Being an Oregon resident, I get fun reactions whenever I tell people I’m from the Beaver State. Most folks ask me if the themes and jokes from Portlandia are real (most of them are!) and gush about a trip either they or a friend took to Portland. They talk about the food, the coffee, the beer and the proximity to nature.

Then, these same folks give me a blank look when I say I live in Salem, Oregon – just 45 miles south of Portland on I-5.

Salem is Oregon’s capital and is the unofficial center of the Willamette Valley. Home to 150,000 residents, Salem is Oregon’s second biggest city, after Portland and is located along the Willamette River (like Portland) and has views of orchards, hops fields (hello beer!) and of two mountains: Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson.

The capital city has a revived downtown with new bars, a cidery and restaurants that will excite the entire family. When you come to Salem, be sure to consider these options for activities and places to visit:

Silver Falls State Park

Oregon’s best state park is a mere 30 minutes east in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. With more than 10 waterfalls, many of which are easily reachable via easy to moderate hikes, Silver Falls offers pristine forests, stunning vistas and a chance to see some of the best Fall foliage in the Willamette Valley

Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Foundation

Willamette Heritage Center / Mission Mill Museum

Salem was founded in 1842 by Mennonite missionaries who first populated the area. This historical site documents the earliest settlers of what would be come Oregon’s Capital. Tour historic homes, see a working hydroelectric plant and see how Salem looked with the settlers first came to the area.

Waterfront Park

Located right on the Willamette River, Waterfront Park boasts a huge green area, the brand new Peter Courtney Bridge that connects Waterfront Park to Minto Island Park and 4500 acres of pristine forest for casual walks or bicycle rides. Also, be sure to check out the Riverfront Carousel  – these hand painted horses are perfect for entertaining small children.

Photo courtesy: Travel Oregon

Pro tip: rent a bike at a downtown Salem bike shop and spend a few hours riding around the park. My favorite bike shop is Bike Peddler on NE Commercial Street NE.

Get your beer / cider on

There are 6 breweries in Salem and one cidery downtown. Be sure to visit 1859 Cider Company and enjoy downtown Salem’s only production cidery. On Sundays they have salsa lessons and also, they routinely have live music on weekend evenings. For breweries, be sure to check out Vagabond, Salem Ale Works (SAW) and Santiam Brewing – these are my favorite Salem beer spots.

French Prairie Gardens

Located just north of town by 10 minutes off of I-5, French Prairie offers a view into the farm life in the Willamette Valley. Depending on the time of year, French Prairie has seasonal berries, pumpkins and corn that can be purchased. This family-run farm is the perfect place to buy flowers, sweet treats and seasonal produce.

Salem is located just an hour south of Portland and offers a great escape from Portland’s traffic and crowdedness. With stunning views, an upcoming downtown and lively buzz, Oregon’s Capital is definitely worth a visit!