Top Museums and Cultural Centers in Portland, Oregon

No doubt, Portland is hip and progressive. But you can still take a step back in time with a good old fashioned museum tour here in the City of Roses.

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Portland is definitely hip and progressive, but that doesn’t mean it’s turned its nose up at history, or its own roots. Take a drive through Oregon’s biggest city, and you quickly start tripping over museums and centers that focus on the history and culture of the area. Whether you dream about the past, can’t get enough of artifacts, or just enjoy a good museum tour, you can’t miss some of the best stops in the City of Roses.

Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Jewish people in the Portland area left quite a mark on the city’s history and The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education can tell you all about it. The museum has lots of fascinating exhibits, like fine art paintings, a huge collection of Jewish artifacts, and displays that take a deeper look at the experiences of Oregon’s Jewish population. If state history is your cup of tea, you can’t miss this big-picture look at an important piece of the state’s past.

Architectural Heritage Center

Surprise. Surprise. Top of the food chain or not, people aren’t the only thing influencing history. A visit to the Architectural Heritage Center tells architecture’s side of the story, with exhibits, collections, and artifacts like building hardware and stained-glass windows that all played a part in the bigger story of Portland’s past. If you have time, stretch your legs on a guided tour through architecturally significant neighborhoods. You get some fresh air and an up-close look at beautiful buildings. Not a bad deal.

An old steam locomotive at Portland train museum

Oregon Rail Heritage Center

Learn Oregon’s railroad history and get up close and personal with a steam engine at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. Enjoy plenty of hands-on exhibits where the whole family, young and old can take in several engines, including the famous Southern Pacific Daylight locomotive. Conductors even run the steam engines from time to time, so you might get a chance to see one of these historical monsters in action — if you’re lucky.

Oregon Historical Society Museum

Want to see a 9,000-year-old sandal? Of course, you do. Curious about the size of a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail? (Hint: not as big as you think.) Head to the Oregon Historical Society Museum for answers to all your burning questions about the people and places that shaped the state. With three floors dedicated to Oregon history, this museum is chock-full of exhibits, artifacts, photographs, and documents detailing the Beaver State’s past. From the daring Lewis and Clark to the sweetness of Oregon wines and everything in between, the museum highlights the famous — and not-so-famous — events that made the state what it is today.

Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center

Step back in time and into the shoes of Portland’s Japanese Americans at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center. Here, you can learn about Japanese American internment during World War II and the settlement into the 21st century. The museum also hosts activities and events open to the public, so it’s worth checking to see what’s happening while you’re in the area.

A father and son look at artifacts in a case at a Portland museum

Wells Fargo History Museum

You wouldn’t expect a sightseeing excursion to lead you to the bank, but that’s exactly what happens when you visit the Wells Fargo History Museum. Located in the lobby of the Wells Fargo building, this hands-on museum gives you a chance to look at the corporation’s influence on the development of banking. Featured exhibits include a restored stagecoach — yes, Wells Fargo once made and operated stagecoaches — a working telegraph, and plenty of interesting artifacts from the 19th century. With free admission and interactive displays, it’s ideal for the whole family.

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