15 Best Things To Do In Salem (Oregon)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Salem, the capital city of Oregon is located in the center of the lush Willamette River valley, 47 miles from Portland. Salem has a population of about 150,000 people and became the capital of Oregon in 1851. Today it is recognized for its scenic beauty.

Salem is surrounded by gardens, fields of flowers, vineyards and green pastures. The city is perfectly located an hour from the ocean and an hour from the Cascade Mountains. Salem offers many restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions and appeals to a wide variety of interests – from sports tournaments to art fairs. Plus, you can see gorgeous cherry trees all over.

Lets explore the best things to do in Salem:

1. Be Surrounded by Nature at Bush’s Pasture Park

Bush’s Pasture ParkSource: Bob Pool / shutterstock
Bush’s Pasture Park

You don’t need to leave Salem to be surrounded by nature. In the heart of the city you can visit Bush’s Pasture Park which is a 90 acre public park and botanical garden. It is an ideal place where you can enjoy a great mix of open spaces, sport activities, gardens and historical buildings.

Today the park offers so many options on how to spend your day. You can choose one of the walking, jogging and bike trails,  as well as a picnic area.

For the flower lover there is a garden with over 2,000 roses and cherry and apple orchards. Families with kids can have fun at the several playgrounds.

2. Historic Deepwood Estate

Historic Deepwood EstateSource: Victoria Ditkovsky / shutterstock
Historic Deepwood Estate

If you’re in Salem this is definitely worth a visit. Historic Deepwood Estate is an 1894 Queen Anne Victorian Home located on four acres of gardens and nature trails set in the heart of Salem.

Sunset magazine calls it one of the four “best historic homes” in the West. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Homes in 1973. It is heavily used for receptions and weddings.

You can enjoy the tour, which is very informative and it is interesting to see how people lived back then. The gardens are quite lovely and cool on a hot summer’s day.

3. Enjoy Drink a wine from the oldest producing winery in Oregon – Salem Wine Trail

Vineyard in SalemSource: Bob Pool / shutterstock
Vineyard in Salem

Enjoy the beautiful nature while exploring the history and magical treasures of Salem area wineries. The Salem wine trail is also a great opportunity to taste artisan cheeses, traditional hard cider and delectable chocolate-covered cherries. You can enjoy a whole weekend as the area offers many lodging facilities.

Try delicious fruit wines of the oldest producing winery in Oregon: Honeywood Winery. Enjoy a picnic lunch as you overlook the Willamette Valley or take a scenic stroll through the Cherry Hill vineyard.

Finally, do not miss Cubanisimo Vineyards, which features salsa lessons and celebrate the wine experience Cuban Style.

4. Experience a Night of Grand Romance in Salem

HotelSource: Drazen Zigic / shutterstock

Whether you need a romantic getaway or simply a bit of extra relaxation visiting Grand Hotel in Salem is a wonderful way to spend a night. The hotel offers several packages to make your visit special.

The Grand Romance package includes overnight accommodations for two in your choice of suite with Champagne or sparkling cider delivered to your room, fresh flowers, and complimentary breakfast buffet. Top off this package with a well deserved late check out.

5. Visit Cultural and Artistic Reed Opera House

Reed Opera HouseSource: Arnie Lund / shutterstock
Reed Opera House

The beautiful Reed Opera House is a recently renovated historic building located at the center of downtown Salem. Since its grand opening in the 1870s, the Reed Opera House has great historical value in Oregon’s history.

The building houses numerous offices, retail, and restaurants. The Italian brick structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Both the outside and inside of this old building is very interesting to look at. Today, the Reed Opera House now houses barber shops, boutiques and wonderful bakeries.

6. Get a Ride at Salem Carousel

Salem CarouselSource: Lynn Watson / shutterstock
Salem Carousel

Who can resist the magic of a carousel? Salem’s Riverfront Carousel project was inspired by a family trip Hazel Patton took in 1996. She went to see the first old-world style carousel and when Hazel rode the carousel, she knew it was more than just the music and the motion of the ornately carved and hand-painted horses. She wanted to bring the same magic to the Salem.

It is just something magical about coming to the carousel, climbing up on a wooden horse, listening to music and waiting for the ride. People say it is not just a carousel, it’s the hard work and pride of the community. It’s a gathering place where you become part of something bigger and enjoy a great experience.

7. Experience Salem’s Movies in the Park

Movies in the ParkSource: Vera Petrunina / shutterstock
Movies in the Park

Enjoy free summer outdoor movies shown in Salem’s Riverfront Park along the Willamette River. The outdoor cinema started in 2008 and offers a large 22 by 13 foot inflatable screen.

