Get a dose of culture at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
To Shakespeare or not to Shakespeare – that is the question. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in Ashland is becoming a popular all-ages destination thanks to recently expanded family programming.
Now celebrating its 80th season, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is nationally renowned for a diverse mix of Shakespearean plays, musicals, classics and world premieres. Plays are staged in one of three theaters, all within easy walking distance of downtown Ashland. The outdoor Elizabethan Stage – one of the nation's oldest – is a unique experience not to be missed.
"The Family Day program has become really popular," says Bob Hackett, marketing manager at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. "It started five years ago and offers affordable tickets. Our staff also offers free prologues describing the plays so parents and kids enjoy them more."
Family Day tickets are only $25 for adults and children ages 6 to 17 and include some of the best seats in the house.
For the budget-conscious, youth tickets (ages 6 to 17 years) are discounted 30 percent all season for any performance, except the $25 seats. Also, it pays to become an OSF member (memberships start at $60). The off-season begins Oct. 8 and members receive a 40 percent discount on tickets. Visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival website for a ticket chart along with the various discounts.
A tip for parents: Consider seats closer to the front, especially for younger kids. "In my experience, the closer you get to the stage, the more engaged kids are," says Hackett. This is especially true at the expansive Elizabethan Stage.
Coming and going
If driving, plan a day for traveling each way. Ashland is 460 miles south of Seattle. If time allows, stop over in Portland for additional road-trip fun.
Direct flights are approximately one hour from SeaTac to the Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport. Medford Airport is pleasantly small and there are rarely long waits. Luggage is quickly claimed and clearing security sometimes only takes 10 minutes.
Rent a car if you plan to visit regional sites such as Crater Lake. Otherwise, skip the extra cost. Everything in downtown Ashland is within walking distance. Car services, such as Southern Oregon Town Car, are the most affordable and friendly transportation between Ashland and the airport.
Ashland offers a wide variety of lodging for all price points and tastes – hotels, motels and charming bed and breakfasts. A sure bet, however, is the Ashland Springs Hotel. The 1925 hotel is the area's centerpiece. At nine stories, it's still the tallest building. It offers a charming blend of historical charm and modern amenities – original chandeliers and WiFi.
The hotel is conveniently within a minute's walk to the OSF theaters. Many rooms come with a mini fridge. Save money by stocking it with food from the Ashland Food Co-op (a few blocks from the hotel). At night, guests flock to the lobby for the complimentary, late-night snacks – a buffet of cookies, popcorn, trail mix and sour lemonade. Even Fido can join the family vacation; Ashland Springs Hotel is dog-friendly.
Ashland Springs Hotel is also host to the area's only concierge, Gigi LaRossa. A resident, she is the go-to person for all visitors looking for insider tips.
"Fall is a great time to visit," says LaRossa. "Things start slowing down a bit in October and you can get some great deals." 212 East Main Street, Ashland, OR, 97520
More fun in Ashland
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is Ashland’s biggest attraction, but there are many more kid-popular activities. Take a walk around town while you are there. Here are some recommended stops:
Lithia Park begins in the heart of downtown and is one of the most popular attractions. The 93-acre park includes a creek and trails winding to the top of Mount Ashland, picnic areas, tennis courts, duck ponds and an impressive children’s outdoor playground. It combines two travel essentials – free and fun!
ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum is in Ashland and is especially fun for younger kids, thanks to its interactive, hands-on exhibits. Learn about anatomy, chemistry, engineering and more. 1500 E Main St
Zoey’s Cafe & All Natural Ice Cream Shop and the Mix Sweet Shop are must-stops. Zoey’s offers healthy sandwiches and snack fare, but the real draw is the cases of ice cream – more than 40 flavors. While you can never go wrong with cookies ‘n cream, branch out and try a locally-inspired flavor such as Rogue Valley Pear. A bonus, the shop is open late on weekends for theatergoers. At the Mix Sweet Shop, the cases are stock with éclairs, cupcakes and creative confections. Homemade ice cream runs the gamut from classic to creative with salted caramel being a perennial favorite. 199 E Main St
Crater Lake National Park is the deepest – and perhaps bluest – lake in the U.S. The park is a 90-minute drive from Ashland and offers activities year-round. Hiking, fishing and boat tours of the lake are perennially popular. In winter months, enjoy a ranger-led snowshoe tour or cross-country skiing.
Deanna Duff is an award-winning Pacific Northwest freelance writer and kid at heart.
Editor's note: This updated article was originally published in 2013.