The Stunning Historic Museum Where You Can Learn the Rich History of Oregon

exterior of Oregon Historical Society

There are two things I’m always down for: a good museum and learning more about the best state in the union—Oregon! So it should come as no surprise that I love the Oregon Historical Society. The first time I visited this lovely and well-curated museum in the heart of downtown Portland, it was a cold and rainy day and I was looking for a way to kill time. I had always passed by but never thought to stop in before—what wasted years! Since then, I’ve been a handful of times and enjoy popping in even just for an hour to check out the new exhibits.

foyer
foyer, Marc Thayer Google Local

The museum itself is three stories full of Oregon history with tons of permanent interactive displays mixed in with traveling exhibits about the area and the country as a whole. It also does a great job presenting a balanced narrative of the state’s past and doesn’t gloss over the harder parts; instead, it’s committed to inclusiveness and showcasing all sides of history we can truly understand our past—the good and the bad. 

old car
old car, Jamie J. Google Local

One of my favorite current exhibits is called “Camp Namanu, A 100 Year Journey Toward Inclusion,” and it’s one that’s sure to interest any kid who grew up in the area and visited the camp in their youth. Two other very cool exhibits are “Portland Past and Present” that pairs old photographs in and around the city next to contemporary ones so you can see just how much the city has changed over the years, and “The Mazamas: For the Love of Mountains” that walks you through the iconic mountaineering club’s 130 year history.

more exhibits
more exhibits, Subhani Dharmasena Google Local

The traveling exhibits on display now are also well worth a visit. One of them, “A Century of Wonder: 100 Years of Oregon State Parks” includes breathtaking photographs of all our beautiful state parks. Or, for the rest of Black History Month, you can check out “Black Athletes Disrupting White Supremacy in Oregon” highlighting Black athletes and coaches from Portland schools, the University of Oregon, and Oregon State University. 

basketry
basketry, Ben Coogin Google Local

Another great feature of the museum is that it’s free to Multnomah County residents! However, even if you don’t live in the Portland metro area, the admission is only $10 for adults, $5 for kids age 6 to 18, and free for children under 5. They also take part in the Museum For All program which offers free admission to anyone receiving SNAP benefits. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a parking spot, but it is downtown so you’ll have to pay for street parking or take the bus or MAX into town, so take this into consideration when planning your visit. They also have a surprisingly cool little gift shop where you’re sure to find a treasure to remember your visit. 

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covered wagons
Covered wagons, Anne Calire-Weil Google Local

If you’d like to learn more about this great state, view well-preserved artifacts, and see history brought to life right before your eyes, you’ve got to check out the Oregon Historical Society. This is the perfect place for both the casual museum goer or the die-hard history buff who wants to spend hours reading every placard. It’s also right across the street from the equally-fantastic Portland Art Museum, and if you’re really feeling ambitious you can do both museums on the same day! 

displays
displays, Serendipity Travels Google Local

Hours: 

  • Monday – Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00pm
  • Sunday:, Noon to 5:00pm

Address: 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland

Phone: (503) 222-1741