Why Not Walla Walla?

The Eastern Washington city is growing in popularity

By: Marty Wentzel

Why go to Walla Walla? On the state map, the Eastern Washington city looks like a dead-end destination, but in fact, its combined small-town atmosphere and big-city amenities have placed it prominently on the savvy traveler’s must-visit list.

“In the past five years, Walla Walla has improved its tourist appeal significantly,” said Chris Coates, sales and marketing director for the Marcus Whitman Hotel in Walla Walla. “The downtown reconstruction, including our own hotel renovation, has increased the city’s visibility with clients from the Seattle and Portland corridor, as well as from Spokane, Wash., and Boise, Idaho. We’re a little town with big things going on.”

In response to its growing popularity, Walla Walla is cultivating its visitor plant. The latest news calls for a 350-acre master-planned community on the east side of town with a 60-room hotel, restaurant, lounge, spa, wine cave and golf course, masterminded by Pennbrook Homes of Bend, Ore.

What brings people to Walla Walla, 273 miles from Seattle and 248 miles from Portland? For starters, tell your clients to try the wine. Walla Walla has earned a reputation for its reds and whites, with over 70 vintners producing high-quality varietals. Downtown, one dozen tasting rooms help wineries tap tourists who can’t drive to outlying vineyards.

Downtown Walla Walla has been designated as a Great American Main Street by the National Main Street Center. Restored buildings from the mid- to late-1800s house a mix of restaurants, galleries and shops.

For culture-minded clients, the town’s Whitman College and Walla Walla College post a regular schedule of live performances and programs, as do energetic community theater troupes. Celebrating its 100th season, the Walla Walla Symphony is the oldest continuous American orchestra west of the Mississippi River. For youngsters, there’s plenty of hands-on action at the Children’s Museum of Walla Walla.

Under frequently sunny skies, Walla Walla draws active clients as well. The relatively flat landscape is a hit with cyclists who can bike through picturesque wheat fields. In winter, skiers head 52 miles southeast of the city to the slopes of Ski Bluewood, in the Blue Mountains, or to Spout Springs at Tollgate Mountain in Northeastern Oregon. Walla Walla County is an equally big deal with bird-watchers, boasting the highest number of documented species east of the Cascades. Golfers, meanwhile, find action on five public courses in the valley.

Steeped in history, Walla Walla shares its past with clients through such venues as Fort Walla Walla Museum, where visitors learn about the 19th-century settlers of the area, and the Whitman Mission, reflecting on pioneer and Cayuse Indian life in the 1840s. Clients can take a self-guided walking tour of historic buildings in the area, courtesy of a free map and descriptive brochure.

Walla Walla admirers like to time visits with annual events. During the Hot Air Balloon Stampede each May, upward of 50 colorful orbs float above town as clients enjoy ground-level arts and crafts, rides, commercial booths, food and entertainment. There’s a classic car show in June, the Sweet Onion Festival in July, Taste of Walla Walla in August and Fall Harvest Festival in September. In early December, clients get a sneak preview of future releases during the Holiday Barrel Tasting, showcasing all the wineries of the area. Each week from May through October, folks buy produce and souvenirs, taste homebaked goods and hear live music at the Saturday morning farmers market, and again at the Thursday evening market.

So the next time your clients ask you why Walla Walla, try this for an answer: Why not?


Hotels: A model of historic restoration, the 1928 Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center provides modern services like high-speed Internet, 10,000 square feet of meeting space and free hot breakfast. Rates range $99-$264 (6 W. Rose St., 866-826-9422, www.marcuswhitmanhotel.com).

Restaurants: Locals frequent Cookie Tree Bakery for homemade salads, sandwiches and soups at affordable prices (23 Spokane St., 509-522-4826).
For a chic meal paired with area wines, clients can try 26brix (207 West Main St., 509-526-4075, www.twentysixbrix.com).

For More Information:
Tourism Walla Walla