We left Friday morning (just the wife and I; Grandma had the kids for the weekend) and headed down to southern Oregon for a play and a getaway. The weather turned out great, and the trip was largely a winery tour, among other things; we visited four wineries and ended up buying just over a case of wine.
The last time we’d been to Ashland was nine years ago, before the kids were born. Compared to Bend over the past decade, few things in the area have changed; both Medford and Ashland have remained pretty stable, and even though there are signs of growth, much of it (particularly downtown Ashland) is as I remember it.
(Holy smokes, this post got long.)
Click through to read on…
The trip over the Cascades (via the Diamond Lake-Crater Lake highway) was pretty uneventful, and we made excellent time overall. (Bend to Medford—and back again—was a total driving time (not counting lunch, of course) of just over three hours—for some reason I’d thought it was longer than that.)
We decided to stop for lunch in Shady Cove, which is this little town on the Rogue River about 20 miles north of Medford. My first impression upon entering the town was the sign pointing to the Library, City Hall and Police Department—all down a gravel road. So when my wife pointed out the first restaurant we saw—a Mexican place—my response was, “Well, I don’t know if I really want Mexican for lunch, and I really don’t think we want to stop at the first place we see in a town whose police station is down a dirt road…”
We continued on into the town, which turned out a little bigger than that first impression, and were turning around to try a promising-looking restaurant when we made an unexpected find: a winery, Crater Lake Cellars.
So we stopped in, sampled about a half dozen wines, and ended up buying four bottles. On the way out, the woman gave us a lunch recommendation: Guadalajara’s, a Mexican restaurant (not the one we saw at first) down across the street, which overlooks the Rogue River. So we decided to try that.
It was a good find—not only was the food good, but their back deck (where we sat) is literally on the edge of the river. The view is fantastic, and the weather was warm. During the summer, you can watch people drift by, floating the river.
We pulled into Medford with time to kill (check-in for the bed and breakfast we were staying at wasn’t until 3pm), so we decided to head up to Gold Hill and visit the Oregon Vortex/House of Mystery. I hadn’t been there for at least 20 years, I figure, and my wife wanted to see it, so off we went.
Talk about small town, backwoods Oregon: Gold Hill is just off the freeway, tiny, and the Mystery House is another half-dozen miles out of town (and up into the hills). It’s a pretty drive, but it’s a narrow, windy road.
As for the Oregon Vortex, well, it’s something you’d have to visit. It’s kitschy. There’s not really much I could say to describe it that quoting the website won’t do:
The Oregon Vortex is a spherical field of force, half above the ground and half below the ground. The Phenomena that gives The Oregon Vortex its name are evident throughout the entire area. Nowhere in the circle do you normally stand erect. Inevitably the visitor assumes a posture that inclines toward magnetic north. The corona of The Vortex, as well as the minor vortices, discovered during the continuous study of The Vortex, are among the unique phenomena to be observed here.
As another person, on a level platform, recedes from you towards magnetic south, they appear taller. When they approach you, coming towards magnetic north, they become shorter. This is contrary to the laws of perspective, as we know it, and must be seen to be believed.
It’s a fun attraction, worth visiting for the novelty factor if you’re in the area and have the time.
On our way into Ashland afterward, I took the first exit (Exit 19) because I wanted to drive through the downtown area (I love downtown Ashland) to see and scope out a bit of the area. As we approached the main split that passes by Lithia Park and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, we noticed traffic was backed up, and being directed into the left lane; passing by Lithia Square, there were police cars and emergency vehicles all over, and yellow police tape surrounding the park. My guess was some sort of bomb scare, and it turns out I was right.
Fortunately, though, it was a hoax, and the square was re-opened by 5pm.
We checked in to the bed and breakfast we were staying at: Country Willows Inn, which is a charming place on five acres of farmland on the outskirts of town. The rooms are in a restored farmhouse, and two in a restored and converted barn. They have a swimming pool, access to hiking trails, fresh fruits and veggies from their gardens, and awesome breakfasts. I recommend it.
Dinner Friday night was in downtown Ashland at Lela’s Café, and it was very good. Smallish, fairly intimate atmosphere, excellent service and food. Reservations are recommended. I had sea scallops, my wife had chicken parmesan—although her starter of French onion soup was so hot that it took nearly 20 minutes to eat—and it was still steaming hot when she was finished. Dessert was peach ice cream for her and dark chocolate mousse torte for myself.
After dinner we debated going to see a movie, and decided to: “Live Free or Die Hard“. We both liked it. Actually, I really liked it, the more I think about it, and I’ll probably write a longer post/review about it and the “Die Hard” movies in general later. (Of course, it’s still a blow-em-up pretty action movie, so YMMV.)
One thing about small town theaters: we were able to get in to a summer blockbuster movie five minutes before it started Saturday night, on its opening weekend. The double-edge of that “small town theater” sword: near the big climax of the movie, during the big semi-on-the-freeway sequence, the picture died—but the sound kept going. Everyone in the theater starts shouting “Picture! Picture!” because nobody was in the projection booth. Finally, the guy showed up and fixed the problem—but when everybody told him to rewind it a few minutes, he said that wasn’t possible.
WTF? Isn’t it all digital or something these days? How can you not rewind a movie? Some people starting shouting “Rewind or refund!” but ultimately, we only didn’t see probably two minutes of the movie, and nothing critical.
