I dropped into Eugenelandia — a real place, not one played on TV — and what did I see? Characters sporting Gore-Tex jackets or fleece vests paired with running pants, a sensible uniform for a city nicknamed “Track Town, USA.” On their feet, they wore hiking boots, even if they didn’t have immediate plans to trek up Mount Pisgah, or sneakers, so they were ready to fly on Pre’s Trail, a four-mile tribute to track star Steve Prefontaine. (Nike is the predominant brand because of its ties to the town and University of Oregon. Eugenelandians just wear it.) I noticed that gluten-, dairy- and egg-free baked goods seemingly grow on trees, and that the Willamette River appears to flow with craft beer, pinot gris and locally roasted coffee. There were dogs and ducks (the mascot kind) on streets and in stores. I petted both.
In Eugenelandia, I discovered a diverse culture — counter/mainstream, team sports/outdoor adventures, vegan/carnivorous — that moves in mysteriously harmonious ways. I could stay in one lane (a visit to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and a sophisticated meal at King Estate Winery) or veer from side to side (dance class at Ballet Fantastique followed by canned beer and pinball at Blairally Vintage Arcade). Despite its rich source material, Eugenelandia has not earned its own show — yet — but Eugene has appeared in film. The most well-known flick in its oeuvre is National Lampoon’s “Animal House,” which was filmed here in 1977. I saw several of the film sites while walking around campus — in my Nikes.
On the 1Eugene Ale Trail, 1Eugene Ale Trail Google Map: 754 Olive St. Website: www.eugenecascadescoast.org/eugene-ale-trail/ 800-547-5445 discerning imbibers earn prizes for what comes naturally to them: drinking craft brews and ciders. Collect a stamp from eight out of 21 breweries and cideries along the route, and win a growler. Stop by the Brewers Union Local 180, in nearby Oakridge, for a bonus gift — an English-style pint glass. Or visit all the spots, including Viking Braggot Company (known for its honey-based beer) and Alesong Brewing & Blending (recognized for its barrel-aged brews), and score a silver metal cup. Those with limited time or low metabolic rates should follow the Distillery Trail, which requires only three proofs of attendance. No peer pressure: You don’t need to drink to play.
Even if you have more in common with a wooden nutcracker than a sugarplum fairy, you can still trip the light fantastic — emphasis on tripping — during a drop-in lesson at 2Ballet Fantastique 2Ballet Fantastique Google Map: 960 Oak St. Website: www.balletfantastique.org/academy/adult.php 541-342-4611 . The professional dance company invites amateurs to plié at its barre and balance across its studio floor. During the 90-minute class, instructor Jessica Jaye Mackinson taught us to chassé, sauté, ronde de jambe and grand battement, a fancy French word for a three-sided kick. For the finale, we performed a pas de bourrée, glissade and grand jete. While the other students bowed for the audience, I picked up the imaginary roses thrown at my gym-socked feet.
At the 209-acre 3Mount Pisgah Arboretum, 3Mount Pisgah Arboretum Google Map: 34901 Frank Parrish Rd. Website: www.mountpisgaharboretum.com 541-747-3817 nature runs rampant on an abandoned dairy farm latticed with oaks, firs, prairie grasses and other Willamette Valley flora. Show your support for the native vegetation by picking the blackberries, the invasive-species kind, and hiking trails that wriggle through eight ecosystems. Exhibits in the wetlands, incense-cedar and oak woodlands areas explain the attractions from the ground (millipedes) up (old-growth trees). And while tree-huggers are welcome, wildlife-kissers should be cautious. “Don’t lick the rough-skinned newts,” warned August Jackson, an interpretation coordinator. “They are poisonous.”
Spoiler alert: The sagas of the 41 residents at the 4Cascades Raptor Center 4Cascades Raptor Center Google Map: 32275 Fox Hollow Rd. Website: cascadesraptorcenter.org 541-485-1320 all end happily, but the circumstances that landed the birds at the rehab and education facility . . . well, hang on to your hankie. Aeolus, a bald eagle, lost a wing tip to a power line or fence. Anu and Dakini, white-tailed kite siblings, were orphaned after their nest tree was chopped down. Pip, a peregrine falcon, arrived at the on-site hospital with a fractured wing and required two mouth-to-beak resuscitations during surgery. Despite their rough starts, the birds of prey are now thriving in their new home and workplace, where they perform ambassadorial duties. “We view these birds as our feathered co-workers,” Education Director Kit Lacy said, before entering Puck’s enclosure to feed her officemate a mouse snack.
