Eugene’s location confers many blessings. The Willamette River curves around the northwest quarter of the community (pop. about 150,000), and abundant trees and flowers dot the cityscape. From an elevated perch you can see the Coast and Cascade Ranges beckoning you to beach and mountain playgrounds little more than an hour away.
In town, a world-renowned Bach Festival and other big-time cultural events are showcased in the Hult Center, praised by the Los Angeles Times as having the best acoustics on the West Coast. The University of Oregon campus provides another forum for the best in art and academe, while its Hayward Field track has been the site of the U.S. Olympic Trials several times.
Outdoor gatherings such as Saturday Market and the Oregon Country Fair bring the community together in a potlatch of homegrown edibles, arts, and crafts. But it doesn’t take an organized festival to draw the townsfolk outside. Even during persistent winter rains, locals can be seen jogging, bicycling, and gardening.
For residents of the sparsely populated hamlets east, west, and south of town, Eugene is a hub for health care and shopping. Visitors from rural Lane County flock to the Eugene-Springfield area on weekends to shop at Valley River Center, see a movie, attend a convention, or simply go “garage saling.”
Eugene’s labor, environmental, and human services organizations have labored with quiet effectiveness for several decades, giving the town a distinct lefty touch with worker-owned collectives, a wheelchair-friendly cityscape, preserved ancient forests, and wetland protection against industrial pollution.
As lovely as Eugene is, it might pose some problems for those with sensitive respiratory systems. Because of sporadic temperature inversions over the southern Willamette Valley, which is framed by mountain ranges that narrow like a funnel near the town, wintertime air stagnation is not uncommon. And the Eugene area, like most of the Willamette Valley, is notorious for its springtime pollens from ornamentals, trees, and grass-seed fields, making this season a challenge for the allergy sufferer.
Be that as it may, Eugene belongs on the itinerary of anyone who wants to experience a laid-back Northwest version of urban sophistication and active pursuits in a beautiful natural setting.
Getting to Eugene
Amtrak (4th and Willamette, 541/344-6265, www.amtrak.com) offers once-daily service both north to Portland and Seattle and south to Sacramento, Oakland, and Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight. There are also high-speed trains heading north to Portland daily. In addition, Amtrak runs several express buses each day between Portland and Eugene.
Greyhound (9th Ave. and Pearl St., 800/231-2222) is the other major mode of long-distance public transport, heading south to San Francisco or north to Portland several times daily from Eugene. Typical fares from Eugene to Portland are $17 one-way.
Around town, Lane Transit District (541/687-5555, www.ltd.org, $1.50) has canopied pavilions displaying the bus timetables downtown. All buses are equipped with bike racks.
The Eugene Airport (541/682-5430, www.eugene-or.gov) is a 20-minute drive northwest from downtown. Just get on the Delta Highway off Washington Street and follow the signs. United Express, Horizon, and America West Express all operate flights in and out of Eugene. There is no city bus service to the airport.
OmniShuttle (541/461-7959, www.omnishuttle.com, $21.50 from downtown) provides door-to-door shuttle service to and from Eugene Airport to various points in Lane County. Budget Taxi (541/683-8294) can also take you where you need to go (airport runs start at $15). Rental car companies Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Enterprise also have kiosks at the airport.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel