Salem Things to Do

  • Salem Capitol Building and Mall, in Spring
    Salem Capitol Building and Mall, in...
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    Walkways along Capitol Mall in Spring
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Most Recent Things to Do in Salem

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    Capitol Mall in Bloom

    by glabah Written Mar 25, 2013
    Salem Capitol Building and Mall, in Spring
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    The problem with attempting to give anyone any sort of guidance about the blooms in the Capitol Mall is that exact seasons are difficult to predict. Sure, we know the daffodils will bloom sometime in early spring, but some years that happens as early as the last week of January - while other years it happens a bit later than this.

    The cherry blossoms are most likely to happen in March, and usually it is late March. However, if it is a cold year, maybe it will be sometime in very early April. They are very short lived, unfortunately, and they come out during a heavy rain or wind period they may only last a few days before they are shredded by the elements. In 2010 they were at their peak around March 15th, but in 2011 it was closer to April 5th. In 2013 the season was back into March, but it was around March 22nd. The cherry blossoms tend to be more of a white color than the pink color of the cherry trees that are popular in some areas of Portland.

    The rose bushes and the various other plants? Again, it depends on the season.

    However, the fact is that the powers that be have spent some time and effort attempting to make the two blocks north of the Capitol Building look attractive during spring, and that means lots of flowering plants. I don't suggest making a special trip just to see the blossoms (it is after all only two blocks of park land) but if you are in the area during Spring it would be a good idea to wander over to the Capitol Mall and take a look what might be in bloom. If you happen to be visiting Portland and notice that the cherry blossoms are going there, then take a trip down to Salem as the chances are they will also be going at the same time.

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    State of Oreogn Capital Mall

    by glabah Updated Mar 5, 2013

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    Looking south at Capital and its open park mall
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    Today when someone says "mall" generally the thought is of a large shopping center. However, that was not always the case. The term "mall" may be used to describe pedestrian friendly streets, long sidewalks, or other similar locations.

    "The Mall" in Salem (the one at the capital building, not the one downtown with all the stores!) consists of a corridor of open grass heading slightly east of direct north. There are several fountains, and a flower garden at the far north end.

    The fountain closest to the capital building is frequently used by children (and sometimes adults) to cool off on hot days. Unfortunately the fountain at the north end, which is far more unique, is closed to public entry.

    At various locations through the mall, there are diamond shaped stones in the sidewalk. Towards the north end none of these have anything interesting (at least not yet - they appear to be reserved for future use), but towards the south end the diamond shapes are engraved with various things. Some of these are the dates of incorporation of the various counties of Oregon (see photo 4). Others are significant dates in the city or state history (ie, the completion of the freeway between Portland and Salem, or Oregon's National Guard being the first to be called to serve in World War I).

    Others, however, give somewhat more humorous insights into the state's history and founding, including some famous and infamous quotes about the state government. Witness, for example, the stone shown in photo 2: At the Constitutional Convention in 1857, it is proposed that the state legislature assemble every 10 years, and then only for the purpose of striking down any laws that may have happened to pass in the previous assembly. The prayer "Lord Forgive Them, for they Know Not What They Do" was offered by the minister asked to provide the invocation for one of the territorial government legislative sessions in the 1850s. In 1937 the Valsetz Star newspaper, then under management by a 12 year old girl, reported that they had decided they were a Republican newspaper, but would not charge Democrats any more purchase price than Republicans.

    The area directly under the mall is a parking structure, and there are several elevators and staircases that come to the surface throughout the mall. These are the odd glass enclosures that line the sides of the main part of the mall.

    Much of the mall is open space, and it is not unusual to see people relaxing here, especially on warm days.

    The large trees on either side of the mall are cherry trees, and for a few days each spring they announce their presence with vivid colors that contrast against the drab concrete of the utilitarian government buildings that line the mall on the east and west side. Sometimes this massive blossoming happens in early March. While these blooms only last a few days in the wind and rain during our normal March weather, there are a number of other flowers in the flower beds along the mall, and it can be a colorful place under the right conditions.

    As it is officially a state park, I have provided a link to the state park page below.

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    Bush Barn Art Center

    by glabah Written May 21, 2012

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    Entrance to Bush Barn Art Center
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    Bush's Pasture Park was once one of the early farms that helped turn this area of the Willamette Valley into a center of agriculture. Today, several of the old structures of the old farm still stand: the Bush house is a historical museum in its own right.

    The Bush Barn has been severely altered and upgraded to serve as a local art museum, gallery and store. Inside here, you will find a broad range of art works of various types. As virtually all of them are for sale, it is difficult to say what may or may not be here upon your visit. The museum features everything from local to internationally known artists.

