Stage set for beautiful visit to Ashland, Ore.
ASHLAND, Ore. — Shortly after hitting town recently, we ate a picnic lunch at a shaded table by Ashland Creek. A few feet away, children played in the water under parents’ watchful eyes as new arrivals skipped across a vin tage footbridge.
That evening we had a couple of rounds of fascinating local beers and a good dinner at the Caldera brew pub, next to the creek.
Oh, and the next morning we had a picnic breakfast by the creek. Actually, it was the next two mornings. That was after having dinner at another restaurant — Greenleaf — at an outdoor table along the creek.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is what draws my family and many other visitors on a pilgrimage to Ashland every year. But Ashland Creek and Lithia Park (which surrounds the creek much of its babbling way through this pleasant Southern Oregon town) are other elements that make visiting a pleasure.
Named one of the top 10 Great American Spaces by the American Planning Association in 2014, the 101yearold, 93acre park follows clear and cold Ashland Creek — fed by snowmelt from Mount Ashland — past a mix of manicured meadows and decorative ponds, a Japanesestyle garden and a formal rose garden, plus a scenic gully of wild woodland with a hiking trail leading to a reservoir you can swim in.
The range of plant life along the creek is phenomenal: Towering ponderosa pines, with bark resembling rosepink snakeskin, compete in height with coast redwoods, mixed in with California black oaks, cedars, madronas and more.
Once it emerges from the park, the chattering brook rushes past a mapleshaded walk where art ists display their wares at outdoor booths (weekends through midNovember) and restaurants serve food at waterside tables during warmer months. It then ducks under streets, past more dining courtyards and pub decks, then behind backyards and past another park before feeding into Bear Creek, a Rogue River tributary lined by a 20mile hiking and biking path.
Ashland can bake in the summer, but in September, crowds start to thin and the heat moderates, with 80 the average high and nights averaging in the low 40s. Like it cooler? The average daily high is 68 in October, and the Shakespeare Festival continues through Oct. 29. (Outdoor performances in the Allen Elizabethan Theater conclude Oct. 15.)
So you can still go this fall and catch outdoor perfor mances of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,” an indoor staging of “Shakespeare in Love,” or such bardpenned favorites as “The Merry Wives of Windsor” or “Julius Caesar.” Great seats can get sparse late in the season (ticket sales start the previous November), but it’s still doable. New this year: a new, larger outdoor stage and remodeled seating area for the free Green Show, which features visiting dancers, musicians and other performers before evening theater performances through midOctober.
It happens that Ashland Creek and Lithia Park played a part in spawning the Tony Awardwinning Shakespeare Festival. The park traces its roots to the Chautauqua movement of the late 19th century, when the Chautauqua Association
purchased 8 acres on the creek for staging its traveling programs of speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and preachers of the day, bringing to Ashland such luminaries as John Philip Sousa and William Jennings Bryan.
That Ashland tradition fueled founder Angus Bowmer’s ambitions to start in 1935 (his first production: “Twelfth Night”) what today has become the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Its Elizabethan theater is still enclosed by the old stone walls that surrounded one of the Chautauqua theaters.
Fall is a good time to see autumn colors in Lithia Park — the maples in the Japanese Garden put on a good show — or on big trees surrounding some of the stately old homes of Ashland’s historical Railroad District, one of my favorite areas for an earlymorning stroll with a cup of coffee in hand.
It’s also prime hiking and cycling season. For flat and easy, hit the Bear Creek Greenway. Have a hankering to get higher? “The Pacific Crest Trail goes right up and over Mount Ashland,” said Katharine Cato of the Travel Ashland visitor bureau. “Take a 25-minute drive from downtown on a paved road right up to Mount Ashland and take a hike on the PCT.”
For the serious runner, there’s the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon, on Nov. 4, starting and finishing in Lithia Park. The course circumnavigates the Ashland watershed between Mount Ashland and the park, accumulating 7,200 feet of elevation, mostly on dirt roads and trails.
You say you’re more a Falstaff than a Phil Knight? Southern Oregon is also a distinguished wine region, and the sunny days and cool nights of harvest season make it the right time for wine touring around Ashland. The dozen wineries of the Bear Creek Wine Trail are closest. Many grapes are grown in the region, but tending to predominate are viognier, for lovers of that white wine that smells like bottled flowers, and tempranillo, the almost black grape of Spain’s Rioja reds.
Also this fall: The annual Ashland Culinary Festival, Nov. 2-5, brings together Southern Oregon chefs, growers, winemakers and brewers to share their wares and compete in cook-offs at a local hotel.
It’s not held at a picnic table on Ashland Creek. But the days could be getting pretty chilly by then.
COOL SCENE: September temperatures max out at 80 degrees in Ashland, Ore., perfect for enjoying the balcony of Granite Taphouse, above; Noble Coffee in the Railroad district, right; as well as local wine at the Lunch Show, lower right.
FREE SHOW: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s free Green Show got a larger stage and remodeled seating area.