About This Place
Oregon’s capital and second-largest city, Salem, straddles the heart of the Willamette Valley 47 miles south of Portland. This city of 155,000 offers tourists a rich pioneer history as well as amazing outdoor adventures, not to mention the Valley’s legendary varietals.
Salem’s history began in 1834, when Methodist missionary Jason Lee founded this first settlement in the Willamette Valley. Population continued to grow as pioneers arrived via the Oregon Trail. A great place for tourists to learn about the city’s history is the Willamette Heritage Center, which encompasses several restored 19th-century structures.
The 1889 Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, where travelers can take an in-depth look at the historical wool-making process, is one of the top attractions in Salem. Visitors may also investigate the 1841 home of Jason Lee, the oldest frame house in the Northwest, as well as a Methodist parsonage dating from 1841 and the 1847 John D. Boon House. The mill’s water-driven turbine, still in operation today, offers guests a glimpse into the past.
Another great tour is the Busch House Museum, available through the Salem Art Association. The house is a gorgeous Victorian structure built in 1878, and its greenhouse is the oldest in Oregon. The Salem Art Fair at Busch’s Pasture Park in July gives art-lovers an opportunity to browse and purchase masterpieces by local and regional artists.
One of the best things to do in Salem is a visit to the A. C. Gilbert Discovery Village. Families delight in the many interactive exhibits featuring the erector set, the toy Gilbert invented in 1913. Another great kid-friendly activity in the Salem area is the Enchanted Forest, just 10 miles south of town. At this magical spot, children’s stories come to life along Storybook Lane.
Open for tours during the summer months, the capitol building is one of the top attractions in Salem for history buffs. The first floor showcases exhibits pertaining to Oregon history as well as displays of traveling art. The real attraction of this Art Deco structure, completed in 1938, is the 23-foot statue on top of the building. The gold leaf finish of the cast-bronze Oregon Pioneer greets visitors from his perch 140 feet above the ground. The gardens surrounding the capitol offer tourists a pleasant environment for viewing the statue.
Families with energy to burn find great things to do with kids just outside of town. Visitors to Silver Falls State Park, Oregon’s largest, hike 25 miles of trails through temperate rainforest or saddle up for 14 miles of horse trails. This beautiful setting, which boasts 10 sparkling waterfalls, is also a perfect spot to unwind.
The city’s location in the Willamette Valley places it within wine country. In fact, there are more than a dozen wineries in town, as well as quite a few others in the region. Ankeny Vineyard is on a wildlife refuge, allowing it to offer a unique atmosphere for tastings. Its Sunset and Amber wines each took home medals at the 2010 Oregon State Fair.