Salem A City with Diverse Appeal

Oregon's capital city, Salem, is nestled within the incomparably beautiful Willamette Valley. This Eden-like region is filled with diverse venues and attractions that appeal to a wide range of travel interests. The city and its surrounding area hold undeniable appeal. Fodors ranked the region as the "Top Romantic Spot" among its Choice Destinations Awards for 2002.

Within Salem and its environs groups will discover many attractions that can be bundled together or visited separately to create a memorable trip. From shopping to wine and garden tours to gaming to outdoor pursuits, there's something for everyone.

Founded in 1841, Salem is one of the west's oldest cities. Jason Lee, a Methodist missionary was Salem's first pioneer settler and founded Willamette University in 1842. Willamette's tree lined campus is situated at the edge of downtown and across the street from the State Capitol building. Students, area residents and visitors alike enjoy the University's Hallie Ford Museum of Art, as well as its sport events, cultural offerings and gardens that are located among the campus' historic buildings.

Impressive state government buildings border the city's historic downtown business area. Built in 1938, the Oregon State Capitol Building houses Oregon's Legislature as well as the offices of the Governor, Secretary of State and State Treasurer. Adorned with Depression Era art and highlighted by four types of marble, this example of Modern Greek architecture is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visitors to the Capitol will find art exhibits as well as displays of historic interest. The building's soaring rotunda is filled with murals that depict historical events from the state's history, including the Lewis & Clark Expedition and Oregon Trail Pioneers, as well as a celebration of the region's physical beauty and agricultural abundance. When the legislature is in session, state government at work can be viewed from the visitors' galleries in the House and Senate Chambers.

Just a few blocks from Willamette University and the State Capitol are the Mission Mill Museum and the Marion County Historical Society Museum. The Historical Society houses exhibits on the Kalapuyan Indian culture as well as the teenage years of Herbert Hoover. The Mission Mill Museum complex contains beautiful grounds, a millstream and 14 historic structures through which visitors can explore at their own leisure through guided or self-guided tours

The Mission Mill Museum's largest buildings are the 1889 Thomas Kay Woolen Mill. The water turbine is the only one west of the Mississippi today that is still generating electric power. For over a century the woolen industry was a major economic factor in the Willamette Valley. Today's visitors can view a documentary on the region's history then tour the complex.

In addition to the woolen mill several historic homes have been moved to the site and lovingly preserved and restored. The Jason Lee home, along with other pioneer vintage homes, can be found here complete with their original furnishings. The five-acre Mission Mill complex includes lushly beautiful gardens, gift shops, a cafe´ and the Salem Visitors Center.

Salem's two historic home districts are near the Mission Mill Museum and contain a significant number of homes that have been carefully maintained. These neighborhoods provide a glimpse into the past before the arrival of the automobile.

Oregon Trail Pioneers were drawn to settle in Salem by its proximity to the Willamette River, fertile soils and mild climate - with the added bonus of spectacular scenic beauty. Bordering the Willamette River is Salem's historic downtown district. Here groups find a diverse offering of unique places to eat and one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques and galleries housed in buildings that were built at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Visitors will also discover the only Nordstrom's store between Portland and San Francisco, along with other major department stores.

The Historic Elsinore Theater is a 1926 Tudor Gothic movie palace that is being restored to its full original magnificence. Tours are available and can include a recital on the newly restored 1924 Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. From the Historic Reed Opera House to Salem Center Mall, downtown Salem has a delightful combination of historic landmarks and shopping opportunities. Entertainment and walking tours are available through the Salem Downtown Merchants Association to guide you through this charming city core.

Bounding the downtown shopping district to the west is Salem's Riverfront Park. Breathtaking views of the river combine with opportunities for outdoor concerts and community events in this picturesque setting. Here groups will find Salem's Riverfront Carousel, with its 42 hand carved wooden horses and two "Oregon Trail" wagons. A community project from its inception, all of the horses were hand-carved and hand-painted by volunteers who contributed over 80,000 hours to bring this project to life. Ranked among the nation's best carousels, Salem's Riverfront Carousel appeals to young and old alike as they experience one of childhood's most memorable pleasures.

A neighbor to Salem's Riverfront Carousel is A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village. This hands-on children's museum appeals to many generations of people who enjoyed A.C. Gilbert's Erector Set and numerous other inventions.

