When Budget Travel Magazine announced the Ten Coolest Small Towns in America on the CBS Early Show , it came as no surprise to the residents of Silverton, Oregon, that their town made the list. What was surprising, however, was how few people outside of Silverton could place the town on the map—though it was the only town on the entire West Coast to make the list. Located just 40 minutes southeast of Portland, and about 15 minutes east of Salem from Interstate 5 (I-5), Silverton remains just off the radar for many travelers hustling through Oregon to “make time” on their way to Portland and other popular travel destinations. But if you’ll be driving through Oregon, or simply visiting Portland, there are plenty of reasons you may want to work in a visit to this certifiably “cool” town. Here are seven of them:
1. Silver Falls State Park – I’ll cut to the chase: This is one of the most beautiful parks you may visit on the entire West Coast of the United States. You’ll find ten waterfalls, including the 177-foot South Falls shown here (tiny spots to the left are people on the hiking trail), lush temperate rainforest, excellent hiking and picnicking, with camping sites, cabins, and yurts (reserve cabins well in advance). There is often debate over whether or not this should be made a national park, but after struggling through crowds at other national parks, I side with the folks who are glad that it isn’t. Click here for more information about visiting the park and to read about our family’s last visit to Silver Falls.
2. Art and Artists – The many murals you’ll find throughout Silverton are an outward testament to the residents’ appreciation of fine art, which has made the small city a welcoming home to numerous artists and talented craftspeople. People throughout the Northwest make their way to view the artwork showcased at Silverton’s galleries, and each August (next weekend as a matter of fact), the Silverton Fine Arts Festival http://www.silvertonarts.org/saa/festival will be held in Coolidge-McClaine Park, with more than 80 juried artists, an international food court, wine tasting, live music on two stages, and children’s activities.
3. The Oregon Garden – “Garden” does little to convey the presence of nearly 20 different gardens carved out of the sloping hills overlooking the Willamette Valley. Among the 80-acres, you’ll find the A-Mazing Water Garden, Children’s Garden complete with a Hobbit house and dinosaur-fossil sand pit, a Conifer Garden, Pet-Friendly Garden, Market Garden, Lewis and Clark Garden, Rose Garden, and Tropical House, to name a few (see a map). When your feet wear out or your tiny traveler’s legs tire, hop on the tram and enjoy unlimited on/off privileges. Adult admission ranges from $5 to $10 depending on the season, while children 7 years and younger are always free at the Oregon Garden. Click here for more information.
4. The Gordon House by Frank Lloyd Wright – Wright’s only house in Oregon is located in Silverton, along the entrance drive to The Oregon Garden (originally 26 miles from there). The Gordon House was designed in 1957 and is a great example of Wright’s Usonian-style homes. It looks perfectly at home among the oaks and western redbuds here, inviting you to take a private tour for $5 (get $1 with Oregon Garden admission). For more information and to schedule your tour, click here.
5. Homer Davenport Days – Perhaps the king of kookie small-town celebrations, Silverton’s Homer Davenport Days celebration is held each August in honor of the 19th-century political cartoonist who called the town home. The celebration features not only a street dance for children, a town parade, a cartoon contest, bounce houses and festivities in the main park, live music ranging from jazz and bluegrass to the local church choir, and an amped-up version of the town’s monthly First Friday downtown celebrations, but also the only “Davenport Race” I’ve heard of in the United States. Ever seen a couch on wheels? Step back as several make their way through the streets of this small town!
6. Coolidge-McClaine Park – Located right in downtown Silverton, a short walk from the restaurants, galleries, cafes, movie theater, and library, you’ll find this terrific large park shaded by towering evergreen trees with Silver Creek flowing along its side and a footbridge leading pedestrians only across the stream. A vast complex of brand new playground equipment has just been installed, with structures designed for toddlers through tweens (see map), including a zip-line-esque slide bar and climbing walls.
7. Cute Cafes – Of course, you don’t have to go all the way to Silverton to find nice cafes, but when committing yourself to a stay in any small town, it’s nice to know that you can not only get good coffee (one of the criteria of the Coolest Small Towns), but that you can drink it in a place with real character. Suffice to say, you will find some great options in Silverton.
I could go on, boasting about the amazing crops of blueberries and blackberries here in late summer (after all, Marion County is home to the voluptuous Marionberry), the small movie theater where $5.95 still gets you in the door and witty quotations fill the screen before showtime rather than obnoxious previews, and the picturesque Victorian and Craftsman-style historic homes, but I’ll end now in the hopes that you’ll get the chance to discover Silverton with your own family.
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby