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18 of the Best Educational Attractions in Portland

  |  Neighborhood Insight, Portland

Portland may be known for its amazing coffeecraft breweries and “weird” attractions, but did you know it’s also home to some world-renowned museums as well? 

Whether you’re on the hunt for some learning opportunities that your children can explore over the summer or a few new date night ideas—there are endless opportunities for educational fun in PDX! Below, we’ve rounded up our top picks including a few famous stops (like the Oregon Zoo and OMSI) along with some lesser-known destinations. Have fun learning something new! 

 

A destination for architecture buffs and enthusiasts in Portland, the Architectural Heritage Center is both a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Portland’s architectural history while also providing educational opportunities for visitors. Here, you can enjoy public programs, walking tours and gallery exhibitions on a wide variety of topics related to Portland’s built environment. 

 

The Center for Contemporary Art & Culture, housed within the Pacific Northwest College of Art, is a platform for cultural production including exhibition, lecture, performance and publication. The museum is open to the public, admission is completely free, and you can visit Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.!

 

Step back in time at the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center! At this famous educational attraction, you can learn about the Westward Migration that ended right here. Enjoy pioneer games and crafts, daily history talks, monthly music and dance events, interesting exhibits, a nature trail and much more. They are currently temporarily closed due to the pandemic but hope to reopen soon. In the meantime, they invite you to check out their online video presentations

 

If your kids are budding astronauts and scientists, a visit to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is a must! This museum is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, just 45 minutes south of Portland, and offers days’ worth of exploration opportunities. Don’t miss the aviation and space exhibits, educational movies, shopping, the nature trail, the space museum playground, the Aviation Museum Kid Zone, the Biplane Carousel and so much more! 

 

Five Oaks Museum, formerly the Washington County Museum, is a gathering place of vibrant art, culture and storytelling. Their ultimate goal, besides offering educational opportunities for visitors, is to preserve the artifacts and narratives that define the Tualatin Valley’s unique place in the world. They are currently closed to the public due to COVID-19, but plan to reopen soon. Follow them on Facebook for reopening information! 

 

Located on the second floor of the Stefanopoulos Center, this museum gathers, preserves and shares the knowledge of the Hellenic (Greek) American experience with the Portland area. Throughout the museum, you’ll be able to explore rich Hellenic culture and history. Click here to explore some of their online exhibits and their event calendar before you visit in person! 

 

One of the best museums in the Portland area, the Historic Belmont Firehouse is a local favorite. Tours of the museum usually last an hour or more. During the tour, you can experience the “Fire Engine Experience” emergency response simulator and the firehouse fire pole while exhibits include the “Greater Alarm Dispatch Board,” a firefighter photo display, the “Destructive Power of Fire” exhibit, and the fire engine pump panel exhibit. They also have a theater room showing safety education. Call (503) 823-3741 to schedule a tour or drop in on Wednesdays from 9 a.m.-3p.m. for their weekly open house! 

 

Hoyt Arboretum is a beautiful nature sanctuary in the heart of the city. The space was founded in 1928 to conserve endangered species and educate the community. Explore the beautiful 190 ridge-top acres via 12 miles of hiking trails winding throughout the arboretum, where you’ll encounter more than 2,300 plant species. Admission is free but donations are always appreciated! 

 

Formerly the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, the Japanese American Museum of Oregon is an intimate museum with exhibits focusing on Japanese American experiences in the 1940s. They offer a variety of interesting exhibits year-round, sharing and preserving Japanese American history and culture where Japantown once thrived. They are currently only open for reservations, which you can make by calling (503) 224-1458.

 

1200 Southwest Park Avenue, Portland 

Photo courtesy of Andrea Lonas via  The Oregon Historical Society 

The Oregon Historical Society is an organization that encourages and promotes the study and understanding of the history of the Oregon Country, within the broader context of U.S. history. While they have hundreds of online collections, you can see many in person at their museum and library here in Portland. Enjoy exploring their vast collection of artifacts, photographs, maps, manuscripts and more for free (donations are appreciated)! 

 

In 2017, the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education opened the doors of their permanent home in downtown Portland. There, you can explore rotating exhibitions about the history of the Holocaust and the experience of the Jews of Oregon. They also offer a robust series of public programing ,like lectures, musical events and films, as well as a museum shop, a café and a children’s play area! 

 

Experience the adventure of life on the rivers when you explore the sternwheeler Portland, the last operating steam-powered sternwheel tug in the United States! Volunteers will take you on a tour of the steamer and tell stories of the local rivers and their maritime history. On the tour, you’ll be able to see ship models, maritime artifacts and memorabilia, the museum store and the library, which houses over 2,500 volumes and 22,000 photographs related to maritime history. 

 

1945 Southeast Water Avenue, Portland 

 

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A post shared by OMSI (@omsi)

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, or OMSI, is a science and technology museum with three auditoriums, a large-screen theatre, a planetarium and a number of exhibition halls. The many hands-on exhibits at OMSI focus on natural sciences, industry, and technology, making it an exciting destination for all ages to explore and learn! 

 

For train enthusiasts, a visit to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center is a must! Get an up close and personal look at two giant steam locomotives and explore exhibits outlining Portland’s transportation history. While you’re there, don’t miss the Machine Shop, the place where local volunteers build any and all replacement parts for the steam locomotives! 

 

Founded in 1888, the Oregon Zoo is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River. This famous zoo holds more than 1,800 animals of more than 230 species, including 19 endangered species and nine threatened species. Exhibits are filled with lush greenery and specialized gardens, making it a peaceful and beautiful place for both animal residents and visitors. Admission to the Oregon Zoo is $17.95 for adults, $15.95 for seniors and military, $12.95 for youth, and free for members and children under 2! 

 

1219 Southwest Park Avenue, Portland 

Photo of the European Art Galleries at the Portland Art Museum courtesy of Portland Art Museum

Whether you’re just visiting Portland or have been living here for years, a visit to the Portland Art Museum is mandatory! Founded in late 1892, the Portland Art Museum is the seventh-oldest museum in the country and the oldest in the Pacific Northwest. Step inside this historic art museum to see its internationally recognized permanent collection and ambitious special exhibitions. Admission is $20 for adults, $17 for seniors and college students, and free for members and children 17 and younger. 

 

The Portland Chinatown Museum (PCM) is Oregon’s first museum about Chinese American history, art, and culture. Opened to the public in December 2018 in an historic building at NW Third Avenue and Davis Street, the museum honors Portland Chinatown’s past, celebrates its present, and is helping to create its future. You can visit Thursday-Sunday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for children 12 and under! 

 

Founded in 1966, the World Forestry Center is a nonprofit dedicated to creating and inspiring champions of sustainable forestry. Their 20,000-square-foot museum offers visitors the chance to learn about the importance of forests and trees in our lives, as well as environmental sustainability. Inside, enjoy a bird’s-eye-view of a Northwest Forest and “travel” to Russia, China, South Africa, and Brazil to discover how those regions utilize their forests and address the challenges they face. Currently, the museum is closed as they deal with staff shortages, but they hope to reopen soon.

 

Happy Learning! 

Did we miss your favorite educational attraction in the Portland area? Let us know in the comments below!

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