If you should ever have the need to go to Salem, the state capital of Oregon, I would recommend making the stay as short as you can and bringing as much of your own food (and drink, right) as possible. There's not a whole lot to do, especially if the weather is inclement, and not much good food to be had unless you're into a pale representation of what is available in Portland. What is it with state capitals that make them this way? Think of Sacramento...though I hear it's finally getting some good restaurants...stuck out in the drylands of north central California. Or even little Montpelier, Vermont, with the teensiest, cutest little state capitol building you've ever seen. Just try to get a decent cup of coffee, available on practically every corner in Burlington. And don't even get me started on places like Salt Lake City. Egad.
All ranting aside, though, there is a nice place to stay, the Phoenix Grand Hotel, that is right in the middle of the downtown area. A small movie theatre, Salem Cinema, that shows smaller budget and foreign films and has the most interesting home-made decor consisting of wire grids and red colored paper. And a restaurant just outside town in Silverton, the Silver Grille (left), that I would liken to the small bistros that have excellent (and well-priced) wine lists here in town.
My first day I started out with a visit to The Beanery, right across from the downtown Starbucks, which has been an institution in Salem and a boon to workers in the Capitol building for many years. While I haven't been a big Allann Bros. Coffee fan in the past, this official outlet does a nice job and has a wide selection of quiches, wraps and pastries to go with their beverage selection.
Another spot for breakfast or lunch and an old-line downtown institution is Busick Court, a place with good coffee and the usual selection of omelettes and sandwiches and is a good place to rub elbows with the locals. On Sunday they have a brunch menu that is ala carte and has several nice options, including crab cakes the size of pancakes (you get two) that come with eggs, potatoes, toast and a side of a decent hollandaise. In other words, portions are not a problem.
Other places to go include the Oregon Garden near Silverton, which at this time of year is open but pretty dormant, so I decided to hold that for another trip later in the year. But the thing you should go there for is a jewel of a house called The Gordon House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as an example of his Usonian design philosophy, which emphasized living in harmony with the land. He designed these houses for people of widely varying means and, in the process, revolutionized small house design and construction. This house was moved to the Oregon Garden to save it from demolition and it is the only Wright-designed house in the state.
At this point I have to come clean that, as a native Oregonian, I have never been to Mt. Angel or set foot on the hilltop campus of Mt. Angel Abbey. And it is something you must do as soon as is humanly possible, not because you'll have some kind of cosmic epiphany but because the Mt. Angel Abbey Library is housed in one of internationally acclaimed architect and furniture designer Alvar Aalto's two buildings in this country. And it is truly one of the most incredible buildings I've ever seen. The sweeping curves that are echoed in the skylight that spills tons of natural light into the stacks radiating out on three floors from the central desk are magnificent, and there's something soothingly regular in the little white lamps that pop up from the reading counters with their Aalto-designed stools. The furniture and most of the lighting fixtures in the library were designed and placed there by Aalto and represent one of the largest collections of Aalto's furniture in North America. This is well worth a trip by itself, and if you throw in a visit to the nearby Oregon Garden, it'd make a perfect day trip.
So I did have fun in Salem and got to see a couple of pretty amazing things that have been on my list for awhile. Now, if they could just start accepting pets at the Phoenix Grand, I could take Rosey and have a really good time!