Check out historic aircraft, hit a UFO festival, and stroll the charming downtown of this Wine Country mainstay.
A onetime farming town midway between Portland and Salem, McMinnville has grown sophisticated in recent years, as Willamette Valley’s wine industry blossomed to produce some of the nation’s finest pinot noir. Chic tasting rooms and restaurants enliven the quaint downtown, and gray corrugated grain silos give way to verdant countryside. McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce: 417 NW Adams St., 472-6196, mcminnville.org .
Area code is 503 unless noted.
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is home to the world’s largest wooden airplane, the Spruce Goose. With a nearly 320-foot wingspan, the Goose became the raison d’être of wealthy oil heir Howard Hughes, who spent millions of his own dollars to have the “flying boat” constructed, in the hope that it could transport 750 U.S. military troops during World War II. But the Goose flew only once, in 1947. A swarm of smaller planes, such as a 13-foot, 9-inch Baby Great Lakes, is also on display, and a there’s an indoor water park fashioned from a retired 747 with a slide-ready exit chute. 500 NE Captain Michael King Smith Way, 434-4180, sprucegoose.org . Recently launched in a roomy barn near downtown, the McMinnville Public Market abounds with local organic produce and fresh-baked bread. Local vintners offer wine samples, and there’s often live music. Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 845 NE Fifth St., mcminnvillepublicmarket.com . Each May, McMinnville’s Hotel Oregon hosts a weekend-long UFO Festival to pay tribute to Paul Trent, a McMinnville farmer who in 1950 made the town world famous by photographing a fuzzy-looking flying saucer—or something that looked like one—on his farm. Enjoy a parade, conga dancing, and an Alien Pet costume contest. ufofest.com .
La Rambla offers Spanish food made from fresh Northwest ingredients in an elegant setting with wood floors and curvaceous glass lamps. The bacon-wrapped Medjool dates are delectable, and the selection of Spanish and Portuguese ports is extensive. 238 NE Third St., 435-2126, laramblaonthird.com . At Nick’s Italian Café, the hale and hearty opt for the $65 five-course chef’s tasting menu (antipasti, zuppa, pasta, insalata, and secondi). Many dishes take a nouveau Northwest twist on Italian cuisine—Dungeness crab and pine nut lasagne, for instance. 521 NE Third St., 434-4471, nicksitaliancafe.com . 3rd Street Pizza is low-key but offers an inventive menu—consider the spicy Thai peanut sauce pie. Its Moonlight Theater, in the back room, shows popular recent films. 433 NE Third St., 434-5800, 3rdstreetpizza.com .
A stately four-story brick edifice built for the ages in 1905, Hotel Oregon is still grand—and these days suffused with new zaniness thanks to Portland-based renovators Mike and Brian McMenamin, who since 1999 have added a rooftop bar, a cellar bar, and a host of bright, somewhat surreal paintings depicting, among other things, the space aliens’ alleged visit to town. 310 NE Evans St., 472-8427, mcmenamins.com/hoteloregon . If you prefer quietude, Steiger Haus Bed and Breakfast Inn is a delightful old gabled house near downtown with large porches and a tranquil, wooded backyard. 360 SE Wilson St., 472-0821, steigerhaus.com . To find a place to stay, visit AAA.com/hotels .
Photography by Liz Devine 
This article was first published in August 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Check out the rest of our Willamette Valley  package:
Carlton : Tiny, but packed with wine country delights
Dayton : Historic buildings and acclaimed restaurants
Dundee : Knockout eateries and pioneering wineries
Forest Grove : Sip sake or bird-watch
Newberg : Convenient tasting rooms and nearby vineyards