You can come to the park early and have a picnic before the movie, then find the perfect spot for the show. The choice of movies will satisfy almost all ages with interests in classic ’80s films, action or something for the kids.

8. Enjoy the Spirit of Broadway in Salem

TheaterSource: Matusciac Alexandru / shutterstock

Whether you are a theatre lover or simply curious about what Salem has to offer, one of the newest additions to the growing arts community is Enlightened Theatrics directed by Vincenzo Meduri.

Meduri is determined to bring the “Spirit of Broadway” to Salem. “The new owners of Salem’s Historic Grand Theatre have a first-class vision of bringing New York-quality live theatre, culture, entertainment and style in downtown Salem And they are already achieving it” he writes in a recent Salem Weekly post.

Check out their productions and come experience the Historic Grand Theatre.

9. Enjoy a Riverboat Sunday Brunch on the Willamette Queen

Willamette QueenSource: Emily Marie Wilson / shutterstock
Willamette Queen

Step back in time and enjoy the unchanged natural beauty of the Willamette River aboard the authentic Sternwheeler. The Willamette Queen was designed as a scaled down likeness of the former Mississippi and Yukon Territory Riverboats with paddles that really do propel her.

Make your day special with Sunday Brunch aboard! The staff and captain are nice and focus on making this unique dining experience really memorable for everyone.

The riverbank scenery is interesting with fascinating wildlife so don’t forget your camera.

10. Salem’s Art Fair & Festival

Festival in the ParkSource: gowithstock / shutterstock
Festival in the Park

For the past 60 years, art lovers from all over the United States and abroad have headed to Salem for the Salem Art Fair & Festival, a three-day celebration of fine arts and crafts. This nationally ranked festival takes place in Bush’s Pasture Park and is the largest festival of its kind in Oregon.

The festival features more than 200 local, regional, national and international artists. The whole family can enjoy different activities including music, kid’s activities, entertainment, food, craft, beer and wine gardens. This annual non-profit festival is held in July.

11. Spend a day at the Willamette Heritage Center

Willamette Heritage CenterSource: Jacquie Klose / shutterstock
Willamette Heritage Center

This great museum is designated an American Treasure by the National Park Service. The five-acre campus is home to 14 historic structures that present the saga and richness of Oregon’s past. Buildings include the oldest standing wooden framed house in Oregon, and one of the best-preserved Victorian-age factories.

You can visit permanent exhibits and explore pre-Oregon Trail pioneer life in the Willamette Valley. The Research Library shows valuable photographs, records and documents.

It hosts educational programs and events year-round with lights, music and activities.

12. Taste of Korean Food at Happy BiBiM Bap House

BibimbapSource: Lan Images / shutterstock

Feel the Asian style in Salem and discover new flavors at a great family oriented Korean restaurant with welcoming smiles. Visit them for authentic Korean food with a strong focus on vegetables and delicious meat.

The Koreans have perfected the art of preserving food, so many side dishes are picked, fermented or salted and many are spicy.

Their specialty is Bibimbap – a signature Korean dish. Meaning “mixed meal” or “mixed rice”. Bibimbap is served as a bowl of warm white rice topped with sautéed seasoned vegetables and chili pepper paste. A raw or fried egg and sliced meat are common additions.

13. Beer time at Gilgamesh Brewing

Gilgamesh BrewingSource: Gilgamesh Brewing / Facebook
Gilgamesh Brewing

The Gilgamesh motto is “a beer for everyone” and the range of selection provides delicious proof. So let’s have a beer.

Gilgamesh Brewing has expanded and moved into a new facility in South Salem on Madrona Avenue. The three Radtke brothers, and their father, Lee, spent the summer of 2012 transforming a former grass seed warehouse into a full scale brewery. They also built a handcrafted restaurant featuring beautiful woodwork and metal fabrication.

So come and enjoy a beer and the wonderful vibe of Gilgamesh Brewing.

15 Best Things To Do In Salem (Oregon):

  • Be Surrounded by Nature at Bush’s Pasture Park
  • Historic Deepwood Estate
  • Enjoy Drink a wine from the oldest producing winery in Oregon - Salem Wine Trail
  • Experience a Night of Grand Romance in Salem
  • Visit Cultural and Artistic Reed Opera House
  • Get a Ride at Salem Carousel
  • Experience Salem's Movies in the Park
  • Enjoy the Spirit of Broadway in Salem
  • Enjoy a Riverboat Sunday Brunch on the Willamette Queen
  • Salem’s Art Fair & Festival
  • Spend a day at the Willamette Heritage Center
  • Taste of Korean Food at Happy BiBiM Bap House
  • Beer time at Gilgamesh Brewing