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If you’re planning a trip to Salem, Oregon, you’re in for a treat! Here are 19 things to do while you visit Salem. This eclectic, diverse, and historic city offers plenty of things to do. Salem is bike-friendly, pedestrian-friendly, and visitor friendly!
Many travelers think of Portland when they consider visiting the Pacific Northwest. But Salem isn’t an underdog! Salem is a vibrant city in the center of Willamette Valley, known for its lush greenery and welcoming residents. There’s always something exciting to see and do in Salem.
Here’s a list of 19 of the best things you won’t want to miss during your visit to Salem:
- Salem’s Historic Downtown District
- Oregon’s State Capitol
- The Oregon World War II Memorial
- Deepwood Museum & Gardens
- Hallie Ford Museum of Art
- Bush House Museum
- Historic Elsinore Theatre
- Willamette Heritage Center
- Riverfront City Park
- Salem’s Riverfront Carousel
- Willamette Queen Sternwheeler
- Vineyard tours
- Breweries and tasting rooms
- Enjoy Salem’s water activities and events
- Bush’s Pasture Park
- Minto-Brown Island Park
- Bryan Johnston Park
- Enchanted Forest
- Gilbert House Children’s Museum
Before we get into the details about our recommendations, we want to remind you to check the hours of any events, services, or activities in advance as hours and admission fees can change.
If you weren’t originally planning to take a trip to Salem, you might be considering it now. Here are a few interesting facts about Salem that should give you that extra push to start planning your travels right away.
- Salem, Oregon, is only around an hour drive from the Cascade mountains and popular beaches such as Nye Beach.
- No, this isn’t THAT Salem. The Salem Witch Trials took place in Massachusetts. Same name but different coast. But both are outstanding cities!
- Many people believe the well-known city of Portland is the capital of Oregon but in fact, it’s Salem!
Learn about Salem’s history on a guided or self-guided tour
Salem is known as the “historic heart of Oregon.” Many buildings in the downtown core were built around 1900 and were lovingly restored by passionate local volunteers.
1.Salem’s Historic Downtown District
Covering a 7-block radius, Salem’s Historic Downtown District boasts shopping, restaurants, and cultural buildings that all contribute to this beautiful city’s rich history. You can easily take yourself on a self-guided tour through the downtown district. If you prefer to have a professional lead the way, guided tours are available as well.
The City of Salem offers an easy to use printable brochure with a map you can use as well! This handy resource lists key places to visit, making exploring easier for you and your family.
Important to note: Salem is also bike-friendly if you’d rather ride. Here’s a handy map for a bike tour of the downtown district!
Don’t miss: One of many tour stops, stop by the Oregon State Hospital Museum Of Mental Health . The hospital was a filming location for the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
2. Oregon’s State Capitol
Salem’s government building, Oregon’s State Capitol is a must-see. Visitors appreciate the architectural and historical beauty of this building and to cap it off; admission is free! You can take either a self-guided or guided tour and explore the structure and beautiful grounds.
Located at 900 Court Street NE. Open Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Important to note: The Capitol is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Tours are offered between 9 am – 4 pm and leave on the hour.
Don’t miss: The Capitol gift shop has many unique minerals and gems available for purchase.
3.The Oregon World War II Memorial
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The Oregon World War II Memorial honors those who worked and served with commemorative plaques and statues. The memorial is located on the State Capitol grounds, and many visitors participate in a self-guided tour to learn more about Salem’s historical foundation.
Located at the corner of Court St. and Cottage St NE.
Important to note: Depending on the weather there may be a lot of patrons and grounds can get busy so try to get there early.
Don’t miss: Guests of the ground recommend paying a visit on weekends as there are more parking options.
4. Deepwood Museum & Gardens
The Deepwood Museum & Gardens has five beautiful acres of bountiful gardens and walking trails for you to enjoy. Guests of the historic Victorian-style house particularly love the estate tour with many saying it’s the gem of Salem.
