Beer Trails: Walla Walla wine touring for beer lovers

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As a child, I recognized Walla Walla almost entirely as the home of the Washington State Penitentiary. “You’d better behave or you’ll end up in Walla Walla.” These days, the state prison is the last thing I think of when someone says Walla Walla. Many people associate Walla Walla with the big, sweet and delicious onions proudly bearing the name.  For wine nerds the city’s name conjures thoughts of wine. Not just any wine, but really good wine from some of the best producers in America. And where there is great wine, you will most often find great beer.

Today the city with the cartoon name is one of Washington’s top getaway destinations. From its revitalized historic downtown district to its rolling hills of amber grain, Walla Walla has a lot to offer. This place thrives while many similar towns across America languish.

Walla Walla (current population approx. 32,000) is both old and new. It is traditional and it is hip. One of Walla Walla’s feet is firmly planted in the dirt of our nation’s rich farming history and the other foot is crushing grapes. New world vines planted in old world soil. So called “new money” is deposited daily into Baker Boyer Bank, the oldest bank in Washington. A conservative farmer drives his tractor down main street past a boutique flying a rainbow flag. It is both Walla and Walla.

The new Charles Smith winery tasting room. Impossibly hip and very rock-n-roll

This is our guide for your Walla Walla getaway. While wine might be the primary focus, there is certainly beer involved. Nothing chases a day of superb wine tasting better than some good craft beer. Thankfully, Walla Walla offers you both.

GETTING THERE

Drive

Walla Walla is located approximately five hours from Seattle. This assumes you do not stop at any of the many wineries and breweries along the way. Consider taking Friday off work to spend the day visiting breweries along the way. Plan to stop in Yakima for an early lunch. Most of your pit stops will be between Yakima and the Tri Cities and will not be open before lunch anyway.  Breweries along the way that we recommend visiting are Yakima Craft Brewers, Snipes Mountain Brewing, and Whitstran Brewing Company. There are many more. When you have determined your travel schedule do some research and figure out which of the many breweries in the Yakima Valley and Tri Cities area best fit your plans.

Fly

You can also fly to Walla Walla. From Seattle, flights are as little as $100 each way. Keep an eye out for specials and you might score a ticket for even less.  Rental cars, taxi cabs and other ground transportation options are available to haul you into town. Ask your hotel if they offer a shuttle service. Visit the airport’s website for more information. www.wallawallaairport.com

The Laht Neppur taproom in downtown Walla Walla.

WHERE TO STAY

In the middle of summer Walla Wall can be oppressively hot. In the dead of winter it can be frightfully cold.  Hotels adjust prices accordingly. Predictably, prices go up for the shoulder seasons when the weather is most inviting. It’s a tradeoff: endure the heat, save some cash.

Best Western Walla Walla
7 East Oak Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 525-4700
www.bestwestern.com

We’ve stayed at the Best Western twice in the past two years and highly recommend it. The rooms are clean, comfortable and spacious. The prices are reasonable. Stroll a few short blocks to the heart of downtown. Expect to pay about $100 for a room during non-peak season and not much more than that during peak season. The price includes an unremarkable but serviceable breakfast.

The Marcus Whitman
6 West Rose Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 525-2200
www.marcuswhitmanhotel.com

This historic hotel is the big dog in town. If you are looking for history and luxury, this is the place. Call to see if you can get a deal, but typically expect to pay $175 minimum for a room during non-peak season and a lot more than that during peak.

The Colonial Motel
2279 E. Isaacs
Walla Walla, WA 99362
Phone: 509.529.1220
http://colonial-motel.com

This privately operated, old-school motel is clean, comfortable, cheap and quiet. It is a couple of miles from downtown, but that’s pretty much the only drawback. It’s a bit funky in a cool kind or way.  The prices vary quite drastically from room to room, season to season, but they start at $50.

WHERE TO EAT

The Whitehouse Crawford
55 W Cherry St
Walla Walla, WA 99362-1886
(509) 525-2222
http://whitehousecrawford.com

White table cloths, candlelight, impeccable service and amazing food best describe the Whitehouse-Crawford.  As you might expect, the wine list is impressive. If you’re looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion with an exceptional meal, this is it. The Whitehouse-Crawford would be a top-notch, fine dining experience in any city in America.  It is perhaps a bit unexpected in a town the size of Walla Walla. It’s not cheap, but they do have a bar and a happy hour if you’re trying to keep it on the cheap.

Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen
125 West Alder Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 525-2112
www.saffronmediterraneankitchen.com

Located in the heart of downtown, Saffron offers good, healthy food in an unexpectedly urbane atmosphere. The focus here is on Mediterranean-style dishes made with local and organic products whenever possible. Don’t expect the octopus to be local, but you can bet that the veggies, beef, pork and poultry come from local providers. The menu threatens to overwhelm the picky eater, and it will appear written in a foreign language to the Olive Garden crowd, but for the adventurous omnivore it is mouthwatering. Make a reservation. Understandably, Saffron is a busy place.

El Sombrero
4 West Oak Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 522-4984
www.elsombrero-fajita.com

You’ve been tasting wine all day, your palate is completely blown, your brain is buzzing and your body is screaming, “Feed me something other than wine.” At El Sombrero you will get a big basket of chips and a big plate of very typical Mex-American food. Margarita-fueled karaoke is optional.  Prices are about what you’d expect and pretty much everything comes with rice and beans.

Laht Neppur Alehouse
53 South Spokane Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 529-2337
www.lahtneppur.com

To accompany its selection of beer, the Laht Neppur Alehouse serves a simple menu of pizza and pulled pork sandwiches. Not necessarily fancy, just solid food for a body fatigued by a day of wine touring.

BEER

Laht Neppur Alehouse
53 South Spokane Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 529-2337
www.lahtneppur.com

For beer geeks, this is the place to be. On tap you’ll find the full complement of Laht Neppur beers. Expect live music on the weekends. No beer geek should spend five minutes in Walla Walla without going here.

Sweet Basil Pizzeria
5 South 1st Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362
(509) 529-1950
www.sweetbasilpizzeria.com

Counter service, pizza by the slice, and good draft beer make this an excellent pit stop. It’s not fancy and the atmosphere is a bit fluorescent, but if you’re wandering through downtown looking for a good draft beer, and you do not want to wait for a waiter come take your order, this is a great option.  You could even dash in for a quick pint while your friends are tasting wine around the corner at one of the many downtown tasting rooms.

Vintage Cellars
10 North 2nd Avenue
Walla Walla, WA 99362-1802
(509) 529-9340
http://vintagewinebar.org/

No doubt this is a wine place, but they do have good beer. Along with some good regional craft beers, you’ll find a nice selection of imports, including some good Belgian options. If someone else is still stuck on wine, this might be your best option. Lovely patio seating as well.

Laht Neppur Brewery

Located 20 minutes away in nearby Waitsburg, the brewery offers a typical industrial brewery tasting room experience. See what we say about Waitsburg below.

WINE

This post is a guide, not an itinerary. There are dozens of wineries in the area and it would be silly for us to do more than make a few recommendations. With that in mind, wine tasting in Walla Walla can be divided into three regions: downtown, the airport district, and everywhere else in the surrounding area. These are just some of our favorites. Do your research. Make your own list. Ask your wine geek friends for advice.

Downtown

Spring Valley
Fort Walla Walla
Charles Smith Wines
El Corazon

Our top pick? Charles Smith Wines. Smith is a rocker at heart and everything he does has an unmistakable rock-n-roll attitude. The new tasting room (opened in 2011) is no exception. It rocks.

Airport

Dunham
Tamarac
Meninna
Buty

Our top pick? Dunham. One of the dogs will likely greet you in the parking lot, inviting you to come in for some of the best wine in the world (IMHO).  There is also a kickass coffee shop across the parking lot (Walla Walla Roastery).

Surrounding

Saviah
Slight of Hand
Turtulia
Dusted Valley

Our top pick? Saviah. No reason except the wine is outstanding. The tasting room is no different than so many others. The wine is the star of the show.

OTHER THINGS TO DO AND SEE

Walla Walla Valley Farmers’ Market

This downtown market offers some of the best, fresh produce you’ll find anywhere, delicious curb-side food vendors, and more. We always stop by on Sunday morning before leaving town to load a cooler with some fresh veggies.  The Walla Walla Valley Farmers’ Market is located at 4th and Main directly behind City Hall. May 1st – October 30th,  Saturdays and Sundays from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Walla Walla Sweets Baseball

Not far from downtown (walking distance) you’ll find Borleske Stadium, the home of the Walla Walla Sweets Baseball Club. You don’t even need to like baseball to enjoy a minor league ballgame in a town like Walla Walla. Tickets are cheap, the baseball is good, the crowd is lively, and the experience is pure Americana.  The season is short, running from early June through mid-August. The Sweets are part of the West Coast League, which is primarily comprised of college kids trying to get noticed by the pros.

