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10 Top-Rated Things to Do in Albany, OR

Written by Brad Lane
Apr 9, 2021

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Albany is in the heart of the Willamette Valley of Oregon, approximately halfway between Salem and Eugene. The city's historic charm offers a pleasant side trip when driving across the state. And with plenty of restaurants, parks, and museums, it's also a standalone destination for the perfect weekend getaway.

History defines Albany, as over 700 buildings in the city are on the National Register of Historic Places. Four distinct districts house this old architecture, much of which dates before 1920. This dated collection lends to an array of old Victorian homes and a historic downtown district filled with modern pleasures.

But it's so much more than just the past in Albany. The town also caters to contemporary travel with regional museums, decorative carousels, and scenic bikeways. Other points of interest include large public parks that highlight the Willamette Valley's excellent weather.

Plan your next stop on an Oregon vacation with our list of the top things to do in Albany.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Discover Albany's Historic Districts

Clock in Albany's Historic District
Clock in Albany's Historic District | Bruce Fingerhood / photo modified

Albany is perhaps best known for its visible history. The city is home to four designated historic districts and over 700 historic buildings dating back further than 1920. So many antiquated homes and businesses line the streets that the city's history is almost unavoidable.

And like the Historic Downtown Commercial District, Albany does an excellent job of creating a modern feel in these old buildings. One of the most popular ways to enjoy this central area is to stroll about and do some window shopping.

Two other historic districts surround the downtown area to the south. The Monteith and Hackleman Districts are the places to find a wide variety of historic homes. The city's fourth district, the Airport District, surrounds the still-operating Albany Municipal Airport - one of the world's oldest airports.

For context into Albany's history, the city sponsors large-scale tours at opposite ends of the year. The annual Summer Home Tour takes place on the last Saturday of July. It has an open-door policy for historic neighborhood homes. And on the second weekend of December, a Christmas Tour features festive decorations and holiday lights.

And more of this history is on display at places like the Montieth House Museum and the Albany Regional Museum.

2. Take a Spin at The Historic Carousel and Museum

The Historic Carousel in Albany
The Historic Carousel in Albany| Kirt Edblom / photo modified

In downtown Albany, near the Post Office, this classic carousel is a community-driven magnet for fun and tourism. It was born entirely of volunteer efforts. Today, the carousel has a beautifully carved menagerie of animals, and receives over 160,000 visits a year.

The museum on campus features several historic antique carousel horses donated by the Dentzel Family. This influential family was the first to manufacture carousels in the 1870s. The museum also offers a look into the painting and carving studio where new animals are still made today.

But the real appeal of visiting is riding The Historic Carousel. While kids undoubtedly enjoy the ups and downs of the moving ride, adults are also known to go for a spin. Carousel rides are two dollars apiece, and every session includes a chance at grabbing a brass ring.

Address: 503 W 1st Avenue, Albany, Oregon

Official site: https://albanycarousel.com/

3. Stroll around Talking Water Gardens

Talking Water Gardens
Talking Water Gardens

Talking Water Gardens is a unique spot to spend a couple of hours on the east edge of town. Albany and its neighboring city of Millersburg constructed these artificial wetlands in 2010. They have been engineered to serve as a water treatment source for runoff returning to the Willamette River.

Visitors can check out these faux-wetlands with over two miles of wheelchair-accessible trails. Interpretive information lines the route explaining how the artificial waterfalls and ponds, also known as cells, help aerate, filter, and cool the water. It offers a unique intersection of science and nature worth the visit.

Aside from the engineering, the artificial wetlands are also teeming with wildlife. These opportunities for a wild encounter make Talking Gardens a popular spot for birders and nature photography. Over 100 different bird species have been documented in the area, with the spring offering the most avian visitors.

Address: 577 Waverly Drive NE, Albany, Oregon

Official site: https://www.cityofalbany.net/pw/wastewater/twg

4. Dive into History at the Albany Regional Museum

The Albany Regional Museum is a great first place to visit for some context on the area. This non-profit museum is in the Historic Downtown District, within a historic building itself, dating back to 1887. Inside, thousands of photographs, artifacts, and displays tell the story of the still-growing city.

The museum focuses on many slices of life in Albany throughout the 1900s. The industries that helped grow the town, such as metal manufacturing and timber, are prominently displayed. Other exhibits include a replica train station, a 1920s kitchen, and firefighting relics from 1869 to the present time.

Plan to spend at least an hour touring the museum. The facility also regularly hosts events, including lunchtime speaker series and workshops. Check out the official website for a full list of weekly happenings.

Official site: https://www.armuseum.com/

5. Rent a Paddleboat at Waverly Lake Park

Waverly Lake Park
Waverly Lake Park

On the northeast side of the city near the interstate, this five-acre lake is a former rock pit turned public space. Today, visitors flock to Waverly Lake Park during the summer for leisurely time spent outside.

A big draw to the park is the seasonal paddleboat rentals on the lakeshore. Visitors can tour the lake atop these leg-powered boats between approximately Memorial Day and Labor Day. While on the water, keep an eye out for the Woody the Waverly Wood Duck - a massive 600-pound fiberglass duck decoy and the lake's unofficial mascot.

Alongside paddleboats, other ways to enjoy Waverly Park include fishing and navigating the shoreline walking trail. Bicyclists also tend to enjoy this paved path. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regularly stocks the water. Fishing licenses are required for anglers aged 14 and older.

