Ashland, Oregon is stunningly beautiful. Nestled in a valley, the surrounding hills blanketed in green create a magical place. Home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland offers great food, friendly people, world-class entertainment, and glorious sunsets.

Our gang of three, two using power wheelchairs and one who walks, left the San Francisco area yesterday to begin our six-hour drive to Ashland. We soon left behind the dry, wide-open fields and climbed through the Shasta National Forest into thousands of green acres.  The late June weather favored us and the cool mountains soon dropped us into Ashland in the early evening.

After checking into the Best Western Bards Inn on Main Street we strolled through the picturesque town center to the Standing Stone Brewing Company for dinner. Salmon tacos competed with bison meatloaf for our attention. We settled on fish and garlic chips and steak tacos with jalapeno-marinated onions. Delicious.

The next day we awoke to bright sunlight and 80-degree weather – a perfect day for a long morning walk. We ate the free hotel breakfast and headed east. Large leafy trees and a cooling breeze kept us cool. Small surprises abounded. In the grass strip between the sidewalk and street, a neighborhood created a small stone sculpture garden. People stack stones of varying sizes and colors into short art pieces. The day we passed there were 15 different stone sculptures. Godzilla apparently likes Ashland as he decorates a Japanese restaurant logo. I decided to take the bus home. Bus stops are clearly marked, the bus company provides quick phone advice, and the buses are all wheelchair accessible with well-trained drivers. At only $1 per ride, it’s a great way to see the city.

Friends who’d lived here insisted that I taste the water under Lithia Park. Ashland thoughtfully placed 8 water fountains (and one for dogs) in the center of a small square in the center of town. A large sign tells the history of the water and park while a smaller plaque directly above the water fountains states “Natural Lithia Water. Contains: sodium, calcium, iron, bicarbonate, and other healthful minerals.”

Based on the reactions of those who drank the water, it tastes disgusting. My wheelchair was blocked by a concrete step from reaching the water fountain so I reached over and put my fingers into the water that constantly bubbles up and tasted the drops from my fingers. That was enough for me.

Most nights the Oregon Shakespeare Festival offers a free performance. The Green Show provides free entertainment nearly every night. Performances range from calypso to blues to acrobats. It’s always at 6:45pm and guaranteed to entertain the whole family. Irreverant antics mix with professional acrobatics to make this a major hit. We liked it so much we went both nights we were in Ashland. The Festival offers many plays each week so that all tastes are included. During our stay, Richard III, The Tempest, Cocoanuts (famous as a Marx Brothers movie), and A Wrinkle in Time were performed. The Festival sales staff is very informed about access needs and gave detailed information for each ticket sold.

Unfortunately the Angus Bowmer Theatre only has two disabled seats (in a 600+ theater) so unless you purchase tickets for this theater months in advance, you are unlikely to get a wheelchair accessible seat. The Allen Elizabethan Theatre and Thomas Theatre provide better access and the Carpenter Hall has no fixed seating (but you have to go through a locked door as the main entrance is stairs. They had no wheelchair seats for a performance I wanted to attend so they sold me a ticket for a seat that I thought I could transfer to. But when I arrived and discovered that I had overestimated my levitating skills (i.e. I could not do the transfer) the House Manager asked someone to switch (but they also could not sit in my seat) so the Box Office cheerfully refunded my ticket. Each interaction with their staff was pleasant and professional. And the plays were amazing. Definitely worth the whole trip.

Here are a few accessible restaurant recommendations. Red Zone, a sports bar on Main Street, has good food and daily bargains. On Wednesdays during 2-4pm Happy Hour, you can get a burger and fries for $3.99. And at 6pm chicken wings go on sale. If you enjoy 10 large screens showing sports and good food, with a wheelchair accessible bathroom, this is the place for you. For a more traditional restaurant, try the upstairs at Marconi-Marino’s Italian Restaurant on Main Street. But the non-stairs entrance is up on the plaza of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating with good Italian food and a full bar. For something quick and delicious, try Agave on Main Street. Simple Mexican food with good seasonings. It’s a small place but has tables outside.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the Best Western Bards Inn. I selected it because it was the only downtown hotel with accessible rooms. Even though I booked a month in advance, I arrived to find that our rooms were down a steep driveway (looks to be a 1-to-8 slope) that did not have any wheelchair parking, had a large bump onto the sidewalk, had stairs next to the room door (had to be extremely careful not to turn the wrong way and fall down), and no keyhole at wheelchair rider height. A month’s notice did not encourage them to assemble and test their pool lift. It was inoperable and in pieces for the first day even though I repeatedly requested to use it. Although they provide breakfast in a gorgeous room next to the pool, there is no accessible entrance. We had to roll through the trash room and kitchen in order to get to the breakfast room. While the staff was polite, at no point did they appear to understand the reason that we were frustrated.

On a positive note, the location of the hotel is extremely convenient to downtown. The hotel room had a large roll-in shower with handrails all around and a hand-held shower head. There were two queen beds (a rarity in wheelchair hotel rooms) and the room had two tables and a remote control for both the television and the room temperature.

If you have a reason to head to Oregon, I strongly recommend visiting Ashland. It’s a friendly city with good curb cuts, lots of accessible businesses and you can taste the worst water in America all while having great meals and original and interesting theater.

Avatar photo Corbett Joan OToole (2 Posts)

I love to travel. In my younger years, I traveled walking with a cane, then started using a manual chair and now travel with a power wheelchair. I often travel with my power soccer team which I also coach. When not traveling, I am a Disability Studies scholar.

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