A guide to LGBTQ travel in Oregon's Mid-Willamette Valley
Wineries, restaurants and places to stay
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Municipal Equality Index, Salem ranks the highest among Oregon cities—outscoring even Portland and Eugene—when it comes to laws and other measures of LGBTQ inclusiveness. Being the capital city of a state with an openly LGBTQ governor, Kate Brown, and Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, Tina Kotek, it's perhaps not surprising that Salem fosters such a welcoming and diverse environment. In fact, throughout the entire Mid-Willamette Valley, which is famous for everything from world-class wineries and farm-to-table restaurants to pristine alpine lakes, rushing waterfalls and verdant forests, LGBTQ visitors will encounter plenty of like-minded souls and can expect to receive a warm and gracious welcome.
The region has a pair of annual Pride events. Typically held the first Saturday in August in downtown Salem's Riverfront Park, the Capitol Pride Festival draws hundreds of members and supporters of the LGBTQ community. A couple of weeks later, the far more intimate Polk County Pride takes place in the historic village of Falls City, Oregon. This grassroots event includes music, games and great food and offers a fantastic opportunity to mix and mingle with queer folks from throughout the area.
Whatever time of year you explore the Mid-Willamette Valley, you'll discover many things to do and places to visit that resonate strongly with the LGBTQ community. An excellent place to start your explorations and a great all-around base for touring the region, Salem enjoys a picturesque setting at a bend in the Willamette River. In the city's bustling downtown, amid historic storefronts that now contain boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants, you can stroll through the gardens, fountains and cherry trees of the State Capitol State Park, which is anchored by the striking art deco Oregon State Capitol building. Be sure to visit the nearby Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University, with its compelling rotating exhibits. Strengths include both traditional and contemporary Native American art of the Northwest as well as first-rate Asian, European and American collections.
Stop by hip Archive Coffee + Bar for a "deconstructed cappuccino" and a bite to eat (the sake-fried cauliflower is a favorite), or for a craft cocktail later in the evening. Around the corner, Venti's Cafe + Basement Bar draws an eclectic crowd for vegetarian-friendly, globally-inspired cuisine. Another memorable spot for a meal is Bentley's Grill, a swanky restaurant inside downtown's Grand Hotel, a luxurious overnight roost within walking distance of many attractions.
Salem is home to one of Oregon's friendliest and most popular queer bars, Southside Speakeasy, an all-welcoming space where you can dance into the wee hours and watch highly-entertaining drag shows. The owners frequently host fundraisers and regularly give back to the community, too. Several of Salem's other bars draw a diverse crowd, from cozy f/Stop Fitzgerald's Public House, a funky pub with an expansive tree-shaded patio and a nice selection of local beers and wines, and McMenamins Thompson House Brewery & Public House, a lively tavern that was the region's first brewery to open following prohibition. It's part of the quirky, LGBTQ-friendly McMenamins pub, restaurant, cinema and hotel empire, which includes other convivial and historic hangouts throughout the Mid-Willamette region, including Hotel Oregon in McMinnville, Oregon, and Boon's Treasury in Salem.
To the east, Marion County extends clear into the heart of Oregon's Cascade Range, where you can hike to commanding views of 10,497-foot Mount Jefferson or go boating, camping, biking and fishing around 3,500-acre Detroit Lake. For a restful getaway, book a room at the Lodge at Detroit Lake, a contemporary log-cabin-style boutique resort with fireplaces and jetted tubs in every room—the nighttime stargazing here is incredible. The owner also operates the similarly LGBTQ-welcoming Silverton Inn & Suites, in the charming little town of the same name. It's a great base for visiting iconic Silver Falls State Park, about 15 miles away. Here in Oregon's largest state park, nearly 25 miles of well-maintained trails lead to—and sometimes directly beneath—10 spectacular waterfalls, the tallest of which cascades dramatically from a height of 175 feet. Also in Silverton and offering attractive, pet-friendly accommodations amid lushly landscaped 80-acre grounds, the Oregon Garden Resort is perfect for a romantic vacation and also hosts a number of LGBTQ weddings.
Largely to the west of Salem, concentrated in neighboring Polk and Yamhill counties, Oregon's world-famous wine country thrives along with other kinds of farming and a growing crop of restaurants and food-related businesses focused on sustainability and seasonality. If you're the type who plans your vacation around tastings at wineries and meals at memorable restaurants, a visit to the Mid-Willamette Valley is a must.
