12 things to do in Ashland: Best places to eat, walk, shop

The Oregonian

By JANET EASTMAN

Shakespeare and company are back for their eight-month run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. The first four plays - of 11 -  just opened with strong performances of "Much Ado About Nothing," a magical "Pericles," a dashing "Guys and Dolls" and an astonishing new Victorian crime thriller, "Fingersmith."

Visiting Ashland is fun no matter what the season, so I asked readers to recommend their favorite things to do there.

I'll go first. Someone asked where the best seats are in the three theaters. That's easy. In the 600-seat Angus Bowmer Theatre, there really isn't a bad seat in the wide, but shallow, auditorium, though some people say they miss stage whispers along the sides near the back. Closer to the center is better. Same goes for the small Thomas Theatre. Depending on the production, seats ring the stage on three or four sides. Every seat is close to the action.

In the 1,500-seat outdoor theater, sitting closer to the stage allows you to hear all the actors. I once sat in the box seats on the side and loved the close location above the stage.

A walk in Lithia Park

Lithia Park stretches 93 acres from the downtown plaza up canyon toward the headwaters of Ashland Creek on Mount Ashland. The forested park contains lawns, duck ponds, tennis courts, a sandpit volleyball court, picnic areas and playground equipment. Its name originates from lithium oxide which is found in the stream water. Last year, the American Planning Association named the park one of the top ten Great American Spaces.

"Lithia Park has a water fountain that bubbles out mineral water. Mmmm tasty," wrote one woman.

Restaurants

Readers recommend Sesame Asian Kitchen, around the corner from the plaza, facing Lithia Park. I second the recommendation. Another reader suggested Thai Pepper. "If they have the lamb special, get it," she wrote. Give yourself at least 90 minutes to order, eat and walk the five minutes to the theaters.

Up the road in Talent, a few miles north of Ashland, New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro is a high-end choice, although don't get stuck sitting in the (original) smallest dining room, which seats only two tables. My wife and I felt like eavesdroppers listening to the other table of four the entire meal.

Long-timers remember -- and some prefer -- when all of Sammy's was inside the nondescript roadhouse with an unlighted neon sign. Don't miss the original bathroom papered in well-known French wine labels. Better yet, ask to see the complete, wine list -- heavy on vintage French bottles -- and you'll see why there are rumors that the wine cellar is actually in an abandoned gold mine.

"There is a fantastic taqueria just north of Ashland in Phoenix called La Tapatia - super great!!" one woman wrote. It's as authentic as most family-run Mexican restaurants in Southern California. 

I like Standing Stone Brewery for lunch or a pre-show meal. Friendly staff, good burgers and a hearty Cobb Salad. Not only is the beer brewed locally, but many of the menu ingredients are grown or raised on a farm nearby, including chickens and cows.

And nothing beats Brothers' for breakfast, steps from the festival. Scones, omelets, piles of bacon, Bob's Red Mill oatmeal -- it's all good. You might even see Bill Rauch, the festival's artistic director, and some of the actors there.  

Shopping

A reader called Village Shoes "irresistible" and suggested Prize for "fabulous objects." Both are on East Main Street. There's a reason venerable Paddington Station is expanding. It's an emporium chock full of unusual and handy kitchen gear, fun books, versatile clothes and gifts. You won't find a chain store downtown, so wander into the ones that lure you in and meet the owners.

More Shakespeare

When the outdoor Green Shows start this summer, find a spot on the grass to sit and enjoy the free show. Sometimes, it's a musical performance by an OSF actor (talent abounds). Actors sometimes show up for the backstage tours and locals know to look for them riding bikes around town. Actors also regularly gather at downtown watering holes after the curtains close. Ask an usher or look for yourself. They don't wander far from the bricks and they accept compliments.

A reader recommends watching "Shakespeare Uncovered," a TV series on OPB. Each segment examines one play through its history, biography, performances, analysis "and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts - Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant." Recent plays have been "The Taming of the Shrew" with Morgan Freeman and "A Midsummer's Night Dream" with Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville. The series is no longer running, but you can stream episodes on demand.