07 Jul 3 Fantastic Day Trips from Salem
Although often in the shadow of its bigger and “hipper” neighbor, Portland, this capitol city (and my former home town) has its share of unique and visit-worthy attractions.
Read more from the Rediscovering Salem series here: 5 Favorite Places to Run (or Walk) in Salem Top Places to Enjoy Salem's Summer Harvest Best Coffee Shops with Wifi for Work or Studying in Salem, Oregon Favorite Spots to Hang Out in Salem, Oregon
Salem is ideally situated just a short drive from the beach, mountains, and high desert. It is home of the Willamette (Will-AM-ett) River and shares the beautiful Willamette Valley with vineyards and picturesque farms.
Before we dive into all the great restaurants, coffee-shops, parks, and other must-see attractions in Salem, here are three easy day trips that we really enjoy. In fact, these trips are close enough to Salem, they can each be done in 4 hours (sometimes less) with half a day to spare.
It’s no surprise that Third Street in McMinnville is currently a finalist for America’s Best Main Street. The tree-lined streets, charming historic buildings, and vibrant small businesses give McMinnville its quintessential small town character. Surrounded by Oregon’s wine country, the town has become a hub for wine-tasting.
Best Playground Ever
I wouldn’t be surprised if the 10,000 square foot play structure in McMinnville’s City Park won an award. I’ve never seen anything like it. Like Game of Thrones meets Lincoln Logs- it’s a huge castle and fortress, complete with all the jungle gym contraptions imaginable.
McMinnville boasts a wealth of dining options, especially for a town of its size. From the classic, large-portion diner like Wild Wood Cafe (pictured below) to upscale French or Italian, you won’t tire of dining no matter how long you stay.
You can please your taste buds at Serendipity Ice Cream, which serves up heaping scoops of Cascade Glacier ice cream, freshly baked cookies, and home-made soups. This corner shop is owned by Mid-Valley Rehabilitation, a non-profit supporting persons with disabilities.
Among the top dining establishments to enjoy in historic downtown are La Rambla (above), Bistro Maison (below), and Nick’s Italian Cafe. If you come when the weather is nice, enjoy Bistro Maison’s backyard seating (and Jedd recommends the duck l’orange).
When it comes to funky, artful, repurposed restaurants and hotels, McMenamins has the monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. If you’ve ever been to a McMenamins establishment, you’ll probably agree that the ambiance usually outshines the food.
Hotel Oregon in downtown McMinnville is definitely worth a visit, even just to explore all the murals and enjoy a drink on the roof top bar. We’ve never stayed at the hotel but can definitely say it’s one of a kind.
Silver Falls State Park
Silver Falls has long been one of my family’s favorite day trips. This is what the Oregon outdoors are all about.
This State Park features the “Trail of Ten Falls,” which can be broken down from 2 to 9 mile hikes. The trail actually passes behind four of the waterfalls, which is truly spectacular. These misty falls, paired with the lush out-of-this-world greenery make Silver Falls a true gem.
If you’re not up for a hike, you can still view waterfalls by a short walk from either the South or North parking areas. There are also cabins for rent, campgrounds, and picnic facilities to take advantage of in the park. (Day use fee is $5 per vehicle.)
The Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge is closest to Salem but probably the lesser known of our three day trips. Perhaps most popular among bird watchers, it’s also a beautiful place for a relatively easy hike among Oregon’s picturesque farmland.
Since this is a Wildlife Refuge, be careful to observe the park’s restrictions, watch out for poison oak (pictured here), and note that the Coville Road parking lot is off of a gravel road.
Once you arrive, pick up a trail map at the trailhead info kiosk. We walked to the Observation platform then followed the map through two oak woodland areas until we could view Morgan Lake below. It is a peaceful walk, perfect for a summer evening.
The Bread Board, Falls City
It’s not exactly next door, but we combined our visit to Baskett Slough with a drive out to Falls City, home of The Bread Board. There, they handcraft breads and pizzas and bake them in a giant wood fired bread oven.Their breads and pastries can be found at the Silverton Coffee Station and Salem Saturday Market, but the Falls City restaurant is only open on weekends. The oven doesn’t get hot enough for fresh pizza baking until the evening, and supplies are limited so don’t be late! One pizza is substantial enough for four modest eaters- we highly recommend the bacon, apple, honey one!
Bonus: Silverton and the Oregon Gardens
We’re updating this post with a fourth great day trip we had the opportunity to enjoy. Not far from Silver Falls State Park is the charming little historic town of Silverton and the world-class Oregon Garden and Resort. Learn more about our mini retreat at this lovely locale here.
Accommodations Around Salem, McMinville, Silverton, and more
Try searching for a hotel or hostel by clicking on the image above (we will get a commission on your booking, at no additional cost to you). Or find a cool apartment to rent on Airbnb.com (sign up for a new Airbnb account with this link and get up to $40 off your first booking).
Are you familiar with Salem? What day trips do you recommend? Do you have any restaurant or attraction recommendations for our upcoming series, “Rediscovering Salem?” Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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