Originally posted here by Jess Lander of The SF Gate.
For seekers of gourmet street food, an unstoppable flow of craft beer and a heady dose of weirdness in the Pacific Northwest, the best destination is not be as obvious as it might seem.
Portland, right? Nope. That’s another 110 miles north.
Eugene is to Portland as Oakland is to San Francisco. It’s less populated, but rapidly shedding its former bad-boy rap and gaining notoriety as the cooler little brother. Many call it Mini Portland, but don’t utter that within earshot of the locals. To them, Eugene is the Emerald City; Track Town, USA; the birthplace of Nike; and above all, home of the Oregon Ducks. It’s not Portland.
But it might be better.
The cost of living is lower. There’s little to no traffic. People are so friendly that there’s an area named Friendly Neighborhood, and the city’s hippies are authentic, not hipster. Eugene even has its own Voodoo Doughnut shop, but without the line stretching around the block.
A complete downtown revitalization in the past decade has transformed Eugene into much more than a dumpy college town. Progressive businesses have filled the spaces in between the community gardens, co-ops and natural food stores that have existed since the ’70s. Today, the city is a haven not just for students and sports fans but also for beer lovers, food lovers, artists and musicians. And winter creates a ghost town with the university on break.
The heart of Eugene’s vibrant counterculture beats downtown at the Saturday Market, the first of its kind in the U.S., founded in 1970. This real-life Etsy marketplace features hundreds of vendors selling handcrafted souvenirs and treasures, like art, jewelry, clothing and decor among a sea of tie dye. The market is shut down for the winter, but you can get the same kind of vibe at the indoor iteration, the Holiday Market, open on weekends through Dec. 24. When the Saturday Market is running, the Lane County Farmers’ Market sets up right next door, where growers sell their organic produce.
A self-guided walking or bicycle brewery tour can consume the better part of your day. Follow your nose to Hop Valley Brewing, where true to its name, fragrant ropes of hops are draped around the outside patio. The Citrus Mistress IPA, brewed with four types of hops and grapefruit peel, might become your new go-to summer beer, although in the winter, try Festeroo from Hop Valley, a slightly-spicy, North Westernized Old English Ale, and Oakshire Brewing just released its Winter Ale, cask-conditioned with cinnamon and vanilla. (This time of year, the drive from Northern California can get a little snowy, although it might be worth it if the goal is to bring home more craft beer.)
Falling Sky Brewing has its own delicatessen (the juicy Beef Belly Pastrami will obliterate your diet), but breweries without a kitchen always have a food truck nearby. The Sandwich League piles coma-inducing burgers and sandwiches high with homemade sauces, fries, slaw and crispy onions. They’re more than happy to bring your food across the street to the famed Ninkasi Brewing, so you can wash it all down with a pint and live music.
Yet the undeniable hub for craft beer and fine paper-plate dining is at Beergarden, host to four food carts and 42 taps of beer, wine and cider.
If you have one mission, it should be to make it to Max’s Tavern before last call. The rumored inspiration for “The Simpsons” watering hole Moe’s Tavern is a Eugene rite of passage. It’s dark, but you’ll know you’re in the right place by the crunch of empty peanut shells under your feet and the familiar jar of pickled eggs that sits on the bar, and always has.
Hungover students flock to greasy spoon Brails, Eugene’s staple diner, serving famous hash browns and the Hangover Special. But the real cure can be found at Off the Waffle, where sweet and savory toppings, like bacon, eggs and Havarti, elevate the traditional Liège waffle to heavenly heights.
On your way out of town, make two stops: Voodoo Doughnut for sugary road trip fodder, and the Bier Stein, featuring the largest beer selection in the state. A little something to stock the fridge at home.