    Upstairs there is a gallery that is more local in nature, however. Indeed, in late March some of the local schools had the art works of their students (not necessarily typical children's works, but some very well done artwork by artists that still happen to be children). I highly suggest not skipping the upstairs, as there can be some very interesting works up there. It is worth the stairs.

    There are some items that are part of the permanent collection here, but a very large portion of what is shown is for sale or for

    The art center also features a gift shop (naturally), featuring a number of artists from around the region, with works in various medium.

    To see what is currently showing at the gallery and art center, go to the Salem Artists Association web site, below, and select "Bush Barn Art Center" (NOT "Bush House Museum") from the top menu, just below the heading image at the top of the page. Don't select any of the items under the top heading. The new page that opens is a brief summary of the arts center. On the menu on the right side of the page, you will see an item with the heading "What's Happening". Below that are listed several months in the present and near future. Select one of those months to see what is going on and / or showing at the museum and gallery during the time you will be visiting Salem.

    There is no admissions fee right now, but there are a number of donations boxes scattered about the facility.

    The hours are Tuesday through Friday 10 to 5, Noon to 5 on Saturday and Sunday, closed on Mondays. The museum is closed completely from December 24 though the end of February.

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    Minto-Brown Island Park, Wildlife Refuge

    by glabah Updated Dec 18, 2011

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    Osprey nest in Park: anyone still use it?
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    This park contains a number of paved trails (for both bike and wheelchair use) that weave their way through an old orchard, farm land that is currently in use, preserved suburban wilderness, and along the Willamette River. There is almost 900 acres to this park, so there is some variance in the terrain. Some of the trails are not paved.

    The park is located in seasonal flood lands of the Willamette River, and from time to time various areas of the park are not accessible due to flooding of various areas.

    You will most likely see Canada geese while visiting (especially in winter), and possibly a few other birds. Wood ducks enjoy the wild woodlands on the west side of the park where the trails run through forest along some of the small waterways. The osprey nest seen in the photo was visible from one of the paved trails, but appeared to have been abandoned when the photo was taken. A few years later osprey built another nest on a large dead tree elsewhere in the park. There is also a platform they use in one of the farm fields.

    One of the paved trails runs along the Willamette River, and it is possible to see bald eagles tending their nest on the other side of the river during the few weeks before the tree leaves cover it up and make it invisible.

    Turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, and various other birds may be seen here.

    There is a very large and popular off-leash dog area that is towards the center of the park - keep going past the first parking area on the main road into the park, and you will find it just fine. At the end of the main road into the park there is a picnic shelter and small playground area. An off-leash dog area and a playground compliment the park nicely.

    There are no flush toilets anywhere in the park. It is all portable toilets.

    An entire map of the park is available on the city of Salem's web site.

    In 2010, signs appeared in the park describing a habitat restoration plan that was in progress for the park. So far, only preliminary work has been done in 2011 but changes are likely in the future for converting some of the farm land back into native habitat.

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    Churches of the Capitol Area: United Methodist

    by atufft Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    First United Methodist Church
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    Willamette University was established by a Methodist Missionary, and so within due time, the other mainstream Protestant churches, as well as the Catholic church, established themselves as a signficant presence by way of fine architecture just around the capitol buildings. The First United Methodist Church remains the most outstanding steepled presence in the capitol area, just down the street from Willamette University on State Street, to which it is at least nominally affiliated. Originally built in 1878, the church has been improved the the original white steeple replaced in 1984. This steeple at 185 feet tall is 19 feet taller than the capitol building, and remains the tallest building in town. Cloudy skies and a plentitude of wires and lamp posts made photography of the building difficult in the late afternoon.

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    Churches of the Capitol Area: Presbyterian

    by atufft Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    First Presbyterian Church in Salem
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    The Protestant churches in Salem are as liberal in their theology as is the highly educated citizenry, a fact that is often evident by sermon titles that project peace and goodwill, rather than biblical salvation. The First Presbyterian Church was originally housed on the upper floor of the J. K. Gill Bookstore – just east of the Ladd and Bush Bank Building-- as a home mission project of the United Presbyterian Associate Presbytery of Oregon beginning in 1869. Since then the church has built and replaced 3 woodent steepled churches. In 1958, the third building--all 1,000 tons of santuary-- was moved across the street when the property upon which is stood was designated for the capitol mall extension. The current brick structure, which was also built in 1958, superceding the older wooden structure, has perhaps the prettiest steeple in town, and a wonderfully large pipe organ. Note in the first image that the gold leaf pioneer statue of the capitol building is visible in the background.

