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Feel the Love in Southern Oregon

Travel Editor Elizabeth Hansen reveals the beauty and funky charm of Ashland

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My first visit was little more than a drive-by. En route from Seattle to San Diego, I stopped in Ashland, Oregon for a quick lunch and overheard some buzz about the Bard. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival was in full bloom and I quickly caught the fever. Alas, nary a ticket was available, but I was smitten. Back on I-5, I promised to return soon.

The course of true love never did run smooth 

Three decades later, my husband, Richard, and I studied the OSF website and debated our choices. We also researched Ashland’s wineries, walking trails, hot springs, and hotels. The result was a plan for a three-week NorCal road trip in which a detour to Ashland would be the jewel in the crown.

We were thoroughly committed to this itinerary when the Great Spoiler caused live theater to be cancelled and limited the 2021 OSF summer shows to new digital programming and streaming favorite past productions. 

Some of Ashland, Oregon’s most popular restaurants, including Greenleaf, overlook a picturesque creek just a short walk from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus
Some of Ashland, Oregon’s most popular restaurants, including Greenleaf, overlook a picturesque creek just a short walk from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus

All’s well that ends well

Even without the live productions, Ashland was still the highlight of our trip, but in a way we hadn’t anticipated. Instead of spoiling our fun, the dark theaters gave us more time to roam freely and savor the area’s many attributes. 

We stayed at Lithia Springs Resort, three miles from the center of town, where therapeutic spring water is renowned for relaxing stiff muscles. Our spacious suite came with a soaking tub, king bed, and fireplace. Spa treatments are available here and breakfast and afternoon tea are complimentary. The Bear Creek Greenway for walking and cycling is nearby and the resort offers bike rentals. Flowering plants bloom across the four-acre property, complemented by picturesque gazebos, pergolas, fountains, koi ponds, and a saline swimming pool.

At Lithia Springs Resort, lush lawns and cozy sit spots invite guests to relax
At Lithia Springs Resort, lush lawns and cozy sit spots invite guests to relax

In the center of town, the landmark, nine-story Ashland Springs Hotel was built in 1925 and remains an oasis of gentility. It’s within easy walking distance of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus and adjacent to The Waterstone Spa, which has six treatment rooms and a Japanese soaking tub.  

Richard and I enjoyed our dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine. The staff was warm and welcoming, and the meal, which featured local Rogue River Valley produce, seafood from the Oregon Coast, foraged mushrooms, and wild berries, was delicious. Our sidewalk seating at Larks gave us a great view of local residents as they passed by in expressive clothing that ranged from tie-dye funky to boho to avant-garde. Birkenstocks were the dominant footwear.

Ashland’s strong sense of community and ’60s-ish, counterculture vibe is very appealing. Particularly in these divisive times, it’s heartwarming to be among people who are kind, peace loving, accepting of individual differences, and protective of the environment. Styrofoam has been banned in Ashland since 2010; it’s still being debated in San Diego.  

Signs of Ashland’s peace loving culture are evident around the city
Signs of Ashland’s peace loving culture are evident around the city

The value of family — young and old — was on display in the city’s Lithia Park. The 93-acre downtown green belt was designed by John McLaren, who also planned Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We loved the walk along a flowing stream and under towering trees. In addition to foot paths, the park has a band shell for musical performances, duck ponds, a Japanese garden, a large playground, picnic areas, and tennis courts.

Lithia Park is a beautiful place to walk, picnic, and listen to music
Lithia Park is a beautiful place to walk, picnic, and listen to music

It was also fun to visit local wineries. My favorite was Weisinger Family Winery, just a few miles from town. Winemaker Ian Colbert explained that Weisinger produces limited production craft wines from grapes grown within five miles of their property. Specialties include tempranillo, pinot noir, Rhône, and Bordeaux varietals. weisingers.com

We’ll visit more wineries on our next visit, and I also want to see Crater Lake and maybe walk a short section of the Pacific Crest Trail. southernoregon.org 

Ashland and the Rogue Valley are home to many acclaimed wineries
Ashland and the Rogue Valley are home to many acclaimed wineries

The play’s the thing

The 2022 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival starts in April and continues through the end of the year. It includes a musical and plays by August Wilson, Mona Mansour, Qui Nguyen, and Dominique Morisseau.
The Bard’s works on stage will be The Tempest, King John, and The Cymbeline Project. There will also be digital works and a Christmas musical. In an effort to make the programming more accessible, ticket prices have been drastically lowered. osfashland.org/season/2022/2022-season-announcement

Oregon Shakespeare Festival programming includes works by  the Bard and other playwrights
Oregon Shakespeare Festival programming includes works by
the Bard and other playwrights

All the world’s a stage, and in Ashland, everyone is welcome.

Featured Photo Lithia Park

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