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5 small towns in Oregon that are worth a visit

Who doesn't enjoy visiting small towns and taking in the scenic beauty, discovering local shops and businesses and exploring festivals and events? These small towns reflect the best of what Oregon has to offer for a memorable day trip, whether you're visiting the state's rugged coast, the home of a century old "Real West" rodeo, picturesque wine country renowned for its pinot noir, a town famous for its Shakespeare theater company, or a community near stunning waterfalls. 

5 small towns in Oregon that are worth a visit

Open to the sky, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre in Ashland, Ore., seats 1,200 people. Featured in the photo is the 2012 set and ensemble in "Henry V."   (Photo: Provided by T. Charles Erickson, Oregon Shakespeare Festival via (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal)


Ashland, Ore., is a town of 21,000 near Oregon’s southern border. The town boasts a world-famous Shakespeare theater company, opportunity for outdoor adventures and a liberal mindset despite conservative, rural surroundings. The town is fairly spread out through a forested surrounding area. Ashland also is home to Southern Oregon University, a state college with some 6,200 students.

A great day: Start your day in Ashland with a hearty breakfast at the Breadboard Restaurant, a café in the middle of town. Explore some of Ashland’s greenery, either with a walk through the Southern Oregon University campus or Lithia Park, a 100-acre park in the middle of the town with trails, ponds and wooded areas. From Lithia, dinner and a beer aren’t too far away. The Brickroom, a restaurant and bar, overlooks the park and Ashland Creek.

Claim to fame: Ashland is known outside of Oregon, and even the country, for its Shakespeare performances put on by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The company runs productions for most of the year and dominates much of the downtown area with ticket offices, shops for Shakespearean souvenirs, and the theaters themselves.

Easy day trip from: Eugene, Ore., 2 hours and 45 minutes down Interstate 5


5 small towns in Oregon that are worth a visit

Tolovana Park and its view of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Ore., is a classic Oregon scene.   (Photo: (Salem, Ore.) Statesman Journal)

Cannon Beach

One of Oregon’s most famous coastal towns, Cannon Beach lies in the northwest corner of the state. The weather isn’t always reliable on Oregon’s coast, but Cannon Beach is consistent in ocean views — rain or shine. Its downtown streets feature old wooden architecture, housing residents and many unique storefronts. The town’s character is why ABC News named it one of the eight “most adorable” beach towns.

A great day: Grab a coffee downtown in the morning at Sleepy Monk Coffee Roasters and walk the beach (all public land, thanks to Oregon’s 1967 Beach Bill). Hike the coastal trails of Ecola State Park, just north of the town. The park’s route features scenic views of the ocean and hiking for all skill levels. On your way back into



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Exploring Lahaina's history

Lahaina, on Maui's western coast, is known for its strip of visitor-friendly shops and restaurants on Front Street and the small boat harbor with a view of Lanai across the channel. The area is also an important historical site for the Hawaiian culture, and was the seat of the unified Hawaiian government under King Kamehameha from 1830 to 1845, before the monarch moved to Oahu.

Maui Nei, the educational wing of Friends of Mokuula, a nonprofit organization based in Lahaina, offers cultural tours of the town and other significant sites on Maui with the larger goal of funding a major restoration project.

At the south end of Front Street sits Mokuula, a low-lying wetland area with strips of land that served as the home for several of Maui's chiefs and was the former royal residence of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Once some archaeological work was done in 1993 to ensure that the site was indeed there after being buried with crushed coral and other sediment when the coastline in Lahaina was filled in, the site was placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, dubbed a state historic landmark and is up for consideration as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Currently the area is fenced in as the organization and others prepare for the delicate restoration process. Meanwhile, the Maui Nei Lahaina historic tour offers insights into the town's important role in Maui and the Kingdom of Hawaii's history, and helps fund the Mokuula project.

We started at the Old Lahaina Courthouse, a free museum in the center of town that features displays chronicling the early history of the island and its role in the growth of the state. Our knowledgeable guide, Kalapan Kollars, walked the group through some of the early history of Maui and the Hawaiian Kingdom, including background on the first ruler to unify the archipelago, King Kamehameha, and his successors, Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III.

The courthouse sits in front of Lahaina's well-known banyan tree. The tree, which marked the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission to the area, was planted on April 24, 1873, and stood 8 feet tall at the time. Today, considered the largest banyan in the United States, it is more than 60 feet tall and its root system covers more than a half-acre. The canopy provides shades for various vendors and stalls that often fill the plaza for markets and festivals.

After leaving the courthouse and heading north past the Lahaina Harbor, Kollars pointed out the reason why the harbor cannot expand in the future. On the northern fringes of the harbor lies the Hauolo Stone, a birthing rock sitting at the water's edge where, when the tide and conditions allowed, high-ranking Hawaiians and chiefs were brought to give birth. The mixture of salt and fresh water was thought to have healing properties, and being partially submerged offered the benefits of a water birth, such as easier contractions. Nearby is also the preserved stone foundation of Kamehameha I's former



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