100 things to do in Oregon: 25 things you’ll find only in Oregon


Oregon is as exceptional as it is beautiful. People don’t just come here for the majestic mountains — they come for the cheese curd samples and the sea lions. If you want to seek out what makes Oregon unique, try these 25 things.

The Cove Palisades State Park

If you’re looking for a beautiful spot in central Oregon with views, hikes and water to spend at least a few days, the Cove Palisades State Park, which includes the Deschutes and Crooked River canyons, is the spot for you. With two campgrounds and 30 miles of flat-water paddling, you won’t get bored, and you may never want to leave.

Culver; $5 per car per day; stateparks.oregon.gov

Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site

The impeccably preserved artifacts in the Kam Wah Chung museum are unlike anything else you’ll see in Oregon. The state heritage site, in John Day, was opened as a trading post in the 1865. Two Chinese immigrants eventually purchased the building — general store manager Lung On and herbalist Ing “Doc” Hay. The building became a hub for Oregon’s Chinese community for decades, serving as an apothecary and doctor’s office, as well as a place for migrant workers to stay and a religious and community center. Some of Hay’s medical ingredients and supplies are still preserved in the museum.

John Day; stateparks.oregon.gov

Buy salmon directly from the Columbia River

The Columbia River is home to multiple species of salmon and for likely as long as people have lived in Oregon, they have lived off those delicious fish. Native Oregonians from several tribes still fish the Columbia and if you’ve never purchased salmon caught directly from the river, now is a great time to start. You can always head to a market like Brigham Fish Market in Cascade Locks, but also, keep an eye out for signs during salmon season, and get your fish straight from the person who caught it.

Port Orford Heads

Whether on foot or in a kayak, Port Orford Heads State Park is worth your time. The hike starts at the Port Orford Lifeboat Station, which U.S. Coast Guard rescue boats used until 1970. You can hike one of three trails that start at the park, which is one of the most spectacular views of the ocean you’ll see anywhere on the coast, and a great spot for whale watching. In a kayak, you can navigate Nellie’s Cove, the rock piles that jut out of the water, and look for seabirds, seals and otters.

Port Orford Heads St. Wayside, Port Orford; stateparks.oregon.gov

Enchanted Forest (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian)

Enchanted Forest

Oregon doesn’t have Disneyland — it has something better: a family-owned creepy and fun theme park just off of Interstate 5 just south of Salem that is all about fairytales. Come for the Big Timber log ride and stay for the water light show. Kids will love the magical world and adults won’t be able to resist the throwback to their own childhoods.

8462 Enchanted Way S.E., Turner; $13.75-$15.75; enchantedforest.com

Deschutes River

Oregon is full of beautiful rivers and a visit to any of them is warranted. But if you’re going to pick one, why not pick the Deschutes? And if you’re going to pick a part of the Deschutes, why not pick the section that meanders through Bend? While the coronavirus has meant some changes to the usually super easy shuttle system and some rentals, you can still float the river for a generally safe, relaxing and super fun summer adventure.

Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

There are plenty of historical museums and park sites in Oregon that walk visitors through the history of our state, but none tells the story quite like the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian)Jamie Hale/Staff

Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton is the rare museum in Oregon that speaks from a Native American perspective, and one that does so with a beautiful design and brutal honesty that’s both revealing and discomfiting. Split into three sections – “We Were,” We Are” and “We Will Be” – Tamástslikt lays bare the history of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes, collectively known as Natitayt, meaning “the people.”

47106 Wildhorse Blvd., Pendleton; $7-$10; tamastslikt.org

Sylvia Beach Hotel

There are a lot of reasons to visit Newport, but one of the top ones has to be the Sylvia Beach Hotel. Set up above Nye Beach, every room in this hotel is charmingly themed around an author. It’s the perfect place to completely disconnect from screens and get serious about reading books and walking for hours on the beach.

