15 Best Things to Do in Salem, OR

Salem, OR

Welcome to the charming city of Salem, nestled in the heart of Oregon.

trI couldn't be prouder to call this place my home.

With its unique blend of historic charm, vibrant culture, and breathtaking natural beauty, Salem has a way of captivating you from the moment you arrive.

As someone who has had the privilege of enjoying the city’s many facets, I’m thrilled to share my personal guide to enjoying the best this city has to offer.

Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, a nature enthusiast, or just someone looking to explore a new city, Salem has something special for you.

Now let's explore the 15 best things to do in Salem, Oregon!

About this article: This article was written by a local contributor based on their own experiences and those around them. While this list showcases some remarkable places, it's important to note that this is an opinion piece, and there are many other exceptional places to visit that are not featured here.
Our aim is not just to guide you to popular places but to encourage you to venture out and experience the city for yourself.

Visit the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge

Daytime view of Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge
Victoria Ditkovsky / Shutterstock.com

Every evening, just as the sun sets, you'll find me taking a peaceful stroll on the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge.

This architectural marvel is not just a bridge - it's a gateway to serenity!

The bridge features an elegant design that effortlessly blends with the natural surroundings.

Every minute spent walking on it feels like a rendezvous with nature.

It offers sweeping views of the river and is a haven for the eyes and the soul.

As you traverse this magnificent bridge, you're treated to snippets of Minto Parks' history etched around the place.

It stands as a testament to the area's rich heritage and culture. The bridge also becomes an illuminated spectacle at night.

The lights dance off the river's surface, creating an enchanting sight that leaves you in awe.

Walkway of the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge
Devin Powers / Shutterstock.com

Many a time, you'll find me pedaling my bike across the bridge, feeling the wind in my hair, and soaking in the simple joys of life.

The bridge also connects to a scenic trail, perfect for those seeking solace or a refreshing morning run.

Just off the bridge, there's a life-sized globe monument that never fails to amaze.

It's a wonderful spot for capturing memories, and I've got plenty of clicks with it on my camera roll.

People on the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge
Bob Pool / Shutterstock.com

Explore 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

When the hubbub of city life becomes too much, I often find solace and inspiration in Hallie Ford Museum of Art.

Nestled in the heart of our city, it's a delight to step into a whole new world of historical, regional, and modern art.

An afternoon at the museum is like a mini-vacation, a journey through time and cultures, right here at home.

The museum is small but mighty, always surprising with its rotating exhibits.

I still remember the Mediterranean household objects exhibit - such intricate pieces, each telling a story of a civilization long gone.

It's amazing how the museum offers experiences that rival those of larger, metropolitan museums.

But what truly sets the Hallie Ford Museum of Art apart is its warmth and accessibility.

And if you have kids? They're going to love it here!

The museum is spacious enough for them to move around freely, and the staff genuinely makes children feel welcome.

I'm particularly drawn to the museum's permanent collections.

The ancient and Asian works transport me to different eras and continents.

But it's the Native American artifacts that truly capture my heart - each piece is a testament to the rich heritage of our land.

Visit the Honeywood Winery

"There's no place like home," they say, and for me, sipping a glass of fruit wine at Honeywood Winery feels a lot like home.

In our little city, this winery is a hidden gem.

You might catch the aroma of their famous Honeysuckle Peach or Tropical Sunset wine from miles away.

Trust me, a visit to Honeywood Winery is a must.

I've tasted quite a few fruity wines from their extensive menu, and they never fail to impress.

My friends and I are particularly fond of their fruit wine - it's always a hit at our gatherings.

And when the holidays arrive, their souvenir shop doesn't fall short either.

From custom gift packs that fit perfectly in your check-in bag to special merchandise whose profit goes to a noble cause, they've got it all.

Every time I visit, I am greeted by two lovely ladies who I believe are the owners.

They're patient, helpful, and their customer service is truly commendable.

The best part is they're dog-friendly! They even offered a bowl of water for my pup once.

Now, if you enjoy a good mead, don't miss out on their Blackberry Mead - it's simply the best around.

Explore the Trails of Minto-Brown Island Park

Picnic area at Minto-Brown Island Park
Yanqiang Dai / Shutterstock.com

Paved trails stretch before me, inviting me and my trusty canine companion to venture into the woodlands.

At Minto-Brown Island Park, every visit is a new adventure waiting to be discovered.

As someone who can never resist the lure of the wilderness, the park's 898 acres of open and wooded areas offer a multitude of trails to explore.

Whether it's a short, leisurely amble or a lengthy, invigorating trek, there's a trail that perfectly accommodates my mood and energy level.

The park is a paradise for dog lovers like me.

The off-leash dog park is a haven where my furry friend can run freely, socialize with other dogs, and enjoy fun and freedom.

