Silverton, located in the foothills of the Cascades about 10 miles east of Salem , is a thriving small town with a major attraction right out its back door. Don’t rush past downtown Silverton; it’s worth spending at least a few minutes wandering past or through the antique and decor shops. And don’t be surprised to see a tall cross-dressing fellow out for coffee on a Saturday morning—that would be Mayor Stu, who knows firsthand that the Willamette Valley  is still a place for pioneers.
The big annual “do” in Silverton is Homer Davenport Days (503/873-5211, www.davenportdays.com ), usually held the first weekend in August, when locals enjoy crafts, food, music, and the spectacle of neighbors racing furniture down Main Street. Davenport was a nationally famous cartoonist in the 1930s and a Silverton favorite son. Most of the action takes place at Coolidge-McClain Park Friday evening and 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Saturday.
The Oregon Garden (879 W. Main St., Silverton, 503/874-8100, www.oregongarden.org , 10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily May–Sept., 10 a.m.–4 p.m. daily Oct.–Apr., $10 adults, $9 seniors, $8 students, half price off-season), while pleasant, has not yet become the world-class attraction originally envisioned. The botanical display was projected to grow to 250 acres—five times the size of the famous Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia —and was designed by a dream team of landscape architects with the backing of the state’s dynamic nursery industry.
Unfortunately, the garden was slow to develop, and the tourists were even slower to arrive. The financially beleaguered garden was purchased by Moonstone Hotel Properties in spring 2006, and a lovely new hotel and spa opened a couple of years later, making an overnight visit possible and attractive.
There are some lovely and innovative parts of the gardens. Especially intriguing is the wetlands section, which uses treated wastewater from Silverton to create a wetland. The water travels through a series of terraced ponds and wetland plants to a holding tank; from there it is used to irrigate the entire garden.
An attraction that makes the trip to the gardens worthwhile for architecture buffs is the Gordon House (879 W. Main St., Silverton, 503/874-6006, www.thegordonhouse.org , 11 a.m.–5 p.m. daily May–Oct., noon–4 p.m. daily Nov.–Apr., $5, reservations recommended for guided tour), a Frank Lloyd Wright–designed home located within the Oregon Garden complex. The house, originally located in Wilsonville, was moved to its current location in 2000, when the original property was sold and the new owners planned to demolish the house and rebuild to suit their own tastes.
The modestly sized house is an example of Wright’s populist Usonian style, and has beautiful western red cedar trim, many built-in drawers and cabinets, and lots of natural light. Terraces bring the outdoors in, and low ceilings in the bedrooms create a sense of retreat. Docents lead tours on the hour; this is the only way to see the upstairs of the house.
The Oregon Garden Resort (895 W. Main St., 503/874-2500 or 800/966-6490, www.oregongardenresort.com , $109 and up) seems to be what the Oregon Garden needed. A main lodge provides space for weddings and other get-togethers; guest rooms are in a series of small six-unit buildings tucked behind the main lodge. All the guest rooms, which are decorated in a way that’s pretty and upscale but not too designer-slick, have private patios or balconies and gas fireplaces; some are pet-friendly (as is part of the Oregon Garden itself). Many packages are offered, and special deals abound. Especially during the off season, this can be a surprisingly affordable getaway.
Should you decide to stay in town rather than at the gardens, a convenient and extensively remodeled option is the Silverton Inn and Suites (310 N. Water St., 503/873-1000, $75 and up), a once-lackluster motel that has been transformed into a stylish suite hotel with kitchenettes in most guest rooms. Silverton’s other good option is the Water Street Inn (421 N. Water St., 503/873-3344, www.thewaterstreetinn.com , $125 and up), a renovated 1890s hotel that now operates as quite a lovely B&B.
Downtown Silverton’s Silver Grille (206 E. Main St., 503/873-8000, 5–9 p.m. Wed.–Sat., $12–21) was, for a brief time, the it place to eat in the greater Salem  area. Then the founding chef went to work for the Oregon Garden Resort, and the place suffered. But Jerry is back, and the Silver Grille is once again a reliable place for a good dinner.
In a simple diner in downtown Silverton, you can find surprisingly good Thai food at Thai Dish (209A N. Water St., 503/873-8963, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Fri., noon–10 p.m. Sat., noon–9 p.m. Sun., $8–13). Just down the block, Mac’s Place (201 N. Water St., 503/873-2441) is a hoppin’ blues joint.