The 20 Best Things to Do in Salem for First-Timers

Cascades Gateway Park

Salem is the state capital of Oregon, so it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this state. It is an interesting place to visit due to the diversity of the activities and attractions in the city. Salem is known for its history, and there are plenty of museums, landmarks, and buildings that reflect this history. However, there is also a wide range of activities for those who are not interested in the area’s history to enjoy. To get the most out of your time in this location, here are the 20 best things to do in Salem, OR for first-timers.

Historic Downtown District

20. Stroll Around the Historic Downtown District

While you are in Salem, Trip Memos says that you should spend some time in the Historic Downtown District. This is an area spanning seven blocks, and the buildings represent the city’s rich history. Taking a self-guided tour is a great way to appreciate the cultural heritage of Salem. In addition to admiring the architecture, this is also one of the best spots for dining out as this area has some of the best restaurants in the city.

Oregon World War II Memorial

19. Go to The Oregon World War II Memorial

Those who are interested in military history should visit The Oregon World War II Memorial. This honors those who served in World War II with commemorative plaques and statues. The memorial is set within the grounds of the Oregon State Capitol.

Willamette River

18. Take a Riverboat Trip Along the Willamette River

The Willamette River is one of the most significant natural landmarks in Salem, so a fantastic activity is taking a boat trip. Once, sternwheelers were the main mode of transport on the Willamette River. The Willamette Queen brings those times back to life, as it is an 87-foot twin paddle-wheeler. Passengers board the vessel at the Riverfront Park and embark on a voyage along the Willamette River. There are various excursion options available, ranging from a simple one-hour excursion to a gourmet dinner cruise. The latter includes a gourmet meal, drinks, and live entertainment. Other options include the midday lunch cruise and the Sunday brunch cruise. The boat has a dance floor and a full bar, and it is possible to hire this boat for events and weddings. As the boat has a capacity of only 90 passengers, it is best to book tickets in advance.

Retail Therapy

17. Enjoy Some Retail Therapy

Salem is a fantastic destination for shopping, so you can enjoy some retail therapy during your visit to this city. One of the best spots for shopping is at the Reed Opera House, which has now been converted into a shopping and dining destination. Another great shopping venue is Salem Center, which is a modern and dog-friendly shopping mall in downtown Salem. It boasts more than 80 stores and a large food court with various dining options. This mall has five sky bridges that connect to other shops and buildings on either side of Center Street.

Wine Tour

16. Take a Wine Tour

Wine lovers will enjoy a stay in Salem, as it is home to some excellent vineyards and wineries. One place to visit is Honeywood Winery, which was founded in 1934 and is the oldest producing winery in Oregon. They produce premium vinifera wines along with specialty and fruit wines. Visitors can enjoy complimentary wine tastings seven days a week. Another excellent winery to visit is the Bethel Heights Vineyard. This vineyard has a strong focus on sustainability, and it offers public and private wine tastings.

Willamette Mission State Park

15. Take to the Water at Willamette Mission State Park

Those who enjoy physical outdoor activities will find plenty of things to do while in Salem, and the top destination for water-based activities is Willamette Mission State Park. It is home to Mission Lake, and it sits by the Willamette River. Therefore, it is a fantastic place to enjoy activities in the water. You can also enjoy the hiking trails, horseback riding, picnics, and various other recreational activities in the park. An interesting fact about this park is that it is home to the largest black cottonwood tree in the nation, and it is estimated that this tree is more than 250 years old.

Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

14. Go to the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health

An interesting museum to visit during your trip is the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health. This museum is dedicated to educating visitors and about the history of the hospital, including true stories about the people who lived in the facility. One of the highlights of a visit is seeing the treatment room, where you can learn about the development of controversial therapies. Another interesting element of a visit is touring the network of underground tunnels.

Hallie Ford Museum of Art

13. See the Art at The Hallie Ford Museum of Art

Art enthusiasts visiting Salem should set aside some time to visit The Hallie Ford Museum of Art. This museum was opened in 1998 by Willamette University, Hallie Ford, and The Ford Family Foundation. Alongside the work of local artists, there is Mark Sponeburgh’s collection of around 250 Asian and European pieces and a collection of early 1900s Native American baskets.

E.Z. Orchards Farm Market

12. Peruse the Goods at E.Z. Orchards Farm Market

Salem is known for its agriculture and excellent produce, and the best place to sample some of these products and to appreciate the agricultural aspect of this destination is the E.Z. Orchards Farm Market. This is one of the most productive agricultural farms in the Willamette Valley. Although some of the farm’s produce is sent straight to the packing houses and processes, they sell a lot directly to the public at the farm market. Some of the foods available include hazelnuts, vegetables, apples, pears, and peaches. They also sell products from local farms, such as milk, cheese, and preserves. The farm also has a corn maze, horse riding, and a petting zoo.

