The Willamette Valley spans 150-miles from Portland to Cottage Grove, with the Willamette River flowing along its entire length. Most people think of the Willamette Valley as the area between Salem and Portland, but this article will delve into the South Willamette Valley that includes the cities of Corvallis, Eugene, Springfield, and Cottage Grove.
Recently visiting these cities, I noticed something that united them. Although in each town, the perception or execution is different, they all have a central mural theme. Each city explores art through its murals. They also have another aspect in common, wine. The Southern Willamette Valley has approximately 28 wineries to discover.
The area is perfect for a long weekend escape that tantalizes and rejuvenates all your senses. The Cascades are so close if you are a nature buff, you can explore the waterfalls, parks, and forests.
Willamette Valley – Cottage Grove
This quaint little town is called the Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon. Others call it the Covered Bridge Capital of the west. We typically think of covered bridges being located east of the Mississippi, but there are seven covered bridges in the Cottage Grove area. Oregon once had 450 bridges, with most built between 1905 and 1925. Today there are about 56 left with 20 of those still standing in Lane County, the county in which Cottage Grove lies.
The Currin Bridge was constructed in 1925 and underwent restoration in 1995. The Mosby Creek Bridge is the oldest in Lane County. Erected in 1920, the bridge today is open to one lane of traffic. The Centennial Bridge now sits in a park. Built-in 1987, the bridge is a monument to Cottage Grove’s centennial and was created from two bridges that were demolished. It rests on the abutments of the old Main Street Bridge. The Chambers Railroad Bridge is the only one in existence west of the Mississippi. Finally, the Swinging Bridge was built for foot and bicycle traffic. The bridge got its name because it often swang from side to side as you walked across.
Speaking of bicycles and bike paths, Cottage Grove offers a Covered Bridges Scenic Bikeway, which consists of a 36-mile loop and offers a rider spectacular Oregon scenery. This bike path is a cyclist’s paradise because you can ride to the southern end of Dorena Lake and continue on to Wildwood Falls while traveling on the loop.
Cottage Grove’s murals depict its history. The town’s Main Street is a National Historic District because it represents the largest grouping of intact 20th-century buildings, centering around local farming and mining activities. Today it houses an eclectic array of art galleries, antique shops, and museums.
Where to Stay in Cottage Grove
The Village Green Resort is a charmingly rustic, old-world craftsman style hotel. Find country décor in each room. The grounds feature lush gardens and an RV park. The big draw is the hotel is pet-friendly. Your dog is welcomed with dog biscuits and a large Pendleton mat to place across the bed. Because the property sits on 14-acres, there is ample space to stroll with your dog.
My visit took me to Iris Vineyards. The winery tasting room is located about 20 minutes from both Cottage Grove and Eugene and worth the visit just for the views. Perched upon a knoll, the winery affords an incredible view of the valley below. The tasting room is reminiscent of a Tuscan style winery with its warm and welcoming ambiance.
My favorite wines at the tasting were the Iris Viognier, Rosé of Pinot Noir, 2014 Chardonnay, their GSM, and Cabernet Franc.
Willamette Valley – Eugene/Springfield
The city of Eugene is home to the University of Oregon, which the city character is based around. A college town with a very eclectic ambiance. Think hippie movement meets the sustainable green, environmentally conscious of the 21st century.
Springfield lies just east of Eugene. Each city straddles the Interstate 5 freeway. Eugene on the west and Springfield on the east. Springfield is home to author Ken Kesey, who wrote “Sometimes a Great Notion” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Walking the town center, you will find his mural.
Eugene is also home to the Nike corporation and will be hosting in 2021, the 18th Field and Track World Championships. In preparation, the city has created the 2021 Mural Project. The project is a cultural service public art program to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals between now and the 2021 world championships. The program has been a huge success. Currently, there are 18 murals, most of which reside in the center of town. The theme, “Look up and see the world,” reflects what occurs when you view the works of both national and international artists, who created these murals.
While wandering the town center, viewing murals, stop by the Eugene Teahouse, now known as Tea Chai Té. Find an assortment of unusual teas to satisfy any tea lover’s fancy.
Where to dine in Eugene/Springfield
George + Violet’s Steakhouse offers a casual dining experience with elegantly prepared food. Everything is locally sourced, including the grass-fed beef and local wine. For those with food allergies, the restaurant goes out of its way to make accommodations. In my case, I had a special menu that stated all the substitutes and stars by all the food I could eat.
