My first Oregon experience was heading up Interstate 5 to Corvallis from California nearly 10 years ago for university, watching the scenery rapidly change from the desert mountains of Southern California to the lush Oregon terrain. Safe to say I was hooked.
Since then I’ve motored up and down the corridor from Canada to Mexico. Until this past year, I’ve only thought of using I-5 to reach my final destination, but as more of us embrace the beauty in our own backyards, I’ve started to also look at I-5 as a journey in its own right. I spent a weekend exploring the Oregon Food Trails along I-5, and while I traveled from Portland to Medford, you could definitely do this trip in reverse as well.
Day 1: Portland to Eugene
Start your drive by picking up a Mexican mocha in Portland from BIPOC-owned La Perlita or Mizuba matcha at Keeper Coffee Co., then continue south. The drive from Portland to Eugene is just under two hours, but if you feel peckish along the way, grab lunch at Xicha Brewing in Salem. They’re known for their tamales and empanadas, but the vibrant atmosphere might just have you planning a separate trip to Salem.
The drive will take you past Albany, home to a handful of historic covered bridges. You can either do a driving tour to see the five closest to Albany or, if the weather is nice, pop out for a picnic with ice cream sandwiches, cookies and cupcakes from Natural Sprinkles Co.
If it isn’t too late in the day, you can stop by Thompson’s Mills State Heritage Area, the last water-powered mill in the state, for a guided tour of the building and waterworks. Once you make your way to Eugene, check into the new Gordon Hotel, filled with art and situated in 5th Street Market Alley. The French restaurant Marché is within walking distance and has curated wine pairings with each of the entrees; I’d recommend the risotto. Afterward, you can peruse the new shops and booths at 5th Street Public Market until you’re ready for bed.
Day 2: Eugene to Roseburg
While it may not seem like there is an abundance of Black history in Oregon, many Black community members and local organizations came together to develop the Strides for Social Justice walking tour, a self-guided tour of places and events that have shaped the experience of Black residents in Eugene. Get your day started early by following the app’s running, walking, cycling, driving or wheelchair routes, then grab a pastry (or seven) from Noisette Pastry Kitchen before setting off again.
On the outskirts of Eugene, where the city buildings give way to farmland, is Aragon Alpacas, which is open by appointment for anyone wanting to pet a few fluffy alpacas or take a break in their upcoming Makers’ Space to try your hand at needle felting, dyeing and knitting. As lunch rolls around after a morning of activities, stop into Creswell Bakery in downtown Creswell for a roast beef sandwich on their signature naturally fermented sourdough bread or stay a spell at Saginaw Vineyard, just a bit south, for their hearty pizzas, or enjoy a cup of their traditional blackberry wine over a decadent cheese board with golden smoked herring.
You’ll have time to take the scenic route from Sutherlin through Umpqua wine country, taking a mental note of the many wineries to revisit later on a Southern Oregon wine-tasting tour.
Before retiring to your hotel in Roseburg for the night, get dinner at the impressively grand Parrot House. Listed on the National Historic Registry and one of the oldest buildings in Douglas County, they serve seasonal five-course tasting menus paired with local wines in historic rooms outfitted with antiques and modern touches.
Stay up a little later to enjoy card tables, the arcade or all-you-can-eat crab legs at Seven Feathers Casino, owned and operated by the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, one of the nine federally recognized Tribes in Oregon. Roseburg and the surrounding area is situated on the ancestral lands of the Cow Creek Tribe, as well as the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and Siletz, and visiting the casino is a fun way to support and celebrate Indigenous Oregon.
Day 3: Roseburg to Medford
The Roseburg-to-Medford section of the journey will reveal the charm of rural Oregon as you pass smaller and smaller towns along the way. Starting the morning bright and early at Goodog Bakery in Myrtle Creek will get you on your way in high spirits and good health. They feature gluten-free, grain-free and vegan goodies, and even cute little freshly baked dog bones for your pup.
Even with its arched bridge, forested hills and sidewalks lined with flower boxes, Grants Pass is an often-overlooked town along I-5. However, it’s more than worth the stop to stretch your legs on a stroll along the Rogue River and pop into the dozens of small businesses and local museums and galleries, such as Grants Pass Museum of Art and the Schmidt House Museum and Library on Sixth Street.
Fuel up for lunch at Wild River Brewing, where you can enjoy over a dozen hand-tossed pizzas or, my favorite, the Shady Oaks Special sandwich, made with their famous pastrami, melted jack cheese and fresh-baked sourdough bread.
Stop and stretch your legs on the paved walkway at Ti’lomikh Falls trailhead, sacred to the Takelma Tribe. Along the walk, you may also see residents setting up their canvases to paint the rapids that give the trail its name, and evidence of recently completed river restorations that have improved salmon passage.
End the afternoon exploring the small town of Central Point. Hands down, one of my favorite activities is visiting Central Point’s Artisan Corridor, where you can taste internationally renowned blue cheese at Rogue Creamery, indulge in chocolates at Lillie Belle Farms (including a bar made with its neighbor’s blue cheese!) and pick up a bottle of pinot noir to go at Ledger David Cellars. All are within walking distance of each other.
Spring is the season for blooming pear blossoms in Southern Oregon, and the best place to see them is at Fry Family Farm, just a five-minute drive from the Artisan Corridor, where you can pick up fresh produce, cut flowers, specialty sauces and jams — and even see adorable baby farm animals hungry for attention.
Tuck in for the night in the city of Medford, but not before grabbing a bite at Common Block Brewing Company. Along with all the pub classics like stacked burgers, fish and chips, and braised-pork nachos, they also have over a dozen local craft beers on tap, and they stock some of Oregon’s favorite handcrafted ciders.
Before continuing your journey onward, stop in at Over Easy, a favorite brunch spot with a midcentury-modern flair. Their eclectic breakfast menu features dishes like chilaquiles (verdes and rojo), a chicken katsu breakfast sando and even a delicious New Orleans muffuletta.
Next time you’re headed down I-5, turn on your cruise control and slow down; you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the treats you’ll find along the way.