With extensive art venues and a vast array of public art, Portland, Oregon, is a dazzling smorgasbord for the eyes.

Traditional places to experience art are there, of course. The Portland Art Museum in downtown’s cultural district is the Pacific Northwest’s oldest museum and is known for its Asian, Native American, and Northwest art. Oregon Center for Contemporary Art spotlights local and national contemporary artists.

Downtown Portland mural
Credit: Justin Katigbak/Travel Portland

Fascinating art galleries abound in Portland, and visitors can find galleries whose values match their own, including Blue Sky, a gallery with a history of advocacy and outstanding photo exhibits, and Elisabeth Jones Art Center, which specializes in displaying works centered on ecology and social justice.

Beyond traditional museums and galleries, the visual arts scene in Portland is exploding in expected—and unexpected—places.

“There’s a lot of street art and public art,” says Rich Reece, visitor services representative at Travel Portland. “And in the neighborhoods, we have events that people get pretty excited about.” A prime example is First Thursday in the Pearl District. “They have a pretty dense concentration of galleries over in that neighborhood,” Reece says.

Another monthly event, Last Thursday, takes place in the Alberta Arts District. “That’s going to have more independent artists,” Reece[says. “That’s a pretty popular tourist destination. In addition to the arts stuff, there are little shops and restaurants there.”

Meanwhile, Central Eastside venues celebrate First Friday, a year-round art walk.

Da Tung and Xi’an Bao Bao (Universal Peace and Baby Elephant) sculpture, downtown Portland
Credit: Aaron Lee/Travel Portland

“In terms of public art, we’ve got it all over,” Reece says. “We’re going through a sort of renaissance of murals right now. We’ve been seeing nonprofits making funding available for more and more public art.” Reece says he expects a mural tour to be listed on Travel Portland’s website. “These things are going up all over the city,” he says.

And while Portland’s a good-sized city—2.4 million in the metro area—it’s fairly group friendly, Reece says. “If you want to take your group somewhere but the space is small, call ahead,” he advises. “With advanced notice, they will probably be able to accommodate you.”

And while parking downtown can be difficult, it’s more user-friendly than some cities.

“Say you’re running a tour and you have to drop everybody off for 25 minutes,” Reece says. “You’re always going to be able to find somewhere to idle the bus within a half mile.

“Our downtown area is only about 3 square miles, and it abuts the river. If you cross the river, there’s plenty of space on the other side, and there’s interesting stuff to do there, too.”

Written by Kathie Sutin
Featured image: Downtown Portland mural; Credit: Nashco