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    Salem Riverfront Park

    by glabah Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    map of Salem Riverfront Park near park's center
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    As the name implies, Salem's Riverfront Park sits right on the river. The land was originally a paper plant, but has now been remade as a downtown recreation area. The majority of the park exists as wide open grass fields that serve as a good place for picnic or other summer and sun activities. There is a small outdoor ampitheatre, and an extremely nice covered picnic area for days when the weather is not sunny. Concrete trails and benches are located throughout the park, including along the river. While this is not generally a place to go wildlife hunting, if you have some decent equipment you might be able to see something across the Willamette Slough on the northern edge of Minto Island. (As a general rule, though, if you are in Salem and want to see wildlife, it is better to go a little south of downtown and visit Minto Island and its wildlife refuge proper.)

    While the park has busy streets near it, it doesn't suffer too much traffic noise, though there is some.

    Several features of the park warrant their own tips:
    Salem Riverfront Carousel is located near the center east side of the park, and very popular with children visitors year round
    EcoEarth Globe was created from remnants of the park's past life
    Willamette Queen is a boat used for river cruises during meal times, and uses the dock at this park as its primary departure point
    A.C. Gilbert Discovery Village is a childrens museum and activity place created from some of Salem's old houses

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    explore an obsidian flow

    by slabeaume Updated Apr 4, 2011
    The Big Obsidian Flow trail

    Also by the Cascade Lakes scenic byway is a huge obsidian flow. The caldera of Newberry Volcano measures about 7 km across and is filled with pyroclastic rocks, flows, and domes of the Pleistocene and Holocene age. These flows include toolstone quality obsidian glass, which have been quarried throughout the last 11,000 years. The most recent eruption, about 1300 years ago, produced the part called the Big Obsidian flow.

    Unlike the rope and holey lava of the Hawaiian islands, obsidian is a very smooth--glass like and very shiney rock. There is a 3/4 mile RT hike up and around the flow.

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    The Capitol Building Exterior Architecture

    by atufft Updated Jan 10, 2011

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    Gold Leaf Statue on top Oregon Capitol Dome
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    Oregon's current state capitol building is one of the most unique among the state capitols in the USA. After the tragic burning of its traditonally constructed copper dome building in 1935, the current structure was built on the same site, and completed in 1938. Financed in part by WPA money during the Great Depression, the conical art deco style dome was conceived by Francis Keally in conjunction with New York architects Trowbridge & Livingston, and adheres to the pioneer theme which is the basis for Oregon's self-reliant spirit. The Ohio state capitol dome is the only other state with a dome conical in form, so perhaps the original pioneer state of the old northwest territory agrees well with the Pacific northwest, I don't know, except that both states begin with the letter "O". The 166 foot tall dome is winged on left and right by some 233,750sq ft of office buildings occupied by the legislature, governor, secretary of state, and treasure of Oregon. After the tragic fire that consummed the earlier distinctive copper domed building on the same site, many had wanted the new capitol to be built on one or another sites around town, but downtown business leaders managed to keep the current site. Appreciation of the Egyptian-Greek style dome has been slow as detractors have labeled it as a "paint can" or "squirrel cage". Similarly, appreciation of the gold leaf stylized pioneer statue atop the dome has been delayed. Nevertheless, the exterior of the building, finished with Vermont marble, has considerable architecture merit. Sculptor Leo Friedlander created works that flank the main entrance. On the left is a tribute to first explorers of Oregon, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea, while on the right is depicted a stylized view of pioneers and covered wagons along the Oregon Trail. Additionally, Ulric Ellerhusen, who cast the gold leaf pioneer structure, crafted 5 exterior marble relief sculptures, and

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    Salem Riverfront Carousel

    by glabah Updated Sep 24, 2009

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    Salem Riverfront Carousel: preparing to ride
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    A huge volunteer effort was launched some years back to construct an authentic carousel on Salem's waterfront. The carousel would be electric and not steam, and completely enclosed inside a building. Other than that, the idea was to create a true hand crafted work of art, just as it would have been built in the 1800s or 1900s.

    Today, Salem's Riverfront Carousel is located inside a nice modern building, and operates on almost all days. It is open to the public except when there are private groups that have rented the space for a special party.

    Children under a certain height must be accompanied by an adult, and one of the modern features of the carousel are straps for holding children into the saddles.

    It is very much a work of art. According to the displays inside the building, no power tools were used in the construction of the carousel horses. Unique hand crafted decorations cover the entire machine, and many of those feature items that are particular to the state of Oregon.

    If you are interested in the wood carving, go into the memorabilia store that is next to the carousel. Along the west wall, you will find the entrance to the restoration shop. Visitors are asked to please touch the horses and other carvings that are under repair or construction here. If they are open, you can ask the volunteers about the stories that go with each of the carousel horses. Some of them know some fairly good stories about the inspiration behind the animals.