267 N.W. Cliff St., Newport; sylviabeachhotel.com

Prehistoric Gardens

Prehistoric Gardens opened in 1955 as a self-guided tour through a coastal rainforest setting, where gravel paths wind past tall trees, ferns and nearly two dozen life-size dinosaur statues. The towering handmade dinosaurs and beautiful natural setting make it one of the best roadside attractions in Oregon, and a perfect pit stop on the southern Oregon coast.

36848 U.S. 101, Port Orford; $8-$12; prehistoricgardens.com

Oregon Vortex

Full of optical illusions, odd angles and mysterious visual effects, the Oregon Vortex is a place for those seeking to experience the unknown. The Gold Hill roadside attraction was once known by Indigenous people who lived in the area as “forbidden ground.” Water seems to flow upward, and people appear different heights as they stand in different spots at the site. Call ahead to reserve a tour.

4303 Sardine Creek Left Fork Road, Gold Hill; currently $134-$234 per group for a private tour; oregonvortex.com

Sea Lion Caves

Steller and California sea lions gather at the Sea Lion Caves, an attraction near Florence on the Oregon coast. The caves, first opened to the public in 1937, give visitors a look inside a massive sea cavern, where hundreds of sea lions have gathered for centuries. (Jamie Hale/The Oregonian) LC- Jamie Hale/The Oregonian

Sea Lion Caves

Usually, in Oregon anyway, if you want to see big, wild animals, you need to go to a zoo. At the Sea Lion Caves, however, you just need to take an elevator, and then some stairs, and you end up, quite literally, in a cave full of sea lions. Is it gross and loud? A little. Is it claustrophobic? Yes, also a little. But is it unlike any experience you’ve ever had? It is definitely that.

91560 Highway 101, Florence; $8-$14; sealioncaves.com


McMenamins is an Oregon institution and Edgefield is one of its crown jewels. The sprawling property has multiple restaurants and bars, a snaking soaking pool, a spa and a golf course. You can stay at the hotel and completely disconnect — there are no TVs — or you can get a day pass, take a dip in the pool and wander the grounds with a glass of wine.

2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale; mcmenamins.com/edgefield

Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

It turns out the Oregon Trail is more than just a video game — it was the trail that brought many white settlers to Oregon in the early 1800s. Whatever your feelings about this incursion, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center offers visitors a chance to step back in time and experience life on the trail, with life-size exhibits and displays. Note that COVID-restrictions may mean some closures, but there is still plenty to see here.

22267 OR-86, Baker City; free-$8; blm.gov

Ghost towns

If you like creepiness and history and maybe a mix of both, put some of Oregon’s ghost towns on your itinerary. The remote parts of the state are dotted with former towns that have been abandoned and are just waiting for you to walk through and imagine the days when Oregon was part of the wild, wild West. If you’re in Southern Oregon, try Golden or Buncom, 19th-century gold-mining towns that are ripe for exploration.

Sumpter Dredge

For decades, the massive Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge tore up a patch of eastern Oregon, extracting millions of dollars worth of gold. Today the old dredge stands as a fascinating relic of the past, maintained at an Oregon state park site to show tourists another face of the eastern Oregon gold rush.

211 Austin St., Sumpter; stateparks.oregon.gov

The Dee Wright Observatory.

The Dee Wright Observatory. (Terry Richard/The Oregonian)LC- Terry Richard/The Oregonian

Dee Wright Observatory

At the top of the McKenzie Highway sits Dee Wright Observatory, a Civilian Conservation Corps creation built upon a lava flow with views of Mount Washington, Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and, on a clear day, Mount Hood. The observatory and the path up to it look so much like another planet that astronauts have even practiced there before going to the moon. Call the McKenzie River Ranger Station at 541-822-3381 to make sure the area is open, as it will stay closed until enough snow melts.

