Washington State seems to be slightly unexplored. For some reason Wyoming, Colorado, Utah all seem like the go-tos in your 20s. The must sees and must dos. So we’ve skied Jackson Hole and climbed in Eldo and fallen on our asses trying to ski from a yurt in Moab, and loved every minute of it all. But Washington kept running through our minds. We had visions of lush forest, grunge Nirvana, exquisite coffee and quirky people, perhaps all stereotypical dreams borrowed from Portlandia (close enough, right?).
Well, it’s nicknamed the ‘Evergreen State’ for good reason. Stunning mountain views everywhere you turn and crazy good farm fresh food whether you’re in Seattle or a roadside stand headed to Walla Walla wine country. The people are unabashedly friendly, especially in Walla Walla—well, who wouldn’t be friendly with those fantastic Syrah’s everywhere you look? We hate to use the ‘New Napa Valley’ cliché but talk to any of the pioneers that remember what the Valley was before Sideways and the Bardessono and they’ll say it was what Walla Walla is today. Uncluttered landscapes, incredible soil, unchartered territories and the pride of each vintner in every bottle.
Of course, we had a few favorites.
Read on for the best Washington getaway you can imagine. Follow our footsteps and you won’t be disappointed.
ANY SEASON AT THE FOUR SEASONS IN SEATTLE
Luxury and Seattle really didn’t really work in the same sentence 20 years ago, but this is a post Nirvana city. Champagne, caviar and cannabis for everyone! With only one night in town, the obvious place to lay our weary jet lagged heads was the ever luxe never disappointing Four Seasons. It has everything. Claim a chaise longue by the enchanting infinity pool and relish an outdoor resort-style escape in the heart of downtown, soaking in views of Elliott Bay and the Seattle Great Wheel. Service everywhere is impeccable, and if you aren’t tempted by fresh margaritas or appetizers a very nice server in a very white shirt will still drop by just to see if you need ice to refresh your water or a complimentary fruit skewer to nibble on. From the valet at the door to the bellhop to the poolside servers, the service here is impeccable and makes you feel truly welcome.
WINE & DINE AT THE LARK
Lark is everything you want in a city like Seattle. Unassuming industrial chic on the outside, warm and inviting romantic atmosphere on the inside. And the food is just insanely fresh. Some of our favorite items were the least fussed with dishes—a plate of Dungeness crab was devoured, a starter of fresh tuna truly demolished. Lark has been a Seattle staple for 12 years, just recently moving into the expansive new space in the historic Center Agency Building in 2014.
The kitchen shines with quiet confidence and focus. Chef John Sundstrom retains the locally sourced, small-plate dishes (such as chicken liver parfait) that helped establish the restaurant’s influential reputation, but he’s also added more traditional meat-and-starch entrées such as hangar steak and pork belly. This level of cooking doesn’t come cheap, but the experience is worth it. Chef John is passionate about food that features locally-produced and organic cheese, charcuterie, vegetables, grains, fish and meats. It shows in every plate he presents. The tapas style makes for a fun adventure, allowing diners to explore and experiment.
COFFEE & DOUGHNUT’S
Renee Erickson is a James-Beard nominated chef and the darling of Seattle—everything she touches turns to gold. Adding to her roster of fantastic restaurants comes General Porpoise, an adorable café serving wholesome doughnuts filled with handmade curds, custards, creams, and jams—made with farm fresh eggs and paired with remarkable coffees from roasters near and far. Also, it’s probably the most expensive doughnut you’ll ever eat. But devour it in a Limited Edition Rolls Royce Phantom Coupe, and it’s totally worth it.
TOURING THE AMAVI VINEYARDS
After you’re fortified with chocolate marshmallow doughnuts, it’s time for the five hour drive out to Walla Walla. Getting out to wine country here is a commitment—it’s not a day trip. But because it’s more committing, it’s also more rewarding. The drive is studded with local food stands and gorgeous rolling hills, wheat field after wheat field until you think there can’t possibly be anything else out here and then bam—the vines appear, as if by magic.
Your first stop should be Amavi, sister winery of Pepper Bridge and home to some of the most sought-after grapes in the states. The team has dedicated themselves to being stewards of the land, and are currently leaders in practicing sustainable agriculture. If you can score a tour with managing partner Ray Goff you’ll get a chance to explore parts of Walla Walla not many people know about, and he’ll take you through a tasting to knock your socks off.
