Sip Wine and Get Weird in Oregon’s UFO Capital

Italy meets Roswell in the Pacific Northwest.

a misty vineyard
McMinnville might just be the gem of the Willamette Valley. | Atticus Hotel
McMinnville might just be the gem of the Willamette Valley. | Atticus Hotel

Tucked into the Willamette Valley about an hour southwest of Portland, McMinnville, Oregon, looks like a small town out of a rom-com. Framed by the Pacific to the east and Mount Jefferson and Mount Hood out west, you’ve got all the makings of a truly excellent Hallmark film here: Picturesque tree-lined streets filled with quirky shops and beautiful murals, a super walkable downtown district, and 34,000 friendly locals who offer smiles as easy as the ocean breeze that’ll caress you at every turn.

Underneath the small-town charms, though, is an unexpected worldliness. Sure, there are vineyards—but treat McMinnville as another charming rest stop on the Willamette Valley wine trail, and you’ll miss out on all the beauty (and the weirdness) that makes it great.

If you’re looking to do more than just sip varietals in this patch of Oregon, we guarantee you’ll leave McMinnville feeling buzzed—and it won’t just be the wine talking. Here’s what not to miss.

a person working at a food market counter
Eat Szechuan noodles, stuffed mushrooms, and more at Collab Kitchen. | Mac Market

Eat your way around the world—all within a one-mile radius

Much like nearby Portland and Hood River two hours northeast, McMinnville’s food scene makes a convincing argument that Oregon is one of the best places in the country for epicureans. (It also makes the case for the idea that lunch, not breakfast, is the most important meal of the day.) Since 1976, The Sage—open on weekdays for lunch only!—has been dishing out classic soups and sandwiches on homemade bread, while laid-back Community Plate downtown (open for breakfast and lunch) serves up American comfort meals like biscuits and gravy and burgers, as well as local wine.

Come for a taste of southern Italy at Pizza Capo, where you catch watch owners Kyle Munroe and Jeremy Whyte dish out authentic Neapolitan pizzas (like really authentic—they studied the art in Italy) in the open-air kitchen. Try their Margherita pizza, a local favorite, or their Clam Pizza, which gets extra oomph from bacon mascarpone and gremolata, and slather all of the above in their Calabrian chili oil—a complex, slightly salty, smoky oil that you’ll want to put on just about everything. There's also 3rd Street Pizza, where you can openly carry a slice into the theater instead of sneaking one in like you usually do.

At Collab Kitchen inside Mac Market, you can take your palate on a journey all over the world with ingredients grown a mere 10 miles away. Michelin-starred chef Kari Shaughnessy uses ingredients sourced from Evan Pull Farm to create a menu that changes daily to weekly; think koji-steamed black cod with roasted poblano broth, charred pepper curry with sourdough roti, and yogurt and harissa-braised lamb with house-smoked tahini yogurt.

Though Latin cuisine probably isn’t what you imagine when you think of the PNW, a visit to Pura Vida Cocina will sneak the thought into your mind and keep it there; they use influences from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Peru, and Mexico to serve up new interpretations of classics, including tender barbacoa, crispy pork belly tacos, and Pisco sours. ​​And if you—like us!—believe you can never go wrong with a table full of Spanish tapas, make La Rambla your go-to.

flowers surrounding a large farmhouse
Durant's home to the Pacific Northwest's only olive grove. | Durant at Red Ridge Farms

The vineyards pack more than just wine

There are heaps of Willamette Valley vineyards worth your attention, but if you only have a weekend to spare, there are two essential stops you’ll definitely want to make time for. First up is the Soter Vineyards. If you’re part of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) Club, Soter will change your mind. Hit their airy tasting room to indulge in their chardonnays—plus pinot noir, sparkling rosé, and other varieties of organic, biodynamic wines—and soak in the gorgeous views of the valley’s rolling, vineyard-lined hills.

