Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Salem, OR

  • Published 2022/10/20

Perched in the heart of Willamette Valley, Oregon, Salem is a popular travel destination in the Pacific Northwest region.

As the state capital of Oregon, Salem has a lot to be proud of.

This city is also home to plenty of attractions and exciting activities, making it an idyllic city to explore.

Founded in 1842, Salem and its 174,000 inhabitants welcome thousands of visitors each year to see its gorgeous public gardens, museums, parks, and other attractions.

Enjoy some strolls through its charming streets, or perhaps watch shows at its historic theaters.

If you want to get travel ideas, check out the 15 best things to do in Salem in Marion County, Oregon.

Marvel at the Beauty of the Oregon State Capitol

Exterior of the Oregon State Capitol

Bob Pool /

Your first stop upon arriving in Salem should be the Oregon State Capitol.

You can visit this capitol building along Court Street.

This massive building is a sight to behold for its gorgeous architecture.

It has a modern-day art deco design made from Vermont marble.

Here, you can join guided tours to see the inside of this iconic place.

Facade of the Oregon State Capitol

Real Window Creative /

Historically, it serves as the third capitol building as fire gutted the previous two back in the day.

Despite its tragic past, the Oregon State Capitol remains the seat of power in the state and a spectacular tourist attraction you mustn’t miss.

Besides guided tours, take photos of the famous four murals that line the Oregon Pioneer atop the capitol building.

Otherwise, perhaps you can climb the 121 spiral steps to see this magnificent mural representing the state’s historical past.

Senate chamber in the Oregon State Capitol

Nagel Photography /

Find a Peaceful Spot at the Riverfront City Park

Scenic view from Riverfront City Park

Tada Images /

The Riverfront City Park is an excellent place to chill, either by yourself or with your family.

You can visit this park along Water Street Northeast.

It has a green open space offering stunning scenery of the Willamette River.

Meanwhile, it has boat docks, playgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails.

The grounds of Riverfront City Park

Michael Warwick /

The entire park has a peaceful atmosphere during regular days, while it becomes festive during special occasions and holidays.

However, its main attraction is the famous Salem Riverfront Carousel within its 26-acre premises.

Besides relaxation and picnicking, riding on the famous carousel is one of the best things to enjoy at this park.

It has 45-wood-carved seats, which opened in 2001 and remained a popular attraction in the park up to this day.

Small gazebo at Riverfront City Park

Thye-Wee Gn /

Take Your Kids to the Gilbert House Children’s Museum

Exterior of the Gilbert House Children's Museum

Cynthia Liang /

The Gilbert House Children’s Museum is fun to visit with your kids.

You can find this children’s museum and play space along Marion Street Northeast on the north edge of Riverfront City Park.

Visiting this children’s museum lets toddlers immerse in a fun-filled creative world.

This children’s museum offers you and your kids various interactive and educational activities.

At the same time, it has playscapes and educational exhibits for an equally exciting experience.

Bring your kids, explore various sections of the Gilbert House Children’s Museum, and join multiple wholesome events, activities, and workshops for a great visit.

Ride a Bike along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway

Pedal through the famous Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

Biking through this location is a must-do when you’re in Salem.

This 134-mile bikeway, which starts in Salem and ends in Albany to the south, is the United States’ first official scenic bikeway.

You’ll pass through vast open fields and quaint towns during your journey.

Also, enjoy the valley’s temperate climate during your ride, making this an ideal bike destination year-round.

Of course, don’t forget to stop by the towns, cities, and scenic locations, for a more worthwhile biking experience.

Don’t miss pedaling through the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway for an unforgettable journey.

Stroll through the Deepwood Museum and Gardens

Exterior of Deepwood Museum and Gardens main house

Cynthia Liang /

Another noteworthy outdoor and historical attraction in Salem is the Deepwood Museum and Gardens.

You can find this fantastic attraction along Mission Street Southeast.

It mainly features the historic Deepwood Estate and its mesmerizing gardens.

This place in Salem is also crucial as it showcases the long legacy of various influential residents in the city.

