: Mount Angel Abbey Museum

3 Marvelous Museums to Visit in the Mid-Willamette Valley

See antique buttons, Academy Award-winning film memorabilia, and exhibits about Black athletes in museums around Salem.
April 17, 2023

Marion and Polk counties, which include the areas in and around Salem in the heart of the Willamette Valley, are best known for spectacular vineyards, hiking trails and more. Locals know that this  Mid-Valley region is also a prime spot for off-the-beaten-path museums with distinctive collections featuring one-of-a-kind treasures everything from movie props to an eight-legged calf. Here are three fascinating spots to inspire your own visit.

Independence Heritage Museum

1. Independence: Native History and Wildlife

A short drive southwest of Salem, the historic town of Independence is considered to be the hops capital of the world. The city also has a rich history beyond its vital role in the Oregon craft-beer industry. A visit to the Independence Heritage Museum is an interactive tour of the town’s legacy, complete with artifacts from the Kalapuya Tribe, military uniforms, 1940s medical equipment and more. Kids love to visit the museum’s post office, where visitors can write a letter on a working typewriter. The museum’s rotating exhibition room is another must-visit, where guests can learn about everything from the region’s osprey populations to Oregon’s trailblazing Black athletes. The museum is free to enter.

With the Heritage Museum’s prime location in the center of town, it’s an easy 15-minute walk to Divine Distillers, the town’s craft-distillery tasting room where revelers sample brandy and amari made with local produce. Wine aficionados can take a quick drive to Redgate Vineyards to enjoy lovely blancs and rosés of pinot noir. Or, stroll through the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge to catch glimpses of egrets, dusky Canada geese and pintails among the marshlands and forests. When hunger strikes, head to nearby Dallas for baby-back ribs at West Valley Taphouse or tandoor-blistered skewers from Masala Bites Indian Restaurant.

Hallie Ford Museum of Art

2. Salem: A Classic Film Set and Local Art

Many Oregonians know this famous Salem building was the filming location of Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” directed by Miloš Forman. However, the Oregon State Hospital is far more than a set. Its Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health is one of a handful worldwide museums dedicated to sharing stories of mental-health treatment from the late 1800s through the mid-1900s. Visitors can listen to firsthand accounts of hospital residents via vintage telephones, get a deep look into the methods and machinery of treatment over the last two centuries, and explore a 1920s or ’30s replica of a patient’s room. Plus, movie buffs can check out props, set details and Oregon Film Trail plaques from the filming of the Academy Award-winning picture.

Afterward, turn your trip into a museum marathon and pop by the Forest History Center, an archive of historic documents, tools and materials related to the state’s forestry-preservation efforts, located within the Oregon Department of Forestry in Salem. (Note that the center is available to visit by appointment only.) Next stroll through the Hallie Ford Museum of Art on the Willamette University campus, which offers an impressive collection of pieces by Pacific Northwest artists, including Indigenous artists local to the Willamette Valley. For more fine art, Salem on the Edge art gallery curates an exceptional selection of pieces by Oregonian artists and others. For lunch or dinner, the restaurants in downtown Salem will serve nicely, particularly Taproot Lounge & Café for veggie-packed bowls and salads, Rudy’s Steakhouse for expertly seared steaks and fresh seafood, or The Cozy Taberna for global cuisine and Spanish-influenced cocktails.

Benedictine Brewery & St. Michael Taproom

3. Mount Angel: Eclectic Finds and a Monastic Brewery

For a truly eclectic mix of artifacts, including what is considered the world’s largest porcine hairball, seek out the Mount Angel Abbey Museum, which is tucked away in Mt. Angel’s serene Benedictine monastery. The museum is home to an extensive assortment of taxidermy, including an eight-legged stuffed calf, as well as an array of mid-century dishware and glassware. Those exploring the exhibits will also spot some beautiful Samoan, Latin American and African art, provided by students of the seminary. The museum is free to visit, with the option to donate to the monastery.

The Mount Angel Abbey is a site to behold in its own right, so visitors should leave time to stroll  the rest of the grounds. A beer at Benedictine Brewery & St. Michael Taproom, which is operated by the monastery, is a fun finale for any visit. The Bavarian-style town of Mt. Angel is also a worthy spot to refuel. Locals love to hit up Mt. Angel Sausage Co. or The Glockenspiel Restaurant for German-inspired dishes. For dessert stop in Sin-able Sweets for cream-filled eclairs and massive cinnamon rolls, including  gluten-free and lower-sugar options.

About The

Brooke Jackson-Glidden
Brooke Jackson-Glidden is an award-winning editor and journalist based in Portland who covers travel, culture and the outdoors. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Arizona Republic and USA Today, and she currently serves as the editor of Eater Portland. She loves hiking, geeking out over Oregon wine, eating through Portland food-cart pods, and exploring off-the-beaten-track museums in small towns.

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