Things to Do
As the state capital, Salem is steeped in history – from the Capitol building itself to stately homes with storied pasts, to Willamette University, the first university in the west. Three historic properties – Bush House Museum, Deepwood Museum and Gardens and Willamette Heritage Center – as well as the Oregon State Capitol and the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University, are located within easy walking distance of one another.
At the Bush House Museum, an elegant 1878 Italianate mansion built by pioneer businessman Asahel Bush II is set in a 100-acre park, step inside and step back in time with a guided tour of the museum’s exhibits of textiles, photos and historic artifacts.
The nearby Deepwood Museum and Gardens, designed by noted Northwest architect W.C. Knighton and built during the 1890s by Dr. Luke Port, is a gabled Queen Anne with enchanting gardens designed by the Northwest’s first female landscape architecture firm, Lord & Schryver.
Willamette Heritage Center illuminates the lives of early settlers and local industry. The 1889 Thomas Kay Woolen Mill is the best preserved Victorian-era factory in the American West, with period equipment and detailed exhibits, including a woolen dye shop, machine shop and original water turbine. The grounds also boast four pioneer-era buildings; three relate to the early Methodist Mission established in Salem by Jason Lee. All feature period furnishings and exhibits exploring the lives of early settlers.
A trip to Salem wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Oregon State Capitol. During the summer months, take a tower tour to the observation deck at the base of the dome’s crowning Golden Pioneer statue. Or enjoy a self-guided tour of the state art collection, which was recently reinstalled within the capitol and features more than 150 of Oregon’s well-regarded artists.
Located across from the Capitol grounds, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University, provides an excellent opportunity to further explore works by Pacific Northwest and Native American artists, as well as a diverse collection of traditional European, American and Asian art; plus artifacts that date from antiquity.
For lunch and shopping, head downtown to the renovated Reed Opera House. Completed in 1870, it’s filled with a unique assortment of shops and dining options. Fancy some sweets? Stop in at the Little Cannoli Bakery for authentic Italian pastries, including the bakery's namesake.
If you’re in the mood for a walk, stroll the Court Chemeketa Historic District, where you’ll find a large concentration of architecturally significant homes.
If time permits, a short drive east of Salem will take you to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House. Named for the family that originally commissioned the ‘Usonian’-style home in 1957, it’s the only example of Wright’s work in Oregon, and the only Wright work in the Pacific Northwest that is open to the public.
For a historically inspired dinner, you might head west of town to Roberts Crossing. Continue your history theme into the evening with a show at the art deco Elsinore Theatre. Live music, dance, and classic films are all part of the fun at this meticulously restored 1926 vaudeville house.Looking for additional Cultural & Heritage information? Check out our museums and historic sites page on our website.
With beautiful public gardens, a flourishing nursery industry, and delightful residential gardens, the Willamette Valley is filled with botanical inspiration.
Several of the most beautiful gardens are clustered near downtown Salem and within walking distance of each other. The 100-acre Bush’s Pasture Park is an oasis of fruiting and flowering trees, native plants, a formal rose garden and majestic oaks framing an open meadow. The gardens, part of a Victorian farmstead established by pioneer businessman Asahel Bush II, include an 1878 Italianate mansion, now the Bush House Museum, and a conservatory built in 1882. Renovated in 2011, the conservatory is filled with hundreds of plants, some very unusual, along with information on the role of conservatories during the Victorian era.
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At the adjacent Deepwood Museum and Gardens, visitors can explore the formal gardens laid out in the 1930s by Lord & Schryver, the Northwest’s first female landscape architecture firm. You’ll find traditional boxwood gardens, an English tea house garden, and all manner of graceful arches, gazebos, ornamental gates and fences. A nature trail, resplendent with native plants, weaves its way along the western border of the property. While the gardens at Deepwood are a delight in any season, the perennial borders are a riot of color from spring to fall.
Save time to stroll State Capital State Park, lined with cherry trees that burst into bloom each spring, and Willson Park, with hundreds of varieties of trees, shrubs, flowers and an array of sculpture, three fountains and the new Oregon World War II Memorial with a 33-foot-tall, 15-ton obelisk.
Across the street on the campus of Willamette University is the Martha Springer Botanical Garden, a modest but diverse display of flowering plants and water features in a peaceful setting.
From here, the bustling downtown eatery Wild Pear Restaurant makes a delightful spot for lunch. Serving up an array of brightly flavored salads, sandwiches, tasty soups (don’t miss the curried coconut and butternut squash) and delectable desserts. Afterwards, explore the unique shops and galleries along State Street.
The Oregon Garden, located in nearby Silverton, features a series of distinct garden areas landscaped into the property’s gently rolling hills. Explore on foot or take a narrated tram tour through the impressive plantings, garden art and water features. Families will enjoy the Children’s Garden, with its interactive in-ground Hobbit house, tree fort, and furniture filled with colorful, kid-friendly plants. Lunch here is also an option, either at the Garden Café or the restaurant in The Oregon Garden Resort.
The Willamette Valley’s nursery industry means awe-inspiring seasonal displays and demonstration gardens.
In spring, the season kicks off with the Tulip Fest at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. During the month of April, visitors are greeted by a sea of brightly colored tulips and daffodils on 40 acres and a range of fun activities.
During May and early June, the iris and peony take center stage. At Schreiner’s Iris Gardens, 10 acres come alive with 500 varieties. Stroll the garden, enjoy a picnic lunch and head home with fresh cut flowers or rhizomes for your own garden. Adelman Peony Gardens is a peony paradise, with displays of hundreds of varieties of spectacular blooms, from heirlooms to the newest selections, along with cut flowers and live plants for sale.
For those interested in local gardens, the Gilbert House Children's Musuem Garden Tour takes place the first Friday and Saturday of June. The self-guided tour highlights the best of local green thumbs.
A rose is a rose is a rose at Heirloom Roses in Saint Paul, where you’ll find thousands of beautiful, fragrant roses displayed on five acres of themed gardens. Roses are in bloom from May to October and peak during June.Looking for additional garden information? Check out our gardens and nurseries and florist page on our website.