After a delicious breakfast at the B-n-B of grilled bananas and cornmeal pancakes, we set out to do the tourist thing: wineries and shopping.
We hopped on the freeway and our first destination was the Rogue Creamery, in Central Point just up the road from Medford. They’re renowned for their artisan cheeses, particularly their “Oregonzola” cheese.
They had a bunch of their cheeses out to taste, which we did, including a lavendar cheddar and a chocolate stout (beer) cheddar. We ended up buying three cheeses and some fresh-churned butter.
After the Creamery, we went to Harry and David. You’ve all heard of Harry and David, right? Well, they’re headquartered there in Medford, and have a big store with all of their products and produce. It’s very Trader Joes-ish. We picked up a bunch of stuff—non-perishable, since it would be sitting in the car—and decided we’d stop again on our way out of town Sunday to pick up some produce and stuff that wouldn’t otherwise survive the day.
Next stop, the RoxyAnn Winery. RoxyAnn is located on a historic pear orchard and the tasting room (and most of the buildings) are registered as historic places. The tasting room is, in fact, a converted barn; half the wood floor is the original wood, nearly a century old.
The wines were good, especially their pear wine. It’s a sweet dessert wine that they make all the time from the abundant pears their orchards produce. In addition to the tasters we bought ($5 gets you all 6 or 7 wines they currently have on the board), they also include a bit of cheese and Dagoba dark chocolate.
After RoxyAnn was the Paschal Winery. We liked this one a little better than RoxyAnn, actually. This fits more in the traditional image of a winery you’d expect: you drive through the vineyards to the winery/tasting room up on the hill with great views. The tasting room itself was more of an “adobe modern” than the RoxyAnn barn look, and they had a guy playing live music in the corner.
Some really excellent wines, too, particularly the blend: the Civita Di Bagnoregio. Here’s their own description:
This wine is a composition of 40% Tempranillo, 25% Sangiovese, 25% Dolcetto and 10% Syrah. You can call it Italian, you can call it international, but these grapes are 100% Rogue Valley. This wine offers aromas of licorice and pomegranate, with plum and a touch of lively cherry in the finish. Medium to full-bodied wine with complex yet ultra soft tannins.
Afterwards we drove back into Ashland to walk around downtown, do some shopping, and visit the Standing Stone Brewing Company.
Ashland’s just got the neatest downtown around, as far as I’m concerned. Restaurants, book stores, antique shops, all manner of souvenir and gift shops, clothing and costume stores, jewelry, children’s and toy stores, ice cream, you name it. On weekends they also have their craft market (similar to the Saturday Market) along the walking path behind the Square and along the creek. Everywhere is very pedestrian-friendly, and much of it is themed for the Shakespeare Festival.
We picked up a few things—some souvenirs for the kids, some for us—then walked over to Standing Stone Brewing. It was later in the day and we a had six o’clock dinner reservation, so we didn’t eat; I just got the sampler of their beers and took some pictures. My review of the brewery and beers itself will be up on The Brew Site pretty soon.
One more winery visit after that: the Weisinger Winery, located there in Ashland. My wife tried several samples (I was pretty well wined out by that time) but overall wasn’t as impressed with it as with the others. Perhaps it was just being tired at the end of a busy day.
One thing was cool, though, and I wish I’d taken a picture of it: they had an enclosed glass-walled beehive, like an ant farm, only for honeybees; there was honeycomb in the bottom and you could watch the bees working.
Dinner that evening was downtown again at Amuse, one of the highest-rated Ashland restaurants we’d read about online. And it lived up to the hype; the food was excellent—my wife’s steak was melt-in-your-mouth good, some of the best we’d had lately—and the service was formal and friendly and timely. And dessert was awesome—warm beignets (actually, hot!) that were crispy perfect on the outside and creamy and custard-like inside. A++
One thing about dining in Ashland—at least with the two we dined at: the town is very play-centric (obviously) and the restaurants work with the theater schedules and do their best to make sure you’ll make your play on time. You’d expect that, but it’s still a nice touch.
And finally, the play itself: The Taming of the Shrew, performed in the outdoor Elizabethan theater. A++++++++++++++++
Seriously. It was fantastic. Laugh-out-loud funny. The actors were superb. The weather was clear and slightly cool—just right, as far as I’m concerned. And we managed to get seats right in the middle facing center stage—L1 and L2. Perfect placement, although it would be great to get closer—four or five rows looked ideal, but you never know.
I loved it, and find myself wondering why we don’t do it more often (aside from kids, money, etc. etc.). If I lived down there I’d buy season tickets every single year.
Not much happening on Sunday, other than the drive home. Breakfast was again great, with a melon ball parfait with lemon sorbet on top for the starter, and roasted vegetable fritatta for the main course.
On the way through Medford we indeed stopped again at Harry and David, and stocked up on more things: a couple of plants (they have a garden center), some produce, sausage, more bagged goodies, odds and ends. Next time we’re through there we’ll see about signing up for one of their tours.
The drive home was straight through, again just over 3 hours of driving. It was a nice, clear day, and though we didn’t stop at the mountain viewpoints (there are a couple), we got a glimpse of Mt. Mazama (Crater Lake) and my wife managed to snap a pretty good picture of Mt. Thielsen through the windshield:
So all around, it was a great weekend.