Walla Walla, Washington

Photo: Visit Walla Walla

The Walla Walla Valley is Washington’s wine capital. More than 130 wineries dot the southeastern corner of the state. Its Mediterranean climate, featuring hot days and cool nights, creates ideal conditions for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah grapes. The city of Walla Walla has been revitalized by foodies. Coffee roasters, taco trucks, and wine bars now fill the downtown area. It sounds like a perfect weekend getaway. But one thing is missing.

There isn’t a great hotel in Walla Walla. The city doesn’t have a cute boutique hotel, a relaxing resort, or even glamping tents among the vines. Overnight visitors are limited to basic chain hotels and over-decorated bed and breakfasts. They stop many people, including yourself, from turning day trips into longer stays. That’s finally about to change.

Grapes were originally planted on the Columbia Plateau before Walla Walla was even established. French fur trappers started cultivating vines here in the 1840s. The city was incorporated near the site of Fort Walla Walla, built to guard against Native American attacks, in 1862. It quickly became the largest city in the then territory due to the nearby gold rush in Idaho. The grapes—as well as strawberries and the area’s famous sweet onions—continued to thrive until the 1920s, when a combination of severe frost and Prohibition stopped the wine industry from expanding. Its rebirth didn’t begin until the 1970s.

The city took longer. Like so many other small cities in the United States, the 1980s weren’t kind to Walla Walla. No one wanted to live in the center of the city, so its buildings were largely neglected. But an impressive rejuvenation has occurred over the last 25 years. Historic buildings have been brought back to life. Sweet-smelling bakeries, farm-to-table restaurants, and elegant cocktail bars now fill them. There are small art galleries and microbreweries, too. It’s both bike and pedestrian friendly. While cult wineries and the Blue Mountains aren’t very far from the center of town.

Pretty soon, Walla Walla will welcome not one, but two much-needed hotels. The Penrose Walla Walla Hotel & Spa will open downtown next year. The historic Odd Fellows building is currently being restored into an 82-room boutique hotel that will feature a rooftop terrace and a pool.

Before that, E’ritage Resort, just outside of the city, will be completed this spring. There are wheat fields, vineyards, and a man-made lake on the property’s 300 hilly acres. Its 10 suites (villas will follow in the next phase) are relaxing escapes with decks and fireplaces. A James Beard award-winning chef will helm the restaurant. Plus bonfires will encourage you to linger for one more glass of wine after dinner.

Both hotels will surely change the vibe in Walla Walla. You can start planning your next weekend wine escape now.

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