When it comes to exploring Oregon, most people follow similiar roadmaps: cruise down the Northwest and Central coastline. Sample Pinot Noirs in Willamette Valley. Scope out Portland’s hot new restaurants. So if you want to get off the beaten path, consider planning a trip to Southern Oregon.
Spanning five regions (Crater Lake, Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, Klamath Basin, and Southern Oregon Outback), Southern Oregon has plenty to discover, from magnificent natural wonders like Crater Lake to the longstanding Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Oenophiles are also in for a treat, as the area lays claim to over 150 wineries. And unlike other American wine destinations like Paso Robles and Napa Valley, you can be sipping away at a winery within 30 minutes of landing at Rogue Valley International–Medford Airport.
But while Southern Oregon is a captivating destination all year long, now is an especially smart time to go – with spring in the air, and nature budding back to life. Plus, who wouldn’t want to beat the crowds of summer travel’s anticipated boom?
Where to Stay
Located in the heart of Jacksonsville, a postcard-perfect town designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966, McCully House Inn is a historic home that’s been lovingly restored by new owners Kathryn Mosely and Philip Segal. The six rooms and three suites marry residential comforts (toasty fireplaces and flat-screen TVs) with amenities you’d find in a high-end hotel (plush Kassatex linens and soothing rainfall showers) for an intimate, cozy stay in a convenient location within walking distance to the town’s locally-owned shops and restaurants. Another thoughtful touch? The ground-floor pantry stocked with complimentary snacks and beverages.
At Ashland’s Lithia Springs Resort, wellness and self-care take top billing. Soak in the area’s naturally mineral-rich waters containing lithium, magnesium, and sodium bicarbonates in your room’s tub, or take your session outdoors at the pool and jacuzzi. The Waterstone Spa specializes in healing, holistic treatments like the signature CBD Massage and Vino Therapy Body Polish, while other complimentary perks including a hot breakfast buffet and afternoon tea service will make you feel cared for inside-out.
Where to Dine and Wine
Tucked away in Ashland’s Railroad District is Southern Oregon’s best new restaurant, Miss Yoon by chef Lynn Flattley. (She formerly had Coquina in the same space.) In her words: the menu is “Korean-influenced,” and includes whimsical, deeply craveable dishes such as makgeolli and sunchoke custard, steamed mandu with short rib, and of course, spicy-sweet Korean fried chicken which also happens to be gluten-free. Other dependable dinner options include Ashland’s stylish seafood bar Nama, and Umi, a humble but solid sushi spot in Jacksonville.
If you’re short on time, don’t worry – you’ve got options. Managed by partners in work and life Trevor and Jessie Driskell, Jacksonville’s Mustard Seed Cafe is a tiny-but-mighty nostalgic diner turning out satisfying, no-frills breakfasts and lunches. A stop at family-run Pennington Farms in Grants Pass is a must for rustic baked goods. (The popular turnovers, when they’re warm and fresh from the oven, are swoon-worthy.) Though it’s only offering takeout for the time being, don’t pass up on Blue Toba’s authentic Indonesian cuisine – the tender, coconut-laced beef Rendang is a top seller – by Birong Hutabarat, known as Chef B. by locals.
Though Southern Oregon is home to a bevy of noteworthy wineries thanks to its mild, Mediterannean climate and ability to grow almost 50 grape varieties, Troon stands out from the rest for being among the world’s select few to achieve Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). So beyond organic and biodynamic, the Grants Pass winery excels in three key pillars: soil health, animal welfare and social fairness.
Also worth visiting are Naumes Suncrest Winery – where the namesake family’s been farming in the region for a century, and focuses on small production wines – and Rellik Winery. With an alpaca farm, three themed suites (Alpca, Raven, Wine), and always-bustling tasting room with Southern Oregon’s best pizza, Rellik is a unique wine destination that can be enjoyed by everyone.
What to Do
At 1,943 feet deep with startlingly crystal-clear water, Crater Lake is the country’s deepest lake, and a must for your itinerary. Whether you hop into a car for the scenic 33-mile Rim Drive, hike one of the 20-something trails – Garfield Peak Trail is a fan favorite – or book a boat tour, Crater Lake will enthrall even the most veteran nature buff. On your way over, be sure to check out other natural landmarks like The Rogue River Gorge, Natural Bridge, and Avenue of the Boulders.
Southern Oregon is also home to hundreds of unique makers and artisans, with Rogue Creamery leading the way. Founded in 1933, the small company is recognized as one of the world’s top producers of blue cheeses – Rogue River Blue Cheese was named World’s Best Cheese at the 2019 World Cheese Award – and has a retail shop for tastings and indulgent grilled cheese sandwiches. Even better? It’s part of Central Point’s Artisan Corridor and neighbors Coquette, a new European-inspired bakery, and award-winning Lillie Belle Farms Artisan Chocolates. If you’d like to see more independent makers in another central location, head to the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market. Held every Thursday at at Hawthorne Park, the open-air market showcases the region’s best produce and artisanal foods.