The town of Salem, Oregon is a wonderful town to visit! We like it so much we’ve assembled a list of the best things to do in Salem Oregon on your next trip. In this article you will learn:
In this destination guide for Salem, Oregon, I share a list of 15 or so things to do in Salem Oregon – whether on business or pleasure. Specifically, we will cover:
- Quick History of Salem, Oregon
- Things to do in Salem Oregon
- Things to see in Salem Oregon
- Where To Eat in Salem Oregon
- Some Extra Ideas in the surrounding areas
Introduction to Salem Oregon
Salem, if you’ve never been, is truly a great town. Having spent several weeks a month for almost have a year I was able to see, do, and experience much of what Salem has to offer. Not to mention the surrounding area (which is full of interesting big and little things to do)
For example, I was out running one day (in an urban area) and realized that the bush that scraped my leg as I ran past the vacant lot was a blackberry bush! You never see that in Southern, CA where I live. And believe me, there’s so much more to see, do and experience in Salem whether you are there on an extended business trip or quick turn.
History of Salem Oregon
Before we get too far down the road of things to do in Salem Oregon, let’s take a little detour down history lane first and learn a bit more about Salem, Oregon. If you are like me, when you hear the word Salem, your mind immediately goes to witches! However, that story is from Salem, MA…not Oregon.
Salem is the capitol city of the Great State of Oregon (which is a fine Western state if you ask me). It is roughly a full hour’s drive from the Portland, Airport (PDX) and about the same distance from Eugene, OR which also has a smaller airport (EUG, or Mahlon Sweet Field)
According to the website United States History, Salem was founded in 1842 at the site of an old Calapooya Indian Village. Folks believe that the name Salem was chosen to give the new town a “Biblical” name (Jeru-Salem!), although some suggest that the name could be simply based on that other Salem…you know the one with Witches.
However it got its name, Salem is located in a beautiful part of the country: the 150 Mile Long Willamette Valley. This stunning valley is beset by lush green foliage, low slung tree covered hills and the prominent Mt. Hood dominating your northern views. The powerful Willamette River courses through it’s center and majestic cloud formations tend to make it hard to get too discouraged that you are on yet another business trip.
I will just put it this way: the views in this part of the country are in the truest sense of the expression, hard to beat – especially if you like mountains. If I were picking a place to set a town down in this part of the country, I would have picked the exact location Salem landed at.
Salem is the 3rd largest city in Oregon and boasts a population somewhere north of 400,000. It’s industry roots are logging (as is the case in much of Oregon), but because it hosts the state government, the State of Oregon itself is the city’s largest employer, followed by a privately owned healthcare organization (ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem,_Oregon).
I could go on and on about the history of Salem (because I was a history major for a while…and love history), but you get the idea: old town, stunning views, must-see.
Enough school…let’s dig into the things to do in Salem Oregon.
Things to Do in Salem Oregon
There is a great beauty present in the Pacific Northwest. Towering snow capped peaks in the background, followed by lush landscapes and cloudy days. It’s an Instagram-rich environment :-). It’s also darn pretty. You could just wander around outside and discover the beauty. But, if you want to be a bit more organized about it and you have the time, here is a list of some of the best things to do in Salem Oregon (or the surrounding area).
The Oregon State capitol has bounced around a few different places in the State over time, but it landed in Salem in 1936 – it’s final home. And if you are a fan of Art Deco architecture (as I am!) this building is a fabulous towering representations. It stands apart from other state capitols which tend to follow a more classical Greek Renaissance style.
The capitol building features a gilded tribute to the Oregon Pioneer on the top of it’s rotunda and it can be seen from quite a ways away. Tours are offered daily and you can of course do a self guided tour if that’s your pace. Walk-ins are accepted.
I would add a visit to the Oregon State Capitol to your list for any visit to Salem, OR.
Court-Chemeketa Historic District
Chemeketa is a Native American name that roughly means “meeting place.” According to the Chemeketans.org website, this tribe was indigenous to the area now called Salem. The Court-Chemeketa Historic District is a small neighborhood in Salem that features some historical homes that have been preserved. If you like architecture and history there are some amazing homes here. You can experience this part of Salem by simply driving through (if you are pressed for time) or by taking a stroll through this historic neighborhood. Here are some of the homes you will find:
Minto-Brown Island Park
If getting out into the fresh air is more your pace, then Minto-Brown Island Park is a great idea that won’t break the bank. This massive park is over 1200 acres in size and is both a wildlife refuge and waterfowl sanctuary.
