Salem ’s recreational mix belies its reputation for being a town dedicated to legislation and little else. The Elsinore Theatre (170 High St. SE, 503/375-3574, www.elsinoretheatre.com ) is a vintage theater and an emerging downtown cultural venue that features music performances and classic films as well as live theater. Check the Statesman Journal for what’s scheduled. Along with the L. B. Day amphitheater at the fairgrounds hosting big-name acts and brewpubs featuring live music, there are summer concerts at Salem Riverfront Park .
Five miles west of downtown, the Pentacle Theatre (324 52nd Ave. NW, 503/364-7200, www.pentacletheatre.org ) hosts an award-winning eight-play season.
Salem is full of studio tours, downtown art tours, and art galleries, as well as theater and musical events. The Friday Statesman Journal’s “Weekend” section gives complete cultural listings.
The Salem Art Association (600 Mission St., 503/581-2228) puts on the Salem Art Fair and Festival the third week of July. This multiday event includes 200 artists, performing arts, food, children’s activities, a five-kilometer run, an Oregon authors’ table, wine and cheese tasting, and art-technique demonstrations.
The Oregon State Fair (2330 NE 17th St., 503/947-3247 or 800/833-0011, www.oregonstatefair.org ) is an annual celebration held in Salem  during the 12 days prior to Labor Day. The fair showcases Oregon  agriculture, industries, tourist attractions, natural resources, government, and cultural activities. Big-name entertainment (well, it’s actually often big-name has-beens), amusement-park rides, an international photography show, and a horticultural exhibit are also included in this blend of carnival and commerce.
The best way to get there off I-5 is via Exits 253 or 258. Admission is $10 for ages 13 and up, $6 for seniors, $5 children 6–12, and children under 5 get in free; save a couple of bucks by buying tickets in advance at Safeway. Parking is $5. Entertainment tickets for musical events can run an extra $5–25.
This is the largest agricultural fair on the West Coast. It is also host to one of the 10 largest horse shows in the nation. While there’s no shortage of worthwhile events, family fun can come with a hefty price tag.