Spend a little time in Oregon's Willamette Valley and you'll understand why so many settlers planted themselves here after surviving the Oregon Trail. Corvallis (translation: Heart of the Valley) sits in the middle of that broad valley between the Oregon Coast and Cascade mountain ranges in a pretty — and extremely fertile — swath of land.
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The heart of Corvallis is Oregon State University (OSU, enrollment 19,000), which is a major research center for oceanography, aerospace, veterinary medicine and renewable energy. The 500-acre campus hosts art exhibits, plays, concerts and films, and is surrounded by the inviting trappings of many college towns — cafes, bars, bookstores and shops. But don't think it's all youngsters here: Aside from the large professional class, tourism brings solid waves of seniors to Corvallis every summer.
Downtown Corvallis, while not postcard perfect, does have a handful of nice boutiques, a decent selection of restaurants, including one that doubles as an organic farm. The regional wines are respectable, and the town has a popular and colorful Saturday farmer's market. Of the numerous festivals in and around Corvallis, the most popular is Da Vinci Days, a three-day celebration of arts, science and technology held every July.
Corvallis is 40 miles northwest of Eugene and 70 miles south of Portland (one-fifth of Corvallis' working population commutes to the Portland area). The metro area has few residents who consider themselves religious (only Medford, Ore., is lower) and in 2006 ranked second highest for percentage of scientists in the workforce (behind Boulder, Colo.).
In 2011, Corvallis had the highest percentage of residents in the U.S. who bike to work (9.3 percent) and ranked second in the percentage who walk to their jobs. Ninety-seven percent of the city's main roads have bike lanes, and almost 16 miles of bike trails run through the city. The Willamette and Marys rivers also run through town.
On the downside, many jobs in Corvallis pay poorly. Unemployment is below the national average but the cost of living is much higher than the median household income. The culprit is housing prices, which are near the top one-10th of all U.S. metro areas. On the plus side, most pension income in Oregon is free of state income taxes.
For the outdoorsy, the crest of the Cascade mountain range is about 75 miles east of Corvallis, with great skiing and hiking. The coast is 40 miles west, with beaches, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and Siuslaw National Forest. OSU's research forests are crisscrossed with good mountain biking trails.