Weekend Trip: Searching for Small-Town Charm in Silverton (2022)

It’s nearly impossible not to be charmed by Silverton, which lies about 30 minutes east of Salem in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

Century-old brick buildings compose the compact, walkable downtown core—and many of those façades are adorned with murals that reflect the community’s past. Silver Creek runs north to south at the western edge of downtown, and is best viewed from several restaurant patios overlooking the water, or from a pedestrian pathway that looks like a miniature covered bridge.

And while waiting just five minutes for wood-fired pizza baked in a food truck, no fewer than four locals (all waiting on orders they already called in, because they know the drill) will compliment your T-shirt that reads “Be a Nice Human.” And then the cook inside the cart will open the window and follow suit.

Most charming of all: The city’s best-loved resident is Bobbie the Wonder Dog, a Scottish collie who in 1923-24 journeyed more than 2,500 miles back to his owners in Silverton after being separated from them while on a family trip to Indiana. (You can even take your photo with Bobbie at no fewer than three landmarks around Silverton.)

The magic doesn’t end at Silverton’s city limits, either. Just a 20-minute drive from town is Silver Falls State Park, known as the “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system and home to the renowned Trail of Ten Falls—where, yes, you can hike to (and behind) 10 waterfalls in a lush river canyon. And if you want to drink beer on a hillside just below Mount Angel Abbey afterward, you can do that, too.

While the phrases “under the radar,” “hidden gem,” and “off the beaten path” should be stricken from every travel writer’s vocabulary, they all still apply in Silverton—where you won’t have to wait an hour for breakfast, where downtown parking is almost always available (bring quarters—the meters don’t accept cards), and where beertenders and bakers greet you like a local. So if you want to slow down and explore the homegrown charms of Silverton, here’s how to spend a jovial weekend in the sleepy city.

Friday Night

Satisfy Your Pizza Craving

Across the street from Silver Falls Brewery, Old Oak Oven (206 Jersey St., 971-599-1740, theoldoakoven.co) bakes perfectly crisp pizzas in a wood-fired oven that’s actually built into the food cart. In all, the menu comprises seven pies along with a special of the week, each topped with a housemade tomato sauce and the usual ingredients—pepperoni, veggies, Canadian bacon and pineapple, and so forth. It’s all fantastic, but the cart’s Sicilian deep-dish pies stand out because of their slightly chewy crust and a thoughtful selection of toppings—Zenner’s Italian sausage being the highlight. Get it to go, or enjoy at a few picnic tables outside the cart.

Check Into a Garden State of Mind

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Away from town—and by that we mean a whole five minutes from town—is the stately Oregon Garden Resort (895 W Main St., 503-874-2500, oregongardenresort.com). The sprawling complex comprises several one-story buildings that host the resort’s 103 well-kept guest rooms, each offering fireplaces and private patios. Amenities include an on-site spa, a restaurant serving Pacific Northwest-inspired fare, and a cozy lounge that occasionally hosts live music, making the hilltop resort an especially appealing option if your plan is to stay in and unwind during your Silverton weekend. It doesn’t hurt that the resort is so close to a pair of iconic Silverton attractions, either—both of which you’ll visit Sunday morning.

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Saturday Morning

Fuel Up in Silverton’s Living Room

Silverton is surprisingly light on sit-down brunch spots. With a few exceptions, the town specializes in coffee shops, bakeries, and grab-and-go items to fuel your day’s adventure—so start your Saturday morning with a stop at the punctuation-challenging Gear-Up, Silverton (442 McClaine St., 503-874-4281, gear-up-silverton.square.site). The coffee shop lives up to its nickname as “Silverton’s Living Room” thanks to its plush couch, cozy chairs, mismatched mugs, an exhaustive tea and coffee menu, and a food selection that includes bagel sandwiches, breakfast burritos and housemade mini (Pip’s-inspired) doughnuts.

Admire the Crown Jewel of Oregon State Parks

Distance: 7.8 miles Difficulty Level: Moderate Starts: South Falls Day Use Area Elevation Gain: 890 ft

We’re loath to say one hike or landmark is the state’s most scenic. But we have to make an exception for the majestic Trail of Ten Falls at Silver Falls State Park (20024 Silver Falls Highway SE, Sublimity, 503-873-8681, stateparks.oregon.gov), where you can hike to (and behind) up to 10 waterfalls in a lush, forested river canyon. Five of the trail’s waterfalls are 100 feet or higher, and the largest of all—Double Falls—measures a whopping 178 feet. But even those numbers don’t quite capture the majesty of standing behind a thundering waterfall, feeling the chilly backsplash, and walking alongside basalt rock walls covered in electric green moss.

