A Travel Planning Guide to Washington State Wine Country

A Travel Planning Guide to Washington State Wine Country

I’m going to echo my recent post about the Oregon Wine Country experience. If you are a wine lover, enthusiast, or aspiring aficionado, you’re in the right place. Washington wine country has so much to offer and I’m excited to share that with you. I’ve been to wine regions like Napa and Sonoma already and was looking for a new wine destination.  After doing research, I decided on an extended wine trip to Willamette Valley in Oregon and to Walla Walla in the Columbia Valley region in Washington State.  Both of these regions are not (yet) overrun with tourists and mainstream hotel and restaurant chains. They have kept the small-town charm but offer more than 300 wineries (in each location) to experience.

I’m excited to share my personal Washington wine country experience along with some recommendations for all levels of travelers. Before I get into all the details for your travels, I want to first share what you can expect in Walla Walla.

The Columbia Valley region of Washington produces big, bold red wines. They tend to use Bordeaux style blends and Cabernets, Merlots, and Syrah’s are frequently on the tasting lists. This was my personal favorite wine region I have visited to date because I absolutely love large and in charge red wines!

The other thing to know about this region is that you should not expect to find the lush, green, mountainside vineyards like you would see in California or Oregon. Washington is very dry and they use a unique method of farming to provide their over 300 tasting rooms and wineries. You see, a handful of large vineyards provide the grapes to nearly all of the local wineries. Than the wineries make their own styles and age on premise or at their own properties. It’s a much more collaborative process than I have seen elsewhere. But, it brings a sense of community and cross-promotion amongst the wineries that you don’t see in other states.

Ok, on to the recommendations for your own visit to the Columbia Valley in Washington Wine Country!

Best Travel Season: May-October

Where to stay: 

Budget: Check AirBnB for rentals close to downtown Walla Walla! Use my code for $40 off your first stay! DISCOUNT CODE

Splurge: Cameo Heights Mansion (Touchet, WA)- Cameo Heights Mansion is an award winning Inn just 20 minutes outside of downtown Walla Walla. We stayed at this luxurious inn and it has everything you need for a relaxing and/or fun stay! A quick background, the owners originally set out to build their dream house and after some twists and turns in the plan it became a bed and breakfast instead. You’ll truly feel like you’re in a state of the art home but, it has all the hotel touches. Some things to look forward to: a resort style pool and patio, a game room, media center (movie theater in the house), handmade soaps, hiking trails through the inn’s many acres of cherry groves, vineyard and apple orchards, and gourmet breakfast included each day! Rooms start at ~$200

The Front of Cameo Heights Mansion
The Cameo Heights Mansion view from the back
The Media Center!

Where to Eat: 

Budget: Olive Marketplace and Café. We didn’t spend a ton of time in downtown Walla Walla because of our distance. However; we were told there are so many small bistro style restaurants to enjoy. The one I can recommend from experience is Olive Marketplace and Cafe. It served up gourmet sandwiches, salads and platters that were local and fresh. I had a fantastic piece of focaccia topped with tomatoes, feta and spinach. It was great for soaking up some of that wine (which you can of course get another glass onsite here).  They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food ranges from ~$5-$20.

Splurge:  The Vine. Cameo Heights Mansion has an on-site restaurant that is open to the public for dinner. It absolutely requires a reservation as they have limited tables. However; if you are able to make the splurge the food is divine. Chef Nathan uses the Mansion’s kitchen to serve up a revolving pre-fixe menu to guests. With six courses you’ll leave full (very) and happy. You’ll enjoy dishes like pork belly with figs, truffle lobster mac and cheese, and kobi beef filets. Even the intermezzo courses (Think peach ginger ice pops) will excite those tastebuds. They have a wine pairing to go with your meal or pick from your favorite locals for a bottle. The Pre-Fixe dinner is $69 per person.

Truffle Lobster Mac & Cheese

Kobe Beef Filet with miso mashed potatoes

Wine Tours and Wineries: 

Cameo Heights Driving Tour- If you’re going to stay at Cameo Heights I highly recommend working with them to set up a tour. They know the Washington wine local favorites, can suggest the acclaimed wineries, and even set up your mode of transportation! The Inn owns a 1989 Cadillac limo that they will rent to you with a driver for as long as you like. With the downtown wineries about 20 miles away, it’s a great option if you’re going to do some heavy tasting. Our driver waited for us at each spot and was a pleasant companion. We loved taking the stress out of the day and taking a ride in (past) style was pretty fun too.

Seven Hills Winery- This downtown winery is one of the first wine establishments in the state. Their bright, airy tasting room allows you to see their aging casks while sipping.

L’ecole 41 Winery- This was my personal favorite winery of the trip (We even joined their wine club!). We loved their robust, tannic, and flavor bursting red wines. The setting is a great homage to the historical early 1900’s school house the tasting room lives in.

Waterbrook Winery- The outdoor patio here is gorgeous. Think lakefront views, lavender plants, and wood burning stoves a plenty.  I mentioned this in the Oregon piece but, wineries don’t serve food often in these regions. Waterbrook happens to have a great small menu. It’s the perfect lunch option.

Long Shadows Winery-  The vinter here paired his winemaker with the best of the best around the world to create one of a kind wine collaborations. It’s an outstanding approach to making some fantastic wines and drawing worldwide attention. A reservation is required here but it’s a spot not to be missed!

Woodward Canyon- The tasting room is set in a small cottage but don’t be fooled, they offer up some hard hitting red wines.

Tasting Tips:  I’ll include the same tips I did in my last Wine Country Post. They are great things to keep in mind while you are tasting around town.

  1. Don’t try to do more than 4 wineries in a day. Believe me, you’ll regret it. You want to enjoy the wine, not get sick from it! 
  2. Ask for a shipping box. You can check a case of wine on your flight (If you’re on Alaska Airlines they waive the checked bag fee!). We collected 12 of our favorite bottles along the trip and brought them back with us! 
  3. Ask questions and don’t feel silly if you’re not a wine expert! I’ve learned so much from these trips and I am by no means and expert or wine snob. I like what I like, and I’m fine with that! But, it’s great to learn more and the vineyards are always happy to share. It helps you grow your appreciation. 

Our 1989 Cadillac Limo for our Tour
L’Ecole 41 Tasting Room
Long Shadow’s Tasting Room
The view from Long Shadow’s tasting room front doors
Waterbrook’s Back Patio
view of the lake at Waterbrook
Woodward Canyon Tasting Room

Now you have everything you need to go to Walla Walla and spend some amazing days in Washington wine country. Cheers!

all for the love of the dish



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