Discover Washington: Why So Many Are Loving Walla Walla


Drive about four hours southeast of Seattle and it can feel like you’ve been dropped off in Napa Valley – or Italy. Walla Walla offers more than 120 wineries (and 40 grape varieties) along with excellent gourmet dishes served al fresco. The small town is a delight for gourmets and a dream for wine lovers.

On the way to Walla Walla, make a pit stop in Prosser, about 300 kilometers from Seattle. Just outside Prosser, you can see hops and vines growing on the hillside, while wineries surround the picturesque town. Big band swing music plays over speakers in the city streets, with specialty coffees, restaurants, and antique shops – not to mention the home of the Chukar Cherries Factory.

From Prosser it’s 82 miles to Walla Walla. The Walla Walla Valley wine scene is divided into six general areas (West, Downtown, Southside District, Airport, Eastside, and Oregon). For newbies, it can be a bit overwhelming. First-time visitors might want to understand that downtown wineries are within walking distance of larger hotels, while the Southside District wineries are set amidst lush fields and with views of the Blue Mountain – the wine you drink can be grown, pressed, and locally grown be bottled.

Perhaps intimidating at first glance, wine tastings are straightforward and straightforward. Most of the tasting room staff are happy, if not eager, to explain the wines from grape to glass and serve wine flights so you can sample a range of reds and whites.

For example, reservations at Browne Family Vineyards for the outdoor tastings consist of 3 ounces each of four red, four white, or four sparkling wines, priced between $ 20 and $ 25 for the tasting. Of course, 6-ounce pins and bottles are also available in a wide price range, with bottles starting from $ 15 to $ 225.

Currently, you can pick up a free shopping bag from the Visit Walla Walla booth downtown and create your own ‘Walla Walla 12’ flavors that you’ve curated for events like summer picnics, taco Tuesdays, and movie nights (apparently Merlot goes well with raisins) .

Global gourmet

Lately, downtown Walla Walla has taken on a decidedly European flair. Dozens of wineries and restaurants have set up sidewalk-style restaurants in the shade of deciduous trees and overflowing flower baskets. The outdoor tables, chairs, and umbrellas were originally a response to COVID-19, but thankfully will remain permanent. City buses are disguised like trolleys and give everyday life an old-fashioned quality. Multi-generation families traveling together fill the streets.

While most of the Walla Walla windows are dedicated to wine bars and restaurants, there are plenty of independent businesses in the city, including bookstores, home decor, and clothing boutiques. Only a large Seattle-based coffee chain (rhymes with Sparbucks) holds one of the storefronts.

Outdoor dining adds to the considerable delights of Walla Walla's dining scene.  (Lora Shinn)

Perhaps because of the city’s wine orientation, many cafes and bistros serve Mediterranean cuisine with a locally grown twist. Try souvlaki your own way (wrap, salad, bowl) at Yamas Greek restaurant, open on 1st. Share Roman-style pasta at Passatempo Taverna and small plates in the secluded outdoor dining area surrounded by bamboo. Pull up a shady chair and enjoy the wood-grilled octopus Bagna Cauda from Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen or the kibbeh nayyeh sprinkled with sweet onions and the Penn Cove mussels in the moules frites of the French Brasserie Four.

Those who love Mexican food will not be disappointed either. Try the stone-ground corn chips with homemade guac at Grandma’s Kitchen, the richly smoked brisket at AK’s Mercado or the walla walla tacos (made with sweet walla walla onions, of course) at Tacos La Monarca’s Food Truck. For dessert, get a scoop of premium flavor: Bourbon Carmel Pecan or Earl Gray in the Pine Cone Creamery.

Not to be beaten, the breakfast at Walla Walla is also outstanding and is also served outdoors. Soak in the warm morning air with a homemade omelette, hashish, or scrambled eggs at Bacon & Eggs, croissants at Colville Street Patisserie, or flapjacks at Maple Counter Cafe – the latter is a cousin of the famous Oak Table Cafe in Sequim and serves the same three-inch tall apple pancakes .

Outside the (wine) box: Other activities Other

Of course, eating and drinking aren’t the only activities – even if they are the most obvious. Drive just outside of town to see the fascinating 20-minute film, which offers multiple perspectives on the Whitman Massacre at the Whitman Mission National Historic Site. Cyclists can find a paper or online copy of the Walla Walla Valley Bike Map for routes and loops. And the visitors to the aviary of the Pioneer Park are spoiled with a cacophony of tweets, chuckles, coo, barks and boos from spectacularly dressed pheasants, pigeons and other birds from all continents of the world. There may not be a comparable aviary in the northwest.

One of the colorful residents of Pioneer Park Aviary.  (Lora Shinn)

Also unique: the Museum of Un-Natural History, only open for a few hours on Saturdays. The museum’s eclectic collection of politically charged, slightly racy and amusing, absurd sculptures was created by comedian Gerry Matthews, who retired to Walla Walla in the late 1980s. Now Matthews, a sprightly 90 years young, is often in the gallery and looks forward to answering questions and offering replacements. However, he won’t tell you which piece is his favorite (the other works might get jealous).

Gerry Matthews keeps an eye on his treasures at the Museum of Un-Natural History.  (Lora Shinn)

Around 8 a.m. the city gets sleepy – and it’s a good idea to rest your head in a hotel that’s just a few minutes’ walk from the city center. The Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center is an upscale, historic option. But The Finch opened in late fall 2019, just before the pandemic, and is a great “base camp” for travelers to Seattle. The hotel’s chic rooms have Pendleton ceilings, retro-styled aqua fridges from the 1950s, and infographics on the wall to help you pretend to tell a Malbec apart from a Merlot. Take on-site food carts to the outdoor picnic benches and Adirondack chairs, or explore the area from the lobby’s map room. Two rooms with bunk beds are suitable for families of four or a short break with girls. And from Friday to Sunday, a selection of muesli and homemade muffins accompany the free, local LIVIT coffee.

The rooms at The Finch reflect Walla Walla's passion for wine.  (The finch)

On the way out of town, order a steak banh mi or a toasted pear salad from the Graze drive-through window. Drive about an hour north to where picnic benches overlook the incredibly photogenic Palouse Falls State Park. Palouse Falls is one of the last active waterfalls left from the original Ice Age floods that shaped the landscape 13,000 years ago. Just a small, modern lunch, accompanied by high, old drama – a fitting coda for a trip on the dry side.

Remarks: Reservations are not just a good idea, but a requirement for Walla Walla’s hotels and restaurants. Book ASAP or prepare for a disappointment. Read signs carefully before entering restaurants and shops, and be respectful of requests – owners have very Different expectations of mask usage, but it’s best to have one handy. Shops can be closed Monday through Wednesday so your vacation is best planned for Thursday through Sunday. Bring your Washington Discover State Park Pass or fine. Don’t drink or drive, and bring your phone to restaurants as most offer menus online.

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