Consider booking a night or two in one of the many charming, LGBTQ-friendly inns and boutique hotels, some of which overlook vineyards. With four individually appointed rooms and a location within walking distance of several terrific tasting rooms, the delightful Carlton Inn B&B serves farm-fresh country breakfast in the morning. It's also close to Carlton, Oregon's, superb eateries, such the hip Carlton & Coast Tavern, which features 38 taps of beer, bountiful salads, delicious burgers and street tacos.
A more offbeat lodging option, the retro-chic Vintages Trailer Resort offers one-of-a-kind accommodations in more than 30 smartly decorated Airstreams, Vagabonds and other classic trailers. Rates include gourmet pour-over coffee and the use of cruiser bicycles. It's close to the many superb tasting rooms in Dayton and Dundee, Oregon, including lesbian-owned Remy Wines, where Remy Drabkin produces balanced and distinctive estate-grown Pinot Noir as well as less common varietals for the area, such as Tempranillo, Auxerrois and Sangiovese.
For exploring the southern half of the Mid-Willamette Valley wine country, both the friendly and reasonably priced Hopewell B&B, which overlooks a tranquil pond and is near the Eola-Amity Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area) and MaMere’s Guest House, an artfully furnished B&B in the heart of charming Monmouth, Oregon, are great choices. MaMere's is perfect for exploring the many highly regarded wineries of Polk County, such as Airlie Winery, Emerson Vineyards and Van Duzer Vineyards, all of which excel with Pinot Noir. They each produce some unexpected gems, too. Women-owned and -operated, dog-friendly Airlie Winery is known for its Maréchal Foch. Emerson Vineyards turns out a crisp and aromatic Viognier, and Van Duzer Vineyards earns kudos for its rich port-style and dessert wines. Also in the college town of Monmouth, you'll find Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens, a gay-owned botanical wonderland overseen by Fred Weisensee and Leonard Foltz—two self-described "unrepentant plant addicts"—and their team of friendly cats. A wonderful place to buy plants of every imaginable kind, it's also a beautiful property to stroll through.
Polk County, in fact, supports a number of business that are owned either by members or ardent allies of the LGBTQ community. In the former mill town of Falls City, which is nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range, John Volkmann and Keith Zinn operate The Bread Board, a Friday-and-Saturday-only artisan bakery that produces tantalizing handcrafted breads and pastries from an enormous wood-fired oven. During Friday and Saturday evenings, folks drive here from miles away to enjoy the bakery's thin-crust pizzas—local wines and beers are available, too. Along with Lori Sickles and Laura Britton, the owners of Falls City's rollicking Boondocks Bar, Volkmann and Zinn help to spearhead the annual Polk County Pride gathering each August.
You'll find several more welcoming spots to eat and explore nearby. Latitude One Restaurant, in historic Dallas, Oregon, serves up tasty wood-fired ribs, burgers and other barbecue specialties in an atmospheric late-19th-century building that also hosts occasional live music and dinner theater. There's also Turning Earth Farms, a 15-acre spread with camping as well as tipi accommodations, where visitors can access an outdoor kitchen and pick-your-own crops, meet some adorable goats and other livestock and experience an all-around progressive and inclusive spirit. It's a wonderful find if you're looking to learn more about organic farming, or just get away from it all.
And in the town of Independence, Oregon, a community on the west bank of the Willamette River that's known for its charming 30-block, Victorian-era historic district, one of the oldest structures in town contains the quaint Pink House Cafe, which offers hearty American fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Newer on the scene and reflective of a renaissance this friendly little town is in the midst of, Valkyrie Wine Tavern provides a relaxed and airy setting for sipping wine from both local and international vineyards and feasting on tasty Southern-inspired bistro fare. Set in a spacious building, this woman-owned business captures the amiable vibe that's present throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley, and that makes this part of Oregon such a rewarding destination for LGBTQ visitors.
About the Author
Andrew Collins divides his time between Oregon and Mexico City and writes about the Pacific Northwest for a variety of outlets, including Fodor's Travel Guides and his own website, AndrewsTraveling.com. He's the editor of The Pearl magazine and teaches food- and travel-writing classes for Gotham Writers Workshop. Andrew spends his free time road-tripping, hiking and winery- and brewery-hopping around the state with his partner (and fellow travel scribe), Fernando Nocedal.