Oregon’s Willamette Valley is the perfect place to take a summer road trip with the family. This is a wine-producing region known for its farm-to-fork fare, scenic backroads, and tight-knit communities. It’s the kind of place where the pace of life moves a little bit slower, which is exactly what TJ and I needed. So we hopped on a flight to Eugene with our 3-year-old son Everett and spent 72 hours exploring the Willamette Valley, where we ate well, slept deeply and created some lasting family memories. Here are our top 10 favorite things to do on a family-friendly trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
1. Enjoy tacos at the kid-friendly Tacovore
We arrived in Eugene, a pretty city on the banks of the Willamette River at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, just in time for dinner. We were hungry so we headed straight to Tacovore for tacos. Set in super casual environs with an energetic atmosphere, Tacovore is a great place to bring the kids. We grabbed a table on the patio and ordered liberally, beginning with an order of guac, which Everett was all about! The restaurant is known for accessorizing its tacos with all sorts of slaws, creams, and pickled veggies. Everything came out tasting delicious but our top picks were the Carne Asada (smoked pacific northwest steak with onion, cilantro, roasted chiles, and queso) and the Carnitas (smoked crispy carlton farms pork with onions, cilantro, serrano chiles, jicama orange, and house-made crema). The price-point here was also on point. Taco cost between $3.75 to $5.00 a piece and the kids’ menu is super approachable too with a grilled cheese taco coming in at just $2. TJ and I also enjoyed a few rounds of the house margaritas, which at just $9.00 for 16 oz was a great deal.
2. Have a good night sleep at Hyatt Place
We were exhausted after dinner so we headed to our home for the night, the Hyatt Place in the Oakway Center, a shopping center with several stores and restaurants. We especially loved the pool, fitness center and clean and updated rooms here. Everett woke us up early talking excitedly about eating pancakes, so it is good that the Hyatt Place offers a great morning breakfast. E got his pancakes and TJ and I grabbed some cage-free scrambled eggs, bacon, and sausage.
3. Learn about raptor birds at Cascades Raptor Center
After breakfast, it was time to head to the Cascades Raptor Center. Everett is into anything animal these days, which made this visit especially fun to watch him make excited noises and faces when seeing the different birds. The Cascades Raptor Center has one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest collections of native raptor species with nearly 50 birds of prey in large outdoor aviaries. Everett’s favorite (and mine) was Dmitri, a Eurasian Eagle-owl, who is now 9 years old and is an ambassador of sorts for the Raptor Center — he does fundraising and educational outreach and has experience with appearances at photoshoots, weddings and even on film sets. He is one hard-working owl!
On our visit, we learned that Dmitri’s species is named for its large size, which is one of the largest owls in the world. There are also a number of subspecies of eagle hours whose appearances vary in color, size and beak color. We also met Aeolus, who is a bald eagle. Aeolus is about 28 years old and ended up in captivity after colliding with a fence or power line and injuring himself so badly he lost his right wing tip. Today he is an avid nest building and spends much of his spring working on these.
4. Grab lunch at Provisions Market Hall
We grabbed lunch at Provisions Market Hall where you can find everything from sandwiches to wood fire pizza and even bottles of wine available for carry-out or dine-in at the marketplace style common space. We opted to eat there as we also wanted to spend time looking at gifts and sundries.
Next, we drove on to the town of Corvallis, which is about 45 minutes from Eugene and home to Oregon State University.
5. Have a cold beer at Sky High Brewery
Here, we stopped for a craft beer and a crowler to go to Sky High Brewery. We enjoyed the patio and let Everett run out some energy while we sipped on our brews. The brewery focuses on lagers and ales, and TJ loved his River Jump IPA. I went with the Mountainous Stout and was not disappointed.
6. Learn how shoes are made at Soft Star Shoes
Just 15-minutes from Corvalis in Philomath, Soft Star Shoes was our next stop. This company has been hand-crafting beautiful leather shoes for three decades now and offers tours of their facility here. We enjoyed seeing how everything was made and TJ and I were impressed with how fun the workplace, located in a converted old roller rink, is — they even have a slide for employees to take instead of a flight of stairs. We learned about the eco-friendly materials used to make shoes and the minimalist designs that allow feet to move in a natural way. After the tour, E enjoyed choosing a pair of shoes to wear out that evening— he settled on the rambler style in yellow and grey. We also grabbed the Cerulean shoe that he picked out with a rocket ship on top that he can grow into.
