Welcome to Walla Walla, the town so nice they named it twice (the bouncy moniker itself comes from an Indigenous word). At one time its most famous export was sweet onions—also the state vegetable!—but the area is best known now as a wine-touring region. Still, there’s plenty more to do after tastings are done.
Electric Bike Tours
In a region where windmills turn in the distance and solar panels share acreage with vineyards, the electric-themed Tesla Winery Tours is a no-brainer. Owner Chris Wood, who worked at L’Ecole No. 41 before launching his own enterprise, boasts two of the spiffy cars (including one whose doors open like wings) and two electric Specialized bicycles. The bikes make for very distanced tasting room travel, and Wood can build itineraries and share which winemakers don’t mind visitors pedaling between vines. Downtown’s Allegro Cyclery has additional turbo-charged wheels for rent; an electric assist can turn even Walla Walla’s rolling landscape into a cycling cakewalk.
Good news for the not-quite-PGA-ready golfers among us: Wine Valley Golf Club doesn’t contain a single tree, so chances of bouncing a bad drive off an inconvenient trunk are nil. The links-style public course winds through the rolling prairie, with views of the Blue Mountains and the surprisingly scenic wheat combines and wind turbines perched above waving fields. Weekday specials include a burger and beer with 18 holes and a cart.
The first large Oregon Trail wagon train was led by missionary Marcus Whitman, who with his wife, Narcissa, carried out religious outreach in today’s wine country. Whitman Mission National Historic Site now holds memorials and a small museum, but spoiler alert: It ended badly when the couple was massacred by Cayuse and Umatilla fighters in 1847. In recent years the exhibits have made an effort to recast the martyr storyline of the Whitmans to include more Cayuse perspective; the word “massacre” was deemphasized and the missionary work of the couple is placed in more context.
For years the college named for Marcus Whitman called its mascot the Missionary, but a recent understanding of the imperialist nature of missionary work has shifted them to the Blues. The well-regarded liberal arts institution has leafy quads and various sculptures scattered throughout the campus. Multiple lectures and other events are open to the public.
Just about an hour outside Walla Walla, the Blue Mountains’ ski area has a decidedly locals feel. Two triple chairs rise from a base area that also includes beginner surface lifts, and the base lodge houses both a restaurant and a pub. Recent upgrades added a summit yurt for snacks at the top of the main lift, plus more snowmaking and grooming machines. Replacement lifts and a new lift-served area are in the works.
For all its farm roots, Walla Walla offers a rich diversity of architecture, from a house modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to gothic, craftsman, and neoclassic styles. The Kirkman house, a Victorian Italianate model, was home to a successful businessman who had come west for the gold rush. Saved from demolition and now a museum, the structure shows off its Corinthian columns and arched windows outside, with historic exhibits inside—including one on Adam West, the original Batman. Renovations in 2021 closed the museum for a period but they expect to reopen in September.