Oregon has it all: mountains, forests, rivers, valleys and, best of all, no Bay Area traffic! In close to six hours, my husband and I drove from San Francisco and reached southern Oregon.
We indulged in the food and wine scene around Ashland and then headed to Bend in the high desert (next month). Along the way, we discovered picturesque scenery, delicious wine and beer, incredible food, and wonderful people.
The Rogue Valley in southern Oregon is a hotbed of artisanal activity. In Ashland, located between the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges, passionate people take pleasure in the goods they create and the consumers who share their enthusiasm.
In the mid 1800s, gold seekers came through town, and at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, mineral springs and Chautauqua lectures drew visitors. Today, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and endless recreation possibilities lure tourists.
The first night, we settled into the Ashland Springs Hotel. Dating from 1925 and on the National Register of Historic Places, it was originally named the Lithia Springs Hotel — a reference to the nearby springs of the same name (see below). The charming two-story lobby includes a stone fireplace, original terrazzo floor, oversized seating, ceiling fans, and a second-floor balcony that provides a bird’s eye view of the scene below. The intimate rooms have all the amenities (including a lavender bath sachet) with great views across downtown and the valley (541-488-1700, ashlandspringshotel.com/).
Next we stayed at the Lithia Springs Hotel, now located three miles from downtown. The verdant property includes a swimming pool and Jacuzzi spread over four acres of gardens — all set atop the rich mineral springs below. The purified water is used throughout the hotel, including in the soaking tubs — perfect for deep relaxation and detoxification. The resort offers a serene environment with soothing colors and comfortable furniture both inside and out (800-482-7128, lithiaspringsresort.com/).
Both properties serve afternoon tea and baked goods as well as a buffet breakfast in the morning. The Ashland Springs Hotel also has late-night treats.
PLAY & SHOP
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935, draws thousands of visitors every year. It offers a broad range of educational opportunities for students, teachers, and the public, including 11 plays in three theaters (two indoors/one outdoors) during the course of its 8-1/2 month season February through October. We saw the hilarious Much Ado About Nothing with an outstanding cast — the next day, we loved meeting the actress who portrayed Beatrice on a downtown street (800-219-8161, osfashland.org/).
Lithia Park in 1908 became the first park in Southern Oregon. John McLaren, who also created Golden Gate Park, designed it. Located just off the downtown plaza, the park covers 93 acres, and is filled with trails for hiking and biking, a Japanese Garden, duck ponds, gorgeous trees and other plantings, and a magnificent fountain spouting rejuvenating spring water. Ashland Creek flows down the park’s center from Mount Ashland to Ashland’s historic plaza (541-488-5340, ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=14083)
Ashland Creek plays a prominent role in town as well as in the park. Along its meandering banks, patios are lined with tables from nearby restaurants. The Lithia Artisans Market sets up weekends, April through November (541-301-9811, lithiaartisansmarket.com/).
Boutiques, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and more line Main Street and occupy its restored historic buildings. Also find home decor and antique and gift shops like Manzanita on Main (541-488-9886) and Paddington Station (541-482-1343, paddingtonstationashland.com/).
The historic railroad district is an up-and-coming neighborhood a few short blocks from the town center. Between the late 1800s and 1927, train traffic through the region was at an all-time high when service was shifted to another line. Today, the industrial buildings are refurbished and commerce is helping fuel the area’s growth (see Noble Coffee in Dine).
Grizzly Peak Winery is about five minutes outside of town in the shadows of the towering peak (almost 6,000 feet) of the same name. Enjoy fabulous vistas across their 40 acres and delicious estate wines like these from 2012: “Rumor” (Roussane-Marsanne-Chardonnay blend), Cabernet Franc, and Syrah (541-482-5700, grizzlypeakwinery.com).
A visit to Noble Coffee Roasting is essential to any Ashland visit. The cozy interior of the remodeled building is a haven for locals. The owners are passionate about the bean and all that goes with it. Not only do they roast single batches, prepare and sell them, they also maintain direct relationships with the growers worldwide from which they purchase thousands of pounds of organic, sustainable beans. This is one delicious cup of coffee (541-488-3288, noblecoffeeroasting.com).
For lunch, we tried Pangea, serving up fresh gluten-free and vegan creations. We enjoyed these kicked-up wraps: Indian spiced chicken curry and the 5 Spice Delight with grilled chicken and Asian slaw. Pair with Rogue Dead Guy ale, and you’re good (541-552-1630, pangeaashland.com/).
Enter Kobe (below street level near the banks of Lithia Creek) and become ensconced in their serene environment. This is an oasis for serious Japanese cuisine. We started our culinary adventure with the house Sakétini: Yuki No Bosha sake shaken with Kissui rice vodka served up. It was perfect with luscious hamachi kama (yellowtail collar).
Then chef Kenji orchestrated an array of dishes including yellowtail ceviche, nigiri sushi with albacore and British Columba Chinook salmon, and other carefully sliced offerings plus house-cured mackerel with freshly grated ginger. These precisely prepared dishes were paired with sake — Kuroushi “Black Bull” Omachi and Shinsei Junmai Daiginjo “Brewmaster’s Passion” — and dinner was complete (541-488-8058, kobeashland.com/).
Just down the street is Thai Pepper with your choice of eating in the restaurant creek side or the satay bar at street level. We chose the satay bar and sampled chicken, pork, lamb, and fish satays, all served with their own unique sauces (think peanut, lemongrass shrimp sauce, and more). From the small plates, we tried the lemongrass vegetable stir-fry, Thai style beef sliders with caramelized onions, and crispy prawns with a sweet chili sauce (541-482-8051, thaipepperashland.com/).
Ashland Chamber & Visitors Bureau: ashlandchamber.com/Splash.asp
Travel Oregon: traveloregon.com
Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association: rvwinegrowers.org