June 10 – 13 2017
How We Got There
We took the scenic route from Olympia via US-101 down the Washington and Oregon coast. This added about five hours (3 driving, 2 stopping to take in the scenery) to the total trip but it was well worth it.
How We Got Around
Like Olympia, Salem also has a nearly nonexistent public transportation system. Unlike Olympia, it has an Amtrak station right downtown so if you were to take the train from Portland and stay in a downtown hotel then you would not need a car to get around.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Residence Inn by Marriott which was about two miles from the center of the city and down the street from the Oregon State Penitentary. Residence Inn is an extended stay hotel offered by Marriott so the room had a full kitchen and separate living and sleeping areas. Sadly, it was bigger than my apartment. They offer free breakfast, fitness center, pool, and a basketball court. My only complaint was that their wifi was not the best so it took hours to upload videos during our stay.
What We Did
We arrived pretty late in the evening and Salem is definitely the kind of town that closes up early. After checking into the hotel we headed to West Salem to check out a vegan restaurant that one of our new friends recommended called Space Concert Club. This was an amazing place. We had some really great food and listened to an awesome local band rock the house. For a venue of its size it had the best sound that I have ever heard. Huge shout out to the sound guy at Space, he really knows what he is doing.
In addition to closing up early, pretty much everything is closed on Sundays. We started the next day by going to the Book Bin to pick up some local books. We then walked around downtown a bit and took some photographs. Afterwards we went to the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. We spend most of the rest of the day at a couple of parks in the city. We met a local person for dinner at an Italian restaurant and had a great conversation and delicious food.
On our last full day in the city we started the day by checking out the Capitol Building followed by learning more about the history of the area at the Willamette Heritage Center. At this point we were pretty exhausted from 7 nonstop days of “traleving” so we went back and relaxed at the hotel. The last thing we did in Salem was meet with another person from Facebook at the Kitchen on Court street and had a fascinating conversation about the history and development of Salem over the last 25 years. He took us on a very informative tour of the local bars before we parted ways.
The next day we woke up early, packed, and drove an hour north to Portland Airport for our journeys home.
What Was the Fuss
We were both very surprised by Salem. While planning the trip we intentionally decided to spend less time in Salem than Olympia because it seemed like a smaller city with less to do. Driving into the city from the coast was really beautiful. We were surprised to see a mall with a Nordstrom right in the middle of the city.
Salem has a lot of hidden gems and a ton of history at every corner. It was one of the first major cities in Oregon and had a significant role in shaping the culture of the entire area. We were impressed by the local music scene, local restaurants, and hidden art all over the place.
Salem seems to suffer from the same problems as Olympia in the sense that they both live in the shadows of more popular cities nearby. The city seems to lack identity. For instance, when you look up “things to do in Salem” the official travel resources consistently point to things to do that are near Salem instead of in Salem. When I asked for books by local authors at the bookstore they didn’t have a local section and all of the authors that they named off were from Portland.
Salem is growing. It is investing in the downtown area and the riverfront park. It has a burgeoning music, food, and arts scene. As more folks move to Salem to escape the sky rocketing cost of living in Portland, if the old guard allows it, the entire city will benefit from the infusion of culture and cash.