Grants Pass, Wolf Creek Sunny Valley, Jacksonville
Grants Pass historic G Street.
Two factors make Southwest Oregon a particularly attractive destination for Northwestern Oregonians and travelers: I-5 and sunny weather. When it’s pouring on the Willamette River, it’s sunny on the Rogue. Although most tourists travel down south to visit Ashland, there are many smaller cities and towns worth visiting along the way.
Wolf Creek Tavern.
One of the largest communities in Southern Oregon is Grants Pass (population approximately 23,000), located right off of I-5. The town was incorporated in 1885, the year the Grants Pass Courier was established. The "Historic District" highway signs lead to 6th Street, the heart of the city. Antique and general stores, and an old-fashioned pharmacy/cafÃ© line both sides of the wide avenue, but you have to pass by every chain food restaurant known to man before you get there.
For lunch, head to the Laughing Clam on 121 G Street (follow signs for the G Street Historic District). The restaurant calls itself "a Pacific Northwest Eatery and Alehouse." If you like burgers (who doesn’t?) and haven’t given them up for Lent (who would?), do yourself a favor and order the Pesto Burger, served on fococcia bread with mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and basil. You’ll thank yourself.
Although certain areas may seem quaint to big-city tourists, Grants Pass is gigantic compared to some of its neighboring towns. It also can be a great place to base yourself to do some further exploring of Southern and Southwest Oregon, including the towns below.
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Covered bridge at Grave Creek.
For some serious quaintness, head 20 miles north of Grants Pass on I-5 to Wolf Creek (population impossible to ascertain, perhaps because it is so miniscule). The town was established in 1872, although the post office wasn’t built for another decade. All of "downtown" can be viewed from what appears to be the town square, located about a mile from the exit.
The first structure to catch your eye will most likely be the Wolf Creek Inn. According to its web site, the eight-room inn is the "oldest continuously operated hotel in the Pacific Northwest." Attached to the inn is the only eatery in town, the Wolf Creek Tavern. Unfortunately, the hotel was closed for repairs while I was there (it reopened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2002).
The rest of the town consists of a general store, a gas station and a couple of antique stores and galleries. Provided that the inn is open, Wolf Creek is a quiet place to stay if you want to escape city life (or other people altogether).
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Kids are OK at Aunt Mary’s Tavern.
Six miles south of Wolf Creek â€“ 14 miles north of Grants Pass â€“ lies Sunny Valley. Locals claim that the sun always shines in Sunny Valley, but it was raining pretty hard when I was there.
Sunny Valley’s main attraction is the Grave Creek Covered Bridge. Built in 1920, it is the last remaining covered bridge in Josephine County. The bridge provides the namesake for the cluster of small, "Covered Bridge" country stores greeting tourists from the highway exit.
Across the road from the bridge is the Applegate Wagon Trail Interpretive Center, home to many historical displays, including an authentic covered wagon. Like many other attractions, the Center closed its doors for no apparent reason when I came to town.
If you’re hungry in Sunny Valley, follow road signs to Aunt Mary’s Tavern for soups or sandwiches (you can even bring the kids). The tavern is outlandishly decorated with sports paraphernalia, and the pool table attracts both locals and tourists. But remember to bring cash â€“ Aunt Mary doesn’t accept credit cards or out-of-town checks, and the nearest ATM is in Grants Pass.
If you want to stay the night in Sunny Valley, there’s a KOA in town. No motels, but after a few beers and games of pool at Aunt Mary’s, you probably won’t mind sleeping outside.
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Red Chinese-style lanterns line the streets in Jacksonville, which rang in Chinese New Year in honor of the large Asian population that came to the area during the 1800s.
The real small-town gem of Southwest Oregon is Jacksonville (population 2,000), located 5 miles west of Medford on Highway 138 (take exit 35 from I-5).