And when it's time for a break, there are ample picnic and play areas where we can both catch our breath and enjoy a spot of lunch.

Foliage on Minto-Brown Island Park's trail
Yanqiang Dai / Shutterstock.com

One of my favorite things about the park is its community appeal. No matter when I visit, there are always fellow park-goers around.

Whether they're strolling around, enjoying a picnic, or spending time at the dog park, it's a testament to the park's popularity and its role as a beloved local spot.

With each visit, I find something new to appreciate - from the changing scenery as the seasons shift to the dynamic nature of the trails.

When the slough rises, some trails might be temporarily out of use, but that just adds to the intrigue and versatility of the park.

People paddling on Minto-Brown Island Park's water
Jacquie Klose / Shutterstock.com
Exterior of Salem's Riverfront Carousel
Lynn Watson / Shutterstock.com

Subtle music swirls in the air as the magical prancing horses of Salem's Riverfront Carousel welcome you to a world of childhood dreams.

Being a regular visitor, I have come to appreciate the intricate handiwork that transforms mere wood into radiant steeds.

Over 40 of these meticulously carved horses form the heart of this carousel, brought to life by the selfless dedication of local volunteers since its opening in 2001.

My favorite spot has always been the shop nestled within the gift shop.

Here, you can witness the birth of a new carousel character.

On one of my recent visits, it was a majestic Pegasus that was being carved to life.

The sight of the craftsman working with such passion and precision, wielding his tools like an artist with a brush, left me spellbound.

Just outside the carousel facility, a park is always bustling with activity.

The splash pad is a hit among the children, while the playground offers countless hours of fun.

Pack a picnic and gear up for an entire day of leisure and relaxation.

Stroll Through Bush’s Pasture Park Rose Garden

In the heart of Oregon's capital city, I often find myself drawn to the tranquility of the Bush's Pasture Park Rose Garden.

The park is more than just a green space; it is a kaleidoscope of colors, scents, and sounds.

My visits always coincide with the blooming season of roses.

Seeing these lush, vibrant blooms, in varieties I can never seem to remember, is an experience that never gets old.

The greenhouse within the park's confines is a treasure trove of unique plant species.

Spending time here feels like a crash course on botany, always leaving me with newfound knowledge about nature's diversity.

The park is also the perfect spot for family outings.

I have often taken my nieces and nephews to the nearby playgrounds, and their squeals of delight are a testament to the fun they have.

The gazebo, set amidst the verdant greenery, is a favorite spot for family pictures or simply to sit and enjoy the calm.

The park trails are another favorite. Whether you're a seasoned hiker or simply enjoy leisurely strolls, the trails cater to all.

See Beautiful Flowers at Deepwood Museum & Gardens

Exterior of the Deepwood Museum & Gardens mansion
Cynthia Liang / Shutterstock.com

One of the best ways to spend a sunny Saturday in our city is by visiting the Deepwood Museum & Gardens.

Nestled in the heart of our city, it's a place where you can feel the pulse of history and immerse yourself in nature's beauty.

Here's a little about my personal experience at this gem.

The moment I step onto the grounds, I am greeted by a welcoming sight of beautifully curated gardens that look straight out of a fairy tale.

Each turn of the season brings a new spectacle of flowers, painting the gardens in vivid colors.

And it's not just the outdoors that is captivating.

The Victorian Queen Anne home, a piece of history standing tall amidst the blooms, is another marvel that awaits visitors.

I remember the first time I walked through the ornate doors of the house.

It was like stepping into a different era, with each room echoing stories from the past.

Gazebo at Deepwood Museum & Gardens
Kelly Headrick / Shutterstock.com

But the Deepwood Museum & Gardens isn't just about history. It's also a haven for nature lovers and botany enthusiasts like me.

The nature trails are a joy to explore, and the small greenhouse conservation building is a treasure trove of plant life.

On sunny days, it's easy to lose track of time just walking around, soaking in the serenity and peaceful vibes.

The grounds of Deepwood Museum & Gardens
Kelly Headrick / Shutterstock.com

Wander Around Gilbert House Children's Museum

Exterior of the Gilbert House Children's Museum
Cynthia Liang / Shutterstock.com

Weaving science and art together in the most fascinating way, Gilbert House Children's Museum has become a go-to spot for my children on the weekends.

Housed in three grand Victorian-era buildings, not only does it mesmerize with its unique architectural beauty, but it also offers an engaging and educational experience that keeps the kids entertained throughout the day.

One of the unique aspects of this museum is the variety of themed rooms.

I've lost count of the number of times my children have squealed with delight in the bubble room.

The joy of creating gigantic bubbles that float around the room, reflecting rainbow hues, never gets old for them.

Similarly, the fort-building room, where they get to construct their own miniature forts using provided materials, fosters their creativity and teamwork skills.

