● By Wendy Sipple
Photos by Sean Bagshaw Photography.
Tucked tightly against the base of the Siskiyou Mountains on the southern end of the Rogue Valley, Ashland, Oregon is synonymous with the annual summer-long Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and rightly so.
It’s world-class, and the bard himself would be impressed. But there’s so much more to Ashland that even ol’ Bill likely wouldn’t spend the whole weekend just watching plays.
Upon arrival he might smooth out his tights and stroll over to the Blue Giraffe Spa in downtown Ashland, where owner Trisha Kolker would knead out his writer’s cramps with a relaxing massage. Kolker has lived in Ashland for eight years and has fallen hard for the town. “I absolutely love it here. The horseback riding...canoeing...wine tours...” What if she’s stuck at work? “Within a block of my spa I have my choice of Thai, Indian, Italian, American food, or just a great wine bar!” she laughs.
In fact, if Mr. Shakespeare is the indecisive type (“To be or not to be”...helloo?!), it could pose a challenge come dinner time. The town of 22,000 is home to more than 100 restaurants where award-winning chefs create fare ranging from trendy to traditional. Longtime resident Lana McGraw-Bolt coos, “The dining here is beyond.” She recommends eating outdoors in The Plaza, as the downtown area is always buzzing. “Many of the patios open up to walk along a creek that, on the weekends, is filled with local artisan booths. The colors, the activity...it has an almost European feel to it.”
Saying Ashland’s arts scene is lively is like saying Shakespeare wrote good stories. Art galleries line the streets of The Plaza. And, theater doesn’t just mean Poor Yorick and pals: Ashland is home to several other venues that feature everything from contemporary works to cabaret. And if Bill just wants to rock, Kolker says, “There’s live music someplace every night of the week.”
After a meal, our wandering writer might want a little exercise. Kolker says Ashland is a walking town: “You can park your car on a Friday and not get in it again until Sunday.” Both she and McGraw-Bolt strongly recommend strolling through historic Lithia Park. At 93 acres, it is the heart and soul of Ashland. McGraw-Bolt says, “Even if you’re not doing Shakespeare, you have to do Lithia Park. It has hiking trails, duck ponds, and my favorite, a beautiful Japanese garden.” And the outdoor Shakespearean amphitheater is located at the park’s edge with performances through September…just in case you change your mind.
After a good mid-summer night’s sleep at one of Ashland’s many bed and breakfasts (the city boasts over 60), Billy might start his next day looking for a little adventure. After breakfast at the Palace Restaurant (McGraw-Bolt calls it “exquisite”) he would likely run into Keith Sparks, whom recommends anything outside. “Fishing, hiking. The weather in summer and fall is great and there’s so much to do.” Sparks no longer lives in Ashland but returns when he can. “When I was growing up here, the town was kind of falling apart. But they got smart, focused on the Shakespeare Festival, and now people visit from all over the world.” And once they’re here, they find a whole lot more. Just ask Bill.
Postcard from Ashland
The Peerless Hotel
Chatealin Restaurant Francais
Liquid Assets Wine Bar
Ashland Springs Hotel
Flagship Inn of Ashland
Ashland’s Bed & Breakfast Network
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Rogue River Rafting