ASHLAND, Ore. -- Shortly after hitting town recently, we ate a picnic lunch at a shaded table by Ashland Creek. A few feet away, children played in the water under parents' watchful eyes as new arrivals skipped across a vintage foot bridge.
That evening we had a couple rounds of fascinating local beers -- one flavored with hibiscus and ginger -- and a good dinner at the Caldera brew pub, next to the creek.
Oh, and the next morning we had a picnic breakfast by the creek. Actually, it was the next two mornings. That was after having dinner at another restaurant -- Greenleaf -- at an outdoor table along the creek.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is what draws my family and many other visitors on a pilgrimage to Ashland every year. But Ashland Creek, and Lithia Park (which surrounds the creek much of its babbling way through this pleasant Southern Oregon town) are other elements that make visiting a pleasure.
Named one of the top 10 Great American Spaces by the American Planning Association in 2014, the 101-year-old, 93-acre park follows clear and cold Ashland Creek -- fed by snowmelt from Mount Ashland -- past a mix of manicured meadows and decorative ponds, a Japanese-style garden and a formal rose garden, plus a scenic gully of wild woodland with a hiking trail leading to a reservoir you can swim in.
The range of plant life along the creek is phenomenal: Towering ponderosa pines, with bark resembling rose-pink snakeskin, compete in height with coast redwoods, mixed in with California black oaks, cedars, madronas and more.
Once it emerges from the park, the chattering brook rushes past a maple-shaded walk where artists display their wares at outdoor booths (weekends through mid-November) and restaurants serve food at waterside tables in warmer months. It then ducks under streets, past more dining courtyards and pub decks, then behind backyards and past another park before feeding into Bear Creek, a Rogue River tributary lined by a 20-mile hiking and biking path.
VISITING IN FALL
Ashland can bake in the summer -- I've been there in July when the mercury topped 100 degrees -- but in September crowds start to thin and the heat moderates, with 80 the average high and nights averaging in the low 40s. Like it cooler? The average daily high is 68 in October, and the Shakespeare Festival continues through Oct. 29. (Outdoor performances in the Allen Elizabethan Theater conclude Oct. 15.)
So you can still go this fall and catch outdoor performances of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," an indoor staging of "Shakespeare in Love," or such bard-penned favorites as "The Merry Wives of Windsor" or "Julius Caesar." Great seats can get sparse late in the season (ticket sales start the previous November), but it's still doable. New this year: a new, larger outdoor stage and remodeled seating area for the free Green Show, which features visiting dancers, musicians and other performers before evening theater performances through mid-October.