Set at the foot of the Blue Mountains and nestled between rolling green hills ribbed with vineyards, Walla Walla has historically been best known for onions. But modern Walla Walla is a far cry from these simple agrarian roots. Within the past decade, this destination has deservedly acquired a fine wine reputation – billed the ‘Napa Valley’ of Washington, Walla Walla has more boutique wineries per capita then any other spot in the state – and in this fertile northwestern corner of America that’s saying something. Additionally, the city (and sister city, College Place) are home to two universities, with a thriving student population to bring vitality to the atmospheric, tree-shaded lanes of old Walla Walla and contribute to the area’s thriving arts and culture scene.
The newly refurbished downtown area is a pleasant stretch of brick-framed blocks rich in history and character. Whitman College, just a skip out of downtown proper, blends seamlessly with the aged walnut-trees and turn-of the century homes that gracefully line the streets of old Walla Walla. Older still than this residential stretch is Whitman Mission, located just out of College Place, a settlement founded by the Whitman family in 1847 who were then savagely murdered; now only the outlines of the mission buildings can be seen at the Whitman Mission, which merits a stop for both its peaceful location and for a better understanding of the people who first braved the perils of the western frontier. Fort Walla Walla Museum Complex, more centrally located, is good for more pioneer perspective, offering a variety of family-friendly activities and regular living history performances.
Walla Walla is punctuated liberally with pleasant parks which bustle with students during the spring. Rooks Park is a particularly popular spot on weekends, linked by paved hiker/biker path to the edge of Walla Walla and a major thoroughfare when the weather is good. Gravel roads branch out from the main trail and there is a small lake stocked with fish if you thought to bring along your pole. For some solitude, rent a bike in town and follow one of the country roads out into the hills or go mountain biking in the Blue Mountains once the winter snows have melted.
In winter, locals head to Ski Bluewood in the Umatilla National Forest for some time on the slopes. If you’re done with downhill, take off cross-country on some of the forestry roads, or strap on a pair of snowshoes and make your own trail.
Walla Walla is about five hours from Seattle, to the northwest, and four hours from Portland, to the southwest.