Walla Walla is the city so nice they named it twice; think sun-soaked hills blanketed in vineyards, views of the Blue Mountains, and a historic downtown district with boutiques, eateries and lively patios. The city is at the heart of the Walla Walla Valley which is home to more than 100 wineries (!!), and has a gastronomy scene to match which makes this the ultimate spot for foodies.
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From sunrise hot air balloon rides over the countryside to fun festivals to sipping at show-stopping tasting rooms, here are 10 fun things to do in Walla Walla Washington.
1) Explore downtown Walla Walla
The charming, tree-lined Walla Walla downtown core dates back to the 1800s, and has been beautifully preserved over generations. Trolley cars glide by, the brick buildings hold an eclectic mix of boutiques, cafes, wine bars and restaurants, and outdoor patios spill out onto the streets.
The best shopping in Walla Walla is along the aptly-named Main Street, where you’ll find everything from home treasures to galleries to cowboy gear to high-end clothing.
The road linking Main and Alder Street has been converted into a pedestrian-only area called Plaza on 1st, and has tables topped with cute yellow umbrellas which is a great spot to grab lunch. You’ll also notice how pet-friendly the city is, and four-legged friends are welcome at many wineries, inside stores and on patios.
2) Visit the best wineries in Walla Walla
The Walla Walla Valley region in southeast Washington has an astounding amount of vineyards and tasting rooms, even stretching into Oregon in an area which is called the Rocks District due to the stone-covered soil.
There are six different districts, with the Westside having some of the most established wineries while downtown has the highest concentration of Walla Walla tasting rooms (top picks include Kontos Cellars which has a beautiful patio area complete with swings and a long family history in the area, Seven Hills Winery, Elephant Seven and Mark Ryan Winery).
The top varieties grown in Walla Walla wine country are Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, and the welcoming, down-home atmosphere at the wineries means there’s a good chance you’ll rub shoulders with the owner or winemakers.
While it’s impossible to choose the best winery in Walla Walla, some of the most memorable are:
L’Ecole No. 41: A couple of retired educators fittingly started this acclaimed winery in Walla Walla at the site of a former elementary school, which dates back to 1915. The original charm still exists, like the principal’s office that’s now a wine cellar, the gym and cafeteria that’s a tasting room, and even an old bell that guests can ring when they arrive.
Valdemar Estates: The tapas and excellent wines from both Washington and Rijoa, Spain are excellent; however, it’s safe to say most people come here for the patio. The gorgeous, high-design tasting room at Valdemar Estates leads out to a deck with views of the Blue Mountains, a reflection pool, a 58-foot long waterfall wall and spritzers to help guests cool off from the heat, making this the ultimate summer hangout.
Revelry Vintners: This relative newcomer to the Walla Walla wine scene originally started in the Airport District, before moving into its Instagram-worthy tasting room on the Southside. Aside from the architectural award it won, Revelry’s D11 Cabernet Sauvignon also took top prize in the first competition it was entered in, and someone even paid a jaw-dropping $100K for a case of it during an auction.
Long Shadows: The view of the surrounding countryside is spectacular, but the real showstopper is inside the tasting room where there are a number of massive Chihuly glass sculptures.
Garrison Creek Cellars: Limited seatings are available at this Walla Walla winery in the Southside Wine District, and that’s just the way they prefer it at this small production vineyard where everything is hand sorted. Focusing on big, bold reds, the barn-style tasting room wows, and you won’t want to miss a tour of the ‘library’ downstairs.
Reservations are recommended at most wineries, and there are plenty of organized wine tasting tours that transport guests throughout the region using e-bikes, limos or old fashioned cars. A fun way to explore is with Tesla Winery Tours, which offers custom tours for up to six people from the comfort of a high-tech Model X or Model S Tesla.
3) Take a hot air balloon ride
A Walla Walla hot air balloon ride is an unforgettable way to watch the sunrise or sunset over the valley. Blue Mountain Balloons has been operating in the area for more than four decades, offering group and private tours that launch from the outskirts of the city. Enjoy a birds-eye view of the Columbia River, Blue Mountains, the rolling fields and even parts of Oregon.
4) Learn about the area’s history
The Walla Walla region has a long history starting with the Wanapum, Cayus and Palouse peoples who occupied these lands thousands of years ago, and some of those experiences were documented as part of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
A couple of places worth checking out when you visit Walla Walla are:
Whitman Mission National Historic Site
The Whitman Mission National Historic Site details the impacts of the arrival of protestant missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, who established a mission among the Cayuse Tribe in 1836. Unfortunately, the presence of the pioneers brought a measles epidemic which decimated the Indigenous people, and in retaliation the Whitmans along with about a dozen others were killed during an attack the Cayuse hoped would eliminate the illness.
Today, the site has interpretive trails, and is marked by the 27-foot-tall Whitman Memorial Shaft which was erected 50 years after the massacre. There’s also a full-size replica of an Oregon Trail wagon, in a nod to the immigrants who came to this area on the Columbia Plateau.
Fort Walla Walla Museum
The Fort Walla Walla Museum is on the grounds of a 19th century military fort, and houses a number of exhibits detailing pioneer settlement, the military, Indigenous culture and agriculture throughout the region. There’s also a WWII Memorial, gardens, picnic area, recreation trails and a BMX track.
5) Visit the Blue Mountain Lavender Farm
Every June, the fields at the Blue Mountain Lavender Farm begin their brilliant transformation from green to purple as the fragrant lavender starts to bloom. The farm is a 20 minute drive southwest of the city of Walla Walla in Lowden, and was founded in 2000 by the Grimaud family who are originally from France.
