Early autumn in Ashland may be the best time of year to visit the southern Oregon town: The leaves are turning, and this year, its legendary Shakespeare fest is as lively as ever. We sent writer Christopher Hall to check it out. Here are his picks for the five perfect components to an autumn Ashland visit.
Play time During the first season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival 80 years ago, Ashland residents and students served as actors on a simple stage that also hosted boxing matches. Now the Tony Award-winning company has three state-of-the-art theaters—and not a fist-swinging bout in sight. It produces everything from the Bard (Richard III runs through October 10) to modern musicals (Into the Woods runs through October 11). It also stages its own new commissions during a season that goes from February to November. September offers a full slate of performances, including an outdoor series that seems perfectly timed to the weather: Days this month stay mostly sunny, even as a nip starts to spice the air each evening around curtain time.
Go-to fall foliage Picnickers, Frisbee tossers, and kids on swings populate the busy end of Lithia Park (pictured below), near Ashland's downtown plaza and the Shakespeare Festival complex. But deeper inside this 93-acre oasis, tranquility prevails along the forested paths that follow Ashland Creek through a wooded canyon. September is especially scenic. "That's when our fall color starts, usually with the maples in the Japanese garden," says park superintendent Bruce Dickens.
Tarts and crafts In September, the bounty of southwestern Oregon fills the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market, which convenes downtown (Oak St. at Main St.) on Saturdays and at the National Guard Armory (1420 E. Main) on Tuesdays. Vendors tempt with the expected—goat cheese, jams, apple cider—and the not so: inlaid-wood cutting boards, ceramic vases, and prepared foods. In-the-know locals make a beeline for the pear turnovers from Pennington Farms. "We use only perfectly ripe Bartletts for the filling," says co-owner Cathy Pennington.
Delicious decisions Will it be the Dungeness crab Benedict from the specials board? Or maybe pillowy pancakes, gussied up with lemon butter and tart-sweet marionberry syrup? The choices are hard at Morning Glory (1149 Siskiyou Blvd.), a cafe in a cozy Craftsman house where there's always a wait-list crowd sipping coffee under the maple tree out front. Across town, the buttery-flaky almond croissants, fig-walnut bars, and roasted eggplant galettes fly out the door of Deux Chats (222 A St.) on Fridays and Saturdays, the only days the wholesale bakery sells directly to the public. "If you're looking for a baguette still warm from the oven, stop by around 9:30 in the morning," says co-owner Garrett Furuichi, whose wife, Michelle, is the sole baker. Later in the day at year-old Caldera Brewing Company (590 Clover Lane), the thirsty can choose from 37 taps dispensing housemade microbrews, ginger ale, and hibiscus-rose iced tea. Design fans will appreciate the industrial-cool space, with its polished purple floor, purple-tile fireplace, and artfully displayed collection of 5,000 vintage beer bottles and cans.
A boho-chic boutique The flagship brick-and-mortar of the beloved online retailer Papaya Living (33 N. Main St.) resembles a gorgeous Paris flea-market stall, overflowing with artful objects for the home and person. A Victorian birdcage presides over bottles of Italian rose water, gold-washed silver bangles, and stacks of quilted throws made from old saris. Many of the whimsical motifs adorning the totes, notebooks, and cards are inspired by designer-owner Anahata Katkin's travels in Asia and Mexico.