Willamette Valley Cheese Company

11. Sample the Cheese at Willamette Valley Cheese Company

An enjoyable activity for foodies is sampling the cheese at Willamette Valley Cheese Company, says the Crazy Tourist. The cheese-making company is based on a family farm that is certified organic. The family is committed to environmental sustainability, and they do not use pesticides or herbicides. Similarly, they do not treat their cows with antibiotics or hormones. The farm produces high-quality Mozzarella, Brie, Camembert, Cheddar, and Gouda. You can take a tour of the facilities to learn about how the cheese is made, and there is a tasting room for you to sample the products.

Willamette Heritage Center

10. Go to Willamette Heritage Center

An excellent place to learn about the area’s heritage is the Willamette Heritage Center. The center is part of a five-acre campus that looks at the history of Salem as well as the current cultural vibe of the city. The campus is divided into fourteen historical sites that look at different aspects of the area’s history, including the early education pioneers and the Oregon Trail travelers. One of the main features is the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, which is a bright red mill at the center of the campus. It houses 19th and 20th-century machinery. The Heritage Center also has a variety of retail outlets and dining options.

Cascades Gateway Park

9. Explore Cascades Gateway Park

If you want to spend some time outdoors, then one of the nicest options is Cascades Gateway Park. This 100-acre park has an 18-hole disc golf course, multiple accessible hiking trails, a playground, a dog park, shelters, and picnic pavilions. There is also the William L. Wirth Lake, which is popular for paddle sports and fishing.

Bush’s Pasture Park and the Bush House Museum

8. Visit Bush’s Pasture Park and the Bush House Museum

Although it sits in the heart of the city, Bush’s Pasture Park offers almost 100 acres of woodland space. There are both paved and unpaved hiking trails through the park, tennis courts, a softball field, rhododendron and rose gardens, and the Crooked House Playground. The Bush House Museum is also within the grounds of the park, and this has many 19th-century antiques to see. You will find this park on Mission Street Southeast.

Elsinore Theater

7. See a Show at Elsinore Theater

If you want to see a performance during your visit to Salem, then the top venue is the Elsinore Theater. This theater opened in 1926, and it was originally a silent movie house and vaudeville theater. Now, it has classic cinema screenings, theatrical productions, and live music events. The jam-packed schedule includes everything from ballet to rock music, and from musicals to classic performances. If you wish to see a screening or performance during your visit, then you should check what is on and book tickets in advance. The building is also impressive, and the ceilings are intricately decorated.

Gilbert House Children’s Museum

6. Enjoy Gilbert House Children’s Museum

An interesting museum to visit that will appeal to all the family is the Gilbert House Children’s Museum. This museum sits by the Riverfront City Park, and it is aimed at children between the ages of two and 10 years old. It is divided into zones that encourage educational and interactive play and creativity. Some of the zones include the Outdoor Discovery Area, the Discovery Campground, and Erector Set Tower.

Minto-Brown Island Park

5. Explore Minto-Brown Island Park

Planetware recommends that you explore Minto-Brown Island Park during your visit to Salem. It is the largest recreation space in Salem, and it is surrounded by the Willamette River waterway. There are a variety of environments, including an open prairie, woodlands, and wetlands. You can explore the park on the 30-miles of hiking and biking trails.

Deepwood Museum & Gardens

4. Visit Deepwood Museum & Gardens

Although there are several museums to visit in Salem, the most popular is the Deepwood Museum & Gardens. This museum is set within a Queen Anne-style home, and visitors can take a guided tour of the property. After the tour, visitors can explore the stunning grounds. This venue is also used for various events throughout the year.

Riverfront Carousel

3. Ride on the Riverfront Carousel

The Riverfront City Park is a popular outdoor space in Salem, and its best feature is the Riverfront Carousel. However, riding on the carousel is not the only activity to enjoy in this 26-acre urban park. It also has hiking trails, boat docks, views of the Willamette River, and children’s playgrounds. An eye-catching feature of the park is the impressive Eco-Earth Globe, which sits by the pedestrian bridge that connects this park to the Minto Brown Island Park on the other side of the river.

Enchanted Forest Theme Park

2. Have Fun at the Enchanted Forest Theme Park

A fantastic day out for all the family is the Enchanted Forest Theme Park. This theme park is just outside Salem in the city of Turner, and it combines all the fun of a theme park with the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Along with the rides, there are also explorable themed areas, including Fantasy Fountains, Storybook Lane, and Tofteville Western Town. There are also live music performances and a regular comedy theater to enjoy within the theme park.

Oregon State Capitol

1. Go to the Oregon State Capitol

According to Vacation Idea, the best thing to do in Salem, OR for first-timers is to go to the Oregon State Capitol. This structure is architecturally interesting as it is constructed from white marble in a Modernist Art Deco style. Visitors can take a tour of the interior of the Oregon State Capitol before exploring the grounds. Inside, some of the special areas of interest include the Governor’s portrait hallway, the Senate history room, and the Capitol Rotunda. Visitors will see the Capitol Art Collection and carious artifacts and information relating to the history of the building. If you visit between July and September, the tour also includes climbing the building’s tower to the Oregon Pioneer, from which there are magnificent views.

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