Walla Walla wine country also rich in historyMany Northwest residents know that Walla Walla has grown into one of the major wine producing regions in Washington State with dozens of wineries in the area and many tasting rooms downtown close to the city's hotels.
But what we also discovered during a recent trip is that the city has quite a number of fascinating historical attractions. Wine and history -- this is a great two-fer, ideal for a getaway you will long remember.
If you remember your Washington state history, Walla Walla played a prominent role in the settlement of this state. Missionaries Marcus Whitman and his wife were killed by Native Americans and what is known as the Whitman Massacre became quite a transformational event in Northwest history.
Today you can visit where the Whitman Mission stood and the Whitmans' burial site. Not far away is an elaborate indoor-and-outdoor museum, Fort Walla Walla, which depicts early life in this part of the country. And, to top it all off, there is also a classic historical hotel, right in downtown Walla Walla close to all the action.
WineriesWalla Walla meant "many waters" to the original inhabitants. Nowadays that might just as well mean "many great wines." There are more than 100 wineries in the Walla Walla area. Turns out, this part of Washington, down in the southeast corner of our state, has just the right climate for grape-growing and there are now more than 2,800 acres planted in grapes.
The wineries and tasting rooms are distributed across four main areas: downtown, the west side, the east side, and south of town, including a few wineries across the border in Oregon. Each region has its own distinct feel and having all of these wineries in one general location is nirvana for wine-lovers from throughout the Northwest.
Realistically you can only visit a fraction of the wineries on one trip -- so if you love wine country, you'll no doubt be making many return trips to Walla Walla.
Fort Walla WallaOn one of those trips, be sure to take in the Fort Walla Walla Museum, which puts a lot of Walla Walla history in one place. It's an ideal place to learn the history not only of the area but to see some captivating exhibits. Currently, for example, the museum has an array of wartime artifacts and stories about the two world wars and how they impacted Walla Walla.
In another part of the museum you'll find one of the nation's largest collections of horse-era agricultural equipment. The machines are well preserved and it's quite interesting to see what early farmers had to work with. You'll see all sorts of farming and ranching equipment, some of it hooked up to life-size fiberglass horses to simulate how these implements were powered. There's an early cook wagon that is quite elaborate and you can easily envision the cooks working the wood stove and feeding the hired help.
Also on the museum grounds is a Pioneer Village with historic buildings that have been restored and furnished to give you an up-close view of what life was like in the early days.
Whitman MissionHistory buffs will especially appreciate the Whitman Mission National Historic Site. You may well remember from your history classes that Marcus and Narcissa Whitman were some of the earliest settlers to the area who, shall we say, have a story that does not end well.
They came to convert the Native American population to Christianity and built a mission that became a major waypoint for settlers coming from the east. But the whole thing ended in disaster when, in 1847, a group of Cayuse attacked the settlement and killed the Whitmans.
When you visit the mission site, you see exactly where the buildings stood and you can visit the Whitmans' grave site. And interestingly, you learn there were two sides to the massacre -- that the Native Americans blamed the Whitmans for bringing disease and that they tired of the Whitmans preaching about the local tribes' eternal damnation. The mission site is a must-see while in Walla Walla, and a great history lesson for the kids.
Marcus Whitman HotelA lot of wine-lovers who visit Walla Walla consider the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel a perfect match for their trip to wine country.
The Marcus Whitman is a historic landmark and known for its excellent accommodations and service. With its 133 rooms and suites, the multi-story hotel towers over the city -- just as local businessmen envisioned back in 1927 when they decided to build a hotel that would be named after the famous missionary.
The hotel has been constantly updated through the years and is a beautiful classic, starting with the ornate and expansive lobby that takes you back to the opulence of the 1920s. The Marcus Whitman is just a block from the great restaurants, unique stores and wine tasting rooms downtown. And the hotel's Marc Restaurant has been named Restaurant of the Year by the Washington State Wine Commission.
As we discovered during our visit, Walla Walla has a vibrant downtown area with lots of sidewalk dining and fun shops. Wine-tasting shops are everywhere and it's enjoyable to stroll through a downtown that has so much to catch your eye.
Our comfortable room at the Marcus Whitman was just the right place to end the night -- a hotel that is steeped in history, yet literally footsteps from several wine-tasting shops located adjacent to the hotel lobby. Wineries, historical attractions and a classic hotel all in one trip -- great if you're a wine-lover, unbeatable if you like BOTH wine and history.
For more information on Walla Walla, visit www.wallawalla.org or phone 877-998-4748. For more information on the Marcus Whitman Hotel, please visit www.marcuswhitmanhotel.com or phone 844-798-4804.
PHOTOS: Sidewalk dining in downtown Walla Walla; pioneer village at Fort Walla; wagon at Whitman Mission; Marcus Whitman Hotel
PHOTO CREDITS: Photos by Cary Ordway; Marcus Whitman Hotel photo courtesy Mark VanDonge Photography
RECOMMENDED LODGING: Walla Walla lodging
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