By Amy Hunt
When you consider a wine-tasting holiday, the first places that might spring to mind will likely be the typical vineyard hotspots – Napa and Sonoma in California, Tuscany, Italy, Bordeaux in France, or Rioja in Spain.
But one destination you may not be as familiar with is Walla Walla, a wine region in Walla Walla County in the USA.
Located in Washington State, the quaint but large and buzzing city is located just 45-minutes by plane from the city of Seattle – or a picturesque 4-hour drive across the state of Washington and through the Cascade Mountains, into the Walla Walla Valley.
You’d be forgiven for underestimating the city, given it's a little quieter on the tourist trail. But you'd be missing out if you discount it.
In fact, it's become the ideal detour for people visiting the Pacific Northwest.Seattle is incredibly close by, and is quickly becoming a hugely popularpre and post-cruise destination for visitors from across the world. The city - just an hour's plane ride from Walla Walla - is said to be the ‘natural gateway’ to a cruise around Alaska, which is home to some of the most majestic scenery in the world. So why not spend some time in the wine country before heading back to Seattle, pre or post-cruise?
When w&h visited, we found it the epitome of a charming, traditional US city – full of picture-perfect streets, locally sourced eateries, and historic architecture - and of course, the all-important vineyards and wineries.
So how can you spend a few days in Walla Walla?
Walla Walla wine, wineries and vineyards
If there’s one reason to visit Walla Walla, it’s the incredible range of vineyards, wineries – and wine-tasting tours. There are a whopping 132 wineries in Walla Walla – so you’ve got plenty to take your pick from.
Head to L’Ecole to kickstart your tour, a family-owned winery set within the historic – and rather gothic – Frenchtown School. Enter the impressive building and you're guided up wooden stairs to a dining room, where you’ll try a selection of red, white and rose wines from their local vineyard and the Seven Hills Vineyard. If you like, you can even bring a picnic to enjoy in their picturesque grounds.
In Downtown Walla Walla, right near Main Street, is Seven Hills Winery. Staff at the winery told us that Walla Walla is largely a red wine valley – which is perfectly displayed in their delicious Merlot, their benchmark wine, sourced from the vineyard just a few miles away. But for lovers of white or rose, there are also a huge array of options.
Seven Hills is a Walla Walla institution, and so offers an exclusive membership for residents. Their most expensive wine is an exquisite Pentad red, which costs $85, and is on wish-list for subscription members. And we can attest, it’s well worth the price…
Despite this rather pricey outlier, Walla Walla wines are on the whole much more affordable than any others in the world. This is not due to lack of quality, but because the cost of production is much cheaper in Walla Walla, compared to the likes of California.
The region isn't short of beer venues either, if wine isn't quite your thing.
A few of the must-visit breweries and wineries include:
What else can I do in Walla Walla apart from drink wine?
History and culture
For an insight into the history of Walla Walla, visit the Whitman Mission National Historic Site or visit the Fort Walla Walla Museum. Set across 15 acres, it explores the fascinating story of the pioneer settlement in the town, and how the area was used as a military base in 1856.
Or, for the chance to enjoy some of the gorgeous weather Walla Walla gets, head to Pioneer Park. Established in 1902, there is masses of green space to relax in, as well as soccer and football fields - and an impressive aviary.
Finish your day with a drive around the impressive Whitman College, a private liberal arts college in the heart of the town. Made up of some beautiful historic buildings, there are also some picturesque green grounds surrounding the college.
For those looking to pick up a Walla Walla souvenir, the town's Main Street is the place to head - with a super diverse range of shops.
Try the adorable Thirty Fifth and Butter, which is full of quirky, local items including soaps, mugs, notebooks and even jewellery. Or, visit the hilariously named Hot Poop, a vintage record store. w&h also loved the beautiful Trove Home & Vintage Goods, which sells antique-looking furniture as well as soaps, body care products and home products. And, for a chance to sample the delights of a typically American department store, be sure to visit the Walla Walla Macy's on Main Street too.
You can even stop for a much-deserved glass of wine at one of the many scatterings of wineries on the street - we liked Lagana Cellars. Or, take a stop at the delicious Colville Street Patisserie for a mouthwatering sweet treat, and, for an afternoon caffeine pick-me-up, the Walla Walla Roastery at Coffee Perk is a must.
Walla Walla hotels: Where to stay in Walla Walla
There’s somewhere for everyone in Walla Walla!
The Barn B&B
For a relaxed, laid-back - but sophisticated - stay in the stunning countryside (just a 20-minute drive to the town), book a room at The Barn B&B Walla Walla.