At 5Off the Waffle, 5Off the Waffle Google Map: 840 Willamette St. Website: offthewaffle.com 541-632-4225 let your id — not your ego — order for you. Sure, you can play it safe with the Original, a plain Liege waffle made of brioche dough and Belgian pearl sugar. Better yet, ditch your self-control for the Goat in the Headlights (chevre, avocado and two sunny-side-up eggs), Get Figgy With It (figs, goat cheese, bacon, maple drizzle) or the BBBMB, an amped-up version of the BMB with six bacon strips instead of two and twice the havarti. You also can build your own Liege with such toppings as pork belly, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Feel free to name it after your truest self.
6Izakaya Meiji 6Izakaya Meiji Google Map: 345 Van Buren St. Website: www.izakayameiji.com 541-505-8804 is a little bit country-western and a lot Eastern. The dining and drinking establishment is modeled after a Japanese gastropub but with a Nashville playlist and artfully neglected decor. (A server pointed out a painting by the owner’s mom “of some drunk guy she knew.”) Diners order small plates that highlight such Land of the Rising Sun specialties as shiokara (fermented squid guts), kushiyaki (explained as “skewered things”) and onigiri (nori-wrapped rice balls). With 100-plus bottles of whiskey and sake on offer, the bartenders often scale a ladder to reach the higher-altitude booze. After 11 p.m., the menu switches over to the dark side; the Ramen Shop is now open for slurping.
A sign frequently seen in the pastry cases at 7Sweet Life Patisserie 7Sweet Life Patisserie Google Map: 755 Monroe St. Website: www.sweetlifedesserts.com 541-683-5676 : gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free. “Eugene is known for its alternative diets,” said Catherine Reinhart, who runs the bakery with her sister, Cheryl. “We were ahead of the curve on gluten-free.” The hyphenates don’t detract from the decadence. GED-free examples include German chocolate cake with a coconut pecan filling, pumpkin cranberry walnut cupcakes and chai spice cheesecake. The pan-tolerant have plenty of options, too, including whoopie pies with rotating cream interiors; the Josephine, a dolled-up Napoleon with vanilla custard and berry puree; and an eight-layer tiramisu cake that requires extra-long incisors to eat.
Diners at 8King Estate Winery 8King Estate WInery Google Map: 80854 Territorial Hwy. Website: www.kingestate.com 541-942-9874 don’t have to ask where the wine came from; the answer is out the window. The country’s largest biodynamic vineyard opened its restaurant in 2006, serving French-accented Pacific Northwest cuisine in a hilltop dining room. You can start with a tour of the winemaking operation, which specializes in pinot gris, or a flight of five “library” wines at the tasting bar. The next course — solid food for brunch, lunch or dinner — celebrates Oregon’s bounty. Much of the produce comes from the estate’s garden and orchard, and the proteins hail from neighboring farms. Though salmon is always in fashion, the most popular dish is the cheddar-bacon burger and fries, described in kingly terms as “truffled Burbank potato frites.”
9Passionflower 9Passionflower Google Map: 128 E. Broadway Website: passionflowerdesign.com 541-344-3857 opened as a floral shop 24 years ago but morphed into “a nature-based lifestyle store with a maximalist vibe,” said owner Jewel Murphy. Tables spill over with velvet pumpkins stuffed with crushed hazelnuts, socks covered in lemurs and earrings made of ukulele parts. A mad entomologist’s corner contains exquisite butterflies and beetles in shadowboxes, and a salt lick offers flavored salts and salted caramels by Jacobsen Salt Co., which harvests its mineral from the Oregon coast. To honor the store’s origins, landscape your own terrarium: You design, and the staff constructs.
Will Adler, of 10Will Leather Goods, 10Will Leather Goods Google Map: 296 East Fifth Ave. Website: www.willleathergoods.com/pages/eugene-store 541-246-8650 entered the accessories (and handheld food) game in 1981, when he sold rainbow-hued cotton belts (and chili dogs) in Venice Beach, Calif. Eight stores later, including the Eugene outpost, which is housed in a 1940s boxcar, Adler is still selling the Gunner Belt but with a new buckle: a metal slider with his signature cow stamp. The local designer also expanded his collection to include raw leather bags with plaid lining, waxed canvas totes, and carriers made of loom weavings from Guadalajara and vintage quilts from India. The tip-to-tail company devises smaller items out of the leather scraps, such as toothpick holders, buttons and cow-shaped keychains with a Will of their own.
