Looking for an interesting get-away for the whole family? Recently, my wife and I took a road trip with our six-year-old son and the grandparents to Ashland, where the grownups attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and found some exciting outdoor and cultural experiences along the way.
There are about as many ways to get to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as there are plays. Traveling with a first-grader, I recommend you go down 97, then traverse over Highway 62 to the south entrance of Crater Lake, Oregon's only National Park. Crater Lake in the winter is breathtaking. Seeing the snow covering the rim and Wizard Island is definitely worth the added time in the car. Once you've filled your camera's memory card, head west on 62 along the Rogue River to Medford, then south on I5 to Ashland.
Taking a six-year-old to a three-hour Shakespearean tragedy would be, well, a tragedy. So, I took my parents along to make it a family affair. It worked out perfectly: Grandma and Grandpa took the kid to the ScienceWorks Museum, an OMSI-like place located at 1500 E. Main St. in Ashland, while my wife and I caught the matinee of "Othello". Then at night, we shifted roles. After a delicious meal at Thai Pepper—my recommendation is small plates so everyone can try all the different flavors—we went downtown and had a wine flight, then back to the room at the Plaza Inn and Suites, where we sat in the relaxing spa before renting a movie and going to sleep. There are so many restaurants in Ashland, it can make your head spin. When the OSF is happening, I highly recommend reservations, especially if you have a large group. We were lucky to get in to Greenleaf Restaurant, which is on Main St.—also known as the Plaza—for a delicious breakfast one morning.
Although we weren't very fortunate with the weather, when it's nice, there are plenty of parks for children to enjoy. North Mountain Park, located at 60 N. Mountain Ave. has an educational nature trail and access to Bear Creek, with good bird watching on sunny days. Lithia Park features a duck pond and plenty of picnic tables throughout. In addition, there are other parks, such as Garfield Park, that have water features in the summer and ample play structures for the kids. Closeby, historic Jacksonville is about a 30-minute drive northwest of Ashland.
The annual Britt Festival, which runs mid-June to mid-September, is a fun place to see music shows outdoors. In the summer, the small towns along the Rogue become meccas for whitewater enthusiasts, with many outfitters who rent rafts and offer guide services. Nearby Shady Cove's population doubles in the summer with the influx of rafters. There are hotels and restaurants that come alive with the blazing summer heat as well. Further north near Grants Pass is Wildlife Images, a wildlife rehabilitation center and great spot to take children to see animals up close. There is a grizzly bear, river otters, wolves and even a cougar that will come right up to the wire fencing. The staff are very knowledgeable and the tour takes place under the canopy of large trees.
Back in Ashland, a tour of the town would be incomplete without having the children taste the Lithia Water that pours out of the big fountain in the center of the Plaza. Native American legend says the water has healing powers. I'll leave that to the Native peoples, and leave out the description of the smell and flavor, so as not to spoil your fun watching your kids' reactions.
Heading to Ashland?
Take the kids to the ScienceWorks Museum and check out this new exhibit:
Pterosaurs: Ancient Rulers of the Sky April 28th through December 31st!
Pterosaurs lived during the same time as dinosaurs, but aren't dinosaurs themselves! At this new exhibit built by the Museum, you'll learn the difference between a dinosaur and a pterosaur, how they moved, ate and lived and where they sit in the evolutionary history of our planet. Enjoy scale replicas of the 18-foot tall Quetzalcoatlus, the well-known Pterodactyls and Pteronodons! The museum is open Tuesdays – Sundays, 10am-5pm.