For many years, my daughters and I have made an annual summer pilgrimage to Ashland, Oregon to catch as many plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as we can possibly cram into a few days and nights. But thanks to our love of the outdoors and our extremely lean budget, we don’t “do Ashland” like your typical culture vulture. Here are a few tips for planning a Shakespeare immersion vacation that’s balanced with plenty of outdoor time, glorious scenery, and healthy inexpensive food.
1. Find the best coffee in town. Hidden on a quiet side street, Noble Coffee Roastery is where Ashland’s alternative types hang out. The hand-roasted, fair trade, shade grown coffee is all you could hope for. Check the walls for posters advertising concerts, readings, and other events, and you might stumble on a local happening to liven up your trip.
2. Camp out at Emigrant Lake. Depending on the water level during any particular year, the lakeside sites at Emigrant Lake can either be gorgeous or just so-so. But the stars reflected in the lake are spectacular, and the park’s water slides are always a great way to cool down and let off steam after sitting still all afternoon at a matinee. There are also several good hiking trails that skirt the lakeshore.
3. Buy meals to go at the Ashland Coop Market. One of those great old-style consumer-owned coops, Ashland Coop has a big deli section where you can put together a gourmet meal of salads, main dishes, and baked goods similar to Whole Foods but more reasonably priced. Pack up your food and walk over to Lithia Park, where you can picnic on the grass while people-watching and listening to busking fiddlers and flautists.
4. Lay in picnic supplies at the Ashland Farmer’s Market. Held Tuesday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Armory, the Ashland Farmer’s Market (officially one of three locations of the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market) is one of those great local affairs with fruit and veggies galore, a couple of great bakery stalls, a musician or two strumming tunes, and artisanal producers selling honey, soaps, jewelry, and other cool handmade stuff. Pick up some bread, cheese, and fruit and you’ll have plenty to eat while catching the pre-show entertainment at the festival.
5. Smile for Cheap Tickets. We usually splurge on tickets to one or two must-see plays that are likely to sell out. But we manage to see many more plays by picking up extra tickets that others can’t use. If you don’t mind sitting separately, you can pick up single tickets pretty easily by hovering near the box office an hour or two before shows with a friendly smile.
6. Bike Bear Creek. Break up your theater-going with a run, walk, or bike ride along the Bear Creek Greenaway bike path that cuts a swath of cool and shady creekside open space through central Ashland.
7. Sleep cheap and cook for yourself. If camping’s not your thing, stay at the Ashland Hostel, a cozy home-like hostel within walking distance of the festival. Guests have kitchen privileges, so you can whip up quick, healthy meals using your farmer’s market and co-op provisions.
8. Celebrate saved pennies with an artisanal cocktail. If, after all this frugality and healthiness you feel like a splurge, head for Alchemy Ashland, where the craft cocktails include the vermouth-lover’s St. Bibiana and a house gin and tonic that’s the perfect topper to a hot summer day. Or hit happy hour at Liquid Assets, which lays claim to a selection of more than 250 wines, cocktails and craft brews. The snacks at Liquid Assets are almost as good as the drinks – don’t leave without trying the truffled popcorn.