Portland is known for its rich creative community, artists, and artisans. From these established museums that showcase the greatest fine artists, to the mailbox-sized galleries of passions, Portland displays all kinds of art and curiosities. Read on for our top picks of museums and things to do in and around Portland.
Know Before You Go
To slow the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, effective Aug. 27, a statewide mask mandate is in place. Oregonians and visitors ages 5 and up are required to wear face coverings in all public indoor settings, as well as crowded outdoor public spaces where physical distancing is not possible, regardless of vaccination status.
Some Oregon businesses are starting to require proof of vaccination and/or a recent negative COVID test as well. Please check with individual businesses on their policies before visiting, and continue to be patient, flexible and kind, especially if asked to mask up or share your vaccination status. These measures are in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The largest museum in Oregon, in two historic buildings in the South Park Blocks, has strong collections of prints and drawings, photography, Asian art, Native American (especially Pacific Coast) art, and Northwest art, and its European and American collections contain some extraordinary individual pieces, especially from the 19th and 20th centuries. With traveling exhibitions, featuring some of the greatest artists, it is a must-see. Open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. –5 p.m. Admission $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and college students, and free for ages 17 and younger. Details are subject to change; please check Portland Art Museum’s Website for current information.
Center for Native American Art
Housed within the Portland Art Museum, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Center for Native American Art features outstanding works by Native American masters such as Allan Houser, Charles Edenshaw, and Maria Martinez, in addition to regional contemporary artists such as Lillian Pitt, Joe Feddersen, Pat Courtney Gold, Rick Bartow, and James Lavadour.
Formerly Washington County Historical Society, this museum presents exhibitions that highlight Oregon’s unique culture, starting conversations around the complicated history of this land and the many peoples who have worked to make it what it is today. Visit Wednesday to Friday noon –4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. –4 p.m. Admission $5 for adults (18+). Details are subject to change; please check Five Oaks’s Website for current information.
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (JSMA) at Portland State University brings the university to its communities through showcasing world class contemporary art work. Its galleries feature art by Northwest artists, faculty and students as well as exhibitions by national and international artists. Packed into a small gallery on two floors overlooking Southwest Broadway, the gallery offers accessible art experiences to PSU and the public. JSMA is open Thursday & Fridays 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and free.
With a planetarium, a giant-screen theater, a retired navy submarine, traveling exhibits of all kinds, and places for all ages to learn about physics, OMSI will require a day of exploring. And for the 21+ crowd, look for “After Dark” events that pair science talk with beer and wine. Summer hours every day 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Regular hours (September 6 to June 11) Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (63+), $8 ages 3-13, and free for children under 2 years. Details are subject to change; please check OMSI’s Website for current information.
Typically, a collection of trees is called a forest. But this indoor museum, located in Portland’s Washington Park, explores what makes woodlands important through an array of interactive displays and exhibits. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for ages 3-18, and free for children under 3. Details are subject to change; please check the World Forestry Center’s Website for current information.
Housed in “Portland”, the historic sternwheeler moored on the Willamette River, this working museum offers insight into the river-based history in Oregon and even a ride on the Willamette. Visit Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 11 a.m. –4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $4 for ages 13 –18 (with id), $3 for ages 6 –12, and free for children under 6 years. Details are subject to change; please check Oregon Maritime Museum’s Website for current information.
The Portland Art Museum's Center for Contemporary Native Art showcases the work of modern-day Native American artists. The innovative gallery hosts annual exhibitions along with a range of related talks and activities co-created by the artists.
With a planetarium, a giant-screen theater, a retired navy submarine, traveling exhibits and “After Dark” events, OMSI has lures for all ages.
Tree- and forest-lovers of all ages can learn about the importance of sustainability and experience a Portland icon at the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum, with exhibits on local and global forests.
Keep Portland’s Museums Weird
In the true spirit of Portland, here is a collection of strange-but-true museums that offer unusual exhibits with extraordinary experiences -and a glimpse of the locals’ obsessions.
With more than 1,000 hats, this Southeast Portland house is brimming with headgear, organized into five different categories: vintage, men’s, novelty, international and fabulous! Just be sure to call in advance, as it’s open by appointment only.
Representing hundreds, if not thousands, of years of hunting and fishing, the full-sized canoes and kayaks found here are handmade replicas designed to be seaworthy even today. The only thing strange about this Southeast Portland museum, which is free and open from 5 –7 p.m. on Wednesdays, is that it’s totally landlocked in a residential neighborhood.
This tiny gallery features local and DIY artists who work on a small scale. Like the tiny lending libraries you find in front of homes throughout Portland, you might also discover this mini-gallery.
Packed full of creepy but fun exhibits, like Al Capone’s safe, an alien autopsy table, and an exhibit on spontaneous combustion, this Northwest Portland gallery and shop serves up original artwork and ice cream. Because everyone likes ice cream, right? It’s open Wednesday-Monday 11 a.m –7 p.m.
Found in a Southeast Portland home, this museum hosts a variety of special collections and online exhibits related to “zymoglyphic” themes. This display of natural art is also a celebration of decay and an experiment of the museum as a curiosity cabinet. The museum is open by appointment only.
That’s no typo — this Southeast Portland collection of toys from 1869 to 1939 belonged to Frank Kidd and includes throwback items such as toy cars, piggy banks, and gadgets like a Dick Tracy wrist radio. It’s open weekday afternoons, and on the weekend by appointment.
What’s more historical — a video store, or a museum dedicated to cinema props? Thankfully, this Southeast Portland shop houses both, with more than 100 pieces of movie history, like a shower scene knife from Psycho, Julie Andrews’ dress from The Sound of Music, the baby carriage from The Untouchables, and more. At this uniquely-Portland homage to cinema you can experience the history, rent a movie, and even rent the mini-plex for a personal screening!
Taking up residence in an old corner store in Sellwood, this is where hundreds of puppets, ranging from walking, talking animals to marionette witches, come to life every Thursday through Sunday with live performances. Kids can try their hand at making their own puppets, too.
Local artist Mike Bennett has created over 3,000 wood cut-outs, bringing cartoons into the real world. From an alphabet of animals to a bug museum to a monster zoo, Bennett is always dreaming up a new playful display for his yard. Visit this joyful work at his A to Zoo in NE Portland.
One of the most extensive collection of minerals in the nation, this Hillsboro, Oregon museum truly rocks. Located just 16 miles west of downtown Portland, the 10,000-square-foot gallery used to be the Rice family’s private home, but now the “Alma Rose” Rhodochrosite from Colorado’s Sweet Home Mine, the world’s largest opal-filled thunderegg and an extensive collection of meteorites, live here. Open Friday – Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and veterans, $8 for students, and free for children under 5 years. Details are subject to change; please check the Rice Northwest Museum’s Website for current information.
They always say don’t play with fire, and at the Historic Belmont Firehouse, they mean it. But you can reach out and touch more than 150 years of firefighting equipment and tools along its self-guided tour. Stop in for an open house Wednesdays 9 a.m. –3 p.m.
Taking up a small wing of a Northeast Portland vacuum store, this collection of 300 antique suction devices from a variety of brands really kicks up quite a fuss. Open durning regular store hours, seven days a week. Admission is free, but kindly wipe your feet before entering.
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