Long known for its Tony Award—winning Shakespeare Festival and laid-back hippie vibe, Ashland, Oregon, now has a new element of sophistication
Julia Kuskin

Every year from February through October, 100,000 visitors descend upon Ashland, Oregon, just north of the California border, to catch back-to-back productions of Shakespeare's best works. During those eight months, performances at the Tony Award—winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival take center stage. But any regular festival-goer will tell you that Ashland isn't only for theater fans. The white rapids of the Rogue River, the vast blue of Crater Lake, and the rugged bike trails of nearby Mount Ashland all lure adventurers to the outdoors. And with the recent restoration of the Ashland Springs Hotel and the opening of a European-style spa, weekend warriors and Shakespeare lovers alike have a way to relax.

On three stages scattered around town, updated versions of Shakespeare's plays run in repertoire with award-winning works by modern playwrights. This month's lineup includes Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Michael Frayn's Noises Off, and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? For tickets and schedules, call 541/482-4331 or log on to www.osfashland.org.

You'll find drama of a different sort by rafting down the Rogue River. Guides at Noah's River Adventures (53 N. Main St.; 800/858-2811 or 541/488-2811; www.noahsrafting.com; half-day trips from $69 per person) can help even virgin rafters brave the same waters that Meryl Streep did in The River Wild (filmed here in 1993). Beginners can sign up for the half-day Gold Nugget run, which hits rapids ranging from Class I to IV.

For a more subdued outing, drive an hour north to Crater Lake, at 1,943 feet the deepest lake in the United States. Formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama blew its top and fell in on itself, the lake is still fed entirely by springs, snow, and rain. The only way to visit Wizard Island, a prime hiking spot set in the midst of the expansive blue water, and to see the unusual Phantom Ship rock formation up close is by taking the two-hour Volcano Boat Ride (for departure information, call the National Park Service at 541/594-3100 or log on to www.nps.gov/crla).

In 1925, the nine-story Lithia Springs Hotel opened its doors as Ashland's first luxury hotel—and the tallest building between Portland and San Francisco. Several name changes and a $10 million makeover later, the Ashland Springs Hotel (212 E. Main St.; 800/325-4000 or 541/488-1700; www.ashlandspringshotel.com; doubles from $109) has a chic new look. Original details—the lobby's terrazzo floor, chandeliers in the ballroom, and the guest rooms' floor-to-ceiling windows—have been restored.

The whirlpool tubs at the 17-room Lithia Springs Inn (2165 W. Jackson Rd.; 800/482-7128 or 541/482-7128; www.ashlandinn.com; doubles from $115) are fed by Ashland's legendary lithium hot springs. Don't be put off by the sulfurous smell; the minerals make this water an ideal treatment for sore muscles. Owner Duane Smith has lived in Ashland for 30 years; while you eat a breakfast of yogurt and granola topped with fresh raspberries (second course: avocado-tomato eggs Benedict), he'll regale you with stories of town life before the Californians invaded.

New innkeeper Alicia Hwang has added modern comforts to the Morical House Garden Inn (668 N. Main St.; 800/208-0960 or 541/482-2254; www.garden-inn.com; doubles from $130). Set among blooming gardens, the five-room 1880's farmhouse and a recent three-room addition have views of the Cascade Range. Request the high-ceilinged Aspen Grove suite, which has a remote-controlled fireplace and a two-person whirlpool tub.

Once a railroad-workers' rooming house, the Peerless Hotel (243 Fourth St.; 800/460-8758 or 541/488-1082; www.peerlesshotel.com; doubles from $95) was completely restored in 1994. Thankfully, historic details like the Coca-Cola ad on an exterior brick wall and the photos of men laying the tracks for the Southern Pacific line were salvaged, so you get a taste of old Oregon along with the Frette linens and Aveda toiletries found in all six guest rooms.

After a six-year, $15 million renovation, the 1915 Crater Lake Lodge (541/830-8700; www.crater-lake.com; doubles from $117; open May 20—October 20) has regained its former stature. The 71 rooms have no phones or televisions, but half of them have views of the sparkling blue lake. This is Crater Lake National Park's centennial year, and many activities and celebrations are planned for summer.

Book an afternoon at the Ashland Springs Spa (236 E. Main St.; 541/552-0144; www.ashlandspringsspa.com) to recuperate from a hike on Crater Lake's Wizard Island. Treatments range from the exotic Javanese Mandi Lulur to trendy Hawaiian hot stone massages. Each is preceded by a 30-minute sauna session and a peppermint foot soak.

Last August, husband-and-wife team Erik Brown (a former chef at St. Helena's Tra Vigne) and Jamie North (a pastry chef at Napa Valley's French Laundry and Terra) opened Amuse (15 N. First St.; 541/488-9000; dinner for two $100). Their version of Northwest-French cuisine incorporates organic, seasonal ingredients, and their menu changes daily. Recent dishes: grilled quail with lentil salad and black-truffle butter; artichokes stuffed with marrow beans, arugula, and Meyer-lemon cream. For dessert, try the bittersweet chocolate truffle cake, served warm with coffee ice cream, or the beignets with crème anglaise and jam made from heirloom berries.

Its extensive wine list (check out their next-door wine shop), pitch-perfect service, and proximity to the theaters justify the perennial popularity of Chateaulin (50 E. Main St.; 541/482-2264; dinner for two $90). The food isn't bad, either. Chef David Taub updates French classics with local ingredients: endive salad comes with roasted pears, walnuts, and Salmon Valley blue cheese; the lamb, from Oregon's Andersen Ranch, is topped with a Pinot Noir reduction.

At Monet (36 S. Second St.; 541/482-1339), chef Pierre Verger—who was raised in the Rhône Valley and trained at the Plaza Athénée in Paris—prepares escargots and cheese fondue with care. The three-course Table de Monet is a steal at $23.75 per person.

If it weren't for the tacky neon arrow flashing like a beacon above it, New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro (2210 S. Pacific Hwy., Talent; 541/535-2779; dinner for two $75) would be easy to miss. But what looks like an abandoned shack is actually the most talked-about restaurant in the vicinity (the town of Talent is three miles north of Ashland). Chef Charlene Rollins's menu, like the space, is small but superb: spinach salad is topped with chicken liver terrine, white asparagus, and a drizzle of hazelnut oil; grilled daurade is accompanied by braised artichokes, rose fir potatoes, and shiitakes.

Breakfast at Brothers' (95 N. Main St.; 541/482-9671; breakfast for two $11), where omelettes and hotcakes with fresh strawberries come with bottomless cups of strong Allan Brothers coffee. Or dine before dawn instead: Black Sheep (51 N. Main St.; 541/482-6414; dinner for two $30) is the only place in town that serves food until 1 a.m. Have a Cornish pasty or shepherd's pie with a pint from its impressive array of lagers, ales, and porters on tap.

Pick up some sandwiches at Greenleaf Restaurant (49 N. Main St.; 541/482-2808; lunch for two $14) and a bottle of Evesham Wood Pinot Noir at Chateaulin Selections (52 E. Main St.; 541/488-9463). Then claim a grassy spot in the shade of a giant sequoia in Lithia Park. The 100-acre preserve—designed by Golden Gate Park landscape architect John McLaren—has the most varied collection of trees and shrubs of any park in Oregon.