Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Salem, OR

  • Published 2022/12/06

Salem is the picturesque capital of Oregon and the seat of Marion County.

It is along the scenic Willamette River Valley, one of the country’s most agriculturally fertile regions.

Although the city was only officially incorporated in 1857, there were already settlers in the area as early as 1841.

Salem was initially known as “Chemeketa,” an Indian word that meant “resting or meeting area.”

However, this was replaced with the biblical “Shalom” or “peace.”

Today, Salem is popular among tourists for providing a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere to all its visitors.

It also boasts stunning sights, exciting activities, and a wide range of destinations that you’ll love no matter your interests.

You don’t need to break the bank on your visit to this beautiful city, for these are the free things to do in Salem, Oregon.

Stroll around Bush’s Pasture Park

Beautiful flowers at Bush’s Pasture Park

Bob Pool /

Appreciate all the stunning flowers and luscious greeneries around you as you take a relaxing stroll at Bush’s Pasture Park.

Bush’s Pasture Park is a city park on Mission Street that spans 90 acres of natural space.

It is beloved by the community members for its White Oaks Grovers and camas flowers, which were also used by Native Americans back in the day as food sources.

This park is also the home of the city’s rose garden, frequented by rose and horticulture enthusiasts.

Footbridge at Bush’s Pasture Park

Lyn Kline /

Stroll around this park and appreciate the tranquil atmosphere of the beautiful plants.

You can even bring your pet dog along when you visit this park if you keep them on a leash.

This park also has a play area for kids and tennis courts.

Aerial view of Bush’s Pasture Park

Kelly Headrick /

Explore the Magnificent Interiors of the Oregon State Capitol

Exterior of Oregon State Capitol

Bob Pool /

Feast your eyes on the striking architecture and stunning interior design of the Oregon State Capitol.

The Oregon State Capitol is on Court Street and offers free tours to all visitors.

Here, you can discover more about the history of the state and all the significant political events that have occurred in the past.

When you first see this building, you’ll be amazed immediately by its extraordinary architecture!

Senate chamber in Oregon State Capitol

Nagel Photography /

Its building combines Modern and Art Deco architectural styles and even tosses a bit of Stripped Classicism into the mix!

When you roam around inside the building, you’ll also be wowed by the grand design of its dome.

You’ll even climb up the stairs and meet the Oregon Pioneer, a bronze sculpture at the top of the Capitol.

If you’re a certified architecture buff, this destination is a must-visit!

Statue on top of Oregon State Capitol

TFoxFoto /

See Unique Works of Art at Bush Barn Art Center

Set your sights on captivating artwork when you visit Bush Barn Art Center!

Bush Barn Art Center is an exhibition space and gallery on Mission Street, within Bush’s Pasture Park.

This center features different galleries that each focus on different types of artworks and various artists.

Check out their Focus Gallery to see works of art made by talented creators from the Artist-in-Residence program of the organization behind this center!

You can also roam around and see the artworks at the A.N. Bush Gallery, which features captivating works of art made by artists worldwide.

Stop by the Gift Gallery to check out handcrafted jewelry, ceramics, and other decorative artworks you could also purchase.

You cannot miss Bush Barn Art Center, especially if you’re an artist!

Read Your Favorite Book at the Salem Public Library

Interior of the Salem Public Library

Jacquie Klose /

Treat your inner bookworm to a quiet reading day and head to the Salem Public Library.

Based on Liberty Street, the Salem Public Library is for people needing literary or research resources and internet access.

Whether you’re a student, professional researcher, or a typical bookworm, you’ll love this destination.

This library features WiFi hotspots that circulate all over the building, so you will not be interrupted by any disconnections while researching.

Best of all, the library has a massive selection of books that will make you want to read the whole day!

You can even bring kids with you since there’s a section dedicated to children’s books.

You don’t need to worry about anyone stealing your reading spot because there are many comfy places to read!

Remember the Brave Heroes at the Oregon WWII Memorial

Signage of the Oregon WWII Memorial

M.O. Stevens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Remember the courageous individuals who fought for the nation at the Oregon WWII Memorial.

