When my wife and I first visited Ashland, Oregon in the summer of 2012, I had one clear purpose in mind: To watch plays performed by the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, one of the biggest regional repertory theaters in the United States. I accomplished my mission, but I found that’s not all Ashland has to offer: I enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would.
At the Festival, I was mesmerized by the quality of the productions, the acting, directing, costumes, scenery and theaters themselves. The plays, housed in three separate venues, including a breathtaking 1,190-seat outdoor playhouse, were all top-notch. The fact that I could watch these types of performances without having to go to a big city like Los Angeles or New York was fascinating to me.
But what I wasn’t as prepared for was the fact that Ashland – a quaint town with a population of about 20,000 nestled in the southern arm of the Rogue Valley, a few miles north of the California border – isn’t defined solely by OSF. Far from it.
When we weren’t watching plays, we were free to explore all of what Ashland has to offer. And trust me, that’s a long list. Even if you aren’t a theater aficionado, there’s still plenty of wondrous activities to keep you entertained on a visit to Ashland. I’ve been back to Ashland twice since my initial visit, and each time I discover more of what makes Ashland special. I haven’t nearly checked out everything yet, but based on my experiences so far, here are four non-OSF things that can keep one entertained in Ashland:
The greater Ashland area great for those who love outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and river rafting. But when I want to spend some time outside in Ashland, I usually head to Lithia Park, which consists of 93 acres of forested canyonland around Ashland Creek, within walking distance of OSF and downtown. Its pristine beauty is simply unmatched. It’s a great place to take leisurely stroll, sit and relax at the duck pond while feeding its water-fowl inhabitants, check out the Japanese gardens, take in a free concert or enjoy a picnic.
For me, Lithia Park provides the perfect balance to the eclectic atmosphere that the historic downtown area provides. There’s definitely a bit of a hipster vibe to downtown — which provides a contrast to, but doesn’t conflict with, the theater culture. My wife and I have spent hours walking up and down Main Street browsing through the vast array of unique stores and galleries, checking out historical hotels, visiting the seasonal Lithia Artisans arts and crafts market and much, much more.
And of course, there’s a thriving food and drink scene, not only in downtown, but in all of Ashland. Some of my favorite eating spots that I’ve visited so far include Agave Taco, The Peerless, and Martino’s/Macaroni’s, where enjoying a good meal while sitting on the balcony overlooking Main Street is about as good as it gets. Caldera Brewing Company, Ashland’s oldest craft brewer, has a brewery and restaurant located on the south end of town and a brewpub in the heart of downtown. (Don’t miss the Mogli Porter.) Standing Stone Brewing Company is also top-notch. Additionally, the Ashland area is home to a variety of well-respected wineries and vineyards.
Enjoying dinner and a drink before going to The Green Show is a perfect combination. OK, I’m cheating a little bit here. The Green Show is technically part of OSF. If you want to experience a part of OSF but don’t have play tickets, The Green Show is the perfect solution. Six days per week from June to October, a variety of performers entertain crowds in 45-minute shows put on in the grassy central area between two of the main theaters. Oh, and best of all? It’s free.
I look forward to my future visits to Ashland so that I can add to this list. During my time there, I’ve come to regard Ashland as ‘a magic place.’ When you go there, you’ll see what makes it so magical.