By Ryan Ritchie
1:00 PM EDT, August 3, 2013
There's no way to describe Ashland, Ore., as anything but quaint. Whether you're browsing knickknacks in Renaissance Rose, combing through an extensive John Steinbeck collection at Shakespeare Books & Antiques, sipping on freshly squeezed apple juice from the Ashland Food Co-op or standing 10 feet from a deer on Hargadine Street, this town of about 20,000 is inviting, charming and, well, quaint. The tab: Three nights in suite R at Grape Street Gardens runs $240 (prices are prorated if guests stay weekly or monthly), while dinner for two can be had for less than $50. Two seats near the stage at an Oregon Shakespeare Festival performance will set you back about $150, but everything in Lithia Park is free, including parking.
Thanks to the popularity of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, getting a room in Ashland can be expensive. Even if you can afford it, there are no guarantees that anything is available, so head 13 miles north to Medford and the Grape Street Gardens (329 S. Grape St., Medford;  292-3750. Four "suites" from $70). Within walking distance of downtown Medford, the four living quarters are equipped with kitchens, living areas, bedrooms and private bathrooms and feel more like personal apartments than an inn. Proprietor Merrie Gaye has designed each with an artistic aesthetic, but it's her knowledge of the area and her willingness to accommodate that will make you forget about the short drive to Ashland.
An array of eateries share an outdoor patio that overlooks Ashland Creek, and the good news is that you can't go wrong with any of them. If it's healthful, organic options you desire, there's Greenleaf Restaurant (49 N. Main St.;  482-2808. No single item more than $19.95). If your diet is more carnivorous, head next door to the Black Sheep Pub & Restaurant (51 N. Main St.;  482-6414. No single item more than $20.) for chicken with marionberry Chambord sauce and shepherd's pie. Regardless of where you eat, make sure to get a table outside.
Whether it's a stroll along Ashland Creek, a picnic in front of a duck pond, a dip in the swimming reservoir or a childlike ride on the swings, the 93 acres that constitute Lithia Park offer something for seemingly everyone. Beware: This relaxing slice of nature can make you drag your feet back to your regularly scheduled life.
The lesson learned
Seeing an outdoor performance at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (15 S. Pioneer St.;  219-8161; Tickets start at $25) is an experience that should be on everyone's bucket list. Ashland seems to exist for the festival, meaning no trip would be complete without some Bard. Performances on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage through Oct. 13.
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