Jacksonville was founded in 1851, when gold was discovered in the area. The gold rush attracted many residents, and the town became the Jackson County seat. However, in 1884, when the railroad moved its stop to Medford, the town’s short-lived "boom" was over. In 1927, the county seat was moved to Medford.
Jacksonville has not changed much since the 1880s. In fact, when you walk down California Street â€“ the town’s major avenue â€“ you will feel as if you’ve traveled back in time. The physical preservation of Jacksonville’s history allowed the entire town to be designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
As opposed to Wolf Creek and Sunny Valley, where attractions are limited, Jacksonville offers plenty of activities for tourists. Antique stores abound on California, 5th and 3rd streets. In most, you can pick up a map of other shops distributed by the Antique and Collectible Dealers of Jacksonville.
Walking around downtown is an activity in itself. Nearly all of the buildings have been singled out for the National Register of Historic Places. The Southern Oregon Historical Society’s History Store, located on California Street, is just one of many history-themed country stores downtown. (Stop by Farmhouse Treasures for a free sample of their homemade fudge!)
It was hard to choose where to have lunch in Jacksonville. The various restaurants on California Street have very different atmospheres. I chose to eat at the casual Blue Jay CafÃ© and Garden Patio, where you can pick from an assortment of inexpensive, simple sandwiches. After lunch, check out The Tea Cottage at the corner of 5th and California. This elegant tearoom serves dozens of flavors in "proper" style. There’s also a tea gift shop inside. If you’d rather have coffee, go to The Good Bean Company on S. Oregon Street. And save room for dessert â€“ their coconut/chocolate macaroons are to die for.
Choosing a place to spend the night will prove just as difficult as deciding where to dine. The first hotel you’ll come across in town is the Stage Lodge, located at 830 N. 5th Street. The lodge is the only true hotel you’ll find in town; all the others are bed & breakfasts (and more expensive). If you have a question about Jacksonville, ask Proprietor Nancy. She’ll tell you what you want to know and give you advice on what to see and do in town.
If you’d rather stay in a B&B, there are two to choose from. The Magnolia Inn, closer to California Street at 245 N. 5th Street, has nine rooms, plus a common room. The Magnolia is a cross between an inn and a B&B â€“ each room, situated on the second floor, has its own bathroom and closet space. For the brightest rooms, ask for corner rooms 2 or 8.
The McCully House Inn.
The McCully House Inn, located at 240 E. California Street, is a true B&B. The McCully is arguably the most beautiful building on the street. Its three rooms are decorated in a homey, country style. Downstairs, the dining room opens at four o’clock. Nancy tells me the McCully serves the best food in Jacksonville; it is certainly the most elegant. If you decide not to spend the night, the inn is open to the public during the day; check in with the chef and walk around the rooms upstairs to see what you’re missing.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to stop by West’s Tasting Room on your way out of town. Located at 690 N. 5th Street (a couple houses down from The Stage Lodge), West’s is the perfect place to pick up edible souvenirs from Southern Oregon. If you’re a beef jerky fan, you’ll be in heaven. No Slim Jim â€“ West’s is the real thing. Just don’t eat too much before a long car ride; it’s easy to overdo it on the free samples. West’s also offers free wine tasting year-round, and patio dining in the summer.
On your way out of West’s, notice the bike path on the side of the road. The Donald L. Stathos Bikeway was the first official bike path in the United States. A commemorative plaque is located next to The Stage Lodge.
Getting back on the highway will seem very awkward after visiting Jacksonville. Don’t worry â€“ it happens to everyone. McDonald’s and Taco Bell look a lot drearier after departing the quiet streets of Jacksonville and re-entering the 21st century.
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During winter remember to check road conditions before you set out. Some areas of rural Oregon may be completely impassable due to snow; some areas require chains or snow tires â€“ and believe me, you’ll want them. For current road conditions, call (800) 977 6368 (inside Oregon) or (503) 222 6721 (outside Oregon). Or click here for the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Highways & Travel Information page.
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