Much like Latin American food, thoughts of Oregon don’t exactly conjure up visions of olive trees—and once again, McMinnville will surprise you. Family-owned Durant Vineyards is home not just to rosés, pinots, and chardonnays, but to 17 acres of olive trees—the only groves in the entire Pacific Northwest. Cold-pressed within mere hours of harvesting, their super fresh, aromatic olive oil is truly a feat worth celebrating—which is why every November, Durant puts on the annual Olio Nuovo Festival, a monthlong party that boasts tastings, events, and more,

If you can, time your trip to coincide with the festivities. Regardless, soak in the views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson right outside Durant’s tasting room, or rent a private cabana on the 135-acre property for some quality time with nature and wine. And if you really fall in love with the place, book an overnight stay.

people dressed as aliens walking in a parade
You'll spot all things extraterrestrial at the annual UFO Fest. | Dee Browning/Shutterstock

Hang out in the Roswell of the Pacific Northwest

Everybody knows what once went down in Roswell, New Mexico: A farmer discovered what he believed to be a crashed UFO. The government told everyone it was, in fact, a crashed UFO. Everybody subsequently lost their shit, and to this day, the entire stretch of highway surrounding the town (plus one wayward Mickey D’s) still relishes in the hype.

Now, we wouldn’t say this in front of our alien-obsessed friends, but it’s likely that “wrecked spaceship” was actually some sort of experimental government device. For a better, yet-disproven extraterrestrial story, turn instead to McMinnville.

Back in the 1950s, Paul and Evelyn Trent shot a series of famous photographs of flying saucers zipping around in the skies above their farmhouse, which sat just outside McMinnville. The photos were strikingly realistic—so much so that they were even published in Life and still appear in modern documentaries on extraterrestrials. Even more intriguing: they’ve never been proven fake. The Trents claimed their story was true, denying entirely that it was a publicity stunt—and considering Photoshop wasn’t an option at the time, we have no choice but to believe them.

Now, McMinnville celebrates the Trents’ close encounters by throwing the second-largest UFO Festival in the US each year. Expect to see a lot of people decked out in alien costumes running the cultural gamut from traditional little green men to Star Wars and Doctor Who characters, plus vendors and speakers including ufologists and abductees.

Root for your favorite truffle-seeking pups in Eugene, Oregon

Believe it or not, the list of festivals goes on. If you like to stay abreast of the goings-on of one Nicolas Cage, you’ve probably heard of and/or seen his most recent flick, Pig, in which he stars as a bedraggled hermit-slash-former chef whose beloved truffle pig gets nabbed from his cabin deep in the Oregon wilderness. There’s a lot to unpack there. But at the annual Oregon Truffle Festival in Eugene, just over an hour and a half south of McMinnville, you can fully immerse yourself in the hype—only instead of pigs, truffle-hunting dogs take the stage.

Set against the backdrop of the Cascade foothills, the month-long party features speakers, marketplaces, wine pairings, and—obviously—plenty of chances to dine on truffle-infused meals. But the highlight of the festivities is The Joriad™ North American Truffle Dog Championship, where you can watch pups and their trainers scour the area for truffle-scented objects (or, if you plan far enough in advance, train your own furry friend to find them). Best of all? Tickets start at just $15 a person.

a luxurious, dimly lit hotel room
We'll take a room at the Atticus, please! | Atticus Hotel

Where to stay in McMinnville

Fitted in rich neutrals, velvet, and leather, the stately Atticus Hotel strikes a difficult-to-hit sweet spot: elegance without pretentiousness. Don’t expect a cookie-cutter boutique hotel—this is a spot that reps McMinnville and Oregon to the core. Each room is uniquely designed with local artwork, books recommended by locals, and handmade soaps and bath goodies featuring very on-brand scents like Oregon fir, oak moss, and wildflower.

For a more budget (and pet!) friendly abode, hit up the McMenamins Hotel Oregon. Make your way up to the rooftop bar—which, for the record, you can visit with or without reservations—for stunning 360° views of the surrounding area. Whatever you pick, McMinnville doesn’t miss.

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Vonnie Williams is food and travel writer whose work has appeared in Eater, Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and more. You can find her on Instagram at @sincerelyvonnie.