centers in America and a cabinet of curiosity for the whole family.

3. Portland Children’s Museum


© 305 Seahill / Flickr

The Portland Children’s Museum is a curious kid’s heaven. The institution hosts rotating guest attractions; however, it’s known for its plethora of permanent, hands-on exhibits including a Construction Zone, Clay Studio, The Market, Outdoor Adventure, Pet Hospital, Theater, and Water Works. Every exhibit is built to encourage problem-solving, imagination, and an appreciation for learning.

4. Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum

Museum, Park

© Gregg M. Erickson / WikiCommons

McMinnville’s Aviation & Space Museum is a pilot’s dream. The hall’s displays range from the aeronautic designs of the Wright brothers to a Lockheed SR-71, but its prized possession is the original Spruce Goose. The massive airplane is built entirely out of wood, due to wartime restrictions on metals, and “stands as a symbol of American industry during World War II.” With the adjacent Wings & Waves indoor water park open year-round, this museum provides something for the whole family.

5. National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center


© Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington / Flickr
The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center offers living history demonstrations, interpretive programs, exhibits, multi-media presentations, and special events, but the coolest part about this Eastern Oregon museum is its more than four miles (6.4 kilometers) of interpretive trails. The Center tells the story of Oregon Trail pioneers using life-size displays, film, and live theater presentations. The 500-acre site also includes remnants of the historic Flagstaff Gold Mine, ruts carved by pioneer wagons, and breathtaking vistas of the historic trail route.

6. Tamástslikt Cultural Institute


© Decumanus / WikiCommons

The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute is the only tribal-run Native American museum along the Oregon Trail, and it’s become a gem of Pendleton. Situated on the Umatilla Reservation, the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes that have lived on the land for 10,000 years developed and operate the cultural institute, which tells history from a Native American perspective. The three permanent exhibits—We Were, We Are, and We Will Be—showcase the tribes’ immense pride, and the name really says it all: Tamástslikt means “interpreting our own story.”

7. Columbia River Maritime Museum


© Steven Pavlov / WikiCommons

The Columbia River Bar is one of the most dangerous passages in the world, and the first thing you see when you arrive at the Columbia River Maritime Museum is the 44-foot (13.4-meter) Coast Guard rescue boat in action, suspended over fake waves. The Astoria gallery is the only maritime museum in Oregon, and it tells the legend of “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” Since 1972, the Columbia River Bar has caused approximately 2,000 vessels—including 200 larger ships—to sink, and this nonprofit institution features six galleries and a great hall that shows films of the unapologetic river.

8. High Desert Museum


© Another Believer / WikiCommons

The High Desert Museum joins regional wildlife and natural resources with art and culture to promote an understanding and appreciation of North America’s high desert history. Through indoor and outdoor exhibits, wildlife habitats, and living history demonstrations, the Bend institution strives to help its visitors discover and educate themselves on the majestic natural and cultural heritage of this special part of the world, including immersive looks into the lives of Native Americans, settlers and fur trappers who struggled to survive the harsh climates of the high desert.

9. Hallie Ford Museum of Art


© Travel Salem / Flickr
The Hallie Ford Museum of Art calls Salem’s Willamette University home and boasts the title of the third largest art museum in the state of Oregon. Across the street from the state capitol, the 27,000-square-foot (2,508-square-meter) facility houses collections of both art and historical artifacts, focusing on pieces that reflect Pacific Northwest culture. Its four permanent galleries feature Pacific Northwest and Native American artists, as well as a diverse collection of Ancient, European, American and Asian art. The two remaining galleries are dedicated to traveling exhibits.

10. Oregon Historical Society Museum


© M.O. Stevens / WikiCommons
The Oregon Historical Society Museum strives to make the state’s history visible and accessible to all. Housed in Downtown Portland’s Oregon Historical Society, the facility contains over 85,000 artifacts, including the Portland Penny that was used to determine the city’s name. The 1835 copper penny was flipped to decide between the names Boston and Portland, with the latter winning. The museum opened in 1898 and currently showcases a handful of permanent exhibits and rotating galleries—all focused on the rich history of the Beaver State.

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