The Oregon WWII Memorial is dedicated to the veterans of the Second World War.

You can find it along Cottage Street near the Oregon State Capitol.

Here, you can find a towering obelisk that bears the names of all the service members from Oregon who fought during the war.

Daytime view of the Oregon WWII Memorial

M.O. Stevens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can read these names and pay your respects to these individuals when you come to this memorial.

There are also benches near the monument where you can rest after roaming around the areas near this memorial.

This is also a great spot to reflect on these historical events.

Ride a Bike at Geer Bike Park

Hone your biking skills and tricks on the biking trails at Geer Bike Park!

Geer Bike Park is along Geer Drive, featuring mounds and jumps that any biker would appreciate.

Beginners or pro bikers should have fun practicing and developing their biking skills at the park.

Ride through the park and enjoy the flow trail and jump line!

With its expansive space, this bike park is perfect for groups of bikers who want to practice their riding skills together.

Wear the right gear when riding your bike at the park to protect yourself.

Read about History through the Headstones at Salem Pioneer Cemetery

Headstones at Salem Pioneer Cemetery

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

Learn about different chapters in Salem’s history when you visit Salem Pioneer Cemetery.

Salem Pioneer Cemetery, nestled along Commercial Street and Hoyt Street, is the final resting place of many individuals who have shaped the city into what it is today.

This cemetery was established in 1854 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in the state.

Many politicians and missionaries considered city pioneers are buried at this cemetery.

Memorial at Salem Pioneer Cemetery

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

While you can certainly learn more about the notable individuals buried here through their gravestones, you’d be surprised to see that even typical citizens are highlighted here.

There are signages and plaques all over the cemetery which reveal some interesting stories of the lives of the ones buried here.

You can roam around and learn so much about how life was in the city back then by just reading the stories on the gravestones at this cemetery.

Enjoy the View of the Water as You Relax at Riverfront Park

The waters of Riverfront Park

Tada Images /

Let the gentle lapping of the water and the cool breeze of the wind at Riverfront Park help you unwind!

Riverfront Park is a gorgeous park right next to the Willamette River.

You can access it through Water Street.

It spans 23 acres and is the go-to destination for citizens from downtown Salem to relax and appreciate the beauty of the river.

Resting area facing the waters of Riverfront Park

Thye-Wee Gn /

Here, you can find an open green area with a playground where you and your kids can run and play!

There’s also an amphitheater within the park’s premises since this park is also a site of different regional events.

You can also check out the carousel ride here and even take pictures of the sculpture installed at the park.

Enjoy the view of the waters as you explore all the amenities at Riverfront Park!

The grounds of Riverfront Park

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

Spend the Day at Cascades Gateway City Park

Take a stroll and enjoy the incredible views at Cascades Gateway City Park!

Located along Turner Road, Cascades Gateway City Park is a 102-acre open space with many amenities you can enjoy with loved ones.

From walking trails to the scenic pond, you’ll have plenty to explore and check out at this destination.

Sit by the pond and take a moment to reflect or relax from your long and busy day.

Go to the picnic area and sit by the benches while munching on a snack or hanging out with your loved ones.

This park is also a great destination if you want to spend quality time with your dog because you can bring your pets as long as you keep them on a leash.

Roam the walking trails with your pet and get some much-needed exercise.

If you get tired, take a break under the tall trees and cool off under the shade.

Take a break from your routine and spend quiet time at the Cascades Gateway City Park!

Spot Local Wildlife at Minto-Brown Island Park

Canoe on the waters of Minto-Brown Island Park

Jacquie Klose /

If you want to see local wildlife while getting fresh air, head to Minto-Brown Island Park!

Minto-Brown Island Park on Minto Island Road is one of the largest parks in the city and is a great place to enjoy the outdoors.

You can explore over 1,200 acres of natural areas filled with luscious greeneries and stunning flowers.

Nature trail at Minto-Brown Island Park

Yanqiang Dai /

This park is also a tranquil sanctuary for wildlife, making it the perfect place to visit if you want to go birdwatching or animal spotting.