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Located at 1116 Mission St. SE. Admission range from $3-$6. Hours vary, best to check their website.
Important to note: Tour times vary, depending on bookings and season. To avoid disappointment, call the museum before visiting.
Don’t miss: Deepwood offers special exhibits, focusing on clothing during the Victorian era.
Appreciate the arts and culture
5. Hallie Ford Museum of Art
Visitors say you’ll come to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art (HFMA) for the art and stay for the thought-provoking exhibits. This interactive museum features carefully curated art including Pacific Northwest, Asian, and European exhibitions. You won’t want to miss your chance to visit the third largest museum in Oregon!
Located at 700 State Street (corner State and Cottage Streets). Admission is $3-$6. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
Important to note: The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is closed on Mondays and free admission on Tuesdays.
Don’t miss: HFMA has free admission every Tuesday and free gallery talks on selected Tuesdays.
6. Bush House Museum
The Bush House Museum is a time-capsule of the 19th century. Visitors say it’s exciting to see how well-preserved the furniture and belongings are kept from this period. Asahel Bush of the Oregon Statesman Newspaper formerly owned this house.
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Located at 600 Mission St. SE. Admission range from $3-$6. Check the website for hours as they can vary.
Important to note: The Bush House Museum has many stairs and parking is free.
Don’t miss: Be sure to check out the beautiful rose garden in bloom during the summer months.
7. Historic Elsinore Theatre
We agree with the many patrons of the Elsinore Theatre who say the building is architecturally breathtaking. It’s absolutely gorgeous! You won’t find it difficult to find a reason to visit this theatre. Always an exciting performance happening, grab a ticket to a musical, live music show, or play to see what all the fuss is about. This building is small but charming.
Located at 170 High Street SE. Hours and admission vary.
Important to note: Despite its historic charm, this theatre is wheelchair and walking-assistance accessible. Known for its excellent acoustics, great lighting, and comfortable seats.
Don’t miss: Be sure to check out the Elsinore’s Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, the largest theatre organ in any theatre in the Pacific Northwest!
8. Willamette Heritage Center
Once known as the Mission Mill, the Willamette Heritage Center was once a wool mill. Many travelers love the self-guided or guided tours (in full historical costume!) and learning about the culture and charm of 1840 in Salem.
Located at 1313 Mill St. SE. Admission is $4-$8. Open Monday – Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Important to note: The Willamette Heritage Center is closed on Sundays. Plan to spend at least two hours exploring the site.
Don’t miss: Stop by the heritage center shops for unique gifts and collectibles.
Stroll the riverfront
Steps away from downtown, residents, and tourists love wandering along the riverfront, taking in the activities offered or relaxing while taking in the stunning views.
9. Riverfront City Park
There are so many things to do at the Riverfront City Park! You’re in luck if you’re traveling with your pup grab their leash, this park is pet-friendly! Visitors enjoy leisurely riverfront walks and invigorating jogs. With several fun options to experience, you can enjoy a boat ride or ice-skating depending on the season.
Important to note: This park features a pedestrian bridge for you to enjoy a stroll across the Willamette River.
Don’t miss: Riverfront City Park is known for their seasonal events, from summer movies to holiday tree lighting.
10. Salem’s Riverfront Carousel
Young or old, not many can resist Salem’s Riverfront Carousel. Visitors to this riverfront carousel marvel at the locally handcrafted horses. It is open during all seasons and is only $1.50 per ride!
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Located at 101 Front St. NE. Check their website for opening hours.
Important to note: Children 42” or under must be accompanied by an adult (18+).
Don’t miss: Walk past the carousel and catch the brass ring from the salmon’s mouth – you’ll win a free ride!
11. Willamette Queen Sternwheeler
This top-rated boat tour, the delectable food and breathtaking views make this a trip to remember. Guests on the Willamette Queen Sternwheeler say it’s perfect for families or a romantic evening for two. A great way to cap the day!
Located at 200 Water St. NE. Hours may vary, check their website.
