Museums & Galleries in Central Oregon

A family goes into the High Desert Museum.
We get it: Central Oregon is a year-round outdoor destination. We’re home to a culinary scene churning out some of the best food in Central Oregon. And our breweries and cideries are the stuff of legend.

Yet Central Oregon also lays claim to a thriving cultural scene, typified by the fascinating museums and thoughtful art galleries found in communities large and small around the region. So while you’ll find popular attractions like the High Desert Museum, you can also get a different perspective on regional history at The Museum at Warm Springs. And if you’re as in love with the natural world as we are, you’ll find plenty to love at the Lava Lands Visitor Center and the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory.

Of course, our scenic vistas, sprawling landscapes, and epic views have inspired countless numbers of artists over the years—many of whom display their paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other works in a number of regional art galleries.

So if you’re looking to add a dose of culture to your next visit, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite museums and galleries in Central Oregon.

Museums & Galleries in Bend

Bend is where you’ll find the most things to do in Central Oregon—and that extends to a variety of museums and art galleries in and around the city.

The most well-known of all Bend’s museums is the award-winning High Desert Museum, an indoor-outdoor experience housed in a ponderosa pine forest just south of the city. The museum uses interactive exhibits, dioramas, and other educational opportunities to share the natural and cultural history of Central Oregon with visitors of all ages. A wide range of wildlife is also housed at the museum home—from rattlesnakes and lizards to owls and river otters.

a group of friends looking at museum exhibits

Another popular stop is the Deschutes Historical Museum, which sits in a historic schoolhouse at the southern edge of downtown Bend; the museum uses historic artifacts, interpretive exhibits, and more to showcase a wide range of local history—from Bend’s earliest days to our heyday as a logging hub.

A little further south, the Lava Lands Visitor Center (typically open early May-mid-October) is the educational heart of the wider Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Exhibits and artifacts discuss the region’s explosive past, several films offer additional insight, a pair of on-site paved trails head through a craggy lava flow, and visitors can ascend to the summit of Lava Butte for sweeping views of the surrounding forests in Central Oregon.

Of course, art is also a big part of Bend’s creative culture; for proof, look no further than the city’s roundabouts—each of which are centered around a piece of colorful public art. If you’d like a closer look at the city’s art scene, consider a stop at The Stacks Art Studios & Gallery, a newly opened art space that features work from five regional artists in the heart of the Old Mill District; the popular shopping and dining area hosts First Friday events each month, giving visitors the chance to connect with artists and learn more about their work.

Friends at Lava Lands Visitor Center.

Museums & Galleries in Sunriver

Observatory in Sunriver
Tucked away among a forest of fir and pine, just a short walk from the Deschutes River, the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory is a regional icon for the many ways it seeks to educate kids of all ages on the natural world. By day, the indoor-outdoor museum entices kids and parents alike with a short, flat nature trail, a vibrant botanical garden, live animal displays (including hawks, owls, an eagle, snakes, and lizards), and interactive exhibits. When the sun sets, the observatory brings together the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the United States, with nine to 20 available on any given night.

And since 2014, Artists’ Gallery Sunriver Village has showcased work by 30 artists from throughout Central Oregon. The gallery prides itself on displaying works that span a variety of media—and that are available at price points accessible to all visitors. As such, works range from abstract pieces and ceramics to greeting cards and pet portraits.

If you’re checking out the area or are staying at Sunriver Resort, add to the memories by checking out our list of the top restaurants in Sunriver.

Museums & Galleries in Sisters

While the downtown core of Sisters looks as if it’s remained unchanged since the days of Jesse James and Buffalo Bill, it’s undergone a lot of change over the years—welcoming Black Butte Ranch to the area, forging a pass through the Cascade Range with the McKenzie Highway, and opening a slew of excellent breweries and cideries in Sisters.

That eclectic past and evolving present are on display in the community’s cozy Three Sisters Historical Society and Museum, just off Highway 20 in downtown. The museum uses artifacts and old photographs to help visitors understand (and learn from) the region’s wide-ranging history.

In addition, the creative culture of Sisters is on display at numerous art galleries around town. One of the best known is Ken Scott’s Imagination Gallery, which showcases eccentric bronze works, garden art, and more from its namesake artist. Learn more about the community’s lineup of nearly a dozen art galleries from the Sisters Arts Association.

Museums & Galleries in Madras

Many of the great museums in Central Oregon examine the region’s cultural history or natural wonder. But the Erickson Aircraft Collection, just north of Madras, takes a different approach by showing off more than 20 rare, vintage aircraft—all part of a private collection. Some of the aircraft flew as far back as World War II, and many are still in good flying condition today.

And if you’re looking to experience Madras’ growing art scene, consider a stop at Art Adventure Gallery, which showcases a variety of works—paintings, mixed media, photography, and more—from roughly 40 regional artists. The pieces, available at a variety of price points, occasionally draw inspiration from Central Oregon and reflect the surrounding landscapes.

A couple explores the Erickson Aircraft Collection.

Museums & Galleries in Warm Springs

A couple checks out the Museum at Warm Springs.
Since time immemorial, dozens of Native American tribes have called Oregon home. Today, the Paiute, Wasco, and Warm Springs people share their history and culture with visitors through two museums in the community of Warm Springs.

The most popular of these museums is The Museum at Warm Springs, which traces thousands of years of history through fascinating artifacts, colorful artwork, intricate crafts, educational exhibits, historic photography, and more. In fact, the museum’s curatorial department boasts one of the largest and most complete artifact collections of any Native American museum.

Also in town, the Warm Springs Market sells basic grocery items and deli fare—but also houses a small, on-site museum with tribal artifacts, photographs, and crafts. There visitors can also purchase authentic blankets and beadwork.

If you’re interested in learning more, watch this behind-the-scenes video with basket weaver Kelli Palmer, a member of the Confederated Tribe of The Warm Springs Nation who works hard to carry on important traditions:

Museums & Galleries in Prineville

Since 1971, the A.R. Bowman Memorial Museum & Crook County Historical Society has showcased the history of Crook County in the heart of downtown Prineville. The museum’s creative mix of rotating and permanent exhibits touch on a variety of topics—including local Native American tribes, the region’s first European-American homesteaders, farming and ranching history, and even Les Schwab (who launched his namesake tire retail chain in 1952 in Prineville). Keep an eye out for lectures, historic reenactments, and other fun events all year long.

And if you’re looking to enjoy Prineville’s burgeoning arts and culture scene, stop by Rimrock Gallery—which hosts paintings, bronze sculptures and other works from roughly two-dozen artists from around the world. So while you’ll see plenty of pieces by established artists from Central Oregon, you may also view works by artists from Alaska, Canada, and even New Zealand.

Explore Nature’s Beauty

From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.