There are almost 30 miles of trails that allow walking, running or bike riding to get some exercise in and it’s not far from the downtown riverfront area so its convenient to other popular destinations.
Read more about the park here, including hours of operations.
Where To Eat in Salem Oregon
You gotta eat. And there are few places that I can highly recommend as “must eats” for the foodies among us.
Who doesn’t want to gulp down a Buttface beer while scarfing a late night burger? College students is who! And business travelers. I’ve probably eaten at The Ram in Salem 7 or 8 times and I always get the same thing: The Sarducci Sandwich.
The Ram is a family owned “chain” headquartered in Lakewood, WA. They have about 30 stores in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve only been to one and it doesn’t feel like a chain when you are there. The Ram is actually a restaurant chain AND brewhouse and their beers are pretty solid too. Not only in creative naming, but taste too. Try to Buttface for a good laugh (it was the winner of the 2004 NABA Gold Medal for the American Brown Ale Category).
The Ram recently updated their menu (well a few years ago, I guess), and they removed my favorite meal from it. The Sarducci is literally the single best sandwich I’ve ever eaten in my life. I stopped in there in the summer of 2016 and was flabbergasted to not find it on the menu. However, when I asked the waitress she said they could still make it for me…and they did. And it was everything it needed to be.
Speaking of beer…you might be interested in The Top 5 Grand Rapids Breweries – the beer scene is strong!
They have a great menu of items, and at the location in Salem it’s a bit like a large sports bar kind of atmosphere. Blue collar-ish, but not too bad. More college student-y. And since it’s across the street from the Willamette Valley University.
You can check out their full menu here.
Of all the things to do in Salem Oregon, the Sarducci from the Ram is pretty close to the top of my list!
One of my favorite places to eat in Salem, Oregon is the Wild Pear. Google Maps has labeled this as an Asian-influenced lunch spot – whatever that means. They do have a great Asian Chicken Salad and Pho, but it’s a stretch to label this restaurant “Asian.” It has so many other interesting entrees.
The Wild Pear is a restaurant and catering company owned by two sisters. Their menu states:
“The Wild Pear is locally-owned by two sisters,
Jessica Ritter & Cecilia Ritter James, who are
lovingly referred to by their family as a “wild
pair”. We wanted to create a quality, welcoming
restaurant & catering business that showcases
the best of the Willamette Valley.“
I will come back to the food and start with the location and ambiance. It’s downtown Salem, which is cool and has a fun vibe these days. It’s in an older building, w/ great signage and outside eating (which I recommend – but don’t forget to go inside too, see pic below).
The staff are friendly, and fun and the setting is really cool in the 134 year old building which features the original tin room. The building has a very interesting history as noted by the Statesman Journal:
“The Wild Pear occupies one-third of what is known as the Adolph Block, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980. Cooke Stationery owns the other two-thirds.
The two-story Italianate-front building was built for Sam Adolph, who came to Salem from Germany and entered the brewery business. When the building was completed, two butchers had a shop in one section and Adolph had a saloon in another. The third section was empty.
Many business have shared the building over the years, among them a newspaper, the “State Democrat,” according to the National Register nomination form. The paper occupied the upper story at the west end as early as 1889.
Other businesses have included a tobacco shop, a general store, a jeweler and the White House Restaurant. Five sporting goods stores also occupied space there, including Hauser Bros., a name embedded and preserved on the tile entry way of the Wild Pear.
Paul Hauser was a longtime city treasurer in Salem. His brother was Lloyd Hauser. Patton was told by Paul Hauser’s granddaughter that the DeAutremont brothers bought the guns they used in their botched but deadly train robbery in 1923 at the Hausers’ sporting goods store.” Source: Statesman Journal.
What an awesome story and history. Ok, so let’s talk food. The important stuff. They offer a pretty diverse menu, but it’s more of a lunch menu. For my money, the Wild Pear Salad is dynamite as is the Lobster & Seafood Melt. Sooooo good.