Important to note: Plan ahead as there may be seasonal hours and menus. Some reviewers warn the Sternwheeler is not wheelchair accessible.
Don’t miss: Occasionally, the Sternwheeler hosts special events such as murder mystery parties. Contact the company directly for details.
Vineyard & brewery tasting tours
It’s important to note, many of these tours that include alcohol might be permitted for adults only and may not be kid-friendly attractions. It’s best to do your research and be sure to contact the vineyard or brewery of your choosing before booking.
12. Vineyard tours
Many travelers recommend a guided vineyard tour, not surprising considering how in awe we are of the gorgeous landscape. You can visit one of over 300 wineries and tasting tours available to sample a taste of the wines Salem, Oregon has to offer. Whether you want to learn about winemaking in Salem or watch the beautiful sunset over the Willamette Valley, the views and company surely won’t disappoint.
Important to note: Touring companies set their hours, depending on the season. Be sure to plan and contact the vineyard to book a tour.
Don’t miss: Are you traveling with a larger group and worried about waiting? You can book a private tasting appointment in advance!
13. Breweries and tasting rooms
If you prefer an ale over a glass of vino, a brewery tour might be the pick for you! Many reviewers recommend a brewery tours as well as low-key beer tastings. Regardless of your choice, there are options available.
Important to note: Each brewery touring company may offer varying features, such as meals, snacks, and distillery tours. Contact the touring company for information.
Don’t miss: Be sure to try one of over 50 original beers or cider made in Salem.
Get out on the water
14. Enjoy Salem’s water activities and events
Salem has plenty of water activities for you to take advantage of (season dependant, of course). You can go on a sightseeing tour through the Willamette Valley, head out canoeing, or on paddle boat ride on the Willamette River. Whatever your preference, tourists suggest you take in the beauty and adventure of the Willamette River.
Important to note: Some activities are seasonal, check the city of Salem website for information.
Don’t miss: During the summer months there are activities are available for participants and sightseers. The River 2 Ridge Relay Race will surely pique your interest, regardless if you’re an armchair athlete or a three-time champion.
Salem is well-known for its lush landscape and stunning greenery. Whether you’re looking for a workout or want some fresh air, there are many parks available for you to experience.
15. Bush’s Pasture Park
Hailed by visitors and residents as the most distinguished park in Salem, Bush’s Pasture Park spans over 90 acres! This park has an amphitheater that can hold up to 100 people, a softball field for public use, a picnic area, and a variety of trails.
Located at 600 Mission St. SE. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Important to note: If you’re planning a party, its good to know that alcohol use is permitted in certain areas with a permit. Be sure to contact the city of Salem or check their website for more information.
Don’t miss: Check out the Rose Garden Gazebo, nestled amongst the rose bushes.
16. Minto-Brown Island Park
The Minto-Brown Island Park is just over 1200 acres with nine loops and 29 trails. This park has trails suitable for biking, walking, or jogging and has lush greenery with open, wooded areas. We love that it’s dog-friendly, easily accessible, and has lots of public trails.
Located at 2100 Minto Island Rd SE. Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Important to note: There are wildlife in this park, so it’s important to be aware, stay alert, and if possible visit Minto-Brown Island Park with a friend.
Don’t miss: There are beautiful sights ahead but don’t forget to look up! A few park visitors were lucky enough to see bald eagles flying overhead.
17. Bryan Johnston Park
Bryan Johnston Park is a family-friendly park with grassy areas and playground equipment for use. There are walking trails, it’s easily accessible, and benches readily available for little feet that might get tired.
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Located at 400 Mildred Ct SE.
Important to note: This park is pet-friendly (I bet Fido is wagging his tail right now) but guests are reminded to clean up after their dog. Also, travelers have noted this park does not have a bathroom so try to go before you…go.
Don’t miss: There is a basketball hoop available for use so bring along a ball!
Here is a listing of other popular parks you might want to explore while you’re in Salem.
