Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Quaint, affordable and just five hours up Interstate 5: Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre at night, with full house.

A quaint, historic downtown with a plethora of unique shops and galleries, a variety of fine restaurants and places to stay, world-class theatre and just a mile off Interstate 5. That’s Ashland, Oregon, home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), just five hours up I-5 from Stockton, a penultimate destination for a long weekend!

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a non-profit professional theatre company active since 1935. It’s grown to a major western USA destination, drawing over 400,000 theater-goers, centered in lovely Ashland, Oregon.

The OSF offers three theatres, the indoor Angus Bowmer Theatre and Thomas Theatre, and their “throwback to old England” outdoor theater, the Allen Elizabethan Theatre (which opens in June).

The theatre season runs February through November. Beginning  February, these plays kick off: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare runs February 17 – October 29, Shakespeare in Love, based on a screen play by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, February 18 – October 29 and Mojada; a Madea in Los Angeles by Luis Alfaro, February 19 – July 6. A number of other Shakespearean and contemporary productions open in April and July and with the opening of the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in June.

The Ashland Springs Hotel, built 1925.

Later in the season, the world premiere of Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo opens April 2, and April 23 a new musical by OSF ensemble-in-residence UNIVERSES—August Wilson’s poetry in UniSon—will have its world premiere. The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre opens the weekend of June 16-18 with Shakespeare’s, The Odyssey (adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman, from the translation by Robert Fitzgerald) and an innovative take on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Opening Saturday, July 9 is Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part Two and the final show to join the 2017 rep is the world premiere of Randy Reinholz’s Off the Rails on July 30.

In its initial years, the OSF produced only Shakespearean productions in one theatre, the Elizabethan Stage (which had three different locations). With the opening of additional theatres (Angus Bowmer in 1970, the Black Swan, 1977, replaced by the Thomas Theatre in 2002), the production company expanded their offerings to include other mainstream playwrights as well as contemporary and new productions and lengthened the season.

We’ve seen a half dozen plays in recent years and take delight in that many of the Shakespearean productions are made more contemporary, such as Two Gentlemen from Verona, set in the 1950s complete with pink Cadillac that we saw a few seasons ago.

The Ashland Springs Hotel stately Beaux-arts interior.

But it’s not just live theatre that make Ashland special. It’s an historic, quaint downtown, anchored by Main street running a dozen blocks, featuring restaurants, shops, galleries, the theaters and anchored by the historic Ashland Springs Hotel. On the north edge of town is Lithia Park which meanders alongside Ashland Creek, a gorgeous spot for morning strolls and wildlife photography.

The old Ashland Springs Hotel and a number of motels and B and Bs are within walking distance of the theaters, such as the Best Western Bard’s Inn, The Windsor Inn, Plaza Inn and Suites and the Stratford Motel. We’ve found it particularly pleasant at some of the hostelries along Main Street, where one can stroll to the theatres and out to dinner.

Epicureans will delight in the choices of restaurants in the city. Restaurants receiving rave reviews include Morning Glory (a quaint American café, try their varied French toast options), Smithfield’s (steakhouse), Liquid Assets (contemporary American) and the dining room at the Ashland Springs Hotel. The old Beaux-arts style hotel, dating to 1925, is worth the visit and recently underwent a considerable renovation.

Pleasant mini-park on Main Street in downtown Ashland.

What’s nearby: Southern Oregon University, a public, liberal arts university, is located at southern end of Ashland.  Skiers will enjoy nearby Mount Ashland, just south of the city, and the wonderful Bear Creek jogging and biking trail running from Ashland north through the pleasant valley along the creek. The historic gold rush town of Jacksonville, Oregon, site of gold discovery in the 1850s, is just a 15 minute drive north. And, inveterate travelers can swing east into the Cascade Mountains and visit iconic Crater Lake National Park.

How to get there: From San Joaquin County, head north on Interstate 5; Ashland is 340 miles and five hours north.

For more information: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, osfashland.org; Ashland, ashlandchamber.com.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

A couple strolls through Ashland's Lithia Park alongside Ashland Creek.

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