Ironically, summer may be the worst time to experience all that natural beauty: The waterfalls flow at a much higher (and louder) volume in springtime, and autumn brings vibrant foliage displays, when countless vine maples turn dazzling shades of red, orange and yellow. Still, there’s no real bad time to enjoy the Trail of Ten Falls; even in summer, the shimmering falls show off for anyone hearty enough to hike to them.

Your best option is to start at the South Falls Day Use Area, where you’ll find the most parking, restrooms, drinking water, a cafe and park maps. From there, the loop trail is about 8 miles long, with 890 feet of elevation gain—most of that coming via rolling hillsides, rather than sustained inclines. Give yourself four to six hours to complete the whole loop when accounting for rest stops and photo ops. Fair warning: Silver Falls State Park welcomes 1 million visitors annually—enough to fill 51 Moda Centers—and hikers are just as enchanted by the waterfalls as they are by Damian Lillard game-winners. Try to hit the trail by 9 am to avoid the biggest crowds.

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Make a Tranquil Escape to a Reservoir

If you don’t want to fight the throngs at Silver Falls, head to Silverton Reservoir & Marine Park (4381 Silver Falls Drive NE, 503-873-6359, silverton.or.us), just a five-minute drive from town. The 65-acre lake was created in 1960 to control flooding, and in the years since, it has blossomed into a popular recreation destination. Today, a mostly flat hiking trail circles the reservoir, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the pool with thousands of trout each year, and gas-powered motorboats aren’t allowed—making it a peaceful place to paddle. Bonus: There is a life jacket loaner station on site.

Saturday Afternoon

Taste the Flavors of Mexico

For being such a small city, Silverton boasts a surprisingly robust Mexican food scene. Flor Mixteca (312 Lewis St., 503-868-9643) is one that’s hard to miss: It’s the bright red food truck downtown slinging Oaxacan favorites (tlayudas and tetelas) and Mexican street food classics (tacos, quesadillas, burritos, picaditas). Seating is sparse—just a couple of picnic tables with nary an umbrella or cover to be found—but each dish is fresh, flavorful and filling.

Los Girasoles (303 E C St., 503-873-9449) boasts a fantastic menu filled with the usual suspects: enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos and burritos—all made with fresh tortillas and served alongside flavorful salsas. But the baked goods, a rare find outside of Mexican grocery stores in Portland and the Willamette Valley, steal the show: Fluffy conchas and fresh breads are just some of the highlights.

Drink the Rainbow

In the heart of downtown, Silver Falls Brewery (207 Jersey St., 503-873-3022, silverfallsbrewery.com) pours nearly two dozen housemade beers—and there’s a style to suit every beer geek’s palate. On a recent visit, the internationally inspired lager selection included a Pilsner, Mexican lager, Maibock and doppelbock—while the ale lineup boasted five IPAs, a few stouts, and a perfectly tart raspberry wheat beer. Pair your beer with burgers, sandwiches and salads in the spacious taproom, on the first-floor patio (where several tables come with gas-powered fire pits) or on the second-floor deck.

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Sample Blessed Beer

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Further afield is Benedictine Brewery (400 Humpert Lane NE, Mount Angel, 971-343-2772, benedictinebrewery.com) at Mount Angel Abbey—Oregon’s only brewery owned and operated by Benedictine monks. The taproom is wholly devoid of distractions—no Avett Brothers playing on a stereo, no board games stuffed into a corner shelf, no TV showing yet another Portland Timbers loss—offering a quiet, communal atmosphere. Typically, the closest thing to an IPA on tap here is a Cascadian dark ale; the rest of the handles pour old-school styles, like Belgian-inspired farmhouse ales, Bavarian-influenced lagers and the brewery’s flagship Black Habit, which eschews tradition but most closely resembles a Belgian strong dark ale with its roasty and subtle caramel notes. If the weather cooperates, enjoy your pint on the patio, which overlooks nearby hop fields initially planted by the abbey’s monks in the late 1880s.

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Visit a Bootleggers’ Liquor Drop

On your way back from Benedictine Brewery, make time to drive through the 106-year-old Gallon House Bridge (Gallon House Road Northeast, co.marion.or.us). The historic covered bridge earned its name because it was used as a drop spot for bootleggers in the early 1900s—at the time, Silverton was a dry town, where liquor couldn’t be sold, but nearby Mount Angel was not, and whiskey was sold by the gallon to Silverton residents from a shack on the Mount Angel side of the bridge. Today, the 84-foot Howe truss bridge spans Abiqua Creek and is one of the oldest spans in Oregon.

