Photo by Jennifer Roberts
Eugene is no stranger to No. 1 rankings. As Track Town USA, it has the No. 1 field sports venue in the country. It also has been rated the No. 1 “Hippie Town.” But one top spot has eluded it—the University of Oregon Ducks have never won a national football championship. And they won’t this year, but a showdown Nov. 21 with USC at Autzen Stadium should still be a key game for both teams. Whether that is the reason to visit, or a backdrop to a Willamette Valley wine tour, Eugene is a fine fall trip. Bring an umbrella.
There are no ducks, but plenty of eagles, falcons, hawks, owls, and other flying predators inhabit the Cascades Raptor Center, just south of town. It rescues injured birds and rehabilitates them to return to the wild. Eugene’s best year-round hike is the one-mile trek through Douglas Fir stands to Spencer Butte, a rocky outcropping overlooking the Willamette Valley. Hayward Field at the university also is the site of top world and college track competitions. Tickets already are on sale for next year’s U.S. track and field Olympic Trials from July 1 through 10.
Wandering Goat Coffee Co. is a top roaster and egalitarian counterculture hangout. Try a Breve ($5)—like a hot milkshake of espresso and steamed half-and-half. Need your beer fix? Head to Ninkasi Brewing, which has the town’s best craft brew: Total Domination IPA. At Poppi’s Anatolia, start with the Melitzanosalata, a dip of roasted eggplant, garlic, parsley, and tahini ($6). Then try the spicy Pathia Prawns with pineapple, bell peppers, and basmati rice ($17). The expatriate owner came to Eugene in the mid-1970s, found no Greek or Indian restaurants, and opened one spot to serve both cuisines. Eclectic Eugene at its best.
Eugene in the fall is a bargain—except for weekends with Ducks home games. Like the games, hotels are a sellout. The Inn at the 5th brings urban chic to a stretch of lower downtown ($199 and up). Victorian plush is the draw at Campbell House ($129 to $349), a small inn nestled in an 1892 mansion near Skinner’s Butte. The modern annex has an ADA-compliant room and a large family suite. The 42-year-old Valley River Inn ($105 to $300) on the north side of the Willamette River is an easy-in, easy-out full-service hotel with a modern Northwest feel.
Alaska and Southwest fly nonstop from Orange County to Portland, 125 miles north of Eugene. Amtrak has daily trains between Portland and Eugene.