Salem was established in the early 1800s as a farming community. The town grew during the years of the California gold rush. Salem became the capital of Oregon in 1851 after it was moved from Oregon City. The capital was then briefly moved to Corvallis in 1855, but in that same year was permanently moved back to Salem. The first two Oregon State Capitol buildings tragically burned down. The third and current building was completed in 1938, complete with its distinctive gold-plated pioneer statue, the "Gold Man," perched atop.
Besides being the seat of state government, Salem is also a major agricultural center in one of the most fertile regions in the world.
Salemites are often defensive about the sleepy reputation the city has, often being overshadowed by its hipster rivals, Portland and Eugene. But lately its citizens have begun to realize the value of what their city offers: an interesting and walkable downtown with a waterfront park, a serious arts scene, and a central location in the Willamette Valley that combines the amenities of a city with the accessibility of a town. Salem shares a city boundary with its neighbor to the north, Keizer, largely a residential community.
Salem is located in the mid-Willamette Valley, about halfway between Portland to the north and Eugene to the south; it's about a one-hour drive from either city on Interstate 5. If coming in East of the Cascades Hwy. 22 will take you right into Salem.
Also Cherriots (+1 503 588-BUSS) and Wilsonville's SMART system (+1 503-682-779) jointly operate the 1X express transit bus between the Downtown Salem Transit Center and the Wilsonville Trimet WES (+1 503 238-RIDE (7433)) rail station (with service to Tualatin, Tigard and Beaverton). You can take the MAX light rail from the entire Portland region to the Beaverton WES station on the Blue or Red Line MAX. Likewise you can also take Tri-Met Rt#12 or 44 to the Barbur Transit Center in southwest Portland and transfer to SMART Rt 2X (South Metro Area Transit) to the Wilsonville WES Station. This bus and rail connection only operates weekdays and in the morning and afternoon (no mid-day, night or weekend service), but operates in both directions during its operating time. The current fare for the 1X bus is $2.50 one way. The fare for the WES train is $2.50 which is valid as a 2-hour ticket on the Portland regional TriMet system, for a combined total fare of $5.00 one way from Portland to Salem.
The Amtrak station in Salem is just to the east of the downtown core and is served by the regional Cascades train and the long distance Coast Starlight train. The Amtrak Cascades (Eugene-Salem-Portland-Tacoma-Seattle-Vancouver, BC) has 2 runs daily in each direction and the Coast Starlight (Seattle-Portland-Salem-Eugene-Sacramento-Bay Area-Santa Barbara-Los Angeles) has one run daily in each direction. Be aware that northbound Coast Starlight trains can be delayed many hours on their journey from Los Angeles. The Cascades trains are really only an option for day trips from Salem and Eugene to Portland or passengers who stay overnight in Salem. Day trips from Portland to Salem both directions by train are not possible considering the schedule however there is Amtrak Thruway coach service.
All airline service to Salem comes from Portland International Airport, an hour's drive from the north. To get to Salem from Portland Airport, follow I-205 south to its connection to I-5 in Tualatin and continue on I-5 south.
Parking for automobiles in the downtown core is free for visitors and shoppers. There is a two-hour maximum for street parking, but three large parking structures are available for all-day parking. Once you have disposed of your car, downtown is very walkable.
Salem has a fairly flat terrain, especially towards the north and east parts of the city, making bicycling easy. Bike routes are not as well marked, however, as in some Oregon cities. The farmland surrounding Salem is wonderful cycling country.
The Cherriots bus system is city wide taking you from the suburbs to downtown and into Keizer, Oregon, and has central transit center in downtown Salem where all the buses arrive and depart. Prices are as follows:
Exact Cash Fare: Drivers don't make change, so please have exact fare if you're paying cash. And please, no Canadian coins.
- Adult – $1.50
- Youth – $1.25
- Special – $0.75
- 5 years & under – Free
- 1X – Wilsonville –$2.50
- 1X - Wilsonville Special and Youth – $1.25
- 2X - Grand Ronde – $3.00
- 2X - Grand Ronde Special – $1.50
- CherryLift – $3.00
Day Pass: Day Pass offers unlimited rides all day and can be purchased on the bus or at Customer Service.
- Adult – $3.25
- Youth – $1.50
- Special – $1.50
- 5 years & under – Free
- 2X - Grand Ronde – $6.00
- 2X - Grand Ronde Special – $3.00
- Downtown Salem Historic District.
- Mission Mill Museum. Oregon's historic museum located downtown. The site of the museum features working displays of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill and several other historic Salem buildings, which have been relocated to the site. There are five buildings total that make up the Mission Mill Museum and all of which date back to the 1800s. Once a month the Mission hosts a Big Band night with Ballroom Dancing.
