The mighty Columbia River is one of the largest in the United States. It cuts a swath through the Columbia Valley, Washington’s largest growing region. At 11 million acres, over 99 percent of all Washington grapes are grown in the Columbia Valley. This picturesque landscape is also home to charming, small towns that have gained new life due to the wine tourists that flock to this area. Some are more well known, such as Walla Walla, and although the smaller towns and villages have less infrastructure, they are worth a visit due to their unique character, history, cultural richness, and of course, wine.
Come with me as we explore these hidden gems and experience the allure of Washington’s Columbia Valley Wine Country. This is just a glimpse of small towns in the valley.
I was recently hosted by Visit Walla Walla on a press trip. I have also visited Manson, Tri-Cities, and Yakima Valley on press trips. Some of these small towns fall within these destinations. All opinions are my own.
1. Walla Walla, Washington
Quaint Walla Walla exudes a blend of history and contemporary sophistication. Its downtown is vibrant with over 30 wine tasting rooms nestled among award-winning restaurants, boutique shops, and galleries. Public art highlights the history of the town. Venture further afield to explore the surrounding farms and vineyards.
Just a short drive from downtown Walla Walla, the Eritage Resort is a luxury hotel amid the vineyards. Every suite and bungalow has sweeping views from walls to windows. Vineyards, wheat fields, Lake Sienna, and the Blue Mountains can be seen from the property. Enjoy farm-to-table meals at the restaurant where ingredients are sourced from local family farms and vineyards.
Showroom On Colville
The Showroom on Colville highlights all the best of Walla Walla with restaurants, tasting rooms, boutiques, and galleries. Make sure to stop at Bergevin Lane Vineyards, where the wine tasting experience is fun not stuffy. The newest business is marguerite, a foodie haven filled with delectable Italian and French foods, cookbooks, and unique kitchen supplies.
2. Waitsburg, Washington
Darling Waitsburg is seeing a resurgence with historic buildings throughout downtown undergoing renovation and new businesses opening up. Waitsburg is known as an artist’s haven. The vibrant Waitsburg Arts Commission, with help from the local community, brought bronze sculptures by artists Wayne Chabre, Squire Broel, and Jeffery Hill to Main Street. Spend the night at the new Royal Block Hotel right on Main Street and dine at Bar Bacetto owned by James-Beard-nominated Chef Mike Easton and his wife Erin.
3. Dayton, Washington
The Downtown Dayton Historic District was placed on both the state and National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Download the Dayton Historic District Walking Tour (PDF) to explore the town. A must-stop is Locally Nourished, a community hub that has multiple businesses within its main building. The food is lovingly prepared each day from fresh, local ingredients and everything is house made including the bread. It is simple and nourishing. Comfy seating abounds to hang out sipping coffee or chai. There is even a craft area.
4. Maryhill, Washington
The tiny hamlet of Maryhill, Washington, overlooks the Columbia River Gorge. It is named for famed Washingtonian Sam Hill’s wife, Mary, who died tragically at a young age. Hill was a true Renaissance man with eclectic interests in art and roads. He was even friends with the Queen of Romania. His legacy lives on in this tiny, unincorporated town. Vineyards abound in the Columbia River Gorge and the wine-growers’ motto is “A world of wine in 40 miles.” If you are a wine lover, plan to spend some time in this area.
Maryhill Museum Of Art
The mansion Hill was building for his wife is now the Maryhill Museum of Art. The museum’s permanent exhibits include 80 works by Auguste Rodin and a huge collection of objects from the Queen of Romania. Hill also collected baskets made by the Indigenous Peoples of North America. Three miles east of the museum is the Stonehenge Memorial. It was built by Hill to honor locals killed during World War I. A short walk to the bluff is Hill’s crypt. Also nearby is the Maryhill Loops Road, a section of demonstration roads built by Hill. It was the first asphalt-paved road in the Pacific Northwest.
More than 75,000 visitors make the trek to the Maryhill Winery each year. It has grown to become one of Washington’s largest wineries. The 3,000-square-foot tasting room and gift shop sits atop a bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge and is surrounded by vineyards. It is a stunning location. Sit out on the terrace to enjoy a bite to eat and listen to live music on scheduled days. It truly is a wonderful place to visit.
5. Benton City, Washington
Benton City is a local treasure and home to the Red Mountain AVA. It is known for its stellar fruit, which brings a premium price. Visitors come to explore the wineries on the mountain and there are some good ones. A visit here requires planning because of the lack of infrastructure. Verify your itinerary and make sure everything is open.
Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard
I felt like I dropped into Tuscany when I visited Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard. That is by design due to the Tuscan-inspired architecture of the winery and tasting room. The building is perched on the slope of Red Mountain with views of vineyards as far as the eye can see. This is one of the few wineries in the area with a restaurant on site. Executive Chef Jim Van de Berg blends the best of fresh Pacific Northwest ingredients which he prepares authentically Italian. Dine on the terrace and order a wine flight to pair with your lunch.
Hedges Family Estate
The French-inspired chateau tasting room at the Hedges Family Estate overlooks the certified biodynamic and organic vineyards with a lovely gurgling fountain that adds ambiance to the beautifully landscaped grounds. The Hedges family blends the past with the present, utilizing state-of-the-art methods that are kind to the environment to grow their grapes and produce their wine. Their tasting menus offer notes on the wines. If you want to learn more about pairing, order a cheese plate and add the recommended wine pairing. Reservations are a must and allow plenty of time as you won’t want to leave.
6. Manson, Washington
The tiny village of Manson sits on the shores of Lake Chelan. When visiting, I like to stay at the Wapato Point Resort with its 1.5 miles of pristine Lake Chelan waterfront. From here, it is an easy walk into downtown Manson. It also has its own winery, the Wapato Point Cellars, and the Winemakers Grill. It is a winery by day and a restaurant by night and the wine list includes all the winery’s selections. I like to go for the last tasting of the day and peruse the dinner menu, which recommends wine pairings. I then sample those during my tasting, so I know what to order for dinner.
There are more than 30 wineries near Manson and some are located right on the main road through town. Just one street deep, enjoy tasting rooms, shops, and restaurants. Water sports abound in the area during the warmer months. Early fall brings harvest season not only for vineyards but local farms and orchards as well. Visit farm stands and markets to enjoy this seasonal bounty. Other activities include hiking and cross-country skiing in the winter.