The sterile I-5 corridor gives no hint about the treasures that lie just a couple of miles away from the exit for Ashland, Oregon. If you majored in English literature or theater in college, you’ve probably heard about the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is a huge draw for Bard fans and theater lovers. And even though OSF was the major reason for my visit on an early spring weekend, I was surprised at how much more Ashland offers to wayward travelers.
Ashland is a small town — population 20,225 — with a big city vibe in the four-block radius that lies near OSF. With a slew of fun restaurants and shops, the center of this little downtown is clearly The Place to Be on a sunny weekend. I was impressed with the number of eateries that ranged from French to Indian to British to Asian. My only regret was that I only had 48 hours to try them all.
Charming little shops and galleries are interspersed between the restaurants and bakeries, which provides some enjoyable browsing time while we waited to check into our B&B. On the west end of the downtown area is Lithia Park, which beckoned us to take a leisurely stroll, admiring the perky little river as well as the plethora of dogs being walked by locals. (Every other person seemed to have a dog, who walked comfortably on leashes throughout the city center, then rested comfortably underneath tables outside coffee shops and cafes while their people sipped cappuccinos and lattes in the spring sunshine.)
Pedestrians really do have the right of way here, whether they have two feet or four. I was taken aback at the polite drivers who stopped on a dime to let us cross the streets. Even the cars with out-of-state license plates got the message quickly.
It quickly became obvious that while Ashland was new to me, many people come back again and again. OSF attracts a dedicated crowd, who like to visit every season to see what’s new. Old friends greeted each other in the theater lobby and compared notes on the latest plays.
Sadly, 48 hours was not enough in this charming little town. I’m already plotting a return trip to Ashland, with visions of warm summer nights at the Elizabethan Theater and another pint of British beer at The Black Sheep. I am thoroughly enchanted with Ashland.