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Saturday Night

Indulge in Upscale Mac and Cheese

You have a few options for dinner around town, but we’re partial to The Noble Fox (101 N Water St., 503-874-4171, thenoblefoxsilverton.com). The hip restaurant, with a patio that overlooks Silver Creek, pairs its creative cocktail menu with upscale dishes that put Pacific Northwest-inspired twists on steakhouse favorites and classic pub fare; the house macaroni and cheese, for instance, is made with Gouda, pecorino and caramelized onion, and a vegan chicken sandwich comes topped with plant-based mac and cheese. If the venue’s crystal chandelier looks familiar, that’s because it came from Mother’s Bistro in Portland.

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Go on a Globe-Trotting Bar Crawl

When you want post-dinner drinks but can’t decide between a lively tiki bar and an Irish pub (who among us, right?), there’s only one solution: Graystone Lounge (203 E Main St., 971-343-1116, graystonelounge.com). To be fair, it’s not one bar but two separate bars within the same building run by the same restaurant group. On one side, you have an Irish pub with all the standbys: Guinness on nitro, halibut fish and chips, and bangers and mash. And then there’s the tiki bar, which serves your favorite fruity drinks in the appropriate glassware, features straw thatch and holiday lights dangling above the bar as well as Polynesian-style masks and fake torches lining the walls. Because who says you have to go far for an intercontinental pub crawl?

Make It a Movie Night

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It’s only natural that a city overflowing with small-town charm would have an old-time movie house. In Silverton, that’s the Palace Theater (200 N Water St., 503-874-4006, silvertonpalace.com), a single-screen, art deco venue that dates back to 1936. The audio-video equipment has been updated to meet the demands of modern blockbusters, and the growing concessions menu includes mini tacos, nachos and milkshakes.

Sunday Morning

Eat Brunch in Silverton’s Oldest Building

The building that houses Mac’s Place (201 N Water St., 503-873-2441, macssilverton.com) was built in 1890 and, more than a century later, is the oldest in downtown. The structure began as a hardware and general store before morphing into a furniture shop, upholstery outpost and, eventually, an outlet for women’s hats. It became a public house in the 1920s and has generally remained a gathering spot ever since. (There’s even a legend that the building survived a fire in the 1930s because police and firefighters were already imbibing at the bar.) Today, Mac’s is best known for its nightlife—autographed photos of musicians who’ve performed at the pub line the walls—but a filling brunch menu also includes a sizable chicken fried steak, Benedicts, and breakfast tacos bursting out of the tortillas.

See What’s in Bloom

The Oregon Garden (879 W Main St., 503-874-4294, oregongarden.org) is an 80-acre botanical garden that borders the resort of the same name. In all, the site hosts 20 specialty gardens that show off the flora of the Willamette Valley and wider Pacific Northwest. The Conifer Garden hosts one of the largest collections of dwarf and miniature conifers in the U.S., the Lewis and Clark Garden shows off some of the plants documented by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their westward expedition with the Corps of Discovery, the Pet-Friendly Garden has a Bobbie the Wonder Dog memorial (because of course it does), and the Train Garden centers on a model of a Southern Pacific train that once ran through Silverton.

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Visit Oregon’s Only Frank Lloyd Wright

On your way back to the main road from the Oregon Garden, stop in at The Gordon House (869 W Main St., 503-874-6006, thegordonhouse.org), the only Frank Lloyd Wright design built in Oregon. The home, designed in 1957 and built in 1963, was actually located not in Silverton, but along the Willamette River near Wilsonville. When the original homeowners died in the late 1990s, new owners wanted to tear it down to make way for a McMansion. Public outcry to preserve the structure followed, and it was moved to its current location in 2001. Even if you’re not an architecture nerd, the 45-minute tour offers fascinating insights into the angular design, which is basically what people in the 1950s thought homes would look like in the 2000s.

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Grab Dessert for the Road

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Make your last stop in Silverton a filling one: The community’s best bakery, Silverton Bake Shop (311 N Water St., 503-874-1592, silvertonbakeshop.com), opened on Valentine’s Day this year and has already developed a mouthwatering, always-changing menu with locally inspired items, such as a crescent roll slathered in marionberry cream cheese, decadent cinnamon rolls, and mini focaccia loaves. If you see the Meg, don’t think twice about getting it. Named after bakery owner Megan Ireland, the cookie comes with chocolate and peanut butter chips, pretzel bits, sprinkles, corn flakes, oats and other ingredients that shouldn’t work together but somehow do in a blissful feast for the senses. You’ll be sad you didn’t order two.

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