What’s awesome about Albany? Architecture, food, drink, history, art and access to the outdoors, for starters. Spend a long weekend here and you can drink negronis in a historic bank building, visit the restored historic carousel, pop between quirky galleries and shops, set the kids free in a splatter paint studio and restore yourself with riverside nature walks. Oh, did we mention paddle boats, fishing, summer concerts and hot air balloons? The compact, beautifully revitalized downtown, a National Historic District, makes it possible to spend three days adventuring without driving more than a few miles. Here’s how to spend your next long weekend.
Day 1, Thursday: Paddle, concert and nature stroll
Start your weekend early and head downtown for a splash in the sparkling Waverly Lake, where you can rent a paddleboat by the hour (life jackets included; open Thursday through Sunday, Memorial Day to Labor Day). Reward yourself with a sampling of handmade cheeses at the family-owned Ochoa’s Queseria (open weekdays), then explore the town on foot and pick up some sandwiches and giant pastries at Little Wuesten Cafe, on the west side of town. You’ll be right in time for the Thursday night River Rhythms concert at Monteith Riverpark, which features nationally known entertainers every July and August on the bank of the Willamette River.
After your evening concert, head back downtown and settle into a comfy booth at Vault 244 for small plates, craft cocktails (and more live music) in this historic bank building, built in 1895 — look for the namesake bank vault doors. Or, if you prefer, sit down for a cold beer at the delightfully old-school Deluxe Brewing Company — a “brewstillery” and tasting room where the owners make their own gin, grappa and single-malt whiskey. You can bring your own snacks in, and kids are welcome in for a game of ping pong.
Day 2, Friday: History, art and fishing
Start with a power breakfast at downtown’s Brick & Mortar Cafe, where carnitas benedict with chipotle hollandaise goes nicely with the weekend bloody mary bar. Peruse the Gallery Calapooia next door, a cooperative effort of area artists, for a gift to take home. Walk two blocks to the free Albany Historic Carousel & Museum, the city’s biggest attraction, where you can watch woodcarvers craft the carousel animals and hop on the lovingly restored 100-year-old ride, carrying colorful figures including Hope, the giraffe; Chinook, the sockeye salmon; and Daisy, the elephant. (Ride tokens for the carousel itself cost $2.)
If you haven’t had too much Tillamook ice cream, round up the crew for a light lunch at Cellar Cat, a quirky art-filled bistro three blocks away. Then mosey a few blocks to the Monteith House Museum, the restored 1849 home of brothers Walter and Thomas Monteith, who settled here and named the city of Albany after the capital of their home state of New York. Next, it’s four blocks east to the Albany Regional Museum, which shares local lore where kids can play dress-up in the children’s section. Check the museum’s event schedule for fascinating events like the Albany Streetcar History Tour, a narrated ride on a vintage city streetcar. Later, pop by Two Rivers Fly Shop to talk fishing with the locals, then toss your line out at Bryant Park for bluegill, trout or crappie. For dinner, enjoy burgers and pints on the patio at Calapooia Brewing. Or dine in style at Sybaris Bistro for a seasonal farm-to-table dinner by Matt Bennett, their James Beard Award-nominated chef.
Day 3, Saturday: Hike or bike, tastings and a play
Rise and shine early for a stroll through the local vendors at Albany Farmers’ Market (open Saturdays, April through November) and make sure to fuel up for adventure today. Cyclists will want to check out all or part of the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which heads south to Brownsville or north to Salem. If walking trails are more your speed, there are plenty to choose from: The 3.9-mile out-and-back soft-surface trail at Takena Landing Park on the north side of the Willamette River features peaceful views and is great for all skill levels (also friendly for dogs on leash). Simpson Park is another forested retreat along the river, with 10 shorter trails to choose from. And across the street is Talking Water Gardens, a 50-acre wetland site (open ‘til sunset) with walking paths and plenty of wildlife viewing — more than 100 species of birds.
Post-adventure, fill your belly with a hearty plate of chicken paprikas over homemade spaetzle for lunch at Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant, then prepare for an afternoon of indulgence. Sample the pinot at Springhill Cellars estate vineyard and winery, happy hour cocktails at Sweet Red Bistro, then head to a locals’ favorite, Frankie’s, for inspired farm-to-table fare such as Oregon lamb chops (gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options available). Find evening entertainment with a movie and beer on tap at Pix Theatre or see a play at the Albany Civic Theater. If you’re feeling artsy — end your jam-packed weekend with a splash at Albany Art Studio, where you can use squirt bottles, brushes and squirt guns to paint on their graffiti wall and take your own Jackson Pollock-inspired work home.
If you go: This summer, plan your visit to Albany around the Thursday night concert series, or stay through Monday for the Summer Sounds concert series — both free, family-friendly events along the riverside with kid activities, food vendors and a beer garden. The River Rhythms showcases marquee acts like the Oregon Symphony, Pablo Cruz and Foghat.
In August, Albany’s annual Northwest Art and Air Festival celebrates hot air balloons, visual arts and music. Rock legends Joan Jett, 38 Special, Chris Daughtry, Blue Oyster Cult and Bachman & Turner have come to perform in the past. On tap for 2018 are the Goo Goo Dolls, among many more acts.
Any time of year, set out on a self-guided tour of Albany’s three historic districts — a detailed brochure explains architectural styles and history. Another nearby historical site is 14 miles south: Thompson’s Mills State Heritage Site, the last water-powered mill in Oregon. Built in 1862 to grind grain, it paints a vivid picture of pioneer days. Free guided tours show the mill in operation.
Check out the Albany lodging page to choose from the hotels and motels, bed and breakfasts, RV parks and campgrounds.