The three states that comprise the Pacific Northwest Region ― Idaho, Oregon, and Washington ― each boast a wide selection of galleries, science centers, and other museums designed to educate and entertain visitors in equal measure. Here are some of our picks for PNW museums that tend to fly under the radar, despite their inherent awesomeness.
Frye Art Museum (Seattle, WA)
Just a couple of miles from the multistory Seattle Art Museum is this gallery that, despite its more modest size, still manages to boast a truly stunning assortment of predominantly European artwork. From the ‘Founding Collection’, which features pieces by Fritz Baer and Leon Barillot, to past exhibitions of masters like Albert von Keller, Ming Wong, and Gabriel von Max, the Frye is sure to please any art lover. Best of all, admission is free ― though you should make a donation if you’re so inclined.
High Desert Museum (Bend, OR)
‘Desert’ and ‘Pacific Northwest’ are two geographic terms not normally associated with one another, but in fact a sizable portion of the region is arid, hot, and covered in sagebrush. This large museum, located just outside the brewery haven of Bend, features exhibits that touch on the High Desert’s cultural history, industrial innovations, and natural environment.
Idaho Potato Museum (Blackfoot, ID)
Visiting museum devoted to a tuber ― regardless of how delicious it might be when fried or baked and doused with butter ― might not seem like a stimulating experience. However, to say the potato has played a significant role in Idaho’s history is a major understatement; the Gem State produces roughly 30 percent of the nation’s entire potato crop, and this represents billions of dollars in annual sales. The Idaho Potato Museum, which celebrated its centennial anniversary this year, features the first potato planted in Idaho, the largest potato chip ever produced by Pringles, and other tater-friendly artifacts and exhibits.
Ketchum Sun Valley Historical Society Heritage & Ski Museum (Ketchum, ID)
This establishment opened in 1995 as a visual tribute to the ski culture that has come to define Idaho’s Sun Valley. But even if snow planks aren’t your cup of tea, there’s plenty of cool stuff to see. Literary enthusiasts can check out the extensive permanent installation devoted to Ernest Hemingway, who spent his final days in Ketchum. Kids and nature lovers, on the other hand, will enjoy the rotating exhibits provided by the Sawtooth Science Institute.
Maryhill Museum of Art (Columbia Hills, WA)
‘Eclectic’ barely begins to describe the assortment of artworks, artifacts, and other relics found at this museum situated alongside the mighty Columbia River. Exhibits include numerous smaller pieces from Auguste Rodin’s masterwork, ‘The Gates of Hell'; clothing and tools from local Native American tribes; a collection of ornate chess sets obtained from across the globe; and royal jewelry and furniture from the Romanian royal family (Queen Marie had a long affair with Samuel Hill, the landowner who founded the museum).
Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Portland, OR)
Just about any kid who attends public school in Oregon will make a field trip to OMSI at some point during their primary or secondary education, but if anything, this massive complex on the Willammette River in downtown Portland excels at crowd control. From the eye-popping planetarium and permanent naval nuclear submarine installation to the myriad of fascinating temporary exhibits (‘Mummies of the World’ is currently on display), OMSI has enough material to satisfy adults and kids in equal measure.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not (Newport, OR)
It’s a little hokey, but that’s not to say you won’t have a lot of jaw-dropping fun during an afternoon at this museum in the coastal town of Newport. The collection includes curios, abnormalities, and grotesques curated from around the world, many of which are definitely not for the squeamish. Shrunken heads, anyone?
Wing Luke Asian Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience (Seattle, WA)
Located in the heart of Seattle’s vibrant International District, this Smithsonian-affiliated museum is named for a notable public crusader who tragically perished in a 1965 plane crash. The exhibitions ― a diverse collection of art, historical artifacts, and other culturally significant items ― illustrate the struggles and achievements of Seattle’s extensive Asian American population.