Which came first to the 115th Street Public Market 115th Street Public Market Google Map: Corner of Fifth and High streets Website: www.5stmarket.com 541-484-0383 , the chickens or the shops? Poultry preceded the two-level emporium, but visitors nostalgic for the former poultry plant can grab a curry chicken sandwich at Provisions Market Hall or a ring with an egg-shaped opal at Newtwist . The retail center skews local with such stores as Velvet Edge Boutique, a women’s clothing store run by a former University of Oregon professor and her actress daughter; Pendleton, the cozy den of woolens; and Made in Oregon, which sells such state symbols as smiling raindrop magnets and Sasquatch T-shirts.
Roll over Beethoven — and Bach, Chopin and Puccini — and make room in the king-size bed. At the 12Excelsior Inn 12Excelsior Inn Google Map: 754 E. 13th Ave. Website: excelsiorinn.com 541-342-6963 , all 14 rooms are named after a classical-music composer and feature a small shrine to that musical genius: a bust and framed sheet of music for “Aida” in the Verdi room, for instance. Owner Maurizio Paparo, who grew up in Florence, sprinkles Old World pixie dust around the inn, which occupies a former sorority house; the front yard garden; and the Italian restaurant, where guests receive a free breakfast of eggs and vegetables from his five-acre farm. Twice a month, Paparo organizes a presentation focusing on the food, wine and culture of an Italian region. Guests can travel there via staircase.
Yes, the 13Hyatt Place Eugene/Oakway Center 13Hyatt Place Eugene/Oakway Center Google Map: 333 Oakway Rd. Website: eugeneoakway.place.hyatt.com/en/hotel/our-hotel.html 541-343-9333 is a chain, but the new 130-room property is not a member of the Could Be Anywhere Club. The owners are fourth-generation Eugeneans who are keen on local art and nature. The public areas display works by Marshall Roemen, who received a master of fine arts degree from the University of Oregon. The alfresco Sky Lounge contains furniture made out of an old oak tree that grew on the property, plus pieces from Outdoor Elements, a store within bird-calling distance of the hotel. In the morning, dig into a free breakfast bowl with Skinner’s Butte views.
14 Inn at the 5th 14Inn at the 5th Google Map: 205 E. Sixth Ave. Website: www.innat5th.com 541-743-4099 , the city’s only four-star luxury boutique property, sits plunk in the middle of 5th Street Public Market, a boon for overnighters. The French bistro Marche provides the room service, and guests can supplement their welcome glass of wine with a bottle from Provisions Market Hall. Inside the hotel, thoughtful flourishes abound, such as private butler pantries (no awkward face time with food delivery people) and coolers with bags of ice on each floor (no loud humming machines). The hotel also embraces its Eugene-ness with artful representations of Swifty, the market’s former resident rooster; theme rooms in shades of Rain, Pendleton and Ninkasi; and fireplace mantels constructed of repurposed beams from the last tenant, Nike.
Acquaint yourself with the 15University of Oregon 15University of Oregon Google Map: 1585 E. 13th Ave. Website: uoregon.edu 541-346-1000 campus on a miles-long running tour with a student or researcher who can chat about campus life and discoveries in, say, microbiology with equal authority. (Forgot your sneakers? Pick up a pair of UO-colored Nikes at the campus Duck Store.) Slow to a crawl at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, which houses a permanent collection of impressive Asian art, and the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the artifact-sitter for the world’s oldest shoes and 14,500-year-old coprolites. (“Human poop, in archaeological terms,” said Ann Craig, exhibitions director.) At the Knight Library, peruse the Ken Kesey Collection, a trove of manuscripts, jailhouse sketches, correspondences and journals: “May 16, Nothing else to do, so I’ll write.” Regain your Freshman 15 at Erb Memorial Union. Under one roof: homemade ice cream at Red Wagon Creamery, kombucha on tap at Townshend’s Tea Company, and cheesy pies and microbrews at Falling Sky Pizzeria and Public House.
A radical streak runs through 16Whiteaker, 16Whiteaker Google Map: West of the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge and north of Eighth Avenue the site of Occupy Eugene protests. For example, Vanilla Jill’s Scoops and Soups Cafe boycotts sugar and dairy with its Paleo ice cream flavors. With its veg-friendly toppings, Pizza Research Institute rejects meat. Blairally Vintage Arcade spurns the “Angry Birds” era with classic arcade games and pinball machines. The Whit also upholds a No Beverage Left Behind policy, with three breweries, wineries and distilleries each, plus the Wandering Goat Coffee Co., a local roaster. Several places offer live music, but only the Eugene Whiteaker International Hostel provides beds and bands. The budget crash pad doubles as practice space for the musical owner.