Highway 242, McKenzie Pass; fs.usda.gov


If your summer plans include “Visit quaint, old town and feel happiness again,” put Jacksonville on your itinerary. This Southern Oregon Gold Rush village hits all the right notes: from horse-drawn carriage rides to hiking trails, the nearby Applegate Valley Wine Trail and plenty of adorable places to stay a night or two. And if the Britt Music Festival is happening — still to be determined due to COVID-19 — make sure you catch a show.

Jackson County; jacksonvilleoregon.org

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

There’s nothing fancy about this easygoing train ride between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach, but the relaxed excursion will give you a fresh view of the Oregon coast and Tillamook Bay. Board at either town and enjoy the 1.5-hour ride in one of the covered or open cars.

306 American Ave., Garibaldi, or 125 Oregon Coast Highway, Rockaway Beach; $18-$22; oregoncoastscenic.org

The Hop Inn

Do you love beer so much you’ve always wanted to soak in it? Well, The Hop Inn in Sisters is likely as close as you’re going to get, unless buy a keg to fill up your own bathtub. At the “world’s first and only Craft Beer Spa” (according to them), you can soak in a warm tub of water, hops and other ingredients, so almost like beer! And you can sip a beer while doing it, and eat bar snacks. Because this is a beer spa, not a health spa, after all.

371 W. Cascade Ave., Sisters; packages start at $189 for a couple; hopinthespa.com

The Fruit Loop

Take a drive through the Hood River Valley and stock up on everything from wine to blueberries to root beer to asparagus to fresh-cut flowers. This route through the valley takes you past nearly 30 farms, wineries and other spots to stop and buy something delicious. Make sure you check with individual vendors to make sure they are open before you go fill your car with Oregon’s bounty.

Hood River Valley; hoodriverfruitloop.com

Silverton's Oregon Garden

Flowers bloom and plants grow hardy during summer 2017 at the Oregon Garden in Silverton. LC- Terry Richard/The Oregonian

Oregon Garden

The 80-acre botanical garden in Silverton has more than 20 specialty gardens that show off the Willamette Valley’s amazing growing potential. The garden is designed to allow visitors to discover something beautiful any time of year.

Open daily, 879 W. Main St., Silverton; $6-$12, oregongarden.org

Tillamook Creamery

No trip to the north Oregon coast is complete without a stop at the Tillamook Creamery (née Tillamook Cheese Factory), where visitors can learn about cows, watch the cheese-making process and grab a full meal. The creamery’s new 38,500 square-foot building opened in 2018, making the beloved experience even better. Don’t leave without a scoop of ice cream.

4165 N. Highway 101, Tillamook; tillamook.com

Thor’s Well

One of the most fascinating natural attractions on the central Oregon coast, Thor’s Well is neither a “gaping sinkhole” nor a “gate to hell,” as some hyperbolic visitors report, but a bowl-shaped hole carved out of the rough basalt shoreline. As waves crash into the rocky shore, water fills the hole and spills out before emptying again, putting on quite the show.

U.S. 101 at Cape Perpetua, Yachats; $5; fs.usda.gov

Washington Park

This Portland gem is home to some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the International Rose Test Garden and Hoyt Arboretum, not to mention beautiful grounds to explore and an extravagant accessible children’s playground. Sure, you have to buy tickets to the Oregon Zoo and the Portland Japanese Garden, but you can visit the rest of the park for free. Just be ready to pay for parking.

4033 S.W. Canyon Road, Portland; explorewashingtonpark.org

Shore Acres State Park

Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay isn’t your average beach-front park. It has the glorious Pacific Ocean, crashing on rocks, sure. But it also has beautiful grounds that include a Japanese garden and two rose gardens. And if you hit the timing right, you might even see migrating humpback whales.

Cape Argo Highway; Coos Bay; $5; stateparks.oregon.gov

Jayati Ramakrishnan, Jamie Hale, Kjerstin Gabrielson and Grant Butler contributed to this story.

— Lizzy Acker

503-221-8052, [email protected], @lizzzyacker


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