18 Southern Oregon Secrets

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Many people hear “Oregon” and instantly think Portland (and often Portlandia). But Oregon’s a pretty big state—almost 100,000 square miles, in fact. “Southern Oregon” (SOOR) has different definitions depending on whom you ask. Some say it’s the Medford metro area, which is the biggest city in Southern Oregon. Others say it’s anything south of Eugene. Still others are either indignant or relieved that Klamath Falls, Lakeview and the entireties of Harney and Malheur County are forgotten.

There’s a lot more to Ory-gun than Portland. Want to be in on what the locals know? Here are some of Southern Oregon’s best-kept secrets:

1.  Don’t have a California license plate

Medford, Oregon is only a short drive from the California border and the divide is intense. Whether true or not, Californians in Southern Oregon are seen as aggressive drivers who only come to Oregon to take advantage of the tax-free shopping. You might get some side-eye with a California plate, so consider making amends with a classic green Oregon heart bumper sticker or a “Native” sticker if you really want to blend in.

2. The donuts are (in)famous!

You’ve probably heard about Oregon’s epic Voodoo Doughnuts, but The Happy Donut boasts a monstrous classic that can’t be missed. Tucked away in Myrtle Creek, you need to call at least 24 hours in advance for the one pound or two pound fritter challenge. Takedown the one-pounder in 15 minutes or the two-pounder in 30, and you’ll get a refund, certificate, T-shirt, and plenty of pride mixed with shame.

3.  Table Rock ‘n’ roll history

Driving along the I-5 corridor near White City, you’ll notice two aptly named formations: Upper and Lower Table Rock. These two volcanic plateaus were naturally formed seven million years ago and are now around 800 feet above the Rogue Valley. A Native American tribe, the Takelmas, called the Table Rocks home 15,000 years prior to European American settlement. There are rumors of epic battles up and down the mountains, and you can see first-hand how draining that would be. There are some locals who run up and down the trail(s) daily as their sunrise workout.

4.  Get buzzed at Zoey’s Ice Cream Parlor

Not really. Zoey’s is a classic ice cream parlor in Ashland that’s been serving local scoops to college students, hippies and travelers for decades. However, it’s the Jamaican specialty flavor that really sets the “bar” high. It’s infused with so much rum you can taste it, along with a blend of chocolate and nuts for the perfect cocktail in a cone. It’s higher quality than big chain ice cream shops, lacks the pretension of the latest boutique specialty parlors and offers a full menu—but everyone comes for the ice cream.

5.  Kirstie Alley used to live here

Actually, a lot of celebrities have called Southern Oregon home. It’s relatively close to Los Angeles, with Medford offering direct flights daily. Lisa Rinna was born in Medford, Bruce Campbell calls Ashland home and David Anders was born in Grants Pass.

6.  Lavender Explosions

Head to Applegate, and you’ll stumble upon a plethora of lavender farms. However, one really stands out: The English Lavender Farm. The proprietors are, as you’d expect, British and they fell in love with Southern Oregon’s charm. They offer free tours, wand-making classes, and a bevy of handmade treats ranging from lavender-infused biscotti to “bath teas.” It’s worth the 45-minute journey from Jacksonville down winding roads.

7.  There’s gold in them thar hills!

Jacksonville is a gold mining town where you can still mine for gold! In fact, many people still do. Dubbed a National Historic Landmark in 1966, there are stringent laws against changing many of the town’s features. You won’t find a single chain restaurant here, but you will find plenty of boutiques and restaurants. The Jacksonville Inn is a classic, but try the patio seating at La Fiesta followed by a ride on the historic trolley.

8.  Locals get you to try delectable “Lithia water”

Peppered around Ashland you’ll find a host of public drinking fountains that look delicious during hot summer months, but be careful. These fountains boast “Lithia water,” which is mineral water rich in lithium salts. It’s completely harmless (and actually good for you!) but also incredibly rare and a shock to your taste buds.

9.  Oregon has more ghost towns than any other state…

…and a bundle of them are in Southern Oregon! You can visit Rock Point and Buncom, Westfall, or Inskip Station for starters, and discover the incredible beauty of vacancy. Plus, each Oregon ghost town has its own unique history that’s a must for history buffs (and not spooky at all).

10.  Crater Lake is the unofficial eighth wonder of the world

An ancient volcano formed what is now Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the country. There are plenty of options for camping nearby, but only two options for lodging: Crater Lake Lodge and the Cabins at Mazama Village. Prefer to stay in the lodge? Rooms sell out sometimes a full year in advance, so plan ahead! There are few at-the-ready recreation options (bring your own), but there is a boat tour from late June through early September (weather permitting). However, the lodges offer an impressive menu featuring locally-sourced options like bison meatloaf and elk chops.

11.  Oregon’s first In-N-Out Burger opened in Medford

This is no secret to locals who welcomed the famous California burger joint with open arms. However, for tourists and those considering moving to SOOR, it definitely falls into the good to know category.

12.  Lillie Belle Chocolates in Central Point is a “test shop”

You’ve likely seen Lillie Belle Farms chocolates in finer grocery stores. They feature the finest ingredients and crazy concoctions like Whiskey in the Bar, “The Most Awesome Chocolate Bar Ever!”, Ramblin’ Rose, and Stella Blue oozing with bleu cheese flavors. Many people think Lillie Belle comes from a luxe location, but it’s actually a tiny purple shop located off of Front Street in Central Point. Visit the only Lillie Belle shop in the world, and you’ll discover constantly new experimental pieces you can only purchase in-store. Try them out and you can help decide which chocolates make the cut.

13.  You can rent an entire water park!

The Emigrant Lake Water Park is nestled close to Emigrant Lake and features an exciting outdoor adventure park without the pesky lines and over-marketing of so many water parks today. However, what many people don’t know is you can rent out the entire park for a private event for not much more than a song. Rates start at $250 to cover the first 20 sliders and an additional $8 per slider for a three-hour event.

14.  Oregon Caves: A Modern “Marble”

Tucked away in Cave Junction, you’ll notice signs for the Oregon Caves along I-5. They’re worth a gander, but many people don’t realize what they’re looking at is sheer luxury. The Oregon Caves are “carved” completely out of massive, natural marble slabs.

15.  There’s a place where no animals dare go

The Oregon Vortex and House of Mystery in Gold Hill are brimming with mysteries that many have tried to solve, but fail at miserably. Nobody can stand erect within the vortex. However, listen closely. There are no animals or insects that enter the vortex (though you may see or hear them outside of it).

16.  Oregon and California have some Spain’in to do

The “fruit check station” at the Oregon-California border isn’t the strangest thing about the divide. You’d think someone in Oregon, California or at least in America would have decided the border details. However, it was really a treaty between the US and Spain back in 1819 that kept Ashland in Oregon—and Weed (yes, that’s a real town) in California.

17. There are no beaches here

Technically, that’s not true, but ask an Oregonian to go to the beach and they’ll likely assume you’re from California. While some regions might have “beach” in their official title, everything tucked against the Pacific Ocean is the “coast” in Southern Oregon.

18.  Ready to buy a home in Southern Oregon?

Ready to discover more SOOR secrets? With a relatively low cost of living—especially compared to Portland and California—no sales tax, and no pumping your own gas allowed (there are attendants for that), Southern Oregon has a lot to offer. Come find out what you’re missing out on, and if you feel like making it home check out Estately.com, an incredible tool to use when searching for a home for sale in Southern Oregon.

Jessica Tyner