- Brown Road Park
- Cascades Gateway Park
- Geer Community Park
- Hilfiker Park
- McKay Park
- Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge
- Pringle Park and Pringle Community Hall
- River Road Park
- Riverfront Park
- Wallace Marine Park
Fun activities for the entire family
When traveling with your children, it’s necessary to have some kid-friendly activities planned. Squash any rumblings of boredom (who could be bored in Salem?!) and watch your kids be amazed by our recommendations below.
18. Enchanted Forest
This hot spot is just outside of Salem but only roughly 15 minutes away. The Enchanted Forest theme park is full of activities for children of all ages. You’ll love the log ride (you might want to bring an extra shirt should you get a bit wet!), and your kids will love Storybook Lane. Okay, we loved Storybook Lane too!
Located at 8462 Enchanted Way SE. Admission ranges from $10-$11 with additional fees for tickets and rides bracelets. Hours vary, check their website.
Important to note: The Enchanted Forest theme park has seasonal hours, be sure to check their website before you visit.
Don’t miss: If you can, try to catch the Fantasy Fountains water light show! Park visitors say it’s a must-see!
19. Gilbert House Children’s Museum
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The Gilbert House Children’s Museum is a great way to spend the day. While there are plenty of activities to enjoy, younger children aged 2-10 are most likely to appreciate this museum. Reviewers say this museum is not only a place for children to play but also a great way to learn – and we agree!
Located at 116 Marion St NE Admission ranges $7-$8. Open Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.
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Important to note: The Gilbert House Children’s Museum is closed on Mondays and intended for families. Adults unaccompanied by a child will be permitted a free tour with a staff member only.
Don’t miss: The museum offers special exhibits geared towards kids. Check their website for a full listing of what exhibitions are happening and when.
Now that you know what you should do while you’re visiting Salem, we want to give you some additional ideas in case you run out of things to do. Although, we don’t see how that’s possible it’s good to be prepared!
Iris Bloom Season
Iris Bloom Season happens once a year during May when the Iris’ are in full bloom and the luscious colors, and floral scents can’t be beat! We love exploring the gardens and having our picture taken among the colorful and fragrant flowers.
Special events held over three separate weekends are:
- Mother’s Day weekend
- Memorial Day weekend
- Iris Festival Weekend
We recommend contacting Schreiner’s Iris Gardens for full details including dates and if admission costs are required.
Oregon State Fair
The Oregon State Fair is known for fun! In fact, the slogan of the fair is “Where fun shines.” They have it all, from marching bands and concert performances to singing and pie-eating competitions, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Rides, games, and animal exhibitions, there’s definitely no shortage of fun! It’s our personal favorite!
Located at 2330 17th St NE. This event runs from late August to early September, check their website for exact dates.
Where to shop
Salem is more than just history, adventure, and fun, fun, fun – get ready to shop till’ you drop! Between the farmer’s markets and locally crafted goods, there’s no shortage of gifts, treasures, and souvenirs to buy.
EZ Orchards Fruit Market
Thriving since 1929, the EZ Orchards Fruit Market has been the top choice for travelers throughout the years. The market offers artisan goods, seasonal produce, and gourmet food from talented, local sellers. See their website for information on special events that might be happening in the market.
Located at 5504 Hazelgreen Rd NE. Open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9-5pm, Sun 11-5pm.
The Reed Opera House Mall
We choose the Reed Opera House Mall because of its unique building and diverse mix of shops. It was built in 1969 and houses local shops including an art gallery, a metaphysical shop, resale clothing stores, and various beauty boutiques (spa, anyone?). Make sure you visit the basement level for rare finds.
Located at 189 Liberty St. NE. Open Mon – Thurs 9am-9pm, Fri 9am-10pm, Sun 9-5pm.
Salem Public Market
Salem’s Public Market is the oldest farmers market in Oregon and is open Saturdays only. This year-round, indoor market features food and crafts from local Oregon vendors. You’ll love how welcomed the locals will make you feel which is a true testament to Salem’s hometown pride.
