It’s tempting to label the town of Silverton one of Oregon’s hidden gems. With its rural location about 25 minutes east of Salem, quiet neighborhoods, and quaint downtown, it has all the trademarks of a well-kept secret.
The truth is, many Oregonians know this town well. Nearby Silver Falls State Park is a popular destination for hikers and campers throughout the year. The Oregon Garden, located just a few minutes from Silverton’s historic downtown, is not only home to an 80-acre botanical garden and resort, but also a major beer festival that attracts thousands to the area every summer. In fact, the town is no stranger to national news. “Stu for Silverton,” a book and musical about America’s first openly transgender mayor, thrust the town and former mayor Stu Rasmussen before audiences far beyond the borders of the state.
Perhaps the most notable thing about Silverton is not its small-town charm, but that it has managed to maintain it.
I make my way to Silverton several times a year for the reasons I listed above: to explore the waterfalls, to drink the beer, to smell the flowers. But a couple trips I took recently had no itinerary, and that is how I recommend everyone see Silverton.
Because it’s only about a half-hour drive from where I live and work, I left around 3 p.m. on a warm day and parked at Coolidge McClaine Park. With a large play structure, benches, picnic tables and an abundance of shade from towering evergreens, it looked the perfect place to take young kids after school.
From the park, I walked along what seemed like a common theme in and around Silverton’s historic downtown: picturesque tree-lined neighborhoods with sweet-smelling gardens and craftsman style homes.
The floral aroma can be too sweet to ignore for some — a woman walking her dog in front of me literally stopped to smell the roses in her neighbor’s front yard.
A couple minutes of walking got me across a bridge over Silver Creek, which runs past the west side of downtown, and ready for an iced beverage. It didn’t take long to find one of the best local options: Silverton Coffee Station. The name and structure of the business suggest the cafe is a converted gas station. It has an enviable location on one of downtown’s main streets and seating that directly overlooks the creek.
Christy Watson, owner of the Coffee Station for nine years, personally served me my iced americano and spoke to the small town that has supported her family and business for nearly a decade.
It’s the perfect place to raise kids, she said. With two sons who are the fifth generation to be raised in Silverton, Christy’s family is a good testament to that statement. As both sons went on their own career paths, one of them returned to serve on Silverton’s City Council, she said.
To pay it forward to the community that has been so good to her, Christy offers $1 ice cream cones on Fridays (and the community apparently appreciates it as she often goes through 300 cones in an hour).
Sipping my americano, I walked along Water Street toward more restaurants and boutiques and realized another theme: murals. This town has a lot of them. From poetry, to biographies of the town’s homegrown astronaut, to tales of a resident’s lost dog traversing America to find him back in Silverton, the walls certainly help tell the story of this historic place.
The heart of downtown is an antiquer’s paradise. In a matter of four city blocks, I came across a handful of storefronts displaying vintage decor, shabby chic signs, and distressed furniture, including The Red Bench, Mayberry’s, Silverton Flower Shop and the Silverton Antique Mall.
While local dining options are plentiful, my husband and I have a favorite, which is where we went on my other recent trip to Silverton. Mac’s Place is by no means the chicest option, but we love it for it’s quiet creekside dining, live music stage (and weekly performances), beer and food that I can only adequately describe as the best comfort food you’ve had in a long time, including jambalaya, ribs, fried chicken and a variety of mac and cheese dishes.
After our dinner, feeling like we had just stuffed ourselves on mom’s favorite recipe, we caught a movie at the Palace Theater, which sits just across N Water Street on the corner of Oak. The theater has just one screen, and the ads for local businesses that dominated screen time before the movie started confirmed my suspicions about this town: community matters. If it matters to you, go visit Silverton. And leave your itinerary at home.