Visitors will find no shortage of gorgeous and powerful historical sites in Portland to explore during their stays. With historic houses, founding Portland neighborhoods and feats of engineering, Portland is proud of its history. Residents continue to keep bits and pieces of the city’s history alive and well alongside modern attractions.
True to the city’s vivacious charm, many of the must-see spots have a tinge of the fantastic or lurid about them. Visitors can take tours of old “shanghai” tunnels under the bars and businesses of Old Town Chinatown or hunt for ghosts at local historic homes-turned-museums.
For those seeking a more serious or thought-provoking exploration, sites like the Japanese American Historical Plaza show Portland’s place in American history and reflect the multiculturalism that has always thrived at its core. Easy to access and geared to attract all ages, Portland’s historical sites are a must-see for every visitor.
Historical Sites in Portland
Pittock MansionGuests can find fascinating Portland history and maybe a touch of mystery at the Pittock Mansion, year-round.
Simon Benson HouseThe Simon Benson House is a tribute to Portland’s spirit during its founding and the pride in that history that lives in residents to this day.
Japanese American Historical PlazaExplore the vital role Japanese Americans played in the founding of the American West at the Japanese American Historical Plaza and Bill of Rights Memorial.
The Old Church PortlandAn old building with a modern mission, the Old Church of Portland brings the joy of music to all.
Old Town Chinatown PortlandOld Town Chinatown combines modern business and dining with the best pieces of Portland’s earliest history for a fascinating stay.
St. Johns BridgeThe Gothic spires of St. Johns Bridge in Portland are not to be missed.
1. Pittock Mansion
Constructed in 1912, the Pittock Mansion in Portland Oregon features sweeping views of the city of Portland, the Willamette River and the Cascade Mountains. Once the family home of legendary Portland newspaper magnate Henry Pittock, the house is now home to a fantastic museum dedicated to protecting and sharing history of Portland. Permanent and rotating exhibits bring local history alive for guests of all ages.
Self-tours, guided tours, group tours and behind-the-scenes tours are available at the mansion and take approximately an hour to complete. The Museum is closed during the month of January, annually, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas Days. The rest of the year, Pittock Mansion hours run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. daily, depending upon the season.
In addition to exploring the house, guests are invited to go on a Pittock Mansion hike as part of their visit. The Pittock Mansion trail system, originally created by Henry Pittock and his daughters in the early 1900s, are now part of the nearby Forest Park and Wildwood Trail system, open to public use.
As for rumors that the Pittock Mansion is haunted, the museum itself is mum. It’s up to visitors to explore the site and decide for themselves whether any ghostly mischief is afoot!
2. Simon Benson House
Built by famous Portland logger and philanthropist Simon Benson in 1900, the Simon Benson House is an elegant Queen Anne style home that stands in testament to Portland’s love of its history and heritage. Nearly lost after damage and decay forced the city to condemn the property in 1991, the house became the center of a massive public initiative. In 2000, it was relocated to the campus of Portland State University and fully restored to its historic glory through the efforts of local businesses, residents and donors.
Now, this window into Portland’s past and evidence of its ongoing spirit serves as the University’s Visitor Center and home to its Alumni Association. The Simon Benson House is open to the public during standard hours and university personnel maintain a public Facebook page for the association. The association regularly posts about events at the house and photos of the campus square and the historic Benson House.
Don’t forget to find a hotel and figure out how to get around before visiting all of Portland’s incredible landmarks. Download our tips and tricks guide now to figure out how to make the most of your visit to Portland!
3. Japanese American Historical Plaza
Portland’s Japanese American Historical Plaza and Bill of Rights Memorial tells the story of Japanese immigrants and their descendants. Designed by famous landscape architect Robert Murase, the Plaza showcases the vital ways these immigrants’ hands and lives shaped Oregon’s history. The Plaza proudly pays homage to the brave Issei pioneers, the first generation of Japanese immigrants to help settle the American West, the families interned in camps during World War II and the soldiers of Japanese descent who fought for America in World War II. This important landmark pays tribute to the courage, perseverance and vast contributions of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans to making Oregon what it is today.
While visiting the Plaza, explore the art, landscaping, poetry and memorials that come together to celebrate the highest American ideals and remember the times when we as a nation reached them and when we fell short.
4. The Old Church Portland
The Old Church of Portland may have been constructed in 1882, but it remains a vibrant part of Portland’s cultural landscape. This renovated church serves as a “sanctuary of sound” for the city, hosting concerts for every age, musical taste and socioeconomic strata. The venue hosts lunchtime concerts, children’s concerts and a diverse array of famous artists and cultural events with the goal of bringing art and music to all.
During the summer TOC runs a Summer Film series showing art films, old favorites, and noir and cult classics. Other recent and upcoming events include community-oriented lectures and guest speakers, live radio theater, STEAM presentations for kids and a “yoga for musicians” presentation.
5. Old Town Chinatown Portland
A rich mix of business, entertainment and history, Old Town Chinatown Portland is one corner of town where there’s always something happening. Visitors can stay, explore and play in this vibrant neighborhood alongside residents and some of the oldest pieces of Portland’s history. Street tours invite visitors behind the scenes of Portland’s most interesting, scandalous and spooky historical sites, while regular events ensure there’s plenty of modern fun to be had when the tour is over.
Don’t miss the nationally known Portland arts and crafts market that runs every weekend March through December, the superb shopping and dining or the dozens of mini art galleries scattered around the neighborhood. Still have time? Stop in at a local comedy club or spend your quarters at the Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade! Afterwards, stop in Ankeny Alley to share a Voodoo Doughnut with friends in a cobblestone alley lit by sparkling lights and sprinkled with picnic tables for resting and recreation.
6. St. John’s Bridge
The St. John’s Bridge in Portland is a masterpiece of classical engineering, boasting gothic-style cathedral spires and arches that soar 409 feet over the Willamette River below. Constructed between 1929 and 1931, this steel suspension bridge remains one of the largest and most important in Oregon and is rivaled by few others nationwide. The breathtaking Saint John’s bridge is a sight worth seeing for anyone passing through town.