- State Capitol Building, ☎ +1 503-986-1388. Oregon's Capitol is a unique art deco monument. If you are lucky enough to be in Salem on a sunny day you should go to the Capitol building and take the tour to the top of the building to see the Gold Man (The Golden Pioneer). Observation Deck tours are available to the public, on the half hour, Memorial Day through Labor Day. There are parks located all around, complete with gardens and large fountains. The fountain directly in front is a haven for kids to play and cool down in the summer time.
- Willamette University's Campus, State St.. Very nice in the spring. Oldest established university on the west coast.
Museums & historical attractions
- AC Gilbert's Discovery Village, 116 Marion St. NE, ☎ +1 503-371-3631, fax: +1 503-316-3485, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Perfect for the younger kids, mostly preschool to about 13 years old. A hands on fun learning center housed in charming turn of century buildings and decor.
- Bush House, 600 Mission St. SE, ☎ +1 503-363-4714, fax: +1 503 371-3342. Built just after the settler arrived from the Oregon Trail, this historic old homestead now houses the art of Salem's finest artists. In the summer you can wander through the fragrant Rose Garden and take a hike on a popular trail with the lunch crowd from nearby businesses.
- Friends of Historic Deepwood Estate, 1116 Mission St. SE, ☎ +1 503-363-1825.
- Marion County Historical Society Museum, 260 12th St., ☎ +1 503-364-2128, fax: +1 503-391-5356, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Mission Mill Museum, 1313 Mill St., ☎ +1 503-585-7012, fax: +1 503-588-9902. The museum is housed in the former Thomas Kay Woolen Mill. Also, some of the oldest residences in the state, dating from the 1840s and 50's, have been moved to the grounds.
- Museum of Mental Health, 2600 Center St. NE, ☎ +1 971-599-1674. On the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital, this fascinating museum has displays recounting the history of the institution. It also has a section on the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which was filmed in a now-demolished part of the hospital with the participation of many of the staff and patients. The museum's hours are limited, so check its website for times you can visit.
- Western Antique Powerland, 3995 Brooklake Rd. NE, ☎ +1 503-393-2424. One of the largest museums of tractors, steam engines, and antiques farm equipment in the world. To add more interest they have implemented a truck and street car museum where you can catch a ride on an antique streetcar. "Annual Steamup" in Jul-Aug.
- Oregon State Fair. late Aug-early Sep.
- Salem Skate Park, downtown's Marion Square Park. This skate park has two bowls that are connected by a snake. There is also a secondary skate area, called the "streetscape," which has plenty of grind space and ramps. The skate park is open to skates, skateboards, BMX bikes, and more.
- Bush's Pasture Park. A 90.5-acre urban public park and botanical garden located just south of the downtown area. The park is a historical site and contains many trails, playgrounds, tennis courts, picnic areas, gardens, and orchards. Willamette University has its football, track and field, and baseball stadium located in the park. Also home of the Salem Soap Box Derby.
- Balloon Flying Service of Oregon, Inc., 323 Marietta St. SE.
- Cottonwood Lakes Golf Center, 3225 River Rd. S, ☎ +1 503-364-3673.
- Enchanted Forest, 8462 Enchanted Way, Turner (7 mil S of Salem), ☎ +1 503-371-4242. A land of fairy tales where you walk through Medieval castles, down wooden sidewalks in the Wild West, or meet a ghost in the haunted mansion. This small theme park has rides for kids and adults with an Alpine Rollercoaster, bumper cars, trains and more. In one of their many restaurants is a gorgeous water show with colorful lights bouncing off streams of water.
- Salem Riverfront Park, 116 Mission St. NE. Sits along the Willamette River in the historic downtown area of Salem. Kids will enjoy the huge hand-carved carousel, considered one of the best carousels in the U.S. Willamette Queen Sternwheeler is popular for lunch and dinner cruises with good stories about the settlers. Expansion plans and bicycle rentals are being worked out.
- Minto-Brown Park, 2200 Minto Island Road SE. This large, 898.9 acre natural park includes open and wooded areas with many trails for walking, jogging, biking, and roller blading.
- Willamette Mission State Park, 10991 Wheatland Road, NE. The park occupies land where the first mission for American Indians was founded in 1834 by the Reverend Jason Lee. Members of the Methodist Mission were later active in the formation of Oregon government. A monument is located in the park providing information on this settlement. The original mission buildings are represented by framed outlines called ghost structures. A landing for the Wheatland Ferry -- the first to carry the covered wagon across the Willamette River in 1844 -- is in the park. Lots of trails for hiking and biking. Civil War re-enactment over the 4th of July.
- Lancaster Mall, Lancaster Dr.
- Salem Center Mall. A unique mall in the heart of downtown with sky bridges linking sections.
- Woodburn Company Stores. Fifteen minutes north of Salem in the town of Woodburn, this large and attractive outlet mall is especially popular during the holiday shopping season.
Salem is not known for its expensive, fine dining, but that doesn't mean you can't find a good meal without breaking the bank. Besides the listings below, there are several fine Mexican restaurants in town, reflecting the city's growing Hispanic population.
