A Stimulating Theater Culture, Collegiate Energy and Beautiful Mountain Scenery Bring Retirees to Picturesque Ashland, Oregon
Cost of Living: Above the National Average
Cozy and picturesque, Ashland (population 22,000) is swaddled by the rugged Rogue Valley in southwestern Oregon. Once the stomping grounds of Shasta Native Americans, fur trappers and gold miners, today the city has an artsy mountain vibe, abundant charm and is home to the Tony Award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), an annual event that runs from February through October. Ashland is also the site of Southern Oregon University (population 6,500), a four year liberal arts institution. It is this blend of deeply ingrained theater culture, collegiate energy and lush Siskiyou mountain scenery that creates a rich quality of life, attracting retirees to this "Jewel of the Rogue Valley."
In fact, 41% of residents are age 45 or better. Nearly 60% of locals have at least a four year college degree, and politics lean slightly to the left. The crime rate is below the national average, and the population has grown by 5% within the last decade (many new residents are ex-Californians). The cost of living is 27% above the national average.
The median home price is $575,000, reflecting a 5% increase from the previous year. Housing is eclectic and includes cabins, restored bungalows, brick ranch ramblers, split levels, mid-20th-century California styles and more, most in leafy, hilly neighborhoods. Attractive, award-winning Mountain Meadows is a 55+ development with condominiums and single family homes starting in the $200,000s. Ashland does not have many apartments.
Unfortunately, Oregon is not particularly tax-friendly state when it comes to retirement. Oregon does not tax Social Security but it taxes income from retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s) and pensions at rates between 4.75% to 9.9%. A 9% credit is available to people below a certain annual income ($22,000 to $45,000) and with less than $7,500 to $15,000 in annual Social Security income. The average effective property tax rate (the annual tax payment as a percentage of median home value) in Ashland is .95%. The annual taxes on a $575,000 home are approximately $5,462. There is no sales tax.
More of a phenomenon than a festival, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is Ashland's lifeblood. Established in 1935, it is one of the nation's oldest and largest non-profit, professional theater companies, drawing 400,000 attendees and mounting 700 to 800 performances of 11 plays, classic and contemporary, in three theaters each season. The Green Show, a music and dance presentation that includes funk, rock, Gospel, blues and other genres, occurs prior to many of the plays. Costumed Shakespearian actors roam the streets greeting visitors.
Ashland also has another four theaters and nearly 30 art galleries. Most of these are located within a few blocks of each other downtown where there are specialty boutiques, elegant B&Bs, comfy bookstores and inviting coffee shops. Top notch restaurants, many locally owned, are in good supply. Several have received national praise. Residents also enjoy the products of numerous local wineries, organic food markets and a food co-op. A couple of shopping centers supply the basics, but there are no large retail or discount stores. They are found in neighboring Medford, about 15 miles away.
For music lovers, Ashland City Band presents free evening concerts during the summer. The Rogue Valley Symphony has a robust schedule. The Beacon Hills Blues Festival takes place in June. Nationally-known country, jazz, rock and classical music acts come to nearby Jacksonville, about 20 miles away, to perform at the Britt Pavilion, an open-air amphitheater set among majestic ponderosa pines and native madrones.
Downtown's 100-acre Lithia Park brims with flowering plants, emerald green lawns, duck ponds, rose gardens, sycamore trees and romantic, secluded hideaways. A wonderful spot to have a picnic in the summer, it becomes a tapestry of color in the fall and a quiet place to reflect during the winter. A huge network of walking and bicycling paths radiates from the park, and some of Ashland's most expensive and stately real estate surrounds it.
Ashland sits where the Cascade Mountains and Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains converge. People come here for the theater culture, but they also come for the outstanding outdoor recreation. The Rogue River offers world-class rafting, fishing and boating. Mount Ashland Ski Area has 23 runs and 80 miles of trails for cross-country skiers.
Emigrant Lake, six miles from town, is popular with boaters and swimmers. Crater Lake National Park is a scenic 80-minute drive from Ashland, and the Oregon Caves National Monument is only two hours away. There are also at least eight golf courses scattered throughout the Ashland-Medford area.
Southern Oregon University sponsors an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) in which retirees can take unlimited classes for $150 per year. Currently, SOU has more than 2,000 OLLI members. All Oregon residents age 65+ may also audit university classes for free.
The Senior Program Center is managed by the city and is open Monday through Friday. Programs include health services, noon meals and social activities including dance classes, movies, writing groups, computer learning and more.
Asante Ashland Community Hospital is a Level IV Adult Trauma Center. It is not accredited by the Joint Commission but is accredited by DNV Healthcare, accepts Medicare patients and receives great reviews. Providence Medford Medical Center, 13 miles away in Medford, is one of the largest hospitals in the region and is a Level III Adult Trauma Center. It is accredited by the Joint Commission and accepts Medicare patients. For military retirees, Yreka, California, 32 miles away, has a VA outpatient clinic, but the closest VA hospital is in Roseburg, 75 miles away.
The Rogue Valley Transportation District runs buses on a limited loop around Ashland Monday through Friday. The fare is $2.00 but people age 62 or better ride for $1.00. Valley Lift offers a curb to curb service. Rogue Valley International Airport, the closest airport, is in Medford and has non-stop flights to Denver, Seattle and Las Vegas.
This area sits at 1,900 feet above sea level and has a four season climate. January daytime highs are usually in the 40s and 50s, with lows in the 20s and 30s. Summer daytime temperatures are in the 70s and 80s, with lows in the 50s. Annual rainfall, which often comes in the form of misty drizzle, averages 20 inches. Snowfall is just seven inches per year, on average. Fall, winter and spring are often overcast.
And while Ashland is cute, safe and lively, retirement here has some drawbacks. The poverty rate is above the national average, and class lines are evident. While many newcomers are well-to-do, Ashland also has a lot of idealistic, creative people without job prospects or much money. Some long time locals say that the city has become overly touristy, commercialized and pretentious. Between the University and the OSF, many people come and go throughout the year, sometimes giving the town a transitory feeling. The economy depends on the OSF and the tourism dollars it brings. If the Festival were to leave or close, Ashland's economy would suffer. The earthquake risk is 465% greater than the national average. During the last few years, the OSF has had to move some performances indoors because of smoke from nearby wildfires. In September, 2020, the Almeda fire started just north of Ashland and destroyed two neighboring towns.
Yet the people come, seeking a creative atmosphere and beautiful mountain scenery. This jewel of a town bedazzles many, and a more stimulating retirement spot is hard to find.
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