You can jog, bike, or walk on trails throughout this park.

Immerse yourself fully in nature as you explore the trails and find rare animals around this park!

Bicycle ride along Minto-Brown Island Park's bridge

Bob Pool /

Cross the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge

People along the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge

Bob Pool /

Put on your walking shoes or prepare your bike to cross the iconic Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge!

You can access the bridge through Front Street, the main connecting link between many parks and other destinations in Salem.

Moreover, if you combine the total number of areas connected by this bridge, you’ll have a bigger number than Central Park in New York City.

Cross the bridge to visit one of the famous riverfront parks downtown, then hop on to another scenic open area around the city.

Pathway of Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge

Devin Powers /

Likewise, this bridge will give you access to different walking trails you can explore to take a stroll or jog around while enjoying the picturesque views.

Besides its usefulness, the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge is also pleasing to the eyes due to its architecture.

Explore the city without spending a dime by crossing this marvelous bridge!

Far view of Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge

Bob Pool /

See the Soaring Steeple of the First United Methodist Church

Stare at the towering steeple of the First United Methodist Church!

This church on State Street was founded in 1841 and is the oldest Methodist church in the area.

Its exquisite Gothic Revival architectural style makes it a sight to behold, but its focal point is its soaring steeple.

This steeple is one of the tallest structures in the city and was even considered the tallest building in the area back in 1878.

Looking at this church, you’d instantly be transported to another time and place because of its tall, steeple and red brick walls.

You’ll also be amazed at its auditorium-style chair arrangement and beautiful altar when you step inside.

Snap Photos by the Eco-Earth Globe

Close view of the Eco-Earth Globe

Michael Warwick /

Strike a pose or snap a lovely group photo with the iconic Eco-Earth Globe!

The Eco-Earth Globe is a sculpture installed on Riverfront Park, accessible through Front Street.

Missing this massive sphere is impossible if you are exploring the area!

This structure depicts the Earth and features 86,000 ceramic tiles representing each ocean and continent.

The Eco-Earth Globe beside a bridge

Michael Warwick /

Although it may seem like its primary purpose is a landmark or a public art piece, this globe is historic.

It was never meant to be an artistic sculpture and was initially used as an acid ball in making paper.

Drop by this sculpture and snap pictures to commemorate your trip to the city!

Cross the Historic Union Street Railroad Bridge

Exterior of the Union Street Railroad Bridge

Cynthia Liang /

The Union Street Railroad Bridge was built in 1912 and is now a pedestrian bridge you can visit for free!

This bridge connects many different parks and outdoor areas in West Salem to the city’s downtown area.

Specifically, this connects Riverfront Park, Wallace Marine Park, and Minto Island Park.

Pathway of the Union Street Railroad Bridge

Cynthia Liang /

If you’re looking for a quick way to explore different parks in the city, then access this bridge through Union Street!

You’ll take in the breathtaking view of the waters as you cross the bridge.

If you visit at night, you might also see the bright lights on the Union Street Railroad Bridge, making your exploration more memorable.

Relax under the Tall Tree at Waldo Park

Signage of Waldo Park

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

Take a break from your daily routine and stop by to rest under the historic tree at Waldo Park.

Waldo Park is a small area on Summer Street that is widely popular for being one of the tiniest public parks in the world.

Although it’s not as wide as the other parks in the city, Waldo Park is still loved by the community because it features an iconic tree.

The Redwood Tree at this park was planted by Judge William Waldo, a prominent citizen and one of the city’s pioneers.

The tall tree at Waldo Park

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

Although Judge Waldo eventually passed away in 1911, the tree remained and continues to stand after all these years.

You can check out this tiny park and take pictures of this legendary old tree.

If you feel tired from walking around the area, you could also sit under a tree and shade away from the sun.

Final Thoughts

Salem is a city full of history and character, which you can explore and dive deep into without spending a dime.

This area has many different things to see and do, from its stunning natural parks to its historical landmarks.

Try the free things to do in Salem, Oregon, the next time you visit the city!

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