- Bentley's Grill (Bentley's Grill and Restaurant), 291 Liberty St. SE, ☎ +1 503 779-1660. Northwest ingredients with fresh seasonal seafood, artfully presented salads and choice of steaks served nightly.
- Best Little Roadhouse, 1145 Commercial St. SE, ☎ +1 503 365-7225. For Salem, it actually has some ambiance. Try the Caesar salad with fresh grilled Northwest Salmon, Tri Tip sandwiches or salad. Mini golf course just outside the building.
- Brick Bar and Broiler, 105 Liberty St. NE, ☎ +1 503 375-0959. Very popular with the college students, you will find it busy on weekend nights. The food is good here although it can get a little smokey from the bar.
- Busick Court Restaurant, 250 Court St. NE (half=black from River Front Park), ☎ +1 503 370-8107. The place to stop for breakfast or lunch if you are in downtown Salem. The Banana-Nut Stuffed French Toast was the starter selection for Rachel Ray's visit to Salem on "$40 a Day". Just to sip the special blend of coffee and read a paper is a treat in this quaint storefront restaurant.
- DaVinci Ristorante, ☎ +1 503 399-1413. It has Italian food, including the Pork Tenderloin Italian herbs. Also they make their own pizza in a beautiful stone oven. When you sit down they bring you fresh made warm foccacia. Popular with the martini crowd for happy hour drinks.
- Gerry Frank's Konditorei, 310 Kearney St. SE, ☎ +1 503 585-7070. Try the Champagne cake with raspberry filling, quiche or sun dried tomatoes with asparagus. They have a good deal with their soup and half sandwich or quiche and a slice of cake for about $8.
- Marco Polo Global Restaurant, 210 Liberty St. SE #150, ☎ +1 503 364-4833. Excellent, moderately priced variety of Asian food. Vegetarian selections available, also spicy (and non) dishes.
- Rudy's at Salem Golf Club, 2025 Golf Course Rd. S, ☎ +1 503 399-0449. Situated on a beautiful golf course in an old manor house it's a relaxing and enticing restaurant. They bring in prime corn fed beef and has an in-house butcher so you get the freshest and best cuts of meat. Popular on Sunday morning with Caramelized French Toast and omelets.
- The Sassy Onion Grill, 1244 State St, ☎ +1 503 378-9180. A popular restaurant in the city, it is visited frequently by both students and government workers. Known for its French toast, it serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week and is located just east of the capitol and Willamette University.
- Word of Mouth Bistro, 140 17th St NE, ☎ +1 503-930-4285. 7AM to 3PM. A tiny, yet very busy place for breakfast and lunch, this restaurant takes no reservations, has long line out the door, and is totally worth the wait.
Hotels and motels
Salem has many moderately priced accommodations, which are located outside the downtown core. The exception is the Phoenix Grand, which is somewhat more pricey, but puts you in the center of the city.
- City Center Motel, 510 Liberty St. SE, ☎ +1 503 364-0121.
- Crossland, 3535 Fisher Rd. NE, ☎ +1 503 363-7557.
- Shilo Inn Salem Suites, 3304 Market St. NE, ☎ +1 503 581-4001.
- Cascade Mountains (highway #22 east) - some of the best hiking terrain in the Pacific Northwest
- Silverton (15 minutes east on highway 213) - murals and creekside dining in a cozy town in the foothills of the Cascades
- Mt. Angel (30 minutes north-east) - Bavaria in the US! - a cute German village famous for its Oktoberfest held every September
- Sisters (highway 22 east, ~1.5 hours) - a fun little town with the look of an old western village complete with wooden sidewalks, small boutique shops and restaurants
- Oregon Wine Tour Salem is minutes away from some the finest wine country in the world. Renowned for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, Oregon has become a destination for wine connoisseurs everywhere. Tour safely and comfortably with a good Oregon wine tour company like Sunshine Limo Service and Wine Tours - http://SunshineLimoService.com/WineTours.html
- Silver Falls. Silver Falls about a 30 minute drive East of Salem. The drive takes you through historic Oregon farmland. Silver Falls is a great place to hike, camp and picnic. The main falls are easy to get to about a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. You can view it from up top but the best experience is to take the short hike down the hill where you can walk behind the falls. There is a 7 mile hike passing by 10 waterfalls ending at another parking lot at the North Falls. Although smaller than the South Falls it is still stunning. You can rent cabins or if you like to ride they have a beautiful horse camp with many trails to enjoy.
|Routes through Salem|
|Portland ← Lake Oswego ←||N S||→ Albany → Eugene|
|Junction with ← Junction with ←||W E||→ Detroit → Junction with|
|Portland ← Oregon City ←||N S||→ Albany → Eugene|
|Junction with ←||W E||→ Silverton → Portland|
|Portland ← Oregon City ←||N S||→ Albany → Eugene|