Made up of just seven elegant suites, each with their own private entrance and en-suite bathroom, the Barn is the epitome of zen. But the real highlight is a private pebbled garden outside each room – complete with an outdoor hot-water shower! There’s little more refreshing than an outdoor shower – the perfect antidote to a day spent in the sun enjoying local wines. And trust us - no one can see you.
The personal touches don’t end there though. Need a car-free chauffer to the local wineries? They can sort it. Guests can also choose their mattress and pillow preference ahead of their stay. Plus, all provided soaps are handmade by the owners themselves.
The owners, Anand and Naina, who originally hail from the UK, came to Walla Walla in 2017 not knowing a soul – and have made a family in their B&B staff and guests. So for a home from home in Washington State, there’s nowhere better.
In terms of food, a home-cooked breakfast and dinner awaits all guests. Expect three (small) courses for each meal– including an absolutely mouth-watering breakfast of huervos rancheros, or an incredible chicken curry for dinner. It was without a doubt the best food of the trip.
The Barn B&B costs $400/night for a room includes breakfast – but in off-peak season the lowest rate is $325. Book a stay here.
Cameo Heights Mansion
Visitors to the area will also get more than just a hotel if they stay at the Cameo Heights Mansion. This intimate boutique hotel with truly luxurious and exuberant décor is 20 minutes from the town centre. Each suite is inspired by a different country – from Italy to Dubai, Greece, Spain and England. Expect utter opulence, with hot tub baths and a view of the welcoming outdoor pool in some of the rooms.
For those looking to unwind, there’s a spa and high end restaurant too – offering multiple courses of fine-dining fodder – we loved the honey-glazed salmon and delectable pork shoulder.
Rooms here are around $300 in low season, and $369 in the summer – with prices reaching $479 with some of their special packages. Book a stay here.
The Marcus Whitman hotel
The Marcus Whitman hotel is a more affordable option in Walla Walla. It's incredibly handy, located smack bang in the middle of town. Decorated in traditional red and wooden décor, it’s not got any of the mod-cons of the other hotels, but this place is a mainstay in Walla Walla history, having been built in 1928.
For those looking for a bite to eat, the hotel has The Marc Restaurant, offering a tasty and delicious dinner menu. There's even the chance to have your dinner cooked right in front of you with the unique 'Chef's Table' experience. The unique experience is limited to 10 guests, and you'll be served a multi-course dinner of the best food and drink on offer.
Before you wander on back to your room, be sure to stop at the Hotel Tower’s 2nd floor, where you'll find a series of artistic portraits, depicting the fascinating life of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.
A Queen Value Room in September will set you back just $119 a night, while the most expensive room is $219. Book a visit there.
The Inn at Abeja
For a truly luxurious stay, there’s also The Inn at Abeja. Abeja is a luxury winery just outside the town. The owners have restored and refurbished the winery’s outbuildings into intimate but superbly finished cottages and suites. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s well worth a visit for the unbelievably picturesque winery anyway.
Eritage is another hotel for the cool, sophisticated traveller. Located a little way outside the main town in the Washington countryside, it’s idyllic and quiet, but edgy. Newly refurbished in steel and woods, it's able to maintain a homely feel with sleek, comfortably furnished rooms – which have cosy plush rugs, dimly lit lamps and enviably cosy linens. But the real selling point is a enormous lake in the centre – where guests can kayak or sail.
Where to eat in Walla Walla
Maple Counter Café
On the corner of East Alder Street, you’ll find the Maple Counter Café, a homely, family run spot that certainly doesn't scrimp on portions. Whether you fancy a French-baked omelette, any variation of Eggs Benedict you could imagine, deliciously thick American pancakes, or French toast – they’ve got it. W&H tried the utterly indulgent chocolate chip pancakes the size of a car wheel – and it was so tasty we finished (almost) every scrap.
Andrae's Kitchen is another must-visit spot - not least because uniquely, it's a restaurant in a gas station. It's a low-key eatery visually, but the food is top notch. Plus each dish is brilliantly high-quality. Think enormous pastrami sandwiches, tasty burgers, and delicious tacos.
For a special lunch or dinner – but at a great price – head to Italian restaurant TMACS. Located just off Main Street, it’s been recently redecorated and offers a crowd-pleasing, high-quality menu. Whether you fancy meat, fish, pizza or pasta, it’s got a wide-ranging but locally sourced dishes. Ogle at its wine cellar on the way in too.
A highly-rated spot for lunch offering affordable American-sized sandwiches in every variation you could imagine.
Upmarket French cuisine.
Finally, you’ll want to make a pit stop at the Mexican truck, Agapas, at Quirk Brewing, just outside the town centre. Enjoy a quality taco (or three) in the fun, laid-back surroundings, polished off with some nearby, local beer.
So will you be planning a visit to Walla Walla as travel reopens?
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