When you’re in Eugene…
by John Froelich
Pro Tip : You can find this original post on our travel blog, Off To Earth.
Once upon a time, John and Mandy filled out the 20 minute quiz on Find Your Spot. The website asks tons of questions to give you a list of cities in the US that match your weather, political, financial, and cultural preferences. One of twenty-four results on our list was Eugene, Oregon.
After spending a couple of days in Portland, then Seattle, we headed down to Eugene to visit for the first time. There is a big difference between those two large cities and Eugene, for sure. Even after spending 4 days there, we can’t say we could point out the city center of Eugene on a map. There aren’t many towering buildings and there isn’t much traffic to speak of. The traffic is especially unnoticeable after dealing with Portland for a few days.
Eugene is mostly centered around the University of Oregon, though as you get outside of a 10 minute radius of it, it would be hard to tell it was there. We found a lot to do in such a smallish city (it seemed like you could drive from one end to the other in 20 minutes), and when we couldn’t, amazing places were just a bit farther away.
Lots of Craft Beer
According to a Google search for breweries in Eugene, it looks like there are almost 20 of them.
We checked out Ninkasi Brewing Company and tried every beer they had on tap by ordering two flights. They supply you with loads of information about each beer, so you can be hoity-toity about your beer drinking.
Mandy’s favorite was the Oatis, a chocolatey, oatmealy, thick beer.
John’s favorite was the Tripel, which was less bitter than an IPA, but still flavorful.
Both of us really liked the Doppelbock as well. It’s not bitter and more on the malty side without being too thick and heavy.
If craft beer isn’t your thing (or even if it is), we recommend heading to The Pint Pot, a traditional Irish bar. Grab a Guinness and some bangers and mash! This place was our favorite in Eugene – we met great people there each night that we went and we will definitely be back whenever we visit Eugene again.
Order a Bellhaven Scottish Ale, it goes down really smooth. The Abbot Ale is also delicious and easy to drink. As far as food, the best thing we ate there was the pretzel (soft and chewy), but they also have poutine, colcannon, and shepherd’s pie that looked good.
And last but not least, if you like all kinds of beer, try The Bier Stein – they have 22 beers on a rotating tap, plus hundreds and hundreds of bottled beers to choose from.
Cascades Raptor Center
We have a raptor rescue center in Orlando (actually Maitland), but it’s about half the size of the Cascades Raptor Center. This place is definitely worth a visit and costs $8 per adult ticket (prices go down if you’re a teen/senior or child).
At the Cascades Raptor Center, they take in and rehabilitate injured birds, like hawks, kestrels, and eagles. The birds that cannot be released back into the wild get to hang out at the center and the human imprinted ones (those that love humans or think they are one) are used for educational programs.
Our favorite birds were Puck, the American Kestrel, and Miri, the Magpie. The vultures were also very friendly and would follow us around as we walked near their cage.
There is so much hiking in Eugene, it’s impossible to see it all in a couple weeks or months. A ten minute drive in any direction will probably get you to a hiking trail, biking trail, or both.
The first place we drove to was Skinner’s Butte, from which you can see a lot of the local city spreading out under you. It’s not a super nature-y view at the top, but you can walk and hike the paths into the woods around it, and none of the hikes are too strenuous.
If you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, Spencer’s Butte is a 15 minute drive from where we were staying (nearish to the college). Our buddy Teren, at The Pint Pot, told us this hike was ‘pretty easy’.
That was a lie.
It is an almost all uphill climb, comparable to hiking up Red Rocks in Colorado, that takes almost an hour to get up. The path takes you through a beautiful Pacific forest filled with pine and fir trees all over. Tons of birds, squirrels, and even frogs fill the woods with sound constantly. When you finally pass the tree line and think you’re near the top, the rest of the hike turns into a slow climb up craggy rocks and a shambling, off-balance, sheer hike up a large cliff-side. Make it to the top, however, and you’re paid in full with an absolutely breathtaking view of the distant mountains, huge, sweeping plains, and a massive forest beneath you. If you can get down from the top safely, you can run the rest of the way down without catching a sweat.