Pathway lined with flora at Deepwood Museum and Gardens

Kelly Headrick /

Meanwhile, don’t forget to step inside the Queen Anne-style Victorian home, which now serves as the museum.

Enjoy guided tours inside the museum and see various rooms, sections, and original furnishings, for a worthwhile experience.

To wrap up your visit to the Deepwood Museum and Gardens, explore the five acres of gardens which are ideal settings for photoshoots.

Greenery at Deepwood Museum and Gardens

Kelly Headrick /

See Entertaining Shows at the Elsinore Theatre

Grand interior of Elsinore Theatre

Michael Warwick /

The Elsinore Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in Salem.

You can find this iconic theater two blocks west of the Oregon State Capitol.

Historically, this theater, which opened in 1926, served as a silent movie house and a vaudeville theater.

It became a famous place for entertainment, especially for those who wanted to escape their problems during the Great Depression.

The lobby of Elsinore Theatre

Visitor7, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Eventually, it underwent numerous upgrades and restorations, adding technology and innovative theater equipment.

Today, the Elsinore Theatre remains a significant entertainment hub in the city where most of the top-notch shows are happening year-round.

Join thousands of patrons annually, lining up to see concerts, theatrical shows, and classic cinema screenings.

Don’t forget to drop by this famous Salem theater for a night of enjoyment.

Exterior of Elsinore Theatre

Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wander through the Massive Minto-Brown Island Park

Picnic area at Minto-Brown Island Park

Yanqiang Dai /

The Minto-Brown Island Park serves as a border of Willamette River’s east bank in Salem.

This park, situated along Minto Island Road Southwest, spans over 1,200 acres of unspoiled forested and natural areas.

Visiting this massive park lets you hike through 19 miles of natural trails, which is also ideal for off-road mountain biking.

Foliage on Minto-Brown Island Park's trail

Yanqiang Dai /

At the same time, nature lovers would love exploring this park as it’s also home to various plant and tree species endemic to the region.

You can also check out the park’s observation platform to see various birds and waterfowl hanging out in its wetland.

Besides hiking and off-road biking, you can also paddle a kayak or canoe to explore Minto-Brown Island Park.

People paddling on Minto-Brown Island Park's water

Jacquie Klose /

Sample Local Treats at E.Z. Orchards Farm Market

E.Z. Orchards Farm Market is where many of Oregon’s farmers and artisans display their best offerings to the public.

This farmers market along Hazelgreen Road Northeast offers you freshly-harvested fruits and vegetables from various local farmers and orchards.

You’ll enjoy picking up fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, and vegetables at an affordable price.

At the same time, treat yourself to some delicious cheese, jams, and fresh milk from local farms.

The E.Z Orchards Farm Market becomes more vibrant during autumn as it celebrates the annual Harvestfest.

If you’re in Salem during autumn, you’ll experience pumpkin picking, horse riding, and other entertaining games at this farmers’ market.

Appreciate Beautiful Artworks at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art

Exterior of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art

M.O. Stevens, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spend time at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art for a unique tour featuring gorgeous artwork.

This art museum inside Willamette University opened in 1998 through the Hallie Ford and the Ford Family Foundation.

Spending an hour or two at this art museum lets you explore unique and gorgeous artworks.

The collection in this art museum came from donations by various art collectors throughout the nation.

Some of the most notable artworks include a Native American basket from the early 1900s.

In addition, you’ll also come across the 250 European and Asian artworks from the Mark Sponenburgh collection.

Likewise, you’ll also see various artwork collections from local Oregon artists, making this art museum a haven for art lovers.

Don’t forget to list the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in your Salem itinerary.

Browse the Bush House Museum

Exterior of the Bush House Museum

Kelly Headrick /

Bush House Museum is a famous Salem historical attraction.

You can find this museum along Mission Street Southeast.

It mainly offers an opportunity to explore the 1877 Bush House constructed by Asahel Bush II, a key figure in Oregon’s history.

Before it became a museum, the house served as the Bush Family’s official residence until 1953.

The gardens of Bush House Museum

Kelly Headrick /

The City of Salem officially acquired house ownership that year and then developed it into a museum.

Join guided tours inside the Bush House Museum, and take a good look at the original 19th-century furnishings in pristine condition up close.

At the same time, browse various rooms and sections of the house that portray its original owners’ lifestyles back in the day.

Besides the museum, you can also check out its gorgeous rose garden, conservatory, walking trails, and art center.

Beautiful tulips in front of the Bush House Museum

Bob Pool /

Go on an Outdoor Adventure at Bush’s Pasture Park

Aerial view of Bush's Pasture Park

Kelly Headrick /

Bush’s Pasture Park features a 90-acre outdoor attraction with a park, botanical garden, and historical buildings.

You can find this park along Mission Street Southeast.

It’s an idyllic location for an outdoor adventure, especially with your family or travel buddies.

Explore various sections of the park, including its gorgeous botanical garden with over 2,000 roses and orchards.

A bridge at Bush's Pasture Park

Lyn Kline /

You’ll enjoy hiking through its trails and joining locals who either jog or bike.

If you’re yearning for quiet time, you can lay a blanket on the grass and enjoy a lovely picnic at this park.

Enjoy a fun outdoor adventure at Bush’s Pasture Park.

Fall scene at Bush's Pasture Park

From you to me, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Celebrate Salem’s Art Fair & Festival

Salem’s Art Fair & Festival has occurred for the past 60 years every July.

This unique and fun-filled festival happens at Bush’s Pasture Park, its official venue.

Joining Salem’s Art Fair & Festival celebration allows you to discover the city’s vibrant arts scene and see how locals celebrate this occasion.

Art lovers across the nation and even abroad converge at Bush’s Pasture Park to celebrate with local and international artists.

During the festival, enjoy various activities such as art exhibits, children’s art workshops, games, live musical performances, arts and crafts shows, beer, food, and wine gardens.

Satisfy Your Curiosity at the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

Exterior of the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

Nagel Photography /

The Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health, or OHS Museum, spans over 2,500 square feet that pack fascinating historical items.

You can visit this museum along Centre Street Northeast.

It’s widely known for its odd but fascinating historical exhibits that detail the people and the professionals that once worked in this mental facility.

Interior of the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

Jacquie Klose /

Some of the museum’s permanent exhibits include treatment rooms for patients and an underground tunnel.

Likewise, the famous film “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was filmed there.

The Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health is Salem’s go-to place for those curious to learn about these fascinating things in medical history.

Memorial canisters in Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

Jacquie Klose /

Grab Brunch aboard the Willamette Queen

View of the docked Willamette Queen

Emily Marie Wilson /

The Willamette Queen is a classic sternwheeler docked along the Willamette River.

It’s famous for its Sunday brunch cruise through the Willamette River.

To visit this famous boat, you should go to the Riverfront City Park.

Grabbing brunch aboard this boat lets you travel back to when Willamette River became the main thoroughfare for Oregon locals.

Aerial view of Willamette Queen

Ian Sane from Oregon, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, it has a dining experience, taking you to various riverbank sceneries through the Willamette River.

After enjoying your meal, don’t forget to take as many photos as you can along the way as souvenirs.

Don’t forget to include the Willamette Queen on your itinerary during your trip to Salem.

Travel Back in Time to the Reed Opera House

Exterior of Reed Opera House

Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Reed Opera House is one of Salem’s oldest historical buildings.

This theater, situated along Liberty Street Northeast, opened in the 1870s.

It’s where most of Salem’s best shows happened back in the day.

Visiting this theater allows you to travel back in time and appreciate this significant historical and cultural building.

Interior of Reed Opera House

Andrew Parodi at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, the theater houses several offices, restaurants, and shops.

The National Register of Historic Places included this theater on its list in 1978 to preserve its historical value.

Spending an hour or two exploring the Reed Opera House is a worthwhile historical side trip you can enjoy during your visit to Salem.

Facade of Reed Opera House

Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Final Thoughts

Salem is a vibrant state capital that’s more than just a seat of power.

It’s also home to unique historical attractions, parks, museums, and activities.

If you’re seeking a unique travel destination without traveling far off the Pacific Northwest region, consider Salem on your list.

For a worthwhile travel experience, bookmark this list of the best things to do in Salem, Oregon.

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