Planning a vacation in Eugene, Oregon, or maybe have some downtime on a business trip? Then you’re probably wondering what to do in Eugene.
For a few brief years in the late ‘aughts, Eugene branded itself the “World’s Greatest City for the Arts and Outdoors.” That was a bit of a fiasco, and before long, city officials dialed it back a couple of notches to the much more modest “A Great City for the Arts and Outdoors.”
Laugh if you must, but the above does offer a pretty good hint as to how to spend your time in Eugene. The performing arts scene really is robust for a city its size, and there’s plenty to do and see outdoors in and around Eugene. But no matter your interests, you won’t lack for things to do.
We’ve tried to cover the full gamut of attractions here. 15 is really too few, but each of our suggestions expresses a unique facet of the Eugene life. No, this isn’t a countdown: these items don’t follow in any particular order. Feel free to read from the bottom to the top though if that’s more fun.
15. Pizza Night at Hideaway Bakery
We’re starting off our list with a doozy. Hideaway is our pick for Eugene’s best bakery, and it’s worth paying a visit any time of year, any time of day for fantastic breads, pastries both sweet and savory, coffee, and other goodies.
But summer evenings – Tuesdays specifically – are when Hideaway’s star shines the brightest. That’s when its bakers light up the wood-fired pizza oven and serve fresh pies long into the evening while local musicians serenade the outdoor seating area. We suggest the bacon gorgonzola, which features mozzarella and caramelized onions on a white sauce base. Oh, there’s locally brewed craft beer and cider too.
COVID-19 put a damper on pizza night, but we’re looking forward to its return in the summer of 2022.
14. Bike Along the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path
The Willamette River (pronounced “Will – Am – Met”) runs through the heart of Eugene, and there’s no better way to enjoy it than a leisurely bike ride along the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path. There are 12+ miles of paved paths traversing both the north and south banks of the Willamette.
On the south bank, you’ll pass landmarks like Skinner’s Butte Park, the EWEB building downtown, and the University of Oregon. On the north bank, you can start from Delta Ponds, passing Valley River Center (Eugene’s biggest shopping mall) and making your way through Alton Baker Park before finishing at Island Park in Springfield. Options for bike rentals abound, and extensive bike lanes all over the city make cycling one of the best ways to get to know Eugene, weather permitting of course.
13. Catch Live Music at Sam Bond’s Garage
It doesn’t get much more Eugene than Sam Bond’s Garage, a fixture of the community since 1995. To clarify what we’re talking about, Sam Bond’s actually was a garage way back in the day, but it’s since become far more. Sam Bond’s is a drinking spot, of course, but it’s also a music venue, a neighborhood hangout, and a window into an older version of Eugene, a little rough around the edges but full of charm.
It’s a place that’s difficult to describe in words. Esquire Magazine had a go of it when they named it one of America’s best bars in 2010: “It’s like a frontier dance hall in a mining town where the vein’s gone dry. The dreams are alive, but appealingly bruised.” Take that how you will, but be sure to pay a visit. The music is really the highlight here, though drinking a local microbrew in a mason jar comes close. Bands both local and far-flung take the stage nightly, and both the bluegrass jam on Tuesdays and Irish jam on Sundays are free and fabulous.
12. Watch a Football Game at Autzen Stadium
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL??? No? Well, then on to the next item. But if you’re a fan of college football, then great – Autzen is one of the best college sports venues you’ll find anywhere, even if the saying “It never rains at Autzen Stadium” is a blatant lie.
The star attraction here is obviously the Oregon Ducks. The team’s fortunes have waned a bit since the first half of the 2010s, when Oregon played twice for the BCS national title. But the Ducks are still perennial contenders for the PAC-12 championship. There’s also something to be said just for the atmosphere at Autzen Stadium. It’s a collective experience worth entering into at least once.
As far as Eugene’s sports venues, honorable mention has to go to Hayward Field, frequent home of the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field and the site of recent $270 million renovations. It has to be seen to be believed. Oh, and there’s also the Matthew Knight Arena, home of the UO’s basketball teams and also Eugene’s largest indoor concert venue. (Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Elton John and Snoop Dogg have played there, to name just a few.)