6. Tour the Monteith House

In the Historic Downtown District, the Monteith House is one of the most authentically restored pioneer-era homes in the state. The original manor dates back to 1849 and was the first frame house built in the area. The Monteith Brothers, Walter and Thomas, were responsible for its construction. These two men migrated on the Oregon Trail and developed the townsite known today as Albany.

Today, the city owns the property and encourages the public to take a tour of the carefully reconstructed home. The non-profit Monteith Historical Society maintains the authentic interior and provides docent-led tours. Several decorations and decor from the 1800s still adorn many rooms.

Tours take place on weekends throughout the year. In the summer, additional tours are available on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. As well as providing context on each room, the docent dives deep into Albany's history, which grew from the influential public gatherings that took place at the house.

7. Grab a Local Bite to Eat

For local dining, head to the Historic Downtown District. Here, several sumptuous eateries entice patrons with unique and specialty menus. And several of these downtown restaurants are within walking distance of one another.

One of the most popular places to visit in this area, Sybaris Bistro, is across the street from the Historic Carousel and Museum. This modern restaurant is housed in a historic building and features seasonal menus based on the freshest ingredients. Although casual enough for an impromptu weeknight visit, Sybaris is also a hot spot for weekend date nights.

Other popular date spots in the downtown area include Sweet Red Bistro and Vault 244 Bistro. For some lighter fare, check out First Burger or Brick and Mortar Café. And on the east side of the downtown district, Homegrown Oregon Foods offers a convenient and healthier alternative to fast food.

8. Head Out on the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway

Willamette Valley
Willamette Valley

The 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway skirts through Albany on its way from Eugene to Salem. The route follows the valley's relatively flat contour, sandwiched between the Cascade Mountains to the east and the Coast Range to the west. And the Willamette Valley's fertile acres in between offer an easy backdrop for a sectional or multi-day bicycle ride.

The route passes right through the Historic Downtown District. This area is a great spot to hop on the byway and head in either direction. The trail extends 80 miles south to the outskirts of Eugene and approximately 50 miles north past Salem to Champoeg State Park. Setting a shuttle is one of the most popular ways to experience the trail, although out-and-backs lend excellent views going both ways.

9. Enjoy Other Public Spaces in Albany

For something to do on a sunny day, the city maintains several public parks perfect for meeting up with friends. Nearly every neighborhood in Albany has a park within a short walking distance. And some of the premier public spaces entice visitors from across town.

Bryant Park is one such popular public space near the downtown district. It's Albany's first public park and today is still a popular venue with basketball courts, hiking trails, and an 18-hole disc golf course.

On the east side of town, across Interstate 5, Timber Linn Memorial Park is another sprawling green space. Alongside the picnic shelters, playgrounds, and basketball courts, this popular park also displays veterans' memorials and wartime artifacts.

And for the ultimate summer cool down, Swanson Park, near Albany High School, features a Cool Pool! with designated lifeguards. This Olympic-sized pool has tons of fun features like waterslides and water park obstacles. It's a popular spot for families looking to beat the summer heat.

10. Day Trip to the Ocean

Yaquina Head Lighthouse, just over an hour’s drive from Albany
Yaquina Head Lighthouse, just over an hour's drive from Albany

Visitors to Albany enjoy the ocean with a scenic 60-mile drive. The closest coastal city is Newport, which makes an excellent basecamp for exploring Oregon's open-to-the-public coastline.

A few tourist attractions in Newport worth the drive alone include the Oregon Coast Aquarium and Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. The non-profit Oregon Coast Aquarium is one of the largest in the state. It features dozens of exhibits and glass walkways filled with marine life. And Yaquina Head is also saturated with marine life on the north edge town in a more natural setting.

And Oregon ocean adventures stretch up and down the coast from Newport. Other charming towns like Depoe Bay and Lincoln City are within a half-hour drive north of Newport. Depoe Bay is perhaps better known as the Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast thanks to its cliffside setting and resident pod of gray whales.

And to the south, the seaside village of Yachats always draws attention, also 30 minutes away. Besides the wide variety of seaside trails lining the town, Yachats is also a jumping-off point for exploring the adjacent Cape Perpetua Scenic Area. This forested ocean area features the highest view of the coast accessible by car.

Where to Stay in Albany, Oregon for Sightseeing

Nearly all hotels in Albany are on the east side of town, near Interstate 5. Several name-brand hotels occupy this area, offering a range of travel accommodations.

  • Comfort Suites Linn County Fairgrounds and Expo: This comfortable and efficient hotel is one of the most popular in the area. It has an excellent reputation for its cleanliness and customer service. Rooms at the Comfort Inn feature a separate sitting space, and amenities at the hotel include a full breakfast, indoor pool, and free Wi-Fi.
  • Best Western Plus Prairie Inn: Another popular choice is the Best Western Prairie Inn, also on the east side of town. It's one of the newer hotels in the area, and it shows throughout the modern rooms and lobby. Other hotel features include a free breakfast buffet, workout facilities, and a 24/7 laundry center.
  • Holiday Inn Express: This Holiday Inn exceeds expectations. Another new hotel in Albany, this pet-friendly hotel has a distinctly modern feel. From the contemporary furnishings in each room to the sleek lobby, it provides a refreshing place to stay.
  • Phoenix Inn Suites: This regional hotel chain offers an affordable stay alongside clean and comfortable rooms. The hotel is known for its hearty grab-and-go breakfast bags and friendly customer service. Kids also tend to enjoy the cookies in the lobby every night.
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