Of course, this isn’t L.A. It’s not all pomp and pretense—almost all the vineyards in Walla Walla really care about being eco-friendly and in that vein, the best way to get around town while you sip and spit is to book a tour with Jim at Tesla Winery Tours, Washington’s only Electric Wine Tour. Jim is super knowledgeable about the area and really fun to hang out with all day, so it’s not a stuffy polyester suit and tie sort of tour. Jim helps from your initial outreach to create the perfect itinerary, will talk to everyone you’re visiting in advance to make sure you’re all set up (it’s a small town, everyone knows everyone!), and will leave no stone unturned in making sure you have the very best visit possible. He cares about the environment and leaving the places he tours in the same beautiful condition as when he found them, and is able to do that by driving the all-electric Tesla Model X 90D. It’s one of the highest tech vehicles on the planet, and super luxe. Also deceiving in size—it looks like a typical sedan but can actually fit 6 passengers. We even brought a baby along, just to mix it up and test Jim’s abilities, and Baby Owen fit perfectly. The super smooth ride and zero noise even helped him nap better.
BBQ IN A GAS STATION
It sounds crazy, but lunch at a gas station has never tasted this good. This isn’t just good for a gas station—it’s some of the best barbeque we’ve ever had, and that’s saying a lot from a team that’s waited on the Franklin line in Austin.
Chef Andrae Bopp was classically trained in New York at the French Culinary Institute. He’s done the fine dining thing and worked in very prestigious kitchens across the country, but eventually ended up in Walla Walla with the goal of starting of casual, quirky menu that would combine his love of food and wine.
Drive by and you’ll think it’s nothing more than a place to fill up with Diesel, but on your third lap you’ll realize it truly is a restaurant inside a gas station and you’ll step inside with trepidation. You’ll be greeted by a super friendly counter staff—order a Nutella milkshake to sip on while you wait. It’s out of this world.
The menu ranges from blackened catfish to halal-style chicken to smoky pulled pork. The food verges on being addictive; we almost ordered seconds, even with our distended bellies. Although the menu is charmingly funky and the atmosphere of a gas station is hardly reminiscent of fine dining, the food clearly takes the skill of a chef. Its fun, inviting, and oh so quirky, which makes it oh-so-Walla Walla.
TASTING WITH CHRISTOPHE BARON OF CAYUSE
Ah, Cayuse. The Bionic Frog and God Only Knows bottles that have haunted us since the first sip. There’s an almost mythical story that floats around Walla Walla of how the brash, young French vigneron Christophe Baron visited this little known town and fell in love with a few acres of seemingly useless, stone-covered farmland.
Well, the stones held a secret and while the nay-sayers nayed, Christophe turned those fields into the internationally acclaimed Cayuse Vineyards. The rest, as they say, is history—and a whole lot of spectacular wine.
It’s not easy to get inside this super exclusive winery—there’s not even a sign outside, so if you don’t know it’s there you can’t find it. But once you’ll do you’ll feel like you’re in a weird drunken version of adult Disneyworld. Christophe is still brash, ever so French, and altogether captivating. He only produces 3,000 cases per year of their vineyard-designated, biodynamically-farmed wines and the only way to purchase is through an extremely exclusive mailing list—there’s a waiting list for the waiting list, but do what you must to get your hand on a few of these gems.
We knew the wine was pure liquid gold, but what we didn’t anticipate was just how unique the vineyard would be. Christophe runs the entire operation with animals and men and women working the fields, with no modernized machines.
Beastlike workhorses essentially run the vineyard, while the chickens graze and sheep frolic. This is about more than just making great wine. It’s about the elements of truth that come together in a glass. For Christophe, the horses’ hooves become a note on the palate. It’s about the earth, the water, the rain, the terrior, the sweat, the stones.
If you’re one of the very lucky few (and we’re talking Charlie and the Golden Ticket lucky) you’ll have a chance to check out Christophe’s ‘lilypad’, his cellar of barrel babies where the epic Bionic Frog matures and is bottled for those eager mailing list enthusiasts. You might also get to taste La Rata, a delicious blend created by Elizabeth Bourcier, Cayuse’s assistant vigneronne and in-house ‘cellar rat.’
WINDING DOWN WITH CHARLES SMITH
This is the CBGB of the wine world, and the best place to end a fantastic day out in the vines. A converted old auto-repair warehouse, the punk rock Charles Smith Wines Downtown Tasting Room welcomes visitors to taste vibrant wines and listen to great music. It’s a fun, funky environment to let loose, munch on charcuterie and get your boom boom on.
CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH AT OLIVE
It doesn’t count as a trip to wine country if you don’t brunch before you leave. Head to Olive for fresh, local and house-made goodies—along with local bubbly to get the party started. Prosciutto, goat cheese and grape pizza with a little grasshopper chocolate delight to finish is the best way to recover from a long day of wine tasting with exuberant Frenchmen (looking at you, Christophe).
Walla Walla has been one of those best kept secrets for so long, and while that’s part of the charm, word is getting out. The wine is incredible, the food delicious, and the people super friendly. Leave the crowds to California and explore the unknown.