Destination Salem

Be it a wedding reception or simple pleasure, the Oregon State capital appeals to all

Travel with me officially kicks off with the first trip of the summer. The June 1st weekend coincided with a wedding reception in Salem, Oregon, a town about forty-five minutes of better-known Portland. Salem is the state capital, but most outsiders know the city for the many wineries that sprung up in the late 1980’s. The Willamette Valley, as it’s referred to, gets a mention in my Danielle Grant series book set in Switzerland, oddly enough, because the lead character is from the area. Wine people know wine, and therein lies the irony—I’m not a wine gal or a drinker, but grew up in the area!

Mid-size city with small town charm

This little town has several colleges, such as Willamette University, which is probably best known for its law school, the downtown waterfront, which the city invested millions of dollars in rebuilding. When I was growing up, the “waterfront,” didn’t even exist. For foreign visitors, a waterfront implies walking paths, eateries, parks, paddle boats, perhaps even a boat launch and then events throughout the summer. This waterfront has it all. The day we visited, a Corvette car show was taking place. The area has an indoor carousel, as well as a large, Mississippi style, two-story paddle boat that gives short tours up and down the Willamette River.


Floating casino doubling as an old fashioned paddle boat

In terms of eateries, many exist, but we have several long-standing favorites we just can’t pass up on any trip. Jerry Frank’s Konditeri, which is now in new hands after the owner passed away. It’s on Commercial Street, about five minutes south of downtown. Easy to find and worth the short drive from the waterfront. Homemade, moist, decadent cakes is its claim to fame. Yeah, you can have lunch, but why bother when three slices of different desserts will do better?

Red velvet cake from Jerry Frank’s

Kwan’s Kitchen was the best in town for Chinese, and was on the way to Jerry Frank’s. But sadly, the dearly loved, and amazing owner/chef (Kam Sang) Kwan himself died a year ago June. He served us food for forty years, no kidding. I thought the man was going to be eternal. He never could really speak a lick of English, other than hello, thank you and wonderful! But he understood smiles and gratitude for his abilities just fine. Now that you can’t have Kwan’s, keep going straight and you will eventually hit….

This is always how Kwan (as we all knew him) looked- half-smile, half “I’m pretty busy can you make it fast.” Miss him still.

Los Baez. It’s on Commercial Street, but about five or so miles up the. It will be on your left, in an ancient-looking tile and brick building. Say hello to Angel, who has owned and managed the business for forty years (he supported my school’s winning baseball team!) Why Los, as it’s commonly referred to by the locals? Daily, fresh-made tortillas, homemade salsa, unique enchilada and mole sauce…my favorite is the cheese enchilada luncheon special, served anytime day or night. Instead of two enchiladas its one, and that’s more than enough to fill me up.  

Not the cheese enchiladas at Los Baez but jus as good!

Outside town….strawberry patches and wineries

If you want to get out of the city, drive east up to Santiam River. There you will find old-time covered bridges, many of which are perfect to jump off into the cold river below. Yes, you can still do that and no, it’s not illegal. Just for the adrenaline junky such as yours truly. Be careful to go for the deep spots, although that advice is a tad self-evident. The State Park is lovely but super small. Only about 2.7 miles of trails and less than a dozen spots. So, book early if you want to stay, but the best bet is just plan a day trip—or two hours really, then head back in to town when done.

Just one of the many gorgeous spots on the Santiam River, and the same goes for bridges!

The nearest town is Stayton, and you would take this road if you were heading down to Klamath Falls or the Redwoods hours beyond. Stayton is famous for covered the covered bridges I mentioned, but doesn’t have a whole lot else.

A ton of pick-your-own strawberry farms exist on the east side of Salem as well. My family favorite is Fordyce Farm, about 20 minutes from town (depending on your location). Perhaps the best road to take is Kuebler, which is at the far end of town. Use the search engine on your GPS and see what’s open and what’s freshest and in season. Bring some cash for the best deal on pies made on site, as most of the farms earn extra income by making homemade concoctions. It has events year round, but the pumpkin patch is my favorite.

Fordyce Farms is just one of dozens around the Willamette Valley

If amusement parks is more your thing for families, then you definitely need to stop at the Enchanted Forest. This is like a mini Lilliputian land, because it’s a fairyland on one part of the park, with mini-homes, and almost Hobbit-meets-fantasy land in the dense forest. The other side of the park is a more traditional outdoor waterpark.

Upper left: spooky entry! Upper right: entry to the Alice in Wonderland area, Lowerleft: the castle and lower right: the image of Old Lady in the shoe poem

As to location, it’s south of the Salem about another 5-10 minutes. As Kuebler is the last Salem exit, you are close by. Continue south and it will be on your left.

Two more rides- Upper left: an enchanted house (it actually has a name but I’ve forgotten! Upper right: water log ride

As to location, it’s south of the Salem about another 5-10 minutes. As Kuebler is the last Salem exit, you are close by. Continue south and it will be on your left.

FYI- if you blew by the downtown area entirely on I-5, coming south from Portland (or going north from Eugene), then Kuebler is your main exit. You can take the west-bound exit, and follow it all the way to Commercial. Turn right, and you will find Los Baez on your right as you head in to town. (Are you getting the hint that all good paths lead to Los?)

Feature image: A covered bridge outside Stayton on the Santiam River