While the outdoor play area is currently closed for remodeling, we're eagerly awaiting its reopening in late summer.

The staff has always been warm, kind, and attentive, making every visit feel like coming back to a loved one's home.

They consistently maintain a clean and safe environment for the children, despite the constant need for re-cleaning due to the crowd.

Navigating the museum can be a bit challenging for those with mobility restrictions as there are no elevators for accessing the second floor of two buildings.

However, there's still an abundance of activities on the ground floor to keep everyone engaged and entertained.

The museum also offers reasonably priced snacks and cold drinks, making it convenient for those days when we lose track of time exploring, learning and playing.

That's the beauty of Gilbert House Children's Museum – it's a place where time stands still and innocence blooms.

Pay a Visit to The Bush Barn Art Center

I can't believe how many times I've walked past the Bush Barn Art Center, barely giving it a second glance.

It's a Salem tradition tucked away like a hidden gem, waiting to share its treasures with those who take the time to explore it.

Each visit to the Bush Barn Art Center feels like stepping into a world of creativity and inspiration.

I'm always amazed by the diverse range of artwork on display, lovingly crafted by local artists.

You never know what you'll discover here, from the stunning yard art that adds a whimsical touch to your garden to the exquisite jewelry that can shine any outfit.

The staff and volunteers can't do enough to help you find just what you're looking for.

Whether you need advice on a piece of art or assistance with buying tickets for the Bush House Tour, they're always there with a friendly smile and a helping hand.

Don't miss out on the chance to find a truly special gift for someone - there's no shortage of unique items to choose from.

I've found everything from beautiful cards to practical kitchenware, all imbued with the touch of a skilled artisan.

As if that's not enough, the center is conveniently located near a small park.

After immersing myself in the world of art, there's nothing better than taking a break at one of the picnic tables under the shade of the trees, beside the park's drinking fountain.

It just adds to the overall charm of the Bush Barn Art Center, making each visit memorable in its own way.

Explore the Reed Opera House

Exterior of Reed Opera House
Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ever wondered what it's like to step back in time? Well, the Reed Opera House is a splendid place to do so!

Located in the heart of our city, it's housed in a grand theater from the 1870s and is home to a delightful blend of boutiques, restaurants, and bakeries.

I often spend the better part of my Saturdays wandering through its wide array of locally-owned shops.

The boutiques offer a unique range of items, from whimsical gifts to chic clothing, that you can't find anywhere else.

I particularly enjoy browsing in the Awkward Peach and the metaphysical store on the ground level.

Among the must-visit places in the Reed Opera House is the delightful bakery-cum-coffee shop upstairs.

Interior of Reed Opera House
Andrew Parodi at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It offers an array of freshly baked goodies and a selection of coffee that never fails to hit the spot.

There's something truly comforting about sipping on a warm cup of coffee, surrounded by the aroma of fresh pastries in such a historic building.

But the Reed Opera House is more than just a shopping complex. It's a place where history comes alive.

As you stroll through the halls, you'll come across historical posters that detail the rich history of the building.

There's a distinct charm to sitting on one of the many seating options available, people-watching, and soaking up the atmosphere.

Facade of Reed Opera House
Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have a Picnic at Bush's Pasture Park

Aerial view of Bush's Pasture Park
Kelly Headrick / Shutterstock.com

There's something rejuvenating about starting your day with a peaceful morning walk through Bush's Pasture Park.

The moment you step into this sprawling 90-acre green space, it's like stepping into a different world.

The park feels alive, brimming with the chatter of squirrels scampering up the giant trees and the occasional quack from ducks swimming in the clear waters of the creek.

It's not just a place for us humans but a haven for the fur babies too.

The trails are varied, a mix of small and large gravel, dirt, and paved, providing a delightful challenge for the keen walker or runner.

The park is a gem hidden in plain sight, right in our quiet city.

A bridge at Bush's Pasture Park
Lyn Kline / Shutterstock.com

It's a place where the children can let loose on the playgrounds, and adults can enjoy a friendly match on the tennis courts.

If you're not up for an active day, there are plenty of benches just to sit and enjoy the tranquil beauty surrounding you.

And if you're planning a family gathering or a picnic with friends, there's ample space.

The park is thoughtfully maintained, with a sufficient number of trash cans and extra poop bags at doggy bag stations.

Remember, though, to arm yourself with mosquito repellent; the little critters can be quite a bother.

Fall scene at Bush's Pasture Park
From you to me, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Revisit History at the B-17 Alliance Museum & Restoration Hangar

When you're lucky enough to live in a place steeped in history, every visit feels like a journey back in time.

In our little corner of the world, that journey takes us to the B-17 Alliance Museum & Restoration Hangar.

This place is more than a museum; it's a living breathing testament to our past, tirelessly working to restore the B-17, an iconic symbol of our nation's strength during World War II.

