Amid its award-winning wineries, farm-to-table restaurants and breathtaking recreational opportunities, Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley is also one of the best places in the state to discover the area’s storied past. The area abounds with historical sites, museums and cultural centers, but it also features a lively, modern arts scene and diverse portfolio of architectural gems that are a must-see on your tour through Oregon Wine Country.
Learn history in the place that it’s made at the Oregon State Capitol, in Salem, Oregon, where you can take a guided tour or embark on a self-guided exploration while admiring the building’s Modernist Art Deco design. Climb the 121 steps to the Capitol’s observation deck during the summer to view the Oregon Pioneer, a 23-foot gilded bronze statue perched atop the Capitol building.
Discover more of the area’s pioneer story at the Willamette Heritage Center, where there are exhibitions on daily life, fur traders and the Hudson Bay Company. At this Salem museum, you’ll also find several pioneer-era structures, including a church, a parsonage and family homes.
Nearby, the 1894 Deepwood Museum & Gardens and the 1878 Bush House Museum are two beautifully-preserved homes that share the story of prominent Salem families and feature gardens of rare delight. Deepwood’s English Garden was created by the first female landscape architects, Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, and Bush’s Pasture Park Rose Garden features heirloom roses and “The Mission Rose,” which was a gift to missionary Jason Lee and his wife.
Adjacent to the Bush House Museum, you’ll find the Bush Barn Art Center and Annex, showcasing artwork from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Head to downtown Salem to experience the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, the third largest art museum in the state.
Afterwards, take a walk through downtown Salem’s seven-block historic district. You’ll find ornately-designed buildings like the Elsinore Theatre, which continues to serve Salem after more than 90 years. Built in 1926, the theatre has murals created to represent Shakespearean plays, grand staircases, stunning stained glass windows and the largest theatre organ in a performing arts center in the Pacific Northwest.
Delight in live entertainment in an intimate setting at Pentacle Theatre. Just west of Salem, the theatre began in 1954. Continue your arts tour to Independence, Oregon, the former “Hops Capitol of the World.”
In Independence, River Gallery has been a destination for art lovers since 1998, particularly in January when its locally-famous “Wild Women” juried show is on display. Immerse yourself in the history of the Willamette Valley’s Native American tribes at the Independence Heritage Museum, which has a permanent exhibition on the local Kalapuya tribe.
Northeast of Salem, Aurora, Oregon, is the site of the state’s first utopian community. The town abounds with historic buildings, a large museum with artifacts from pioneer times and some of the best antique shopping in the country.
In 1834, one of the area’s earliest settlers, Ewing Young, arrived and staked his claim between the Chehalem Mountains and Red Hills of Dundee in present day Newberg, Oregon. You can visit the Ewing Young Farm to see the Oregon Heritage Tree that was planted in 1846 to mark Young’s gravesite and taste spirits at the onsite distillery.
Located down the road from the distillery, the Chehalem Cultural Center celebrates the area’s heritage and local arts community and hosts a wide-variety of art exhibitions throughout the year.
Nearby Wineries: ROCO Winery, Anam Cara Cellars, Adelsheim Vineyard, L’Angolo Estate, Duck Pond Cellars
Head south towards McMinnville, Oregon, to visit the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center. Peruse the museum’s antique farm, logging and historical equipment while learning the stories behind them from knowledgeable docents. While you’re in town, catch a show at the Gallery Theater or drop by The Gallery at Ten Oaks to see paintings, ceramics and other fine works.