The Willamette River was the region's first thoroughfare to transport passengers and goods between the cities of Eugene, Albany, Salem and Portland. The Willamette Queen Riverboat departs year round from Salem's Riverfront Park. This paddlewheeler provides the experience of riverboat travel as your group cruises the river. Deer, beaver, osprey and other wildlife can often be seen. Let them take a turn at the wheel to earn their certificate as a Junior Riverboat Captain!

Bush's Pasture Park, was the home and farm of pioneer newspaper publisher, banker and entrepreneur Asahel Bush II. Built in 1878 this Italiante-style Victorian mansion is open as a museum with many of the original furnishings including Anglo-Japanese wallpapers and ten impressive Italian marble fireplaces. Guided tours provide visitors with tales of the Bush family.

The original family residence and farm is one of Salem's most used public places. Glorious rose gardens bloom from early spring to late fall. The 100 acre pasture hosts Salem's renowned Annual Art Fair and Festival every July and the original family barn has been converted into the Salem Art Center's exhibit and sales galleries. Here you will find an eclectic mix of exciting art created by local artists and artisans as well as artists of national and international renown.

Bordering Bush's Pasture Park to the east is Historic Deepwood Estate, one of Oregon's finest examples of Queen Anne architecture. Lord and Schryver, the Northwest's first female landscape architecture firm, designed Deepwood's formal garden spaces in the early 1930s. Registered on the National Register of Historic Places, this spectacular 1894 residence features fine oak woodwork, stained glass, a multi-gabled carriage house and over five acres of English-style gardens and nature paths. House tours provide a historical perspective of this beautiful residence, which is also available to rent for special events.

A trip north of Salem can transport you back in time to the historic town of Aurora. Settled in 1856 by the West's only successful 19th Century communal society, Aurora's historic buildings today house over 200 antique dealers. A short drive west will bring you to the western town of St. Paul, known nationally for the St. Paul Rodeo that takes place every 4th of July holiday. St. Paul is also the home to the Heirloom Old Rose Garden with 1,500 varieties of roses.

Located north of Salem on Interstate 5 is Woodburn, home of the Woodburn Company Stores where over 65 upscale brand stores offer shoppers quality merchandise at irresistible prices.

The small city of Mt. Angel is known for its famous Benedictine Abbey and German Oktoberfest celebration . Nearby you'll find several of the region's picturesque covered bridges.

One of the state's premier tourism attractions is in the beautiful city of Silverton.The Oregon Garden is a spectacular 240-acre botanical garden that opened in 2001. The first 60 acres of gardens have been completed and provide glorious shows of flowers and garden design throughout the year. Electric powered "people mover" trams provide guided tours and are a comfortable way for the less agile members of your party to enjoy this beautiful garden.

The Oregon Garden also contains the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed home in the state. Moved from its original location for preservation, the Gordon House reveals not only the design of Frank Lloyd Wright, but also a vision of mid-Twentieth Century family life.

A short drive from Silverton and The Oregon Garden is the states largest park. Silver Falls State Park encompasses ten spectacular waterfalls. Paved walking paths, picnic and conference areas, as well as a WPA-style lodge provide opportunity to enjoy nature's magnificent combination of water and forest. The South Falls, located a short walk from the lodge, is an amazing waterfall with a path that allows visitors to walk behind the falls for a unique experience.

The region provides a brilliant show of spring color when flowers grown as commercial crops burst into bloom. Visitors flock to The Wooden Shoe Bulb Company in Woodburn to enjoy the annual Tulip Festival's acres of tulips and daffodils. Iris gardens bloom during the month of May at Cooley's Iris Garden and Schreiner's Iris Garden. Each year the city of Keizer hosts its annual Iris Festival to celebrate this flower.

West of Salem is the state's number one tourist destination - Spirit Mountain Casino and Lodge. Las Vegas style gaming, along with headline entertainment and slot machines can be found in this modern facility where you can test their luck at striking it rich.

The fertile volcanic soils and microclimates of the hills surrounding Salem have become home to many fine wineries and vineyards. The conditions here rival those of the great wine growing regions of France and Germany. Many wines have acquired distinction among wine connoisseurs around the world. A wine tasting is a fantastic opportunity to discover the region's signature wines, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as Chardonnay and other varietals.

In addition to producing fine wines, the region's vineyards are known for their spectacular locations. Views of both the Coast Mountains to the west and the magnificent snow capped volcanoes of the Cascade Range to the east provide inspirational vistas to view as you sip the "fruit of the vine."

Author's Note/Bio: Sharan Barnett is a nationally acclaimed author and a native Oregonian. She has written travel and business related articles for local and national newspapers and magazines.

You can receive additional information by visiting the Salem Convention and Visitors Association.