Situated at the southern end of the Willamette Valley, near the confluence of two rivers, Eugene beams with natural beauty. The city, home to the University of Oregon, attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds with activities as varied as bird-watching, cycling, and kayaking. Sports fans know Eugene as TrackTown USA, thanks to the school’s legacy of producing track-and-field legends, such as Steve Prefontaine, Phil Knight, and Caroline Walker. Its 100-year-old Hayward Field will host the World Athletics Championships in 2022. Go Ducks!
Over 40 miles of paths crisscross the area for use by anyone, from fitness joggers to future Olympians. For a leisurely introduction, rent a bike from PeaceHealth Rides and pedal the 12-mile Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path System—named for the city’s “bicycling” mayor, the first woman elected to the office. Its trails, which mostly hug the riverbanks, are especially enchanting in fall, when the Oregon alder and big-leaf maple trees blaze red, orange, and yellow.
Visitors can also cycle or stroll around the UO campus, an informal arboretum that nurtures 4,000 trees. While you’re there, stop by the Museum of Natural and Cultural History. The striking building, designed to resemble a Northwest coast longhouse, preserves 15,000 years of Oregon’s history as well as artifacts, including what may be the world’s oldest shoes, a pair of approximately 10,000-year-old sagebrush sandals.
Shoes are a big deal in Eugene. Two of the most celebrated UO Ducks, Knight and his track coach, Bill Bowerman, cofounded Nike (now based in Beaverton) after Bowerman was inspired to make grippy soles in a waffle iron. More than 40 pairs of vintage Nikes, including one of the first prototypes, are on display at the retro-cool Graduate Eugene Hotel on Sixth Avenue. At the Eugene Running Company store nearby, you can peruse an extensive collection of TrackTown USA memorabilia while getting fitted for your own kicks.
When you’re ready to refuel, head to the artsy Whiteaker neighborhood. Over in “the Whit,” you can slurp chile-spiked broiled oysters, savor a Pilsner-poached local bratwurst, or sip a Total Domination IPA as you lounge on the patio at the Better Living Room, a gathering space run by Ninkasi Brewing Co. Or you might relax on the patio at Izakaya Meiji Company and graze on small plates such as a miso soft-boiled egg, Japanese pickles, or hand-cut fries with wasabi mayo.