Located among the rolling hills and fertile fields of southeast Washington, Walla Walla is known for its sweet onions and its quality wines, and there are plenty of things to do in and around the city during your trip. Vineyards and tasting rooms are scattered throughout the valley, and Walla Walla is home to two attractions that illuminate the history of Western settlement and development: the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and Fort Walla Walla Museum. Additionally, outdoor lovers will find opportunities for hiking, biking, birding, and golf, and Walla Walla hosts several fun events during the year, including the Balloon Stampede in October and the Sweet Onion Festival in July.
Go Wine Tasting on Vineyard Tours
The Walla Walla Valley American Viticultural Area is blessed with ideal growing conditions—a hot, dry summer climate and uniquely fertile soils from a series of Ice Age floods—and is home to more than 100 wineries and dozens of vineyards. While Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are predominant in the region, you'll find a few white varietals as well.
The best way to see these vineyards and learn about the wine production in the region, though, is to take a tour offered by one of the wineries or tour companies in Walla Walla. While you'll find many tasting rooms within the walkable downtown core, if you choose to explore the wineries and tasting rooms scattered across the countryside, several options are available for guided and personal tours that include transportation. Maps for both the downtown and country wineries and vineyards can be picked up at hotels, tasting rooms, and shops around town.
The three main tour operators in Walla Walla are Imbibe Wine Tours, d'Vine Wine Tour, and the Walla Walla Wine Tours Dream Rider Charters, but with literally dozens of options to choose from, you could also just visit one of the area's vineyards or wineries yourself, many of which offer their own guided tours.
Most northwesterners grew up on stories of the Whitman Mission and the Whitman Massacre. Established on a creek near the Walla Walla River in 1836, the Whitman Mission was one of the first white settlements in the Oregon Territory and was an important stop along the Oregon Trail. At the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, you can visit what remains of that early community and learn about the role it played in regional history.
Start your visit at the museum, where exhibits and films provide an overview of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, the local Cayuse people, and the complicated relationship that led to the Whitman Massacre in 1847. As you proceed to the outdoor walking tour, view a portion of the actual Oregon Trail, marked foundations of significant Mission buildings, and the Great Grave. A hike up a hill takes you to the Monument, a massive marble obelisk where you can pay your respects to the victims of this tragic early-American massacre.
Learn Pioneer History at Fort Walla Walla Museum
Located on the grounds of Fort Walla Walla Park, the expansive Fort Walla Walla Museum covers the pioneer era, military history, and horse-era agriculture of the region. However, throughout history, there has been more than one actual Fort Walla Walla: Over the years, the fort occupied different sites and had different purposes.
Fort Walla Walla began as a fur trading post at a site along the Columbia River but moved to a military facility in 1858 and continued in that role until 1910 when it moved to its current location. The Fort Walla Walla Museum covers all of these areas with exhibits packed full of fascinating artifacts spread among several buildings. The horse-drawn farm equipment is one highlight where you can see a 33-mule team combine pulled by ranks of life-sized mule mannequins. Other highlights include a Lewis and Clark diorama, a 17-building pioneer village, and exhibits covering the local state prison.
In addition to the Fort Walla Walla Museum, the Fort Walla Walla Park is a huge city park that offers a variety of attractions and activities including the cemetery used during its military era and the Vietnam War Memorial, a monument to local soldiers who gave their lives during this tragic conflict that also serves as the city's official site for Memorial and Veterans Day events.
Fort Walla Walla Park is also a 70-acre wildlife preserve that features a variety of walking and hiking trails through the lush nature of southern Washington. While you're there, you can also utilize volleyball, horseshoes, and disc golf courses or ride along paved bicycle trails. Other great features of the park include a bicycle cyclocross course, a model car track, and a field for flying model airplanes.
Over the second weekend in June, head to the grounds of the Fort Walla Walla Museum for a festive event celebrating the history of the region. Known as Fort Walla Walla Days, this annual event features costumed reenactors who set up a variety of encampments and demonstrations throughout the grounds and museum. During Fort Walla Walla Days, try your hand at fur trading, soap making, and panning for gold or learn about blacksmithing, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, and the old west cowboys, gold-rush miners, and Lewis and Clark-era explorers who are part of Walla Walla's vast history. Admission is free for members of the museum and children under 6 years old, but does require a fee for all other guests.
Each year in mid-June, the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation hosts a special event at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds to celebrate the region's wineries, breweries, distilleries, restaurants, and food trucks. Complete with a full day of "Sips and Bites" tastings, this annual event also features a full lineup of live music from local and national artists. Tickets are required to attend and can be purchased online, at the door, or at the Walla Walla Farmer's Market throughout the month leading up to the event.
Previously held in June, the Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival now takes place over two weeks in January each year. Featuring a full calendar of classical and chamber music concerts by local and international artists at venues around the Walla Walla Valley, this annual event features over 30 free and ticketed concerts. While tickets are not required to attend all shows, it is recommended that you reserve your seat—or purchase tickets, if applicable—as concerts are known to sell out months in advance.
A tradition since 1986, the Sweet Onion Festival is held each July on Main Street in Downtown Walla Walla. Featuring all kinds of food—including a variety of sweet onion dishes and delicacies—music, and fun, this event also features a 5K "Funion Reunion," chef demonstrations, and activities for kids. While free to attend, some activities require a small fee to participate, and all food and beverages must be purchased separately.
In October, head over to the head to Howard Tietan Park for a full weekend of hot air balloon fun. Inflation of the balloons begins every morning from Thursday through Sunday at 7:15 a.m., so get to the park early to watch the match unfold and stick around for an afternoon of festive food, games, drinks, and family-friendly activities. Although attending the event is free, you can pay to take a balloon ride yourself, and some activities at the festival may charge a small fee to participate.