Every rivet removed and replaced is a testament to the painstaking work that goes into restoring this historical artifact.

Visiting the museum is like stepping into a time capsule, every exhibit adding to the rich tapestry of our nation's history.

The docents, many of them volunteers, are walking encyclopedias, always ready to share a wealth of knowledge.

One of the highlights of my visits is the tour of the Lacey Lady flying fortresses, guided by a WWII veteran who served as a bombardier in the war.

Such personal, first-hand accounts of the war make the history come alive in a way no book or movie ever could.

This isn't just a museum; it's a labor of love, a project that could take years to complete.

But every moment spent there, whether it's marveling at the progress on the B-17 restoration or learning about our military history, is a moment well spent.

And if you're feeling particularly moved, they're always in need of volunteers and donations to keep their ambitious project running.

Journey Through History at the Willamette Heritage Center

Exterior of Willamette Heritage Center
Jacquie Klose / Shutterstock.com

Stepping into the Willamette Heritage Center is like stepping back in time.

Nestled in the heart of our city, this former Victorian-era, water-powered mill has been transformed into an engaging and educational wool-making museum.

It's always a delight to walk through the rustic doors of this center, greeted by the hum of working machinery and the rich aroma of coffee from the on-site café.

The center offers a fascinating blend of living history and modern-day convenience.

The exhibits are masterfully curated, showcasing the original milling equipment in operation.

I remember the first time I saw the machinery working and heard it clicking and clanking - the experience was nothing short of spellbinding.

It's a unique window into the past that's hard to find elsewhere.

Aside from the museum itself, the Willamette Heritage Center boasts multiple ancillary buildings on a fenced yard, each filled with intriguing displays and absorbing histories.

It's a great place to spend a leisurely afternoon, meandering from one building to another and soaking up the stories of our city's past.

Interior of the Willamette Heritage Center
Jacquie Klose / Shutterstock.com

But the charm doesn't end there. The center is also home to several quaint shops, perfect for finding unique, locally-made treasures to take home.

And when you're ready for a break, there's a delightful café with indoor and outdoor seating.

I often find myself grabbing a bite to eat here, enjoying the peaceful ambiance, watching the ducks paddle in the nearby Mill Creek, and taking in the beautiful surroundings.

For those who prefer to explore independently, you can walk through the mill and grounds at your own pace.

On the other hand, the option of guided tours is also available, offering a more in-depth and informative look into the mill’s history.

Go Biking at Geer Park

Who knew that within the confines of the city lay a biking paradise? That's exactly what Geer Park in Salem is!

This gem, tucked away in the heart of the city, offers an unexpected biking experience that's hard to match.

The park cleverly incorporates a pump track and jump lines which make for a great practice ground to hone your biking skills.

The pump track has a flow that keeps you on your toes, making sure you earn every bit of fun you have.

But the surprises don't stop there! There's a second pump track designed especially for the little ones.

Experience the Grandeur of the Oregon State Capitol

Exterior of the Oregon State Capitol
Bob Pool / Shutterstock.com

When you live in Salem, the towering edifice of the Oregon State Capitol becomes a familiar sight - a comforting reminder of the state's rich history and abiding spirit of community.

Despite the ongoing renovations that are set to continue until 2025, the building remains a beacon for locals and visitors alike, its striking rotunda making an indelible impression on Salem's skyline.

A casual stroll along 945 State St will lead you to the visitor entrance, giving you access to a world of grandeur and majesty typically reserved for the paintings of the olden days.

For me, the real magic lies in the expansive, cherry-tree-filled grounds surrounding the capitol building.

An oasis of tranquility amidst the bustling city, the grounds offer a quiet haven where you can unwind, surrounded by the ethereal beauty of nature.

The lush green grass under your feet, the charming rows of trees whispering ancient secrets, and the unique water fountain centering it all offer an idyllic retreat that is hard to resist.

Springtime at the Capitol resembles walking through a living, breathing painting.

Facade of the Oregon State Capitol
Real Window Creative / Shutterstock.com

The flowers bloom, the trees blossom, and the landscape transforms into a vibrant tableau of color and life.

It's a sight to behold, especially when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, painting the air with their delicate fragrance and the grounds with their explosive colors.

Step inside the Capitol, and the experience is just as fascinating.

Every corner seems to whisper tales from the past, the historian's facts subtly blending with the majestic architecture to create a rich tapestry of Oregon's history.

Senate chamber in the Oregon State Capitol
Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Living in this vibrant city of Salem, I've had the privilege of experiencing its treasures.

Whether it's the historical ambiance of Reed Opera House or a joyride on Salem's Riverfront Carousel, Salem, Oregon, indeed has something in store for everyone.

So here's to this charming little city, long may it continue to surprise and delight us in equal measure.

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