As little as two years ago, Grants Pass in central southern Oregon wasn’t known for its bustling downtown. If you lived in Josephine County, where Grants Pass is located, you would have one of the lowest property taxes in Oregon. Without sales tax in Oregon either, however, there was little to give to local services such as the sheriff and fire departments. Crime rates rose. There was a meth problem on the outskirts of the city, a drug that continues to haunt many cities around Oregon.
Two short years later and Grants Pass has gone through a complete revitalization. Thanks to the tight-knit arts community that brings in continuous revenue and investment into the city’s historic buildings, there are numerous new businesses that are coming into downtown these days. There is a focus on farm-to-table cuisine in local restaurants, an increase in craft beer culture, and plenty of wine options. Grants Pass is situated near the Applegate Valley, which is arguably the best spot for wine tasting in Southern Oregon. Although Ashland is seen as the cultural capital of southern Oregon by many, Grants Pass is giving it serious competition these days.
The Grants Pass I visited was one that was full of proud locals. The city is in an attractive area that is situated along the Rogue River. The slogan of Grants Pass is “Live Rogue” and that spirit of adventure could easily be felt with the amount of activities offered to visitors. The Rogue River was one of the first rivers in America to receive protection as a Wild & Scenic river from Congress in 1968. The community is based around the river and many local experiences will include that connection in some way.
I wasn’t sure what I would find with an afternoon in Grants Pass, but my lack of expectations were met with a welcoming fascination and respect for the unassuming city by the river. If you’re looking for your own introduction to Grants Pass, these are a few activities I would recommend experiencing.
As I mentioned above, a lot of the activities in Grants Pass revolve around the wild and scenic Rogue River. You’ll have options to go kayaking, jet boating, white water rafting, picnicking, and my personal favorite, a trip on The Paddled Pub.
The Paddled Pub just opened this past June and it’s a simple yet genius idea. They call it Oregon’s most unique pub experience and it’s hard to argue with that. The “pub” is a raft that they’ve essentially turned into a bar with snacks and craft beer to enjoy on a sunny day out on the river.
It was a relaxing afternoon on the Rogue River. We picked up crowlers (i.e. can growlers) from Climate City Brewing beforehand and took them onto the river. There were snacks and good company waiting in the form of Trevor and Aaron, the two affable guides we had with us on the tour.
The Paddled Pub is the ideal experience if you don’t want to get wet in an inner tube drinking beer. Or if you want a more chill experience than white water rafting, while still appreciating the natural beauty around Grants Pass.
The Twisted Cork
We stopped in at The Twisted Cork for lunch and were wowed by the many dishes that were placed in front of us. The Twisted Cork is the premiere wine bar in Grants Pass and it’s not just the wine that is worth coming here for. They have everything from tapas to salads, pasta, and impressive desserts. No really, I was in love with their sticky toffee pudding cake and strawberry Thai basil sorbet. I could’ve had a lunch of just desserts, they were sooo good.
Martha Fritz is considered to be one of the best chefs in southern Oregon, and she’s both the cook and baker of the restaurant. If you’re more interested in the wine, they have 16 wines by the glass every day and wine flights to give you a little taste of everything. They also host winemaker dinners once a month to regularly highlight a new local winemaker.
Speaking of wine, the city of Grants Pass is not only lucky enough to be located right on the Rogue River, but it’s also in the midst of the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. You may not hear as much about the southern Oregon wine scene as you do about the Willamette, but there’s a lot to see around the Applegate Valley if you have the time.
Closest to Grants Pass are Serra Vineyards, Schmidt Family Vineyards, Troon Vineyard, Rosellas Vineyard, Bridgeview, and Woolridge Creek Winery. You could easily make a day of just visiting the wineries in the area. I visited Serra Vineyards and Schmidt Family Vineyards during my visit and I was sold on the quality of the wine and versatility of the region.
Both wineries were beautiful in their own way. Schmidt Family Vineyards had a lovely outdoor area with plenty of picnic spots and a stunning tasting room. I enjoyed the wines at Schmidt Family Vineyards slightly better. They’re especially known for their Bordeaux varietals, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec. The vineyard represented the essence of the area well – a locally focused, family-run operation that has personality.
Serra Vineyards on the other hand had the breathtaking view on their side. They’re situated up on a hill that has a grand lookout over the vineyard below. It would be the perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon sipping on a refreshing glass of wine. My favorite was their 2011 pinot noir.
Last but certainly not least, there’s an abundance of art and culture to be found in Grants Pass. There are numerous art galleries that fill the city, outdoor sculptures, street murals, summer concerts in Riverside Park, the Art Along the Rogue Festival in October that attracts over 10,000 people in a weekend, and perhaps the most unique art experience to enjoy – BearFest.
BearFest is a summer art installation where every year 42 new themed bears are placed around the city for a fun and hilarious showcase of skills from local artists. From the beginning of May through Labor Day weekend, these hand painted bears can be found all over Grants Pass. At the end of the season, the personable pieces of art are auctioned off to the public, and the proceeds go to a variety of local non-profit organizations. Win-win!
Another art experience to have in town is a visit to The Glass Forge Gallery & Studio for a glass blowing demonstration. Even simply walking through their gallery of glass art is an impressive sight, I especially enjoyed their glass blown pumpkins, perfect for fall.
Have you heard of Grants Pass before? Where is your favorite place to visit in southern Oregon?
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