Towering forests, delicious cuisine and a welcoming spirit — meeting attendees can experience the best of the Northwest during conferences and events in Salem, Oregon.
That’s what 10 meeting planner and readers of Small Market Meetings discovered on a site inspection tour as guests of Travel Salem in May. Over the course of four days, they got to know the city, from the downtown convention center and numerous meeting hotels to historic sites, unique venues, signature restaurants and memorable outdoor experiences.
Home to more than 170,000 people, Salem is Oregon’s capital city. It’s also situated in a convenient location in western Oregon, with Portland to the north, Eugene to the south and the Pacific coast to the west — each accessible within about an hour’s drive. But visitors don’t have to travel far to find natural beauty and exciting activities. The Willamette River winds through the center of town, and the surrounding countryside is full of parks, farms and wineries.
Meeting planners will find that Salem has plenty of infrastructure and amenities to handle small and mid-size events. The Salem Convention Center and the adjacent Grand Hotel offer a full complement of meeting services. There are also smaller hotels with meeting space in other parts of the city, as well as a number of venues that add distinctive flavor and historic touches to meetings and events.
Finally, Salem’s culinary scene will wow visitors. Highlights include Cozy Taberna, a newly opened small-plates restaurant with delicious food, an imaginative cocktail list, Spanish wines and 24 beers on tap. Other restaurants and cafes throughout the area showcase the abundant produce of the nearby Willamette Valley.
Follow along with the site-inspection group in the coming pages to discover the opportunities Salem offers for your meetings.
Salem Convention Center
Voted Oregon’s best convention venue three years in a row, the Salem Convention Center offers 30,000 square feet of flexible meeting space that can accommodate groups of up to 1,500. Its architectural highlights include a large foyer with floor-to-ceiling glass windows offering sweeping views of downtown Salem and the surrounding area.
Meeting Spaces: The two-story convention center has a variety of meeting spaces. On the first floor, the 8,750-square-foot Santiam Ballroom features 16-foot ceilings and can be broken down into six spaces ranging in size from 1,000 to 2,300 square feet. Those spaces can be combined in numerous configurations for additional size flexibility.
On the second floor, the Willamette Ballroom features 24-foot ceilings and 11,400 square feet of space. The ballroom can seat 900 people at banquet rounds and up to 1,500 theater-style. It can be divided into four smaller spaces or combined with the 3,000-square-foot Willamette Foyer for an impressive pre-function space.
Also on the second floor are the Croisan Creek Room, a 3,240-square-foot space that breaks down into three rooms of 1,080 square feet each, as well as the Pringle Creek Room, a 900-square-foot space for smaller gatherings.
Dining: Led by executive chef Tory Knaus, the food and beverage team at the Salem Convention Center focuses on the diverse bounty of the Northwest. They work with local growers and farmers to gather fresh seasonal ingredients. Full bar service featuring Oregon beers, wines and spirits (alongside national brands) is also available.
Audiovisual Services: All audiovisual services at the Salem Convention Center are provided by an in-house team in cooperation with Allied Video Productions. Meeting planners have access to a full range of staging, lighting, sound and video equipment.
Nearby Accommodations: The convention center is attached to the Grand Hotel, which has 193 rooms.
Oregon State Fair and Expo Center
At 185 acres, the Oregon State Fair and Expo Center is large enough to hold any crowd a meeting planner could conjure up. As the site of the annual state fair, it has a number of indoor and outdoor facilities — including barns, a horse stadium and two livestock pavilions — that can accommodate a variety of event types.
Meeting Spaces: Seven distinct venues are available to rent. The Salem Pavilion, the newest building on the fairgrounds, is an indoor space with 5,000 fixed seats and 30,500 square feet of space on the arena floor. Outdoors, the L.B. Day Amphitheater can accommodate up to 8,900 for concerts or other programming. Cascade Hall is a 5,450-square-foot building that can break down into three meeting spaces.
Willamette Valley Vineyards
Situated on a hilltop just outside Salem, Willamette Valley Vineyards is among the most picturesque settings in the area. Founded in 1983, the winery specializes in vintages grown in the valley. The winery offers tour and tasting opportunities, and the onsite restaurant can prepare elegant dinners with wine pairings for small parties or VIP groups.
Meeting Spaces: There’s a small boardroom in the winery’s barrel cellar (where more than 3,000 barrels of wine are aging) that makes a memorable setting for an executive team meeting. If the weather is good, attendees may want to spread out onto the patio with a glass of wine. The winery’s restaurant is also available for private events for groups of a few dozen and has its own impressive outdoor terrace.
Reed Opera House
Opened in 1871 as a performance venue, the Reed Opera House is now a multiuse facility in downtown Salem. Its 80 tenants include retail stores, restaurants, a coffee shop and nightlife venues. Meeting planners can make use of several distinctive spaces within its walls.
Meeting Spaces: On the top floor of the opera house, The Reed Ballroom features a 4,950-square-foot space with impressive chandeliers, a full kitchen and huge windows offering views over downtown Salem. The space can accommodate groups of up to 300. A nearby bridal prep suite can also serve as a green room for speakers and VIPs. A smaller space, the Verona Studio, has a stage and stadium seating for 60.
Willamette Heritage Center
Located on five acres in downtown Salem, Willamette Heritage Center preserves the site of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill, which was established in 1889 and played an important role in local business for decades. Thirteen other historic buildings can be found at the site as well. Visitors can take a guided tour of the historic mill, part of which is now a museum. There’s also a great gift shop and a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor seating area.
Meeting Spaces: The largest meeting space at the heritage center is on the third floor of the mill building. The 6,300-square-foot space can accommodate groups of up to 350. There’s also a smaller room for up to 40 people on the same level. The nearby Dye House seats 80-100 people and has audiovisual equipment and decorative lights. A 60-by-80-foot lawn is also available for rental.
