Salem, Oregon is the capital of Oregon. It is the largest city in Marion County, and, depending on how you count, the second or third largest city in the state.
Salem was one of the first cities to be settled in Oregon, probably beating out Portland by a few years. It has been the capital as long as Oregon has been a state. It was probably chosen as the capital because it was centrally located in the Willamette Valley, then, as well as today, the center of Oregon's population. Today, its population stands at around 130,000 people, not counting the outlying areas. The major focus of the city, and probably the largest form of economic activity, is the state government. Along with the legislature and executive departments, there is also a number of state services focused around this area, including the State Prison and mental health facilities.
Objective facts aside, Salem has some unusual demographics. The largest gap is due to the fact that the government and managerial employees are mostly middle class and well educated, and share a lot in common with the progressive culture that Portland is so famous for, while the surrounding country side is mostly rural and politically and culturally more conservative. Downtown Salem is actually a very interesting place, but outside of it, people used to more metropolitan circumstances will be a little disappointed. In addition, many areas of Salem, such as the South and East sides, seem to not have been planned very well, and seem to be especially bad examples of urban sprawl. In other words, although Salem is far from being a bad place, the young and sophisticated seem to not be overly fond of it.
The countryside around the city tends to be fairly pretty, in a rolling hills and farmland sort of way, although a short drive away is some very beautiful countryside: the coast range and Oregon Coast to the west, and the Cascade Mountains and Silver Creek Falls State Park to the east. Portland is about an hour's drive to the North.