Ashland, Ore.

  • While Hollywood seems to have rediscovered the Bard this year, folks in southern Oregon have been brushing up their Shakespeare for years. Nestled amid the timber-covered Siskiyou Mountains, the hamlet of Ashland is host each February till October to thousands of theatergoers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. After coming for the theater, many return--permanently--to avail themselves of the diversity that can be found in the surrounding area.

    For a town of little more than 18,500, Ashland has a dazzling combination of physical and cultural activities. "I'm like a kid in a candy store," says Larry Kellogg, 66, who relocated there with his wife Judy in 1995. He keeps busy golfing, woodworking and taking long walks in 100-acre Lithia Park, which extends along a creek several miles out from the center of the town. The mountains on two sides of the city and the Cascade Range, 20 miles to the east, are excellent for biking, hiking and skiing--both downhill and cross-country--and several golf courses are within 20 miles of town. Besides the Shakespeare Festival, there are other theater groups plus community art and music programs and a city symphony with a waiting list for subscribers. Fifteen miles north, the gold-rush town of Jacksonville has scores of antique shops, good restaurants, galleries and more than 80 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

    There are several retirement communities in the area, but many choose to buy or build their own home. Prices can be high; the average for a single-family home is $176,160. While college towns are generally popular retirement spots, Ashland is one of the best in class, thanks to Southern Oregon University, where people over 65 can sign up for any regular class for free. For a fee of $75 a year, a Learning in Retirement program offers everything from calligraphy to quantum physics, taught by college professors who have retired and moved to the Ashland area. Kellogg is enrolled in a course called Secrets of the Brain. He advises, "One thing a retired person should do is exercise that gray matter above their shoulders."