First Time Travel Guide to Walla Walla Wine Country
Remember this saying that there are no stupid questions? It is particularly appropriate to enter the world of wine travel. We’ve broken down the absolute basics of visiting Walla Walla.
Walla Walla is in the southeast corner of the state, against the Oregon border. The name comes from an Aboriginal word for the river that bisects the valley; white immigrants first planted grapes in the 1860s and established the first commercial winery in 1977. Today the area is home to more than 120 wineries and a reputation as our state’s version of Napa Valley, c that is, rural vineyards, production facilities and sprawling estates. (Woodinville, just north of Bellevue, is the state’s other wine 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 peak tourist times, and wineries celebrate weekend releases during both seasons. However, many tasting rooms are open year-round, and slower months can mean cheaper accommodations and fewer fights for reservations at the area’s top restaurants.
Getting to Walla Walla
Over 250 miles southeast of Seattle, Walla Walla is just far enough to consider flying away. A trip takes about four and a half hours, and Alaska Airlines makes two one-hour hops 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 terraces and vineyard views require a personal vehicle or the purchase of a guided winery tour.
How long should I stay?
Pre-pandemic statistics showed the average length of stay for a visitor to Walla Walla was just over two nights. The city of over 30,000 is packed with 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, even though it is only 13 stories high. It’s seen many updates since its Jazz Age glory days, and downtown has plenty of other hotels within walking distance. Smaller, more luxurious properties dot the countryside, and affordable hotel chains cluster near the highway.
How to taste wine in Walla Walla
Downtown Walla Walla has more than 30 tasting rooms, many of which line up one after another on the small blocks filled with historic brick buildings. Most represent production facilities a bit further out of town or in more remote corners of the state. Many small producers work from the airport district, a more industrial part with nevertheless well-appointed tasting rooms.
Other great wineries, many with patios and restaurants, are dotted around the semi-rural surroundings, less than five miles from the city center. Finally, a few wineries operate in the town of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, just across the border, but are part of the larger Walla Walla collection.
While some wineries required tasting reservations before the pandemic, the practice has since spread, although it is often possible to book same-day tastings outside of busy weekends. Tasting fees range from free to $45, but most are $20 or less (and many are waived with the purchase of a bottle).
Other things to do in Walla Walla
At one time, the town was best known for the Washington State Penitentiary, but today the events calendar is mostly filled with outings, events and winery dinners, with cultural help from the Whitman College and Walla Walla University. Whitman Mission preserves its historic buildings while adding in recent decades a thoughtful interpretation of how its titular Christian missionaries were killed by native tribes in 1847. Ski Bluewood operates ski lifts in the winter and the Wine Valley Golf Club operates every two seasons. Oh, and the restaurant scene is divine.