by LISA WREN
(besides watching Shakespeare)
Say Ashland, and the word Shakespeare leaps to mind. But veteran visitors of the charming Southern Oregon town find other words - shoe shopping, Class III rapids, pinot noir and tuna tartar - also are part of the Ashland lexicon.
Many plan the six-hour pilgrimage from Northern California to the mecca of summer theater as a weekend getaway. In a three-day trip you can cram in four shows, maybe catch a free lecture, and eat extremely well.
But if you've got a little longer, or have had your fill of theater, there's lots more to discover. (That said, it would be a small tragedy to visit Ashland and not see a single play.)
So, here are suggestions for a midsummer's dream vacation.
1. Go river rafting.
The West Coast's spring rains assure that the Rogue and Klamath rivers will be especially good this year. Several rafting companies serve the area and offer everything from a half-day float down a lazy stretch for beginners to multi-day adventures with serious white water, and maybe a little yoga on the side. Most companies provide transportation from Ashland hotels, and meals and wet suits are usually included in the price.
2. Take a tour of the Oregon wine country.
For the price of a couple of plays, a limo will ferry you on a choice of five-hour trips through the region. Ashland Wine Tours include stops at three to four wineries in either the Rogue or Applegate appellations, plus a catered lunch. A tour guide will explain the history of the local wine industry and why you're driving past so many llama farms. Contact: (541) 552-9463,www.ashlandwinetours.com.
3. Check out the Green Show.
The pre-theater Green Show takes place on the lawn between the Bowmer and Elizabethan theaters on Tuesday through Sunday. The shows of music and dance related to the Elizabethan Stage performances are free. Performances begin between 7 and 7:30 p.m. and last 30 to 45 minutes (this allows theatergoers time to get to their seats before curtain time). Bring a blanket and arrive early to get a good seat. Seewww.osfashland.org and click on "events."
Theatergoers love to eat well, and a gourmet ghetto has sprung up to accommodate them with more than 40 eateries in downtown alone, some of which offer beautiful outdoor tables. The most popular get busy with the pre-theater crowd, so make a reservation for 8:15 p.m., and enjoy a leisurely meal.
5. Do a spa day.
Ashland's setting in the Oregon hills is relaxing enough, but there are also some lovely spas in the area. Relax between shows in a hydrotherapy bath at Blue Giraffe Spa -- just a few blocks from the theaters. The African safari decor provides a guy-friendly atmosphere, too. Fellows, try a purifying back facial or the man's pedicure. Another ahhh! option: Waterstone Spa at Lithia Springs Resort. This is a three-minute drive from downtown Ashland. Blue Giraffe Spa, (541) 488-3335; www.bluegiraffespa.com; Waterstone Spa, (541) 488-0325, www.waterstonespa.com; and Lithia Springs Resort, (800) 482-7128, lithiaspringsresort.com.
Since Oregon has no sales tax, you're already getting more than an 8 percent discount on anything you buy. Otherwise, what's most notable about Ashland shopping is the refreshing dearth of chain stores. Specialty shops and boutiques include four bookstores, galleries and clothing stores for young hippies and old bohemians. Earthly Goods carries the best selection of Dansko shoes this side of Denmark.
7. Life in the cabaret.
Oregon Cabaret Theatre is a block from the Shakespeare festival complex, but a world away in its style of entertainment. The place offers light, cabaret-style shows, along with dinner, if you like. It's a respite from a long night of the Bard, and a fun way to spend a low-key evening. For details, see www.oregoncabaret.com.
8. Off the beaten train track.
Take the short walk north from downtown to Ashland's historic railroad district to find art galleries, 12 historic sites, some inns and a growing number of destination restaurants. Despite its historic claim-to-fame, this neighborhood has a decided new-age vibe, and is a sure bet if you're looking for a yoga class. Details, including a self-guided walking tour, can be found at www.ashlandRRdistrict.com.
9. Park it.
Adjacent to the theater complex is Lithia Park, where you can grab a bench by the pond to watch the ducks and swans or follow Ashland Creek up into the mountain and a swimming hole. The 93-acre park also has a playground, tennis courts, a Japanese garden, a huge lawn perfect for Frisbee tossing, and a band shell featuring live entertainment. For a schedule of events, e-mail email@example.com.
10. Head to Jacksonville.
Just 20 miles north of Ashland, this historic town may remind you a bit of California's Columbia State Historic Park near Sonora, with wooden sidewalks, lots of old buildings and gift shops. Breakfast is a source of town pride. You can choose from 31 concert offerings at the town's 2,200-seat outdoor Britt Pavilion, with artists ranging from Elvis Costello and k.d. lang to Ramsey Lewis, with classical offerings thrown in for good measure. For a complete schedule, go to www.brittfest.org.