Perfectly Small Cities: Albany, Oregon

Author: Alecia Pirulis

Willamette Valley Farm

A historic covered bridge stretches across a wide, winding river while in the distance a hot-air balloon drifts above the emerald-green landscape. A historic downtown contains delightful boutiques and sidewalk cafes, and one of the favorite pastimes of residents and visitors alike is to watch local artists as they hand-paint carousel horses. Houses laced with gingerbread line sun-dappled, curvy streets while residents cruise along on bicycles, headed to the farmer’s market. This is Albany, Oregon, a terrific small city located in the Willamette Valley along the Calapooia and Willamette Rivers.

Albany has been a Tree City USA for 20 years. It is delightfully outdoorsy, located on two rivers and having a relatively mild climate. Albany has 354 acres of parks, and an additional 1,200 acres of nearby county parks. Residents enjoy summer activities such as boating, fishing, water skiing, beachcombing, and sailing. During the winter months, snow skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities. Other activities include mountain biking, camping, hiking, and some of the area’s best golfing.

Vineyards and wineries are common in the Albany area, as well. The Upstairs Downtown Albany Wine Walk is a terrific tour, combining the beautiful historic buildings of downtown with wine tasting from Northwest winemakers. The buildings in the downtown historic district date back to the 1870s, and while the lower floors contain businesses and shops, many of the historic buildings contain lofts that are only open to the public during the Upstairs Downtown Wine Walk. Albany is at the heart of the Willamette Valley wine-growing region, famous for its Pinot Noir.

Another famous festival in Albany is River Rhythms, a summer concert series that includes food vendors and children’s activities. The free concerts take place at Monteith Riverpark and past performers include Herman’s Hermits, the Dixie Chicks, Sugarland, and the Young Doubliners. This year’s performers include Uncle Kracker and Patrick Lamb.

Albany’s Historic Carousel Carving Studio and Museum is a unique destination. A team of volunteer wood carvers and artists work year-round creating amazing hand-crafted carousel animals. Each carousel animal takes a year to create and is done completely by hand. The studio is free and open six days a week. The museum contains historic carousel animals and memorabilia dating from 1885. The museum also includes a historic carousel mechanism that will serve as the centerpiece for the Albany Carousel once the animals are complete. The mechanism dates back to 1909. Many of the museum exhibits, including the mechanism, were donated by the Dentzel family, carousel-makers who began creating carousels in Germany in 1850 and continuing after immigrating to the US.

Because the Willamette Valley is such a fertile growing region, the area is rich with farmer’s markets and farms. The farmer’s markets include performers and live music in addition to locally-grown produce. Nearby farmers markets include the Albany Farmers Market, the Corvallis Farmers Market, the Corvallis Indoor Winter Market, and the Brownsville Farmers Market. And if you’d rather go directly to the source, local farms often feature road-side stands and U-pick farms. Albany is home to Midway Farms, which offers organic produce, herbs, and eggs; and Adairs Orchards, which features U-pick orchards and a farm stand; and Grandpa’s Fresh Market, which contains an indoor farm store and U-pick produce.

If a pedestrian-friendly and historic downtown, beautiful architecture, endless outdoor recreation, exciting events and festivals, wineries and farms, and fun destinations aren’t enough to have you searching for apartments in Albany, then perhaps the arts and culture will inspire you. Albany features a thrilling performing arts scene that includes the Albany Civic Theater, one of Oregon’s oldest (and busiest!) community theater groups; the Willamette Theater Festival, a local theater group that performs everything from Shakespeare to slapstick; and Midsummer Arts in the Park, a summer festival that takes place in Monteith Riverpark and includes ballet, improve, Shakespeare, and more.