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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 and generally laid back folks. The area is also brimming with outdoor recreation, great restaurants, wineries, and natural beauty. Oregon alum or otherwise, Eugene is a great place to visit.
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.
“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
What to Do in Eugene
Explore the University of Oregon
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 at Autzen Stadium
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!
Football games are played from the end of August/early September (opening weekend is typically Labor Day weekend) and continue until the end of November or early December. Ticket prices vary a ton, depending on where you sit and the who the opposing team is.
“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.
Smith Family Bookstore near campus is located at 768 E 13th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401.
(Update: Unfortunately, Smith Family Bookstore has closed their location near campus on 13th Avenue. However, the downtown location is still open, so make sure to stop by! Smith Family Bookstore’s downtown location is at 525 Willamette St, Eugene, OR 97401)
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.
The Duck Store is located at 895 E 13th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401.
Explore Downtown Eugene
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.
Downtown also has several venues hosting plenty of events, like the Hult Center of the WOW Hall. Plus, 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.
The Eugene Saturday market takes place at 126 E 8th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401.
Where to Eat in Eugene
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 Brails.
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. The menu is full of breakfast staples, and they’ve got possibly the best hashbrowns on the planet.
Brails is located at 1689 Willamette St, Eugene, OR 97401.
Another must-visit Eugene breakfast spot is the Glenwood. Glenwood has two locations, one of which is right next to campus. It’s a perfect spot for some breakfast classics. The breakfast burritos are pretty delicious.
Glenwood is located at 1340 Alder St, Eugene, OR 97401.
For a great burger, head to Cornucopia. They’ve got a couple locations, one downtown and one in the general campus area. With great microbrews on tap and delicious burgers, you can’t go wrong here.
Cornucopia is located at 295 W 17th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401 (near-ish to campus) and 207 E 5th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401 (downtown).
For some great vegetarian food, stop by Cafe Yumm! and do not miss out on their signature sauce. They have several locations around town.
Beppe & Gianni’s Trattoria
If you’re looking for a nice Italian meal, there’s Beppe & Gianni’s Trattoria. Beppe & Gianni’s is the kind of place the college kids take their parents for dinner when they come to visit. It’s a cozy space with great food and it’s always busy.
Beppe & Gianni’s Trattoria is located at 1646 E 19th Ave, Eugene, OR 97403.
The Vintage is a cute restaurant in a converted house. (In fact, The Vintage, Beppe & Gianni’s, Cornucopia on 17th Ave., and Glenwood are all located in converted houses.) The Vintage serves upscale American fare, with international twists, and they often have great specials.
The Vintage is located at 837 Lincoln St, Eugene, OR 97401.
Sweet Life Patisserie
When it’s time for dessert, you’ve got to go to Sweet Life Patisserie. Sweet Life serves up fantastic vegan and non-vegan treats.
Sweet Life Patisserie is located at 755 Monroe St, Eugene, OR 97402.
College Kid Favorites…
Last but not least, we’ve got our student staples right by U of O. 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), Caspian Mediterranean Cafe (perfect spot to grab a gyro), and Cafe Siena (breakfast basics right off campus). (Update: Sadly, Cafe Siena is now closed.)
Where to Drink in (and Around) Eugene
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. Like, hundreds of wineries.
A great one close to town is King Estate Winery. They’ve got great wines in a beautiful setting.
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.
Where to Stay in Eugene
There are several great hotel options in Eugene.
If you want to be close to campus, stay at the Phoenix Inn. It’s clean, got all your basics covered, and it’s super close to U of O. Phoenix Inn Suites Eugene is located at 850 Franklin Blvd, Eugene, OR 97403.
To be close to Autzen Stadium go with the La Quinta Inn. The La Quinta is right along the Willamette River, which is great area for walking or jogging. It’s also got clean, comfortable rooms, and it’s close to Autzen Stadium, which is great if you’re in town for a game. La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Eugene is located at 155 Day Island Rd, Eugene, OR 97401.
For a higher end option downtown, book a room at the Hilton Eugene. The Hilton isn’t as close to campus or the stadium, but you are near all the fun stuff downtown. It’s a nicer hotel, of course, so it is pricier than some of the other options in town. The Hilton is located at 66 E 6th Ave, Eugene, OR 97401. (Update: The Hilton was recently sold and is now a new hotel called Graduate Eugene.)
Keep in mind that if you’re visiting during football season, you’ll need to make hotel reservations far ahead of time. We usually make ours at least six months in advance when we visit for a game.
Transportation: How to Get to Eugene and Get Around Town
To get to Eugene, you can drive, fly, or take the train.
Eugene is located not far from Interstate 5. If you’re driving to Eugene, you’ll take Interstate 5 and then get onto a smaller highway, like the I-105.
There are airports in Eugene and Portland. The Eugene Airport is super convenient, but it is smaller, so flights are generally more expensive. Portland International Airport is larger, so there are more frequent flights that are likely less expensive. The Portland Airport is about two or two and half hours away from Eugene by car.
There is also an Amtrak train station in Eugene. The train station is conveniently located in the downtown area. Trains traveling up and down the west coast regularly stop at the Eugene station.
To get around town, you’ll mostly walk and drive. Depending on where you’re staying and what you plan to do, you can walk a lot of places. However, some excursions, like wine tasting or hiking, will likely require a car.
As far as ride sharing and public transportation goes, Uber is now available in Eugene and there are public buses.
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!