Don’t forget that saying how come there are no dumb questions? It is especially suitable when entering the world of summer travel. We break down the absolute basics of visiting Walla Walla.
Walla Walla is located in the southeast corner of the state, across from the Oregon border. The name comes from an indigenous word for the river that bisects the valley; white immigrants first planted grapes in the 1860s and established the first commercial winery in 1977. Now the region is home to more than 120 wineries and a reputation as our state’s version of Napa Valley—that is, rural vineyards, production facilities and sprawling estates. (Woodinville, north of Bellevue, is the state’s other winemaking center, but few grapes are grown west of the mountains.)
When to visit Walla Walla
Given the region’s scorching summers and cold winters, spring and fall are Walla Walla’s biggest tourist times, and wineries celebrate release weekends in both seasons. However, many tasting rooms are open year-round, and the slower months can mean cheaper lodging and less fighting for reservations at the area’s best restaurants.
Arrival in Walla Walla
At more than 250 miles southeast of Seattle, Walla Walla is far enough to consider skyrocketing. A drive will take about four and a half hours, and Alaska Airlines flies two hourly flights a day between Sea-Tac and the small regional airport. Anyone who sticks to downtown wineries can easily survive without a car, but the elegant tasting patios and vineyard views require a personal vehicle or the purchase of a guided wine tour.
How long should I stay?
Pre-pandemic statistics showed the average length of stay for a Walla Walla visitor was just over two nights. The city of more than 30,000 has many attractions and amenities, but a long weekend is just about perfect.
Where to crash in Walla Walla
The 1928 Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center rises from charming downtown Walla Walla like a skyscraper, though it’s only 13 stories tall. It has seen many updates since its Jazz Age glory days, and downtown has plenty of other walkable hotels. Smaller, more luxurious properties dot the villages, and affordable chain hotels cluster near the highway.
How to enjoy summer in Walla Walla
Downtown Walla Walla has more than 30 tasting rooms, many lined up behind each other on small blocks filled with historic brick buildings. Most represent production facilities a little further from the city, or in more remote corners of the state. Many small producers operate outside the airport district, a more industrial section with well-stocked tasting rooms nonetheless.
Other larger wineries, many with patios and restaurants, are sprinkled throughout the semi-rural surroundings a little more than five miles from the city center. Finally, several wineries operate in the town of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, just across the state line, but are part of the larger Walla Walla collection.
While some wineries required tasting reservations before the pandemic, the practice has since spread—though it’s often possible to book tastings on busy weekends. Tasting fees range from free to $45, but most drop to or under $20 (and many are waived with bottle purchases).
Other things to do in Walla Walla
At one time the city was best known for the Washington State Penitentiary, but today the events calendar is stocked primarily with wine releases, events and dinners, with cultural help from Whitman College and Walla Walla University. Whitman Mission retains its historic buildings while in recent decades adding a thoughtful interpretation of how its titular Christian missionaries were killed by indigenous tribes in 1847. Bluewood Ski runs the lifts in the winter, and Wine Valley Golf Club operates year-round. other. Oh, and the restaurant scene is divine.
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