We don't know if it has a name, but we called him Wally, the Walla Walla Sweet.

Do not miss the Laht Neppur beer garden in right field. Great beer and a great place from which to watch the game. Also be sure to keep an eye out for Andrae’s Kitchen, a local food truck that often serves food at the games. Look for billows of delicious smoke and a long line of people waiting to get hand-cut fries, amazing burgers, and more.

Waitsburg

About twenty minutes east of Walla Walla on Highway 12, the town of Waitsburg is waiting for you. Sleepy, dreamy, and seemingly trapped in time, this lovely little hamlet cannot help but make you smile. Obey the speed limit, which is 15 MPH in places, to avoid an unwanted encounter with Deputy Barney Fife. Drive slowly to avoid startling the laughing children of Waitsburg who still play carefree along the innocent streets, running unwarily and without chaperones down pristine sidewalks to an impossibly cute city park where a squeaky marry-go-round chased by a barking dog provides the perfect soundtrack to another perfect summer day.

Downtown is worth exploring. Main Street, where you’ll find most of the businesses, is only three blocks long. Stop by The Anchor Bar, which opened in the summer of 2011, for a beer. It is surprisingly hip, as anyone knowing about Charles Smith (the owner) might expect. So hip, in fact, that its very existence is not without controversy.  Next door to the Anchor Bar you’ll find Whoopemup Hollow Café, a restaurant serving southern comfort food. Whoopemup Hollow enjoys a reputation that would make big-shot city-slicker chefs drool in envy.

A hip, rock-n-roll bar in the middle of small town America. The building itself is a statement.

Click here to see a video from Charles Smith explaining the paint job and its bold artistic statement.

On the eastern edge of downtown Waitsburg, you’ll find the Laht Neppur Brewery. Look for the sign reading “Caution. Brewery Ahead.” The tasting room features pizzas and peanuts, with plenty of evidence of the latter scattered on the floor. This is a casual place where road-weary travelers share the bar with local farmers; where local business people mingle with the occasional, adventurous beer gipsy.

Laht Neppur's brewery in Waitsburg, WA

A Drive in the Country

Before returning to Walla Walla from Waitsburg, take a deep breath of clean, country air and consider staying off the highway to take the slow road. Middle Waitsburg Road will return you to Walla Walla via a winding country road that passes lazily through rolling hills of wheat. In the late summer, when the wheat is nearly ready for harvest and the fields are shimmering gold, the drive is especially beautiful.

Sunset at a Walla Walla Sweets game.

 

 

4 Responses to Beer Trails: Walla Walla wine touring for beer lovers
  1. Chris
    September 6, 2011 | 6:47 pm

    I’ll add a recommendation for another place to stay: The Wine Country Inn (http://wallawallawinecountry.net/). The owner is a great cook and is very familiar with many of the local wineries and is happy to give recommendations. On top of that, a night’s stay here will cost you roughly the same as one in a hotel, and I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy it more.

    I went to school in Walla Walla, and I’ll take that B&B/local feel over a hotel any day. My wife and I always stay here with a couple of friends when we head to Walla Walla for our semi-annual wine tour.

  2. Chris
    September 6, 2011 | 6:52 pm

    P.S. How’d you guys miss mentioning the Mill Creek Brewpub? The food’s great (if you don’t mind sharing space with college students), and they’ve been brewing beer in Walla Walla longer than most of the wineries have been there.

  3. Kendall Jones
    September 6, 2011 | 6:54 pm

    Thanks Chris, great recommendations. Keep ‘em coming, people.

  4. Bean
    September 9, 2011 | 2:34 pm

    I am notoriously cheap when it comes to lodging. I would rather spend my $ on the beverages in Walla Walla so I stay at http://wallawallabudgetinn.com/ across the parking lot from the Whitman. Rooms are inexpensive, clean, quiet but small. Usually about $80/night you can find rooms there on all but the busiest of weekends. Want a totally different lodging experience? Check out Paul Gregutt’s 3 Maple Cottage in Waitsburg, available for rent for families and couples http://www.vrbo.com/351608