Thursday, January 4, 2018

Ashland + Kids - Shakespeare = Fun.

We're half way through week two of winter break and our natives were restless.  So, we packed up for the night and headed north to one of my favorite getaway places, Ashland, OR.

I lived just outside of Ashland for a few years before I got married, and we return about once a year for one reason or another.  Southern Oregon kind of feels like home.  But as familiar as it all is,  every time I visit I find something new that makes me fall in love with the Ashland area all over again. Typically our visits to Ashland include plays, fine dining, wine tasting, historic bed and breakfast stays, and tax-free shopping.  We've never taken the kids because....well, frankly, none of that is more fun when your kids are around. But it has come to my attention that there are actually things for kids to do in the Ashland area.  So, we gave it a shot and we weren't disappointed.

The highlight of our trip was the non-traditional lodging choice.  I debated long and hard over the $99 room at the chain hotel vs. the "Not even in the neighborhood of $99" stay at a local organic farm.  Cheap or charming?  Affordable or awe-inspiring?  Free breakfast or free-range eggs?  Choices, choices. My husband (the heart-thinker balance to my head-thinker existence) convinced me to go for it, throw caution (and the budget) to the wind and go with the farm stay. 

City slicker at the farm
Friendly mama goat
Willow-Witt Ranch is a beautiful property located about 11 miles east of Ashland.  Actually "up" from Ashland would be a more accurate sort of feels like you're driving to the top of  world.  And once you get there, it is a mountain-top experience.  This place is 400 acres of organic farming, off-grid living, and plain old peace and quiet.  The owners and farm hands love their work and happily answered 101 questions from my kids while tending to their farm chores. We watched them milk the dairy goats, gathered eggs, soaked in the wood-fired hot tub and enjoyed the small patches of snow that persisted through this warm, dry winter. (We are told they are normally blanketed in a few feet of snow this time of year)  The sound of silence was my favorite aspect of our stay.  You truly feel the peace and tranquility of "Gods Country" at Willow-Witt Ranch, and that alone was worth the price of admission for me.  Fresh eggs and my first taste of goat milk were unexpected bonuses.  Even if you don't stay overnight, the ranch is a great destination for a farm tour, a scenic hike, a round of disc golf, or a peaceful picnic.  Don't miss the small farm store that sells a variety of meat and dairy products. 

Classic playground fun!
We were super excited to discover "Kids Kingdom of the North" (a playground similar to the original, wooden Kids Kingdom structure in Redding) at Bear Creek Park in Medford.  This old-school gem has tunnels, winding staircases, a rocket ship (or a castle turret, depending on your interpretation), and plenty of corners for playing hide and seek.  Admittedly, it does also have some of the less popular features, namely wide availability of splinters and no way to really keep eyes on your kids at all times.  But we all enjoyed this bit of nostalgia.  If you want to experience it too, you might want to visit soon, because renovation plans are underway.   

Photo op at the Rogue Creamery

After some park play time, we headed to the Rogue Creamery.  The small shop offers a wide variety of cheese samples (they are famous for Blue Cheese, but there are many other tasty varieties to choose from), and a window into the production area where you can watch them make the cheese.  This fun pit-stop also sells wine and snacks, and offers small tables to sit and enjoy your purchases.  Right next door is a chocolate shop and a wine tasting room, so you could easily stretch this quick stop into an afternoon of culinary treats.

Our plan was to catch the Harry and David factory tour in the afternoon, but upon arrival at the store, we were told the tours were not running during the New Year holiday week.  If your kids like food and/or are intrigued by the How It's Made TV show, I'm guessing this tour would be a hit with them.  Our crew was disappointed to miss it (and a little annoyed that the website didn't provide any holiday schedule information) so we'll have to try it another day. The Country Village store, where the tours begin, was still a decent stop, with all of the Christmas goodies 50% off, wandering employees offering free samples, and some unique produce and foodie items.

After a relaxing evening back at Willow-Witt Ranch, day two started with a visit to the ScienceWorks Museum in Ashland.  I don't know if this is standard among kids, but my kids will generally spend HOURS in any science museum.  ScienceWorks is a small but mighty museum with tons of hands-on activities for kids of all ages.  It took us about two hours to exhaust every last corner of the inside, and then the kids spent some time outside on the "climbing through time" climbing wall and the giant spider web. Definitely a worthwhile stop, especially for those that are members of our local Turtle Bay museum, since your membership card gets you into ScienceWorks for FREE.

Glassblowing at Gathering Glass Studio
Our next stop in Ashland was the Gathering Glass Studio, where they sell incredible, hand-made glass items and offer the opportunity to watch artists at work in the studio. This might not be a great option for younger kids that have a hard time keeping their bodies calm in the midst of a room full of expensive breakables, but our 6 and 9-year old kiddos loved it.  They are typically blowing glass Weds-Sat, but you might want to call ahead to confirm if you really want to observe the artists in action. Just around the corner from the Gathering Glass Studio is the Ashland Food Cooperative, which is a fun place to find locally sourced and organic food items, grab a sandwich and a smoothie, or enjoy some good people-watching.

Even with kids in tow, I couldn't resist a quick stop to the heart of Ashland's shopping district, so we headed to Lithia Plaza to grab lunch and do some speed shopping.  If your kids are patient about browsing unique shops, you can find all kinds of awesome stores in this area. (My personal faves are Paddington Station, Lithia Park Shoes and  Bloomsbury Books.) But if your kids are like mine and have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to shopping, you'll have to plan your route carefully.  We hit the toy store, and made a stop at the Lithia Water Fountain, which spouts mineral-rich "health water" from a nearby spring.  Spoiler alert: It's fizzy water that tastes a bit like rotten eggs.  But you have to try it at least once.  Bonus points if you can convince your kids to taste it.  (-:

We were pleasantly surprised with the easy flow of things to do for kids in Ashland/Medford.  So parents, fear not!  There is fun to be had in Southern Oregon, even for those too young to appreciate Shakespeare under the stars.

FOOTNOTE: Hotel rooms are much more affordable in the winter season (Nov-Jan) when the Oregon Shakespeare Festival goes dark.  Some decent hotel deals can be found in the summer if you stay on the outskirts of town, further away from the theater district. Some restaurants, shops and attractions in Ashland also take a break in the winter, so do some advance research to avoid disappointment.