Venturing outside of the city, there are hundreds of parks, forests, and other places to hike, each beautiful and unique in their own way. Oregon is seriously a hiker’s paradise, and if you love nature, you’d feel right at home here.
Awesome Vegan Food at Cornbread Cafe
Since Mandy became dairy intolerant, it has become easier for her to eat at vegan restaurants rather than regular restaurants so she doesn’t have to worry that there is butter, milk, or cheese hidden in the food. We have a spot in Orlando that has great calzones and milkshakes that we love, but the Cornbread Cafe completely blows them out of the water.
Cornbread Cafe is vegan comfort food and we recommend it to vegans and meat-lovers alike. We were floored by the buffalo fried tofu (really firm but not in a weird “trying to be chicken” way) and ranch, the Barbecue Seitan Sammy, the Eugenewich, the reuben, and the Mac unCheese. Go. Eat there now!
Central to Scenery
We really love that Eugene is close to tons of scenic byways. Within 10 minutes of driving up or down I-5, you are surrounded by farmland, hills and mountains. (Not to mention, sheep!) In an hour, you can be in Willamette National Forest.
It takes 20 minutes to get to the start of the Over the River and Through the Woods Scenic Byway, which connects to two other scenic byways to the east within 1.5 hours of leaving Eugene.
In 2.5-3 hours you can be at Crater Lake, the world’s deepest freshwater lake created by what once was a 12,000 ft high volcano.
In 1.5 hours, you’re at the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway.
We’ve never seen so much nature crammed into a state before. Everywhere you drive, everywhere you turn, there are signs for a nature hike down a short little walkway into the woods.
Don’t get us wrong, nature is seriously the star of the show in this state, but after a hard day’s hike up Spencer’s Butte, or a twenty mile scenic bike ride down the Willamette River, it’s nice to go home, shower, and go out and talk to friends about what you did that day.
That’s sort of what Eugene is like. We’re sure some of it was luck that we came during this exceptionally beautiful break of weather, which the locals were quick to point out was unnatural. It was sunny and cool for almost our entire stay, which is almost unheard of in the town. Maybe people were in a better mood because of the weather, or maybe we’re just a couple of social butterflies, but whatever happened, it was part luck and part awesome.
Our main go-to spot at night was the aforementioned Pint Pot. This was the first place we visited in Eugene, and we had such an awesome experience there on our first night that we went back almost every other night just to talk to the people. Everyone we spoke to was incredibly welcoming, friendly, and really just had a vibe of community to them.
Maybe that’s a little bit of what it was. It didn’t feel that much like a city, or even a town. It felt like a community.
Everybody had a feel for one another, and everyone respected everybody else, wherever they were from. We met a guy who had hitch-hiked across the country only to find himself in Eugene making a good living for himself now at Symantec.
We found a woman from College Park in Orlando who had moved to Eugene six years prior because she liked the people here.
We ended up chatting with a drop-in knitting group of women for an hour, who told us about the fibre festivals and the different community things that go on every month to bring everyone together.
We met the owners of the Pint Pot, who called us names and then bought us drinks, welcoming us to Eugene and their bar.
Total strangers who just seemed so absolutely willing to open up and talk to you.
We wonder if maybe we’re just not this social in Orlando. We don’t really seek out other people to talk to, or try to make conversation when we’re out and about, but it’s something about the people in Eugene that let you know you can if you want to. Not once did we feel put-off by speaking to the locals, hammering them with questions, and asking how they like the place. Everyone was just so damned friendly, and as we were leaving Eugene, we were already thinking about how we were going to be able to keep in touch with the friends we made here.
This was a town and a trip that goes down in our books. We’ve seen some of the most incredible sights nature could offer by driving for a couple of hours. We’ve had a tour of the town by a local bartender, who brought us to a Barcade for an air hockey game, then proceeded to play Settlers of Catan with us at the bar. We ate some incredible local vegan cuisine, and put tons of walking and hiking under our belt here.
From two travelers to anyone who will listen, if you like people, nature, and food, you owe it to yourself to visit Eugene for a few days.
Days Spent: 4
Miles Driven: ~1,000
Beers Drank: Too Many
Vegan Sandwiches Devoured: 4
Games of Settlers of Catan Played: 1