Located 1240 Rural Ave SE. Open Saturday 8:30am – 2pm.
Outside of the lively markets, you’ll probably want to sit down for a nice, relaxing meal. The vibrant city of Salem has diverse, high-quality restaurants for your choosing. We checked the reviews and rounded up some of our favorites we think you might enjoy.
Word of Mouth: Reviewers love this bistro for its eclectic breakfast and huge portions. A bit on the pricey side, we think it’s worth every penny.
Located at 140 17th St NE. Call 503-930-4285 for bookings.
Wild Pear: Known for its varied and reasonably-priced menu, visitors delight in the seasonal dishes. We love their lunch menu and can’t wait to get back there again!
Located at 372 State Street. Call 503 378-7515 for bookings.
Annette’s Westgate Cafe: Offering huge portions, tourists say Annette’s provides wholesome, comforting food and excellent service.
Located at 1311 Edgewater St. NW. Call 503-362-9588 for bookings.
Places to stay in Salem, Oregon
With your itinerary planned out, and restaurant reservations booked, it’s time to find the best place for you to rest your head. You have busy days planned so we chose a few of the top-rated hotels in Salem for your stay.
Depending on the type of accommodations you choose, you have a lot of options. And good ones too!
We compared our experiences with Booking.com reviews, here’s a round-up of our top picks.
We chose the Hampton Inn because of its free breakfast, indoor pool and hot tub, and its central location. Guests praise the exceptional service and clean rooms.
With a swimming pool, free breakfast, free parking, and WIFI, AND being pet-friendly, the Best Western is a favorite hotel for many Salem visitors. It’s not hard to see why!
Last but certainly not least, the Grand Hotel in Salem is a newly renovated and authentically refined. The beautiful and stately guest rooms run from deluxe to suites and packages are available. Whether you’re thinking of booking the Grand Romance or the Mid-Valley Wine Trail or Bust package, we are sure you won’t be disappointed.
Accommodations range from bed & breakfasts, campgrounds, hotels and motels, to resorts and vacation rentals. It’s important to consider your needs, such as the length of your trip, how many guests with be traveling with you, how much money you want to spend, and if what kind of amenities you’re after (WIFI, swimming pool, parking, etc.).
If you’re not sure where to start or are overwhelmed by options, we recommend writing a list of the amenities that are most important to you (and your fellow travelers) during your stay. Once you know what you want you can begin narrowing down which accommodations are right for you during your visit.
Salem Day Trips
Go hiking at Willamette Mission State Park
Willamette Mission State Park has 1600 acres of fields, farmland, and wetlands. Travelers recommend this park because of its plentiful hiking trails, horse riding trails, and bird-watching spots. You can also go fishing or boating on Mission and Goose Lake. You can even go camping!
Some travelers mention that hiking paths can range from beginner to expert. Be sure to research before hitting the trails, moreover, visitors recommend checking the state park website. Depending on the season, some roads or trails might be closed.
Located at 10991 Wheatland Rd NE, Gervais, OR.
Less than an hour drive from Salem, Portland is a bustling urban hub with a number of museums and gorgeous scenery. Just check out these beautiful pictures we captured at the Portland Japanese Gardens.
Opal Creek Wilderness Area
Spread over acres, Opal Creek Wilderness Area is worth a visit (but go back for another if you have the time). No matter what kind of fun you’re after, this park has it to offer! It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced hiker or just starting out, there are numerous trail options. Here are only a few of the many amenities at Opal Creek we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy.
Located in Lyons, Oregon.
Public vehicles are not allowed past the gate. You are, however, welcome to bring your horse and ride the trails. You’ll want to set aside a few hours to explore. And don’t forget your camera!
Regardless of what type of trip you’re after, whether you want to reconnect with nature or discover Salem’s history and charm, this busy yet down-to-earth city has a lot to offer. We hope this list helped you plan your trip and hey, maybe it even inspired you to add a few more days on to your holiday plans. So much to see and so little time!
Enjoy your trip to Salem!