7. Sample different meads at Nectar Creek Meadery
Also in Philomath is the Nectar Creek Meadery, which is well worth a visit to get a taste of this drink made by fermenting honey with water. We loved sampling different varieties and playing bags on the sun-soaked patio. We tried to teach Everett to play but he decided to play with his own rules. Which is pretty typical of my kid! There are plenty of different meads to try here but my favorite by far was the Ginger Session Mead, which has hints of honey and ginger and is super refreshing with just the right amount of bite.
8. Enjoy a farm-to-table experience at Gathering Together Farm
For dinner, we went to Gathering Together Farm, which is in the countryside near Philomath. This is a working farm that produces organic fruits and vegetables that are sold at their Farm Stand but also has a small restaurant serving lunch daily as well as dinner on Friday and breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. The produce comes from the farm, and the bread and pasta are all made in house. Protein sources include grass-fed beef and lamb and free-range eggs and cheeses.
I loved the interior decor at this farm-to-table restaurant as much as the food. It is beautiful with big glass windows that let lots of natural light spill in and trees are incorporated into the architecture, making this truly one of the most memorable dining experiences we have had as a family. We also couldn’t have been more impressed by the food. It was fresh, healthy and flavorful. I started with a salad of snap peas and cucumbers with chevre, peach vinegar pistachio, and borage. Then we all shared an herb-roasted chicken with spring vegetables, ragu and chicken jus and a wood-fired pizza topped with merquz sausage, potatoes, arugula, and feta. There wasn’t a bite left!
9. Have an egg-focused breakfast at Dizzy Hen
We fueled up for the day with breakfast at the Dizzy Hen in Philomath, which has a great egg focused menu including an excellent omelet selection. I went with the vegan hash of potatoes, broccoli, zukes, mushrooms, greens, and caramelized onions. The dish was so colorful and full of flavor Everett wasn’t shy about asking for more, even though he had his own kids meal to enjoy. The menu changes with the seasons and we also dug the eclectic farmhouse style.
From Philomath it is just a 30-minute drive to Albany, our next Willamette Valley stop. A quaint and historic town, make sure to a stroll down the Main Street and play some outdoor checkers.
10. Visit the Historic Albany Carousel & Museum
Also make sure to pay a visit to the Historic Albany Carousel & Museum, where volunteers have donated more than 160,00 hours creating this work of art through the carving and painting of its animals. The project has gained a bit of a cult following online and the non-profit has had visitors from every state, continent and many island nations come to help create a piece of history.
11. Let your inner child have fun splattering the walls at Albany Art Studio
Also in town, the Albany Art Studio is a wild experience. Basically it was a way for us to be kids again with ours. To start, you are geared up in a poncho, set loose in a 2,500-foot splatter box under a black light with neon paint (that is a non-toxic tempera eggs based) and then go crazy- painting or splattering the already graffitied walls and or a canvas with squirt bottles, brushes, and squirt guns. We had a blast watching Everett in a completely new environment, even though more of the paint made it on his hands than the walls or canvas.
The studio was started Laura Ellis who laughed when she explained her concept to us and also why she expected Everett to be better behaved than me and TJ when it came to making a mess. “It’s wild and crazy and it’s stimulation overload,” Ellis said. “I’ve said this a million times before. Adults are my messiest clients. You guys don’t listen to the rules at all. I thought little kids would be my messiest but adults are painting my ceiling, they’re painting each other, they’re just getting soaked with paint”.
12. Go glamping at the Vintages Trailer Resort
After our paint throwing session, we were exhausted so we drove the final hour to Dundee to spend our final night in an airstream trailer at The Vintages Trailer Resort in Dundee. The trailers are grouped together in their own “neighborhood” within a larger RV Park complete with a swimming pool and fire pits where you can meet other campers. We found the air stream to be surprisingly comfortable. Inside, you will find a bathroom (though there is also access to another in the clubhouse with larger showers) a kitchen (so we were able to make coffee) and a couch we could read stories to Everett before it was time for bed.
When you check-in, you can purchase local wine as well as beer and other snacks at the General Store. We grabbed a gourmet S’mores kit and a mini fire pit was delivered to our trailer so we could make them. Everett was in heaven, and honestly so were TJ and me. Afterward, we put Everett down and TJ and I sat outside in the Adirondack chairs, enjoying a bottle of Pinot, already talking about a return visit to the Willamette Valley.