Destinations – Double shot of Ashland, Hold the Shakespeare

Ashland TN_Christopher_Briscoe_City_Shot.jpg
(from the Ashland Chamber of Commerce with permission)

Don’t get me wrong.

The reason I first went to Ashland in 2002 at the not so tender age of 46 was to see some plays. And that’s always a great reason to go there.

But Ashland’s appeal goes far beyond the great stuff taking place on its stages. Keith and I have made several trips there over the years in which we did not take in a single performance and still had a marvelous time.

How could that be?

First off, is its attractive location on the west side of the greater Rogue River Valley as it meets the Siskiyou range and the border with California. Not unlike the Santa Clara Valley where I grew up, to Ashland’s immediate west the mountains are densely forested (like the Santa Cruz Mountains) whereas the mountains to its east are drier and grassier (like the Hamilton range). The valley in which Ashland lies, however, is quite narrow with little land that is truly flat.

Having mountains in most directions means that there is plenty of fine hiking available. Indeed, one could begin in Ashland’s beautiful Lithia Park and continue via fire trails all of the way up to Mt. Ashland. In the eastern range the hike to Grizzly Peak provides a spectacular view of the entire valley as well as looking north to Ashland’s larger neighbor of Medford.

But it’s not just the setting that makes Ashland attractive. The inventory of features creating a great destination include:

– pleasant weather (warm in the summer, some snow in winter)
Southern Oregon University (from where the Shakespeare Festival sprang in 1935)
– excellent array of places to eat and drink
– thriving southern Oregon wine industry
– a walkable, historic town with interesting architecture old, new, and old-but-reused

I could try to weave some kind of theme inspired by the disparate things I like about Ashland but I’m not up to it. Rather, I’m going to spotlight some elements in “these are a few of my favorite things”-style.

Ashland - Palm Cottages.JPGWe usually stay at The Palm. This 1940s cabin court was gussied up by owners Owen and Roxanne Jones into a quiet, unpretentious haven. It’s a short drive (or pleasant 15 minute walk) south of downtown and right across the street from the university. The gardens are splendid and offer little nooks perfect for a quiet afternoon reading or summer evening wine tasting. Book a room as far in advance as you can; The Palm has a very loyal following.

One other lodging note. The grande dame of accommodations in Ashland is the Ashland Springs Hotel. Opened originally in 1925 as the Lithia Hotel, it was later renamed the Marc Antony. After a complete renovation it reopened in 2000 as the Ashland Springs Hotel. Most of the rooms are small but nicely furnished. A fine breakfast buffet is served on the hotel’s mezzanine overlooking the lobby. For convenience to the theatres it can’t be beat. Whether or not you stay there, drop in and savor the atmospheric 1920s lobby when you’re in town.

Ashland - Standing Stone Brewery.JPGI must be honest. Even on visits where we do see plays the first night of our visit is always taken up by a pilgrimage to Standing Stone Brewing Co. Always. Great beer, food and location. (If you are going to a play that same evening it’s only two short blocks away.) The brewery is housed in a building originally built in 1925 (during Prohibition, mind you) as an auto garage . Unusual for a small brewery, it sports a full liquor bar. A rear deck allows outdoor dining in summer with a lovely view of the mountains. Order with confidence – they don’t know how to cook a bad meal here.

Runners who are up for a challenge please take note. In August the brewery sponsors an incredibly tough run called the Mt. Ashland Hillclimb Run. This slightly more than a half-marathon run starts in Lithia Park and finishes at the top of Mt. Ashland, an elevation gain of 5600′. Yikes! A keg at the top rewards thirsty runners with a beer (or a soft drink) when they finish. I’m thinking of doing this punishing run in 2010.

Speaking of running, Ashland has a popular Fourth of July Run, and a great small town Fourth of July parade and fireworks. The 6-mile run is surprisingly challenging.

And speaking further of running, there’s a terrific running store right in downtown. I’m a loyal Fleet Feet Chico customer, but I like to buy some kind of knick-knack at Rogue Valley Runners every time I’m in town. The store opened only two years ago but it already has expanded and appears to be firmly rooted now. Owner Hal Koerner is a serious ultra-marathon running god. He won the Western States 100 in 2007 but you’d never know as he is the essence of modesty. If Hal’s not at the store, then he may be competing in an ultra-run halfway around the world. Curious about local races or where to run? Your first stop should be Rogue Valley Runners.

Ashland - Rogue Valley Coffee.JPGThe picture says it all. After a morning run this is where we end up to complete the morning caffeination process and plan the day. Located on the edge of what is called the Railroad District, this is a locals joint we happened upon by accident on an early visit. We masquerade as locals when we’re there. Between the brewery and the coffeehouse our beverage needs are well accommodated.

Ashland - Breadboard.JPGThis place looks like it might have been a former burger palace. Whatever its origins, the breakfasts are terrific. It looks small from the outside but there are plenty of tables. You seldom wait long but if you have to it’ll be worth it. The Breadboard is located on Main Street about a mile north of the center of town.

Please keep in mind that there are many, many places to eat in Ashland. The ones that Planes, Trains, & Automobiles lists are simply those we’ve gotten into the pleasant rut of frequenting. One of the best things about Ashland is that while it is a visitor destination because of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, it does not have that jaded and world-weary feeling of a tourist town. Service in restaurants and hotels is pleasant and unaffected, much like in Chico. Maybe that’s because it’s just as much a college town as a theatre town.

Three more quick mentions of eating-related establishments, all located downtown:

– Pangaea (scrumptious wraps)
– Village Baker (bread so good we bring it back to Chico – if it can last that long)
– Alyson’s of Ashland (the most tourist oriented of the places I’ve mentioned, offers an excellent deli and outstanding wine selection and tastings that naturally focus on Oregon wine)

Now it does and doesn’t have anything to do with the visitor experience but the City and people of Ashland have discovered that it makes sense to put money and effort in the design of public buildings. At the south end of Ashland’s downtown, facing each other across the intersection of Main Street and Siskiyou Boulevard, are the new fire station and the new (and old) library.

The two-building library complex consists of the original Carnegie Library (now the children’s section) and the new structure opened in 2003. Believe it or not, Ashland has a handsome yet utilitarian sewage treatment plant. I know because our typical morning run to the Bear Creek Trail takes us right by it. When a community invests in decent civic design it benefits residents and visitors.

Ashland - fire station.JPGAshland - library.JPG

Two final notes.

We did see a play on our recent trip and an American classic at that: The Music Man. This was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s first foray into an all-out musical and it was fun. The Music Man runs the entire length of the OSF ’09’s season through 1 November.

This is part one of a two-parter about Ashland. The next installment is about a part of Ashland close to downtown yet seldom seen by visitors: Ashland’s Railroad District.

Ashland - view to the east from the high school.JPG

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2 Responses to Destinations – Double shot of Ashland, Hold the Shakespeare

  1. Larry Yok says:

    What? Nothing about wigwags?!

  2. Greg Fischer says:

    Just you wait, sonny boy. The post about the Railroad District is next.

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