11. Go to the Oregon Country Fair
It may come as something of a disappointment, but Eugene is no longer the countercultural haven that it once was. Eugene’s transformation hasn’t been as drastic as, say, San Francisco’s – the spirit of the 60s does live on in Eugene, even if it’s taken on more modern forms. But if you want to experience Eugene’s hippie roots, there’s no better venue than the annual Oregon Country Fair, held in the countryside just west of town.
Started in 1969, the Country Fair has a long and colorful history. The Grateful Dead even performed at the Fair in 1972 and 1982 as a benefit for the local Springfield Creamery (now Nancy’s Yogurt.) But the OCF isn’t just about the past. With numerous performing arts stages, more than 300 booths featuring handcrafted wares from local artisans, and 85 gourmet food booths, it’s a feast for the senses and a smorgasbord of inspired creative expression and all-around good vibes. Oh, and the event is also drug and alcohol-free, and the young’uns are more than welcome.
Naturally, COVID-19 spoiled the fun in 2020 and 2021 (this year’s event is virtual-only) but we’re expecting a triumphant return in 2022.
10. Catch a Performance at the Hult Center
Eugene has no shortage of great performing arts venues, and really, it’s unfair to single just one of them out. But that’s what we’re going to do anyway, because the Hult Center for the Performing Arts
is definitely Eugene’s biggest and brightest stage. The acoustics are also fantastic.
Plenty of local performers grace the stages of the Soreng Theater and Silva Concert Hall, but the Hult Center is also a frequent touring stop for all manner of internationally-renowned artists. Performances range from theater, classical ensembles, and dance to contemporary music, stand-up comedy, magic, opera, and more.
9. Hike Spencer’s Butte
Eugene is a hiker and outdoor lover’s paradise. Numerous trails are just a short distance away in the Coastal and Cascades ranges, but none are closer to home than Spencer’s Butte and the surrounding Ridgeline trail system. There are multiple trailheads at different locations in South Eugene, but the most popular is located just below the butte. It’s about a mile to the top with a moderate climb. We suggest avoiding the shorter, steeper, and less scenic trail going up the west slope.
Up top, you can relax and enjoy panoramic views of the countryside surrounding Eugene. The climb is practically a rite of passage for anyone moving here. Its status as Eugene’s go-to quick hike can mean crowds on the weekends, though, especially when the weather’s nice. If you’re looking for a bit more solitude without leaving Eugene’s city limits, try the Blanton Ridge trailhead (shh, don’t tell anyone). Plenty of tree cover makes it a great hike for a rainy day. We do have those in Eugene if you weren’t aware.
8. Tour Wineries Along the South Willamette Wine Trail
It doesn’t get the same buzz as California’s Napa Valley, but Eugene is actually right smack dab in the middle of Oregon’s own wine country. The Southern Willamette Valley is home to more than 20 wineries, all less than a 40 minute drive from Eugene. You won’t be able to visit all of them in a single day, but pick a handful of wineries either south or north of town, enjoy the countryside, and sample their culinary and viticultural delights.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can even rent a bike and pedal from one winery to another. The scenery is beautiful, especially along the Lorane and Territorial Highways south of town. Sweet Cheeks Winery, King Estate Winery, and Sarver Winery are not to be missed.
7. Go Museum-Hopping at the University of Oregon
Eugene is definitely a college town, and your visit wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the University of Oregon. The University has two excellent museums, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. We suggest making them the centerpiece of your visit to the UO – it’s a great way to enjoy some peace and quiet in the middle of a crowded travel itinerary.
The Jordan Schmitzer has extensive collections of East Asian, South Asian, European, and American art and features pieces both ancient and contemporary. You can take a virtual tour here. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History is the place to go for a window into Oregon’s distant past, whether you’re looking to explore geology, archaeology, or the history of Oregon’s indigenous peoples.
6. Sample Pacific Northwest Cuisine at Rye, Marché, Party Downtown, or Izakaya Meiji
True, it’s difficult to pin down exactly what is meant by “Pacific Northwest Cuisine.” The common denominator, though, is fresh, locally sourced ingredients, seasonal organic produce, an abundance of seafood, and straightforward flavors and presentation.
Both Rye and Marché offer their own unique (and delectable) Pacific NW spin on traditional French cuisine and are fixtures on lists of Eugene’s finest restaurants. Party Downtown covers old-time American fare with a local twist. A seven-course chef’s choice menu is offered on the weekends, and there are a half-dozen varieties of oysters on the menu.
