America’s most innovative city, and a leader in green building, is only 67 miles south of Portland. Portlanders looking to escape the big city this summer can take a day or overnight trip and enjoy nature, small town life and good vegetarian dining in Corvallis.
Home to Oregon State University and 60,000 souls, Corvallis got the innovation title for the first time this year, for having the biggest number of patented inventions per 100,000 people. Corvallis is also a leader in wealth creation and crime prevention. Some of its green accomplishments include renowned bike accessibility and a proliferation of organic farms and pesticide-free wineries. Corvallis also leads the country in most green buildings per capita. And even people who don't care about these accomplishments will enjoy a stroll in Corvallis' cute downtown or along the river path.
Nearly Normal’s, founded in 1979 and located in an old cottage near campus, is Corvallis’ long-standing vegetarian restaurant. The interior is all done in natural wood. A large outdoor patio offers both sunny and shady places to sit on warm days, and is peppered with flamingo sculptures. The menu features a range of sunburgers, made of veggies, spices and sunflower seeds. You can also get falafels, Mexican food, Thai curry, soups, salads and desserts, with lots of vegan choices. Nearly Normal’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has daily specials and happy hours.
But even if you’re at a fully normal restaurant, Corvallis is the considerate kind of place that remembers the vegetarians and vegans. The Aqua Seafood Restaurant offers sesame seared tofu and spinach salad with macadamia nuts. BrewBQ makes a smoked tofu sandwich with green chili potato stew, and hushpuppies made with quinoa. Roxy Dawgs, which specializes in sausages, has veggie dogs and gluten-free buns.
Places with more veg choices include Evergreen, an Indian restaurant that serves both North and South Indian cuisine. In addition to the usual veg curries, you can get dosas, thin crepes of huge diameter stuffed with curried vegetables. Spice and Ice, which specializes in Asian food and gelato, has many dishes that can be vegetized, all marked clearly on its menu.
While you’re visiting Corvallis, stop by some of its many parks. If you’re a history buff, check out EE Wilson Wildlife Refuge. In addition to picnicking and looking for wildlife, you can learn about its history as a training site for more than 60,000 World War Two troops. If you bring four-footed friends on your trip to Corvallis, they can run off-leash at Bald Hill Park, which is accessible from Oak Creek Road. Driving around Corvallis, you’ll find many hiking opportunities and see charming covered bridges. From June through September, you can get a guided tour of Starker Forest. Or if you’re more of a do it yourself kind of person, download a free history of Corvallis to your MP3 player.
Many Hands Trading is Corvallis’ best place to buy fair-trade gifts. This store is crammed with colorful clothes, jewelry, trinkets, home furnishings and toiletries. If you like pretty things from other countries, you’ll have a hard time getting out of Many Hands empty-handed.
On Saturday mornings, the Corvallis Farmers Market does a brisk business in produce and prepared foods, and a few crafts. Admire the oddly shaped dahlia tubers and eat free samples of jams, chocolates, nuts and other treats.
If you have time to drive to neighboring Philomath, stop off at Gathering Together Farm. They have a shop and restaurant, and sometimes plants for sale. If you want to sample Gathering Together’s fine dining, be sure to contact them ahead for reservations