Top Museums in Bend and Central Oregon

Bend is undoubtedly beloved for its outdoor recreation and world-class craft beer scene—but the city’s museums offer a rich exploration of regional history, culture, wildlife, and more.

It’s possible, after all, to learn about the area’s earliest inhabitants, see birds of prey up-close, and gaze at the starry night sky—all in one day. More often than not, these museums are staffed by passionate docents and filled with fascinating exhibits, multimedia displays, and curious artifacts.

So if you and the family are visiting Central Oregon soon, we’ve put together a guide to the region’s best museums. Those include:

Ready to learn more? Here’s a guide to must-see museums in Bend, Oregon, and across the region.

High Desert Museum

The award-winning High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, covers a wide swath of Central Oregon history—and does so in a variety of inventive ways across indoor and outdoor exhibits.

The fun includes interpretive panels that dive into the region’s Native American cultures (crafted in collaboration with local tribes) and early European-American settlers (complete with faux mines and Old West buildings to complete the immersive experience), wildlife displays (from river otters and rattlesnakes to owls and turtles), and ongoing educational programming for kids of all ages—including living history events and presentations about birds of prey. This is one of Bend’s top attractions, so consider a weekday visit for a bit more solitude and give yourself time to experience the museum’s many offerings.

The High Desert Museum is one of the area’s top stops, so learn more about visiting Bend and enjoying the city’s other fun attractions.

River otter exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon
Telescopes at the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory

Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory

Housed in the heart of Sunriver, the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory doesn’t stop offering educational experiences when the sun goes down. 

By day, the museum—one of the top family-friendly activities in Central Oregon—hosts a walking trail, botanical garden, local wildlife (including hawks, owls, lizards, and an eagle), and exhibits that introduce children to science.

When the sun goes down, the nature center in Sunriver hosts the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the United States; nine to 20 are available for use on any given night, with local astronomers helping visitors spot stars, planets, and other cosmic wonders. Each night’s 1.5-hour program also includes an educational presentation. Daytime solar viewing is available at the Sunriver observatory, as well.

If attending the nightly stargazing program, be sure to dress warm and make reservations at least two weeks in advance—especially on summer weekend evenings.

Deschutes Historical Museum

Dive into the region’s past at the Deschutes Historical Museum, housed in the heart of downtown Bend.

Central Oregon’s largest city began as a wayward ranching community more than a century ago before turning into a city built on the lumber industry and (eventually) transforming into the outdoor playground we all know and love today. The past and present are on full display in the museum’s mix of permanent and rotating exhibits, which offer thoughtful insight into the region’s natural history, early homesteading, the rise of tourism, the region’s first inhabitants, and more.

The Deschutes Historical Museum is even rumored to be haunted by the ghost of contractor George Brosterhous, who fell to his death from the building’s roof in 1914—so get your paranormal fix, and learn more about the haunted houses & ghost tours in Bend, Oregon.

Exhibits at the Deschutes Historical Museum in Bend, Oregon

Petersen Rock Garden & Museum

Since 1935, the Petersen Rock Garden & Museum has welcomed curious visitors to a truly unique roadside attraction just 20 minutes north of Bend and less than 15 minutes south of Redmond.

The museum, long a family-run institution, was recently sold to a pair of locals who are working to revitalize, regrow, and reinvigorate the outdoor museum’s many attractions—which include a series of sculptures constructed from rocks. The works of art include detailed castles, replicas of famous buildings (including the Statue of Liberty), faux lighthouses, and even concrete bridges. New ownership has even brought a new name—The World-Famous Petersen Rock Garden & Museum (and Peacock Sanctuary)—that pays homage to the colorful birds that roam the four-acre grounds. Be sure to check current hours and days before heading out.

For other educational and cultural offerings, learn more about museums & galleries in Central Oregon.

Museum At Warm Springs

Learn about the history and culture of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs straight from the source at the Museum at Warm Springs, roughly one hour north of Bend.

The museum’s collection includes photographs that date back more than a century, important tribal documents, authentic artifacts (such as beadwork and headdresses), replica structures (such as tipis), multimedia displays that share the confederated tribe’s songs and language, and other engaging insights into tribal history. Note that the Museum at Warm Springs is closed on Sundays and Mondays. 

Curious about other regional attractions? Read our round-up of things to do in Central Oregon.

Visiting the Museum at Warm Springs

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