Izakaya Meiji simply defies description: its slogan is “Where East Meets Country Western,” and the decor evokes an old western saloon. There’s a 1950s-style jukebox too. Most of the menu is Japanese-inspired with unique Pacific NW flavors, but the burgers are great too and vegetable dishes plentiful. Oh, and there are more than 100 varieties of whisky available at the bar. It’s a unique experience that you won’t want to miss.
5. Attend the Wildflower and Mushroom Festivals at Mount Pisgah
We already mentioned Spencer’s Butte and the Ridgeline Trail system, but Mount Pisgah is Eugene’s other preeminent outdoor destination, located less than 10 minutes outside town. While it’s more of a hill than a mountain, Mount Pisgah is a great spot to hike, with vibrant, diverse flora and fauna and numerous trails. There’s even swimming, with the Coast Fork of the Willamette River flowing along the south end of the park. In other words, it’s is a great spot to visit if you like being outside.
Mount Pisgah turns into a must-visit, though, if you’re in Eugene when either of its two annual festivals take place: the Wildflower Festival in May and the Mushroom Festival in late October/early November. Both festivals feature workshops, exhibits, guided walks, and kids’ activities, but there’s also live music, food, and arts and crafts. It’s a grand old time for the whole family and also a chance to learn about the natural world. What could be more Eugene than that?
4. Tour Breweries in the Whiteaker
Craft beer, as you may know already, plays a big part in the culture of the Pacific Northwest. Eugene doesn’t quite have the breweries per capita that Bend or Portland do (yet), but local brewers have made their own very impressive contributions to the Northwest beer scene. Probably the most famous is Ninkasi Brewing, which brews its renowned Total Domination IPA right in the heart of Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood.
Ninkasi’s tasting room is a great spot to begin your Eugene beer tour. From there, you can continue to Hop Valley Brewing Co. and Oakshire Brewing, also located in the ‘Whit. Indifferent to beer but fancy a cider? Well, Wildcraft Ciderworks, another neighborhood fixture, offers some of the finest dry cider you’ll find anywhere. If you’re still feeling thirsty, head downtown, where you’ll find an additional half-dozen breweries.
3. Go to the Saturday Market
If you’re looking for local color, look no further: Eugene’s Saturday Market is back after a pandemic-induced hiatus. The Market was launched way back in 1970, making it officially the oldest weekly open-air crafts market in the United States. You’ll now find other similar markets across the country, but this one’s the original, and there’s something quintessentially Eugene about it. Local artisans proudly display their wares while musicians take turns on the stage, food carts dish out their finest, and crowds of locals and visitors soak up the vibes.
Eugene’s weekly Farmer’s Market is just across the street, with local organic farms selling seasonal produce, honey, cheese, mushrooms, humanely-raised meat, and more. The Saturday Market is open from early April through Mid-November, rain or shine. During the month or so before Christmastime, the Holiday Market sets up shop indoors at the Lane Events Center.
2. Attend the Oregon Bach Festival
The annual Oregon Bach Festival is Eugene’s cultural powerhouse, a cornucopia of classical musical performances written and inspired by J.S. Bach. For two weeks every summer (unless a pandemic is going on), some of the world’s most renowned conductors, classical musicians, choral performers, and creative artists descend upon Eugene. Performances are offered in various venues around the city and even elsewhere in Oregon. These musicians aren’t just playing the hits: a number of contemporary compositions have seen their world premiere at the festival.
Apart from performances, the Oregon Bach Festival’s eminent guests also offer a number of educational opportunities. In particular, the annual masterclass draws participants from all around the world and several choral academies. The OBF is really a mecca of contemporary classical music, and it’s right here in Eugene.
1. Tour Eugene Homes and Neighborhoods!
Okay, so there’s an element of shameless self-promotion here. We’re Realtors, and one of the things that we do is get people into homes. But we also go a step beyond, offering neighborhood tours and a whole lot of local know-how to those who approach us from out-of-area. Simply put, we view ourselves as ambassadors for our local community. Whether or not you end up purchasing a home here, if you think you might be interested in moving to Eugene someday, we’re here to answer your questions, serve as a resource, and yes, get you inside whatever homes that catch you eye.
If you’re rolling into town for the weekend or still considering Eugene from afar, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to help, and if you do visit, we’ll do all we can to make your stay here an enjoyable one.