“Who dropped a whole truckload of fizzies into the swim meet? Who delivered the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode.” -Dean Wormer, Animal House
Eugene is a college town located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Home to the University of Oregon Ducks, a handful of breweries, and the Saturday Market, it’s a town full of college kids, hippies, and generally laid back folks.
Eugene is one of my favorite places. I went to U of O, where I studied English, and loved my time there. I now live back in LA, but I return to Eugene every fall to catch a football game.
Eugene is totally worth visiting on a trip to Oregon. Located just about 100 miles south of Portland, the scenery is beautiful, the food and drinks are delicious, and the locals are friendly. Plus, it’s full of quirky folklore, like nods to its Animal House ties, local football proverbs, and locations that inspired The Simpsons.
Here’s your travel guide for some of the best things to do, eat, and drink on a visit to Eugene, Oregon.
Explore U of O
The University of Oregon was founded in 1876. Classic brick buildings and modern structures line the tree-filled campus.
Spend some time simply wandering around and admiring campus. Don’t miss Deady Hall, the university’s first building, and Johnson Hall, of Animal House fame (yep, the 1978 comedy was filmed at UO).
Eugene is also known as Track Town, USA, so make sure to get a look at historic Hayward Field as well (note: Hayward is currently undergoing renovations, which are expected to be completed in 2020).
While on campus, pay a visit to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art as well. The museum, located near the Knight Library, displays art from all around the world in its collection and rotating exhibitions.
Experience Game Day
In order to see Eugene in all its glory, you’ve got to experience game day and see the Ducks play in Autzen Stadium. On game day — most Saturdays during football season in the fall — the town gets in the spirit. Everybody is out around campus in their green and yellow, taking part in pre-game festivities, gearing up to cheer on the Ducks.
As it gets closer to kickoff, the crowds take the famed walk from campus across the footbridge over the Willamette River (pronounced will-am-it) to the stadium. After some tailgating, it’s time to get inside.
Known as one of the loudest stadiums in the country, Autzen has a way of sweeping you up in the excitement, whether or not you’re a football fan. Every game begins with the saying, “It never rains in Autzen Stadium;” between the third and fourth quarters the crowd pays homage to Animal House by singing and dancing to “Shout” by the Isley Brothers; and the crowd is constantly yelling “O.” There’s really nothing like watching a game at Autzen!
Oregon really knows its food, so there’s plenty of great fare to be had in Eugene. There’s never enough time to eat everything, so let’s just stick to a few tried-and-true local staples.
For breakfast, you’ve got to go to The Glenwood and Brails. The Glenwood has two locations, one of which is right next to campus. It’s a perfect spot for some breakfast classics. Brails is the quintessential morning after game day spot; it’s been voted “Best Hangover Breakfast” in Eugene Weekly for many years in a row.
For a great burger, head to Cornucopia. If you’re looking for a nice Italian meal, there’s Beppe & Gianni’s Trattoria. For some great vegetarian food, stop by Cafe Yumm! and do not miss out on their signature sauce.
When it’s time for dessert, you’ve got to go to Sweet Life Patisserie, which has fantastic vegan and non-vegan delights.
For some budget-friendly college eats, head for Burrito Boy (Mexican food served 24 hours), Dough Co. (delivers calzones and cookies until the wee hours), and Cafe Siena (breakfast basics right off campus).
Oregon is home to countless breweries, and you can find some awesome ones in Eugene.
My favorite is Ninkasi Brewing, which opened the same year I moved to Eugene. Over the years it’s expanded a ton, and that just means more and more delicious beer. One of my favorites is the winter seasonal Sleighr, but you can’t go wrong with any of the brews.
Oakshire Brewing Public House and Hop Valley Brewing Co. are great as well. For a sample of all the local beers and more, stop by the Bier Stein. They’ve got a seemingly infinite selection of beer.
There are also plenty of wineries all over the Willamette Valley. A great one close to town is King Estate Winery. The region is known for its pinots, so don’t miss out on those!
As far as local bars go, there are plenty to visit. For college bars, the best are Rennie’s, located right off campus (and my former stomping ground), and Max’s Tavern, which is said to have been the inspiration for Moe’s bar in The Simpsons. Away from campus there are plenty of bars downtown, like local staple Jameson’s Bar or hip newer spot The Barn Light.
“I watched that big Oregon prairie moon above me put all the stars around it to shame.” -One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Enjoy the Outdoors
Every time I return to Oregon, I’m in awe of how beautiful it is. The towering trees, the boundless greenery, and the rainy skies make for marvelous scenery. There are plenty of places around Eugene where you can get outside and enjoy your surroundings.
For a great view of the city and some easy walking trails, head up to Skinner’s Butte. You can drive up to the top and walk around while enjoying a view of the town. There’s also Spencer Butte, which is a large area with more trails and views!
One of my favorite spots is Hendricks Park, which is located near campus and home to lovely, winding walking paths. Make sure to also spend some time walking along the Willamette. There’s a footpath that runs along the river, or you can visit Alton Baker Park located on its bank.
When it’s hot outside, you can also go for a swim in one of the local rivers, like the Willamette or the McKenzie. Even better, grab some inner tubes and float down the river with a cold beverage!
Browse the Bookstores
Whenever I go anywhere, I’m looking for a bookstore to explore. If you do the same, pay a visit to Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene. There are two locations, one of which is near campus on 13th Avenue near Alder Street. This independent shop is a local institution and offers plenty of new and used titles. Take the stairs up to this second-floor shop and wader the tall towers of books.
For the full UO experience, make sure to stop by The Duck Store. The main level is full of Ducks merchandise and the lower level has art supplies, while the upper level is home to a wide variety of books. Many of those are textbooks for classes, there are also plenty of other selections.
To see more of the city away from campus, head downtown. There are lots of events that take place downtown, like the Saturday Market (more on that below) and the First Friday ArtWalk, when locals and visitors can peruse the galleries and enjoy local art.
There are also several venues downtown hosting plenty of events, like the Hult Center of the WOW Hall. There are also tons of bars and restaurants to enjoy as well, plus a statue of Oregon alum Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Experience the Saturday Market
Every Saturday between April and November, the Eugene Saturday Market is open on 8th Avenue and Oak Street in downtown Eugene. The Saturday Market is a beloved town tradition. Musicians, artists, and food vendors set up every weekend for locals to come and enjoy. It’s always full of tie dye, great food, and friendly people — it’s the quintessential Eugene experience.
Whether you like football, the outdoors, or great beer, a trip to Eugene is right up your alley. The beautiful scenery, laid back locals, and plentiful food will have you feeling glad you made the trip. Oh, and GO DUCKS! Cheers!