Tri-Cities: The Heart of Washington Wine Country
What were once the three small Eastern Washington towns of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland has now transformed into the bustling metropolitan area known as the Tri-Cities. “Fun in the Sun” is the motto due to almost 300 sunny days each year, making the area popular year round for outdoor activities. The confluence of the Yakima, Snake and Columbia rivers creates a water paradise for kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, power boating, water skiing, fishing and much more. Golf is one of the top sports in the region, and it’s easy to see why with 10 challenging courses which can be played almost every day of the year. It is no wonder that the Tri-Cities are becoming a top vacation destination in Washington state.
A great vacation starts with a great place to stay. The Columbia Point area is a nice central location with a marina, walking trails, restaurants and lodging. You can even catch a dinner cruise. The Courtyard Marriott is business oriented during the week and more family friendly on the weekends. An indoor heated pool and on-site bicycle rentals make this a perfect family destination. The wine-themed Lodge at Columbia Point is a more upscale experience and conducive to a couple’s getaway. Step up to a Grand Cru Riverfront King Premium and enjoy a custom, architect-designed room with an incredible view of the Columbia River. A walk-in shower, soaking tub and gas fireplace add to the luxury. Both hotels have riverfront views and are on the Richland Riverfront Trail. It is easy walking distance to restaurants, and the upscale Columbia Point Golf Club is close by.
After checking into your hotel, stroll down the trail along the cove to LU LU Craft Bar + Kitchen. The restaurant is family owned, farm to table, with a made-from-scratch kitchen. The owner’s family has owned the Easterday Farms since 1958. Most of the food in the restaurant is sourced from their farm to include the beef and pork as well as potatoes and onions. Fresh produce is also sourced from local farmers. LU LU provides homemade simple food. They have 12 beers on tap, more than 80 local wines and are famed for their craft cocktails. After dinner take a stroll on the Richland Riverfront Trail and watch the red, yellow and pink hues of the sunset. It is truly breathtaking. Turn in early as your next day begins promptly in the morning.
Today you will tour the B Reactor National Historic Landmark, which was part of the Hanford Unit of the Manhattan Project. The tours are free of charge but you must register online to reserve your space. B Reactor tours begin at 9am on Saturdays and depart from the Interim Visitor Center. Plan for four hours which includes a short video and introduction at the visitor center, travel to and from the B Reactor and time at the site. The reactor was the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor. It produced the plutonium used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The ride to the Hanford Site is quiet and remote. There is an eerie feeling when you step off the bus and enter the reactor. Once inside, after a briefing, you have the run of the place. There are many interesting artifacts, and the reactor itself with the rows and rows of fuel cells is a dramatic structure. It is a very interesting experience.
After the bus drops you off at the visitor center, head over to the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery for lunch. It was founded by owner Aaron Burks in 1997 with an atomic theme that highlights the history of the Hanford Site and honors the workers who flooded to the area in 1944 to work at the plant. The first wood-fired oven in the Tri-Cities still kicks out delicious pizzas with the distinctive crispy crust of a wood-fired pizza. The menu is a good complement to the hand-crafted ales Atomic Ale is known for. Make sure to check out the glowing “atomic rod” and the radioactive warning sign. It’s a fun photo op.
After lunch, plan to take an intro to stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) class with Northwest Paddleboarding. This fun class will teach you the basics you need to enjoy this trending sport. It is surprisingly easy to learn, and the boards provide a much steadier base than you would expect—so sturdy in fact that the company offers yoga classes on the boards. If you have younger children and at least three people, you can reserve a private Intro to SUP class. Children must be at least 6 years of age to take the class. It is held at Two Rivers Park in a lagoon off the Columbia River.
For dinner, head over to Tulip Lane to Tagaris Winery and Taverna Tagaris. This is a more upscale dinner experience, but the lovely outdoor seating area with a large fountain is also very kid friendly. They can get up from the table and there is plenty of room to explore the large patio and artwork. The menu has a large variety, and you can make a meal out of a selection of Tapas. In addition to wine there are some great craft cocktails.
In the morning, head over to the Uptown Shopping Center, which was created by the Atomic Energy Commission and opened in 1949. The shops will be closed but the center has a vintage feel with lots of artwork and is worth a drive by. You are here to visit The Spudnut Shop. It is Richland’s oldest coffee shop and home of the world-famous Spudnut, which is a doughnut made out of potato flour. There is a reason these Spudnuts are so famous. They are light, puffy and slightly sweet and oh so good. This is where the locals hang out. The shop has been featured on the Food Network’s “Unwrapped” and the Travel Channel special “Donut Paradise.”
For your last activity before heading home, visit the REACH Museum. This bright, airy museum’s focus is the natural and cultural history of the reach of the Columbia River and greater Columbia Basin. The exhibit on the Manhattan Project adds additional information and exhibits not seen at the Manhattan Project National Park. The section on the Ice Age Floods is very interesting and shows the great effects these floods had on the area. Make sure to step outside to see the vintage trailer and enjoy the views of the Columbia River.
It is easy to see why the Tri-Cities are a top vacation destination in Washington state. After one visit you are sure to return. The friendly locals are welcoming, and there is too much to see and do in just one weekend. For more information on the area, go online to VisitTri-Cities.com. The official Tri-Cities website has everything you need to know to plan a fun getaway. Make sure to check out local events like Food Truck Fridays or the Columbia Cup Boat Race weekend.
Story and Photo by Marguerite Cleveland