    I have created a Salem Riverfront Carousel Travelogue with more photos of the Carousel and one or two of the restoration shop.

    The carousel operates inside Salem's Waterfront Park. There is a special parking area for the carousel, but it is nearly always full. There is a larger parking lot on the north side of the park near the old railroad bridge. It is also possible to park on one of the downtown streets or parking garages. Crossing Front street is easy at the traffic lights, but it is a very busy road so be careful.

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    Downtown Salem: Historic Buildings Tour

    by atufft Written Jul 6, 2008

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    Historic Buildings Downtown Salem
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    As I walked around the downtown grid of one-way streets, I shot pictures of the nicely restored buildings, most of them worthy of being on the national register of historic places. It's not big but worthwhile. This inventory of architecture dates mostly between the 1880's to as late as the 1920's. Downtown is well landscaped with trees and hanging baskets with flowers, as well as cast iron street lamps and other ornamentation from the bygone era. See the link below for restaurants and bars downtown. Live music is commonplace on the weekends.

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    Downtown Salem: Sternwheeler Ferry

    by atufft Updated Jul 6, 2008

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    Willamette Queen Sternwheeler Ferryboat
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    The Willamette Queen, an authentic sternwheeler ferryboat, takes two hour cruises from the waterfront docks in downtown Salem. See the link below for more details and reservations. The Willamette River is quite scenic and I would say that a dinner cruise would be a very pleasant experience, and frankly from what the website shows, the prices aren't that unreasonable.

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    Downtown Salem: Reed Opera House Building

    by atufft Written Jul 6, 2008

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    Reed Opera House in Salem
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    On May 16, 2008, Hillary Clinton made an unannounced stop at the Reed Opera House, as part of her Oregon state primary campaign for the president of the USA. She picked a distinctive multipurpose building in the center of downtown. Built in 1869, the building included a theater that at the time seated a larger audience than there were residents in Salem. This is a great building to wander through as it has many fine restaurants, a bakery, antique, and gift shops. The Trinity Ballroom is used for wedding parties, while the Cyrus Reed Ballroom, named for the original owner, is home to the Salem Reperatory Theatre. Reed's Opera House became the center of Salem's early social life, housing touring plays and opera companies, concerts by John Philip Sousa's band, vaudeville and minstrel shows, revival meetings, and exhibits by political cartoonist Thomas Nast, and other famous artists. Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway both gave speeches here during the height of the woman's suffrage movement. The official opening of the Reed Opera House was Sept. 27, 1870, with the Inaugural Ball for Oregon Governor LaFayette Grover. Subsequent inaugurations for Republican GovernorsW. W.Thayer (1878), Z. F. Moody (1892), William Paine Lord (1895), and T. T. Geer (1899) were also celebrated at the Reed. Thus, this red brick building is arguably the most historic in Salem as it is the oldest surviving opera house in Oregon.

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    Downtown Salem: The Capitol Center Building

    by atufft Updated Jul 6, 2008

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    Capitol Center Building
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    The 15 story Capitol Center Building is the tallest commercial building in Salem. The art deco style architecture typifies the period in which it was built--1927. Designed by Leigh L. Dougan, and orginally the Old First National Bank Building, this structure was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The construction of the building was financed by Thomas A. Livesley who had originally made his fortune by growing hops. Also known as the Capitol Tower, the building was renovated by the Morse Bros in 1986, and then purchased in 2003 by Roger Yost for $4.65 million. Yost had already purchased the nearby Reed Opera House, and has done extensive renovation work to both historic buildings. The Capitol Tower is built of reinforced concrete clad in a pinkish sandstone. Gargoyales decorate the top of the exterior. Unfortunately, the building was closed by the time of my visit, but I understand the 5 floor interior mahogany wood work is original and outstanding.

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    Churches of the Capitol Area: Congregational

    by atufft Written Jul 6, 2008

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    First Congregational United Church of Christ
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    A smaller but architectural noteworthy church building in the capitol area is that of the First Congregational United Church of Christ Church building. The origin of the congregation dates back to 1852. Interesting the current structure was inspired by Rev. Robert Hutchinson who had been born in Ireland and educated in England, and retained his English accent, in collaboration with another Englishman, Mr. Fred Ely, designed the current Tudor Gothic church reminiscent of the English countryside but built of stone quarried locally in the Willamette Valley. The building took some four years to complete, being dedicated in 1941. Subsequent expansion and builing of a parking lot on adjacent property has occured since the building of main santuary. The congregation dates back to 1852.

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