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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.