Salvation Army Kroc Center
Operating under the umbrella of the Salvation Army and funded by gifts from the estate of McDonald’s impresario Ray Kroc and his wife, the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Salem is an inventive community center and gathering space. The 12-year-old facility features a church sanctuary, classroom space, athletic courts, a fitness area, an indoor pool complex and numerous other amenities that make it popular for community members and meeting groups alike.
Meeting Spaces: A 230-seat theater, used on the weekends for church services, can host meetings and events at other times of the week. There are several small classrooms at the center, as well as four breakout rooms that can be combined to create a 4,000-square-foot space accommodating 250 at banquet seating.
The Grand Hotel
Adjacent to the Salem Convention Center, the Grand Hotel is downtown Salem’s preeminent guest property. Within walking distance of the state capitol, River Front Park, and the city’s exciting restaurant and nightlife district, the Grand is a spacious, full-service property that reflects the natural beauty of the Willamette Valley.
Rooms: 193 guest rooms, including suites of numerous configurations
Meeting Spaces: The hotel serves as the primary accommodations for the Salem Convention Center, so it doesn’t have any large ballrooms of its own. There is a boardroom off the lobby available for rentals, and the breakfast room can be used for events in the afternoons or evenings.
Dining: The Grand Hotel offers a chef-prepared hot breakfast buffet as part of its room rate for all guests. Bentley’s, an onsite fine dining restaurant and lounge, features fresh Northwestern cuisine. It is scheduled to reopen this fall after closing during the pandemic.
Recreation: The hotel features an indoor pool and whirlpool, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center.
Holiday Inn Salem
Situated to the east of downtown, the Holiday Inn Salem is a full-service property within a short drive of several area meeting sites. The Oregon State Fairgrounds is only half a mile away; it’s a four-mile trip to the Salem Convention Center. The hotel also has its own meeting space and catering service.
Rooms: 150 guest accommodations, some of which are two-room suites with separate sitting and dining areas
Meeting Spaces: The hotel has a 10,000-square-foot meetings area, complete with its own catering and banquet staff. There are a total of nine meeting rooms, the largest of which can hold up to 700 guests. Breakout spaces and a fourth-floor boardroom are also available.
Dining: The onsite Capitol City Grill is open for breakfast and dinner. It features classic American fare, with an emphasis on fresh regional ingredients. The grill also has a full bar and offers room service.
Recreation: The hotel has a pool and fitness center for guest use.
Hampton Inn and Suites Salem
Just off Interstate 5, the Hampton Inn and Suites Salem sits about three miles away from the city center. This 10-year-old limited-service property features rooms and suites in Hampton’s signature style, as well as some meeting spaces for small groups.
Rooms: 86 rooms and suites in one-king or two-queen configurations
Meeting Spaces: Meeting space can seat up to 58 attendees. A smaller boardroom has a table and 10 chairs, although additional seating can be brought in to accommodate up to 20 people.
Dining: A 24-hour pantry offers snacks, frozen foods and drinks. A variety of local and chain restaurants are accessible from the restaurant via a short drive.
Recreation: Guests can enjoy an indoor pool and fitness center, both of which have large windows that provide refreshing views of the outdoors.
Best Western Plus Mill Creek Inn
Located near the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 22, Best Western Plus Mill Creek Inn is a family-owned hotel offering spacious accommodations, as well as meeting options and other amenities. It is located about three miles away from both the Salem Convention Center and the Oregon State Capitol.
Rooms: 109 rooms and suites in one-king and two-queen configurations
Meeting Spaces: The hotel features a meeting room that can seat up to 160 guests theater-style. An air wall can separate the room into smaller spaces. An onsite staff provides audiovisual services.
Dining: The hotel is located next door to a Denny’s restaurant, and hotel guests receive vouchers for breakfast at Denny’s upon check-in. A variety of other restaurants are available within a short drive of the hotel.
Recreation: The hotel has an indoor pool complex complete with a hot tub and outdoor sun deck, as well as a fitness center.
Meetings in Salem offer attendees a wide variety of activity options. From beautiful woodlands and waterfalls to distinctive downtown parks and attractions full of team-building opportunities, meeting planners enjoyed these recreation experiences during their Salem site inspection.
• Willamette Valley Pie — Using fresh, locally grown ingredients, the Willamette Valley Pie Company has been a favorite pastry purveyor throughout the region for years. The bakery and retail store on the outskirts of Salem is an ideal place for visitors to grab a slice of pie and a cup of coffee and to relax while taking in the pastoral landscape.
• Oregon Axe Throwing — Visitors can get in touch with their inner lumberjack at this indoor attraction. Guides teach participants to throw axes at large wooden targets and can facilitate a number of competitions and tournaments for small groups. Beer and snacks are available on site.
• River Front Park — Situated downtown along the banks of the Willamette River, Riverfront Park is just steps from the Grand Hotel and the Salem Convention Center and makes an ideal setting for a quick escape to nature. There’s also a carousel, a community art project and a covered amphitheater available for rentals.
• Silver Falls State Park — About 20 miles southeast of Salem, Silver Falls State Park preserves 9,000 acres of a former logging camp. Surrounded by woodlands, the highlight of the park is a pair of waterfalls, the tallest of which is about 200 feet. Visitors can hike to the falls, or along any of the other numerous trails. Some gift shops and dining amenities at the park are a short walk from the falls.
For more information on planning a meeting or event in Salem, Oregon, contact:
If you are interested in hosting a FAM for readers of Small Market Meetings, call Kyle Anderson at 866-356-5128.