The whole state of Oregon is known for its active, eccentric residents. The “Keep Portland Weird” slogan really applies statewide, including in Oregon’s second-biggest city, Eugene. Home to just 156,000 people, Eugene strikes a balance between being a city bursting with shopping and entertainment and being a destination for scenic outdoor exploration. Eugene is also home to the University of Oregon and its 24,000 students, who make up an impressive 15% of the city's population.
Eugene residents’ passion for outdoor recreation is partly what led to Nike being founded in the city, which has spectacular geography — including two buttes — and the mild weather year-round that the Northwest is known for. That’s good news for drinkers as well as exercisers: The terrain and climate are perfect for the area’s many vineyards.
When to Search
As in most places, Eugene’s rental market slows down in fall and winter, after all the students have locked in a lease, and applications become less competitive. That said, there are plenty of apartments to go around in Eugene, with plenty of luxury apartments and townhouses available at any time and, considering Eugene’s low rents, for nearly any budget.
Life in Eugene
If you're new to Eugene, try renting a bike to explore the city. Forty-six miles of bike paths — plus 187 miles of on-street bike lanes — and a bike-friendly culture make it a safe and convenient place to ride. On the off chance the weather is inclement — Eugene does get about 43 inches of rain annually, after all — the Lane Transit District offers buses that cover the city and some of the smaller communities surrounding it. If you’re a University of Oregon student, you can also take advantage of shuttles to get across campus, around town, or back to your apartment. Traffic is pretty light in this midsize city, so a car is a viable and convenient option. But when you stop to fuel up, don’t get out of your car — it’ll just be awkward. Oregon is one of just two states in the country (the other is New Jersey) that doesn’t allow you to pump your own gas.
Where to play
Outdoor recreation is a huge part of life in Eugene, and whether you like canoeing, bicycling, running, or hiking, you can enjoy what Eugene has to offer. But you don’t have to be a nature-lover to enjoy your time in Eugene. Watching the Oregon Ducks compete in the Pac-12 is a great way to show support for the local university, and when the game is over, head to Broadway and Olive Street to experience the best bars in the city. Eugene is also home to WJ Skatepark, the largest indoor illuminated skatepark in the country, if boarding is more your speed.
Although Portland’s PDX gets all the glory, Eugene also has its own airport. And inside it, you’ll find the Oregon Air and Space Museum, which hosts several special events throughout the year in addition to its regular displays of aviation history and space technology. The Science Factory, inside of Eugene’s beloved Alton Baker Park, lets you — and children, mostly — enjoy interactive displays and dome shows. Considering the region’s favorable climate, wineries and vineyards abound. You could spend a weekend exploring and tasting Eugene’s 15 wineries.
Eugene has an impressive variety of restaurants, with several Chinese, Korean, Thai, Latin American, and Italian places to choose from. Among the best in the city, transcending genre, are Papa’s Soul Food Kitchen — which is exactly as deep-fried and comforting as it sounds — and Izakaya Meiji, a Japanese restaurant that specializes in whiskey and skewering foods. For an excellent diner-style breakfast served all day, try Brails. Belly, another of Eugene’s prized restaurants, takes full advantage of the farm-fresh food in the region by using only local, in-season fare to create the menu. The menu frequently changes, but the chefs ensure it’s consistently delicious. If you’re just hoping to grab some cheap eats, Burrito Boy is your best bet, with a few locations around town.
One of Eugene residents’ favorite evening hangouts is the Wayward Lamb, a new LQBTQ-focused bar voted best in the city by readers of the Eugene Weekly. Close behind are Bier Stein and Sam Bond's — a one-of-a-kind venue with great food, an outdoor patio, and live music. The latter is also a stop on the Eugene Ale Trail, so grab your passport and before you head out (on foot or public transport, preferably). Along the trail, visit the area’s numerous craft brewers, such as McMenamins, Plank Town Brewing, and the Viking Braggot Company. If you’re feeling masterful cocktails instead of a beer, Izakaya Meiji makes your whiskey dreams come true. Students of the University of Oregon, find your peers dancing all night at The Davis.
At the center of arts and culture in Eugene is the Hult Center for the Performing Arts. The sprawling center has two theaters and a glass lobby (which gives the Hult its recognizable reflective face) and hosts dance, theatre, and music regularly. For another venue to revel in the arts, visit the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, which is completely windowless in order to protect the American, Asian, and Oregonian art inside. The Schnitzer is right on the University of Oregon campus, as is the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, which boasts impressive paleontological, zoological, and anthropological collections. If you’re seeking life on the famous Oregon Trail, try the Lane County Historical Museum.
Oregon’s largest festival to celebrate Asian culture is held in Eugene each year. The Asian Celebration draws enormous crowds to enjoy food, arts, and performances. Because of Eugene’s affinity for the arts, the city also sees a few film festivals each year, including the Eugene International Film Festival, which receives submissions from around the globe. Throughout the summer, find outdoor movies and art festivals, such as First Friday Artwalks, where residents tour local galleries and chat with the artists who are displaying work. Also, each Independence Day weekend, head to the Maude Kerns Art Center for Art and the Vineyard for entertainment, food, wine tastings, and an artists’ marketplace.
For the true Eugene shopping experience, you have to head downtown to the Fifth Street Public Market. Its historic grounds contain myriad local restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and shops offering everything from handcrafts to clothing. For more local products, visit the Lane County Farmers Market and the Eugene Saturday Market, where you’ll find fresh farm-raised food and arts and crafts each week. Dig for second-hand gems at Pewter Rabbit Antiques, also right downtown. Or find a more traditional shopping experience — with Macy’s, JC Penney, Banana Republic, and more — at the Valley River Center mall.
The University of Oregon’s Autzen Stadium is one of the best — also loudest — college football stadiums in the country, which has helped to make Eugene one of the best towns for college football. It can hold 54,000 Ducks fans and includes a 10,000-square-foot entertainment center. Speaking of the Ducks, U of O’s students originally referred to themselves under a different moniker: the Webfooters. Catchy as the name — a reference to Massachusetts fishermen who aided George Washington and his troops during battle — was, sportswriters in the early 1900s started referring to the collegiate team as the Ducks, and it stuck. In addition to football, the Ducks are very competitive in a number of sports, most notably football and track and field.
Alton Baker Park is the place to be. It’s Eugene’s largest park, with bike trails, a BMX park, disc golf, a dog park, and more along the Willamette River. Plus, the park is home to the Science Factory and the outdoor Cuthbert Amphitheater. Drop by the Cascades Raptor Center to learn a little more about the area’s birds of prey, see them up close, and hear stories about their rehabilitation. On the southeast side of Eugene, the Mount Pisgah Arboretum — a “living tree museum” — is 209 acres of walking trails, oak savannas, and wildflower meadows, making for a beautiful backdrop for a hike along the riverbank or to the top of the mountain. If you’re up for driving an hour outside the city, you can ride a six-person gondola to the top of Eagle Peak, via the Oregon Skyway. In just a 25-minute round trip, soak in the view of Odell Lake, Diamond Peak, and the Oregon Cascades. Instead of making the round-trip journey all at once, you could also stop at the top for a picnic or a hike.