The concept of the restaurant is a joint venture between Ross Arce and Andrew Francisco. The idea was to bring a family-owned business – steakhouse to the downtown area of Springfield, Oregon.
The meal began with Crispy Sweet Potatoes with mushroom Cilantro and Miso Dip. My entrée consisted of a tender filet Mignon accompanied by beets. I am always pleasantly surprised when I get a special dessert, and, on this night, I indulged in a Pear Compote with Hazelnut and Blackberry Granita. The meal was superb.
Public House: Although I did not try the food or the brews, it looks like the perfect place for a lunch bite or nightcap. Converting a church into a bar makes for a creative use of space. The sanctuary became the bar, and the tables are reminiscent of the pews because of their design and construction. It appears to be a fun place to hang out and perpetuates a feeling of the community gathering place.
Within 40 minutes of Eugene, one can sample the wines of Antiquum Farms. Owner Stephen Hagen wines show his passion for his craft and the process that he utilizes and show off the terroir where his grapes grow. Stephen’s motto, “I create wine one cluster at a time.”, states his philosophy of farming, which references the cycles of life. The sequences are rest, growth, grazing, and root die-off, primarily feeding the soil and creating what Stephan calls an alive soil. It is how Stephan cares for his grapes that comes through in his wine.
Make sure to try his Pinot Gris and his Juel Pinot Noir.
Willamette Valley – Corvallis
The city of Corvallis is home to Oregon State University. The university is one of the top-rated schools for a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology, so its location in one of the top wine regions in the United States is ideal.
Like Eugene and Cottage Grove, Corvallis has a colorful array of murals that help you to discover the town’s character. My favorite was Hummingjewel by Esteban Camacho Steffensen.
I highly recommend a walk down the riverfront walk. It is quite pleasant, and if you are visiting on a Saturday, your walk will end at Corvallis’ colorful and quite extensive Farmer’s Market. I was quite impressed with the quality of producers available. They even have vendors sampling wine.
Every year Corvallis has a seasonal art festival in Central Park. During my visit, I had a chance to check out the art fair. If you are visiting during the last weekend in September, plan a visit to the art festival.
Where to dine
Castor: It is all about local, organic, and sustainable at Castor. From food to wine, it is pretty much local. Combining French and European flavors with Creole and Northwest cuisine, but pursuing the family-owned business model, the restaurant has a casual ambiance with excellent food. I enjoyed a marvelous white bean and shrimp salad.
Taco Vino: Probably the most creative of Mexican Taco restaurants, one chooses from a large selection of options. Think gourmet Tacos. I had a scallop taco made with fresh corn tortillas. If you love tacos, this restaurant is a must. As a pacific northwest restaurant, they are gluten-free and complement their menu with house-made Sangrias, local brews, and wine.
Del Alma Restaurant & Bar: Find an upscale Spanish themed restaurant that serves both Tapas and main courses. Beginning with the Ensalada del Alma, a salad with greens toasted pine nuts, and sangria poached pears to a Grilled Pork Porterhouse with tomato aioli, grilled onions, sweet corn, nopales, cherry tomato, and shishito pepper succotash. The Scallops were divine, and the dessert presentation with white chocolate eggs was beautifully displayed as well as yummy.
Where to stay in Corvallis
Courtyard by Marriott: Sometimes, the comfort of a chain hotel rounds out a trip. In this case, the hotel, relatively new, overlooks the waterfront and offers the luxuries for a weekend stay. I found my room had all the modern conveniences and comfort that I needed for my stay. The staff was wonderfully helpful and went out of their way to make my stay a memorable one.
Tyee Wine Cellars: Tyee in Native American means the best and chief. The winery is located on the Buchanan Family Century Farm, founded in 1885. Now in its 5th generation, the farm has gone through several incarnations from raising dairy cows to winemaking. It began as an all-purpose farm in the mid-1800s. In 1974 under the 4th generation of Buchanan’s, the first grapevines were planted. Tyee Wine Cellars was established in 1985. At the same time, the family raised sheep and planted hazelnuts. Today under the helm of winemaker, Merrilee Buchanan Benson, they produce Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir.
My favorite wine was the unoaked Chardonnay with its bright, fruity flavors of apples and pears. Although a Chardonnay, the wine has a Pinot Gris quality.
This article only highlights some of the things you can see in the South Willamette Valley. Oregon is a diverse state that has so much to offer.
Note: Common to the wine and travel industry, this writer was hosted to this winery visits, food, and accommodations. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.