Ever hold a glass of Chardonnay up to the light and look at the color? There’s a sparkle to it, the color of sunshine. And that’s what the land looks like from Yakima to Walla Walla. It has a golden glow. Add in the pinks and reds and rich purples of the sunrises and sunsets and you have the colors of wine country. Here in this dry, rocky terrain where days are bright, irrigation canals bring water to the desert soil and, in less than three decades, this has become some of the prime wine grape growing land of the world.
You can see the vineyards, visit the wineries, and taste and buy the products just following the roads that loop around Yakima, Benton, Walla Walla and Franklin counties. In the tasting rooms friendly faces, folks who love their work and are eager to teach you about the production and uses of wine, will greet you. Many have gift shops. But the bottled delights of the region are only a part of the fun to be had in the state’s wine county. Yakima has several museums and an architecturally rich downtown. The city maintains a close connection with the Yakama Indian Nation. And here, also, you’ll get some of the best Mexican food north of the Rio Grande. The area boasts a large and thriving Hispanic population. And if you are hankering to roller blade, bike, jog, or just walk your dog, the Yakima Greenway is a 10 mile paved trail that leads from Selah to Union Gap through Yakima’s eastern edge along the Yakima and Naches Rivers.
Further east the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick) are another great spot to river walk. You’ll be along the mighty Columbia and its confluence with the Snake. Like many spots in the state, Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery passed through here on their way to the Pacific. Riverfront lodging, most with large full-service restaurants, offer great places to headquarter and explore this trio of boomtowns.
And even more to the east in Walla Walla (a place so wonderful they named it twice) you can settle into one of the most charming old towns in America. Walk the downtown with its newly renovated Marcus Whitman Hotel, visit Whitman College campus, or go to one of the towns many art galleries. Walla Walla has an enormous arts community. It is one of those places that people just pick-up and move to, staying happily ever after. And to supplement the area’s excellent wines, there are also a number of good restaurants in Walla Walla.
Pop the cork on your spirit of adventure and head out to Washington’s wine country. Like a great meal, the area includes a delightful encounter with Washington wine, but there’s much more to it than that. You’ll leave feeling quite full and thoroughly nurtured.
There’s a reason why Yakima Valley is so popular with visitors – there’s lots of sunshine here, making this agricultural Mecca as nurturing to humans as it is to the fruits and vegetables that thrive throughout the area. A short two-hour drive from Seattle, or three from Portland, the Yakima Valley seems to put in a special order each day for mesmerizing cloud formations and a brand of clean, clear air that’s a bit addictive.
The valley, with its placid rolling hills and acres of orchards filled with orderly rows of the varied crops of the area, provides a delightful blend of sunbeam-blessed options. This is proud Washington Wine Country, home to more than 30 regional wineries. Whether you’re a white-water rafter, fly fisherman, hunter or a passionate wine or fruit aficionado, the Yakima Valley can deliver a fun-filled vacation or short get-away.
The largest community and county seat is Yakima. It’s easily negotiated streets and picturesque historic section of downtown make exploring the city effortless and fun. Downtown’s Yakima Valley Museum and Children’s Underground Museum is a great spot to experience the natural and cultural history of the area. The museum touts the largest collection of wooden wagons west of the Mississippi, horse-drawn vehicles and Indian art and artifacts. Treat the family at the Museum’s Soda Fountain, an authentic replica of a 1930s diner serving ice cream sundaes, sodas, and hot dogs.
Just east of the freeway, visit the Washington’s Fruit Place Visitor Center to sample complimentary apple juice while gathering information about the growing process. Bring your bikes, roller blades or walking shoes and join local families and exercisers on the adjacent Yakima Greenway, a ten mile paved path along the Yakima River.
As you enter the Lower Valley through Union Gap, you’ll enter the Yakama Nation. Take note of the native burial ground and battlefield monument just after you pass through the gap on Highway 97. A 45-minute drive southwest of Union Gap (near White Swan) will lead to historic Fort Simcoe, a 1850s era military installation established to keep peace between the Yakamas and early white settlers.
For the ultimate photo opportunity, travel to the historic Teapot gas station built in 1922 to mock the Teapot Dome Scandal of the Warren G. Harding administration. You can find the Teapot near Zillah between Yakima and Sunnyside on Interstate 82, which is also the starting point for the “Fruit Loop” tour, a beautiful agri-tour of the neighboring wineries and orchards.
Visit Toppenish “Where the West Still Lives”. Discover the city of murals and museums. This Yakama Reservation community features a picturesque collection of 62 murals with a variety of events to complement them. Catch a real glimpse of the old-west. Attend Mural-In-A-Day in June. You’ll experience Indian traditions, pow wows, rodeos, music festivals, wildlife, and camping, golfing, casino gaming, and shopping. Make plans today to relive the old-west.
Ten miles southeast of Toppenish, Granger is home to nearly a dozen dinosaurs. From the smallest replication to the largest, this collection of playground equipment includes baby brontosaurus and a T-rex.
Sunnyside hosts the Darigold Dairy Fair featuring a self-guided tour of a cheese plant as well as a variety of Washington foods, dairy trinkets, and good, fresh ice cream. The nearby town of Prosser also provides a grand palate of offering to travelers. From their many world-class wineries to the ultimate cherry, Prosser provides divine sustenance, never more evident than during the annual August Prosser Wine and Food Fair.
Year-round, the Yakima Valley can always promise adventure; whether it’s serious antiquing, challenging outdoor recreation or partaking in the valley’s renowned crops. There’s something for everyone in this mystical valley.
Some regard the Tri-Cities area as the most desirable and unique destination in Washington. What makes the area highly unusual is the marriage between three cities that collectively establishes what could be regarded as its own mini-kingdom; your potential vacation experiences are automatically multiplied because of this strong partnership.
Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland create the triumvirate “Tri-Cities”, a significant geographical configuration. The region’s confluence of the Snake, Yakima and Columbia Rivers – combined with an average 300 days of sunshine each year – brings considerable choices for water sports. Sailing, boating, water or jet skiing, fishing, and swimming are all prime activities here.
Cloudless days are a standing invitation to enjoy the great outdoors. Golfers from throughout the region gather to enjoy the four driving ranges and ten beautiful golf courses. Bicyclist hum happily along the over 22 miles of well-maintained riverfront paths, and off-road vehicle enthusiast have a hey day with the varied and challenging terrain.
The Tri-Cities is a vital resting and feeding area for migratory waterfowl on the Pacific flyway, with eight National Wildlife Refuges and Reserves in the area. Bring your camera and binoculars and keep silent company with the many species of songbirds. Be alert also for the occasional sightings of beaver, river otter, mule deer and other riparian wildlife.
The Hanford Reach National Monument is regarded as the pre-eminent wildlife viewing area, with the only free-flowing, non-tidal stretch of the Columbia River in the U.S. This 51 mile stretch of river flows through cloud white bluffs taupe colored dunes and dramatic desert plateaus. The combination of geological riches, encompassing the river, shoreline, Hanford Dunes and Arid and Ecology Reserve, is the site of scientific and historic treasures. The best viewing of The Reach is on a commercial boat tour, which provides a perfect, non-intrusive view of this federally protected, non-vehicle area.
A nice, relaxing way to experience the area’s natural beauty is to walk or ride your bike along the Sacagawea Heritage Trail, 22 miles of lovely riverfront paths, those threads between Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland.
The combination of long summer days and cool, crisp evenings is ideal for the Columbia Valley’s premium wine grapes, and within a 50 mile radius there are 53 excellent wineries. Situated at the same latitude as the great Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France – graced with rich volcanic soil and that ever-present sunshine – the Columbia Valley has had extraordinary success with their wineries. Washington state’s oldest winery is here, as it its largest. Plan to make a Winery Tour and sample what is becoming an internationally acclaimed, Washington grown product.
The communities of Walla Walla County are rich in history, natural resources, and inherent beauty. There are four distinct seasons here, plenty of sunshine, and a lively checklist of things to do. If outdoor recreation is your thing, whether you prefer hunting, hiking, fishing, golfing, or biking – virtually any imaginable activity is available near here.
If you were a location scout for a movie that needed the perfect Main Street, you’d be well advised to visit Walla Walla. The city’s renovated entry is a point of pride for residents and a pure delight for visitors, and it’s just the spot to capture hometown charm. With the architecturally significant and historic structures returned to their original glory, the downtown creates a perfect marriage of old and new.
Walla Walla’s history is preserved and celebrated at two local museums. Fort Walla Walla Museum reminds visitors of the town’s beginnings as a mid-19th century military reservation with 16 original and replica buildings creating a pioneer village. Lewis and Clark took an overland shortcut through Walla Walla County on their return trip from the Pacific coast, and the museum has a life-sized diorama depicting those events of 1806.
The Whitman Mission National Historic Site, just seven miles west of Walla Walla on Highway 12, references the mission built in 1836 by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and details the relationship with the Cayuse tribe that led to their unfortunate demise. Each weekend there are cultural demonstrations replicating pioneer and Cayuse life in the 1840s.
A Downtown Walla Walla Walking Tour highlight the area’s notable historic buildings including the beautifully restored Marcus Whitman Hotel (1928), Liberty Theatre (1917), and the Dacres Hotel (1899) with its intriguing façade, arched windows and brickwork. One of the Northwest’s outstanding Victorian structures, the 1880s Kirkman House is open to view from April 1 through November 30.
The mixture of climate and rich volcanic soil has created an ideal environment for growing wine grapes – a fact that has not escaped the attention of some of the state’s premier winemakers. As a result, Walla Walla Valley wines consistently achieve national and international acclaim. Many of the area’s outstanding wineries are open for tasting and tours and frequently host special wine-tasting events and festivities to toast the Valley’s proud heritage.
The arts are treasured here, from the foundry that casts sculptor’s artistry into products, to a wide selection of music provided at the Summer Sounds on the Plaza downtown. There’s a well-regarded symphony and dance and theatre productions through the Walla Walla Little Theatre. Campus productions can be enjoyed at any of the three local colleges, where you can also take advantage of the public art viewing opportunities featuring outdoor sculptures and several galleries.
Because of the almost year-round sunshine, festivals have a perfect environment in which to thrive. The Woodstock Music Festival, last weekend in June, spotlight local musicians and July’s Walla Walla Sweet Onion Blues festival, promotes local blues bands, food and crafts. And, of course the most colorful festival, the annual Balloon Stampede is held every May.
The adjacent towns of Milton-Freewater and Waitsburg provide the perfect afternoon venture. Waitsburg, home to the Bruce Memorial Museum, is the site of the Pioneer Fall Festival with arts and crafts of the 1800s, and the end of October celebrates the almost mystical fall colors here with the four-day Fall Festival of Foliage and Feathers. There are over 310 bird species in the area and the festival includes a variety of wildlife related activities, with emphasis on identification of Walla Walla Valley birds.
Ten miles south of Walla Walla, Milton-Freewater is site of the Frazier Farmstead Museum, with a turn-of-the-century home complete with many original furnishings.
Regardless of the variety of interests in your family, Walla Walla will deliver a rewarding vacation experience. Rich in history, art, culture and a tremendous variety of outdoor recreation opportunities, it is a place you’ll want to put on your list of “must dos” for the upcoming year. From morning till evening, under sunny skies and gentle nights, the communities of Walla Walla County await and welcome you. Prepare to be fully entertained.