The Salad features candied pecans (which I love), organic greens, a house pear-based vinaigrette, blue cheese and of course…pears! Here’s a pic:
The Lobster & Seafood Melt is served on focaccia bread with dill havarti cheese,
red onion, full sized sliced tomatoes and dill dressing (since I don’t like dressing on my sandwiches I always have it removed). Here’s a pic:
You can find the Wild Pear easily on Google Maps, but here’s the address just in case:
372 State St, Salem, OR 97301
Here’s their full menu.
Oh..and btw…they’ve actually opened a second restaurant, Ritters Homemade Foods, that features a different vibe and focus. I’ve not been there, but if you have, let me know what you think!
Some other Restaurants to consider while in Salem, Oregon
Here’s a few others to consider visiting if the above two don’t tickle your fancy:
- Bentley’s Grill – a Steakhouse
- Acme Cafe – ironically owned by 1/2 of the sister’s who own the Wild Pear
- The Kitchen on Court Street – good breakfast.
Where to Stay in Salem, Oregon:
There are, as you might expect, no shortages of chain hotels in Salem. And if you are in on business, you are probably going to stay at one of them to make sure you get your points and earn your status. This is exactly what I tell you to do in my massive list of travel tips: 147 Business Travel Tips. However, I’ve broken my rule in Salem, OR (accidentally really) and stayed at the Grand Hotel which is pretty nice.
The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel is a local Northwestern hotel chain and chain is probably a bit too strong of a word to use (I think they have 2 maybe 3). The on in Salem is downtown, pretty new and is connected to the Salem Convention Center. Having stayed there (for a convention actually) it turned out to be a pretty nice hotel and I would recommend it.
Extra Ideas or Things to Do in Salem Oregon (or the surrounding areas)
Consider this the bonus round! Salem, Oregon does not have a major airport. Thus you are flying into PDX or EUG. That gives you some windshield time. And if you plan your trip right – like I often do – you can squeeze in some “bonus” Oregon sights on your drive to/from the airport. Here’s a few things additional things to do in Salem Oregon (or the surrounding area) that could be icing on the top of your trip.
- Take the Coastal Route Back to PDX. Depending on how much time you have you might consider driving down to the coast and back up the coast to get to the airport. You need to make sure you have some time because it will take you a few hours, but it can’t be beat. The Pacific Northwest Coastline is heaven – totally different than SOCAL where I am from. Rocky outcroppings, flotsam and jetsam, old bridges, amazing cloudy skies. It’s SOOOO worth it if you can.
- Make a longer drive up (or Down) the Oregon Coast and See Florence. If you’ve got lots and lots of time…like the whole afternoon or something try to get through Florence, Oregon. This stunning coastal town is amazing. And to/from you will
probably get the chance to hit the Sea Lion Caves, or Tillamook (the cheese), or the Heceta Head Lighthouse. Of all the things to do in Salem Oregon (or the surrounding areas), you should add this to your bucket list!
- Detour in McMinnville, OR on way up to PDX. McMinnville is a cool old town just outside of Portland. You can make a quick-ish detour through it on your way back up to PDX. And you can see the Spruce Goose (a giant old wooden plane).
- Visit College Town Corvallis on the Way Back to Eugene. Corvallis was briefly the home of the State Capitol before relinquishing that to Salem. It’s a fun college town with good breweries and eateries and hip vibe. You get there on you way down south toward Eugene.
- Stop at Voodoo Donuts in Eugene. Crazy fun delicious donuts. I see people carry them on the planes on a regular basis. They are that good.
- Stop and get Monk Fudge on way back to PDX. This is kind of a interesting place. Monks (yes real ones) make tasty fudge. Worth a stop.
- Go see the Ducks – the Oregon Ducks that is. If you like football, they have a great complex there. Fun team. Cool stadium. Cool gear. Nike has plowed a ton of money into this school and it shows. My son was offered a full ride scholarship to play here, but ultimately chose USC – a little closer to home which is just fine w/ mom and dad.
I could go on and on about Oregon, but it’s clear there are a lot of things to do in Salem Oregon. I love this state and I’ve come to love Salem. Aside from the bizarre fact that I can’t pump by gas in Oregon (actually this just changed), it’s a great state. Whether you are there for business or pleasure or bleisure, you will have a great time.
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Lastly, we’d love to hear from you! What are the things to do in Salem Oregon on your list? Share your experiences with us!
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