Guests can enjoy beautiful views of the valley and mountains, and wander through the fields which are best seen from early June to mid-July. There’s also a u-pick, boutique and craft classes.
6) Eat at the fantastic Walla Walla restaurants
Perfectly paired with the award-winning Walla Walla wineries, the foodie scene is also exceptional. From food trucks to farm-to-table restaurants to tapas spots, you’ll find it all here–heck, there was even a renowned eatery in a gas station at one point!
One of the top restaurants in Walla Walla is Hattaways on Alder. The menu is inspired by Pacific Northwest ingredients, and gives them a Southeast flare in dishes like the pan seared halibut cheeks, chicken & grits and braised beef cheeks with gnocchi. The wine list is extensive, and the chic, rustic ambiance makes for a great night out.
Other options for downtown dining is the Yamas Greek Eatery which is known for their souvlaki and lamb and beef gyro, Bacon & Eggs which is a popular brunch spot, and there’s also a farmers market on Saturdays from May to October. If you need a java jolt, grab a cup at Coffee Perk, or head up to the airport to the Walla Walla Roastery which has a large outdoor space.
For casual fare, head to the Burwood Brewing Company up by the airport. Along with their craft brews on tap, there are food carts parked outside that serve the likes of wood-fired pizza, pho or BBQ which can be enjoyed in the outdoor picnic area.
Finally, don’t miss AK’s Mercado which is one of the most fun places to eat in Walla Walla and famous for its tacos (the corn used in the tortillas comes straight from Oaxaca, Mexico). Headed by Chef Andrae Bopp, the original restaurant was in a nearby Cenex gas station, earning it accolades by Food & Wine Magazine as “without any question the best restaurant located in a (working) gas station in the U.S.”
In 2021, AK’s Mercado moved to a large space in the heart of Main Street, allowing for the expansion of a market complete with a wine bar, cheese shop, plant store, bar and lounge areas. The casual grab ‘n go style lends to the laid back atmosphere, and with an all-day menu this is the kind of place you can return to over and over again during a trip to Walla Walla.
7) Blend your own wine
One of the most unique things to do when visiting Walla Walla is channeling your inner winemaker and blending your very own bottle of vino. Northstar Winery offers the Northstar Blending Experience, where guests get to try some of their limited release wines, then craft their own red wine and leave with the bottle.
The 90 minute experience is offered Friday through Sunday, and is a memorable way to learn more about the process and science involved with making Walla Walla wine.
8) Explore the great outdoors
Work off all that food and wine by enjoying some outdoor activities like golfing, water sports, fishing, horseback riding and cycling.
A great place to go hiking near Walla Walla is around the Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake areas, which have more than 20 miles of recreation trails through open grasslands, past creek beds and the lake, and along the dam which was built in 1942 for flood mitigation.
Birders will want to head to Bennington Lake, which has Blue Mountain views and a trailhead for the Sun & Safe Loop which is part of the Great Washington State Birding Trail (more than 300 species of birds have been documented in the county). There are also picnic areas and washroom facilities, which makes this a great place to spend a summer day and go paddling on the water.
For more of an adventure, drive one hour north to Palouse Falls, a 180-foot-tall waterfall which is one of Washington’s top attractions.
There are a handful of golf courses in Walla Walla including the 18-hole Veterans Memorial Golf Course, and the Wine Valley Golf Club which is close to Walla Walla attractions like the Whitman Mission and the Westside Wine District.
During the winter months, you can hit the slopes at nearby Ski Bluewood. The resort has 24 runs and an elevation of 5,670 feet, making it the second highest base elevation in Washington state.
9) Celebrate at a fun festival
If you time your visit to Walla Walla right, you might get to take part in one of the many annual festivals. Most focus on wine, like Spring Release weekend in May, Holiday Barrel Tasting in December, and Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine in July which brings together wine makers and experts over a series of dinners.
Other events in Walla Walla include the Balloon Stampede where more than two dozen hot air balloons light up the night sky, and the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Festival which celebrates Washington State’s official vegetable (yes, that’s a thing).
10) Watch the sunset over the Walla Walla Valley
The sight of the sun setting over wide open wheat fields and vineyards is mesmerizing, and a popular place to watch it is north of the city near the airport. Drive along Lower Waitsburg Road, and you’re sure to find plenty of people sitting on the roofs of their parked cars with a drink in hand, toasting to the end of another great day in Walla Walla.
Places to stay in Walla Walla
Eritage Resort: This Walla Walla resort is a 10 minute drive from downtown, and surrounded by wheat fields and vineyards which makes it an idyllic retreat.
The luxury rooms range have king size beds, private patios or decks overlooking the lake or Blue Mountains, spa-like bathrooms, and lounge areas with fireplaces. Some suites in the main resort building, while others are in separate lakefront bungalows for even more privacy.
Perched on the shores of Lake Sienna, Eritage has a restaurant as well as on-site activities like free bike rentals, paddleboards and kayaks, outdoor firepits and a pool. It’s also pet-friendly. Click here to book
Marcus Whitman Hotel: This is one of the oldest and most historic hotels in Walla Walla, dating back to 1928. Decor touches like fireplaces, dazzling chandeliers and a grand piano in the lobby add to the elegance, and there are six tasting rooms on site which makes this a great spot for wine lovers in the heart of downtown. Click here to book
The FINCH: This casual, fun Walla Walla lodging option has easy access to the downtown area thanks to its location right on Main Street, and an upbeat vibe. The minimalist rooms are bright, clean and comfortable, and the staff are welcoming and helpful when it comes to area recommendations. Click here to book
Globe Guide explored Walla Walla as a guest of Visit Walla Walla and the Eritage Resort. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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