I Ate the State – Yakima County

I love to travel. I love seeing the world, meeting new people, experiencing new things – I love to explore just how I fit into the greater scheme of it all. Learning about this planet we share is at the core of what makes me happy, and the core of that core owes its existence and curiosity to the feature of this edition of I Ate the State.  Please join me in exploring one of my favorite areas in the entire world and place of my birth; the lovely, nearly always sunny, Yakima County.

On the topic of cores, it is impossible to discuss Yakima County without mentioning its profound contribution to the agricultural bounty of Washington State as well as the country. (Vague attempt at apple core/fruit humor. Check.) Yakima County boasts the largest amount of commercial produce crops in Washington State, including producing roughly 78% of the nation’s hops and comes in a close second to California in wine production. Amazingly, there are over 1000 varieties of fruit and vegetables grown in the Yakima Valley area!

Not only does Yakima County feature sweeping orchards, vineyards and hop fields, it is a land rich with rivers, rolling hills and geological wonders, all crowned by the beauty of the Cascade mountain range. Due to its proximity to the Cascades, Yakima County benefits from the resulting rain shadow and typically enjoys around 300 days of sunshine a year. (Giving the city of Yakima the nickname, ‘The Palm Springs of Washington State.’ It’s very official – There’s a billboard on the way into town…) For wine and beer lovers, this climate provides the perfect growing conditions for grapes and hops and contributes greatly to the burgeoning popularity of Washington State wine and beer. As the second largest county in the state with a size larger than the combined areas of Rhode Island and Delaware, there is much to explore and so much to enjoy.

If you’re venturing to Yakima County from the west, which is my usual trajectory, there are several scenic options. In the summer, one of my favorite routes is over Chinook Pass via State Route 410. As you wind towards the top of the pass, you’ll begin to understand why it’s closed during the winter months. It can be precarious enough on a rainy, foggy July day, let alone during the deep snows of winter. The views are absolutely stunning as you look out over the valley and follow the White River to its origin at the base of Mt. Rainier. Near the top, be sure to stop at Tipsoo Lake to enjoy the scenery and take a quick hike around the lake. Often times, when the pass first opens in late spring, the road seems like a gauntlet with snow towering up on both sides of the road. This changes by the time July rolls around and you’ll be met with an explosion of amazing wildflowers and color. It’s truly spectacular.

In addition to the Pacific Crest Trail passing directly across the crest of Chinook Pass, one of my very favorite hikes on the planet takes off from the top off the pass. The Dewey Lake Trail is beautiful and traverses down into the valley alongside Mt. Rainier National Park, arriving appropriately at the lovely Dewey Lake. Camping by the lake is an excellent way to spend a weekend, but as there are a few bodies of water in the area, be sure to bring bug spray. On a clear night, the view of the stars reflecting on the lake is sublime and is actually the inspiration for my upcoming novel, The Secret Galaxy of Stars. (Which I will be finishing soon. For realsies.) Dewey Lake, as well as the smaller, unnamed lakes in the near vicinity are great for summer swimming – bring your suit!

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Once you get over Chinook Pass, the sky widens and the wilderness spreads out in front of you…

Heading over the pass and continuing east, the sky seems to widen and the trees begin to change from denser Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock to the more sparsely populated Ponderosa Pines. The air immediately lightens up and on a summer day, you can almost immediately feel the temperature change. Air-conditioners come on, jackets come off – welcome to Central Washington!

My family has been camping, dirt-biking, hiking and generally adventuring in this part of the state from a time long before I was born. These trees, these rivers, this land is an essential part of my identity and any time I travel through its corridors, a sense of peace and calm takes over. Memories of family and friends, food on sticks and whatever gash or scrape I was nursing from whatever trail I’d wrecked the bike on all come flooding back and the world, at least temporarily, seems right again.

There are so many parts of this area I absolutely love, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

  • In need of a winding, uphill trek on crazy mountain back roads, ending with a sweeping view of Mt. Rainier and surrounding peaks and valleys? Take Forest Service road 1900 (aka: Little Naches Road or FS 19) to Forest Service road 1902 and head up to Ravens Roost Lookout and enjoy the remarkable view. For those of you camping and in need of cell reception, it’s upwards of an hour trek to the lookout, but you’ll likely get a decent connection at the top.
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Late afternoon at Ravens Roost
  • Along the way to Ravens Roost Lookout, there are many campsite areas and scenic spots to stop and check out. (Cliff jumping anyone?) The Naches River is beautiful, with plentiful fishing and recreational opportunities and has been the centerpiece of my family’s camping adventures for decades. On a clear night, the stars are plentiful, the air crisp and the sounds of coyotes, wolves, bear, elk – or maybe it’s just a squirrel – keep the imagination alive and alert around the campfire. While my family does have a tendency to bring everything but the kitchen sink to the campsite bar and grill, there is something to be said for figuring out all the foods one can cook on a stick over an open fire… (Note: There are many excellent areas to backpack and hike in the area, but most of the campsites in this particular area cater more to RVs, ORVs, dirt bikes, etc. There are also several camps used as starting points for horse riding on local area trails.)
  • Bring a flashlight and head over to the Boulder Cave area for a nice hike through the Ponderosa Pine and basalt-walled gully leading down to the cave entrance. The cave is several hundred meters long and has an entrance and exit. Water streams through the cave system and it can be slippery with loose rocks – a flashlight is imperative. This is definitely a great area in which to check out the geology and makeup of this part of the state. And caves are cool!
  • If you’d prefer to not tough it out in a tent or even sort of tough it out in a RV, check out the lodging opportunities at Whistlin’ Jacks in the Cliffdell area. A main point of gathering, lodging and dining in the area since the 1930s, Whistlin’ Jacks is a beacon on the drive between Enumclaw and Yakima. They have a small motel as well as several cabins dotted around the grounds, all located alongside the Naches River. The dining room in the main lodge also features a great view of the river and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. (Note: If you’re running low on fuel, gas up at Whistlin’ Jacks before heading over the pass – there’s no fuel until Greenwater if you’re headed west – 50 or so miles away!)

If you happen to be coming from the southwest part of the state, hit up US Route 12 (Goes from Aberdeen, WA all the way to Detroit, MI!) over White Pass for a beautiful mountain drive. You’ll pass through several small towns along what is also known as the White Pass Scenic Byway before arriving at the top of the pass and home of the White Pass Ski Area.

On the topic of skiing, White Pass is one of my all-time favorite spots to enjoy such snowy pursuits. The snow is excellent, the skiable areas are abundant and the main lodge has thoroughly maintained its old-school charm. Additionally, it’s still a locally-run operation, the lodge hasn’t changed much since I was a kid and I always meet the friendliest group of winter-enthusiasts every time I visit.

As if the sun and snow weren’t enough, the White Pass ski area also hosts one of my favorite winter destinations ever… Imagine flying down a run on a beautiful, sunny day. Your legs are feeling the burn and you realize just how much you’d love a cold beer and a quick rest… But the lodge is way down at the bottom of the mountain! WHAT DO YOU DO??  And then, just when all hope seems lost, you come around the bend and a delightful little scene appears before your eyes.  Behold the glory of the Mid-mountain Yurt! (Cue angelic choir) It’s usually not crowded and completely feasible to pop off your skis, walk inside and have a cold beer in your hand in total of one minute.  On nice days they often have a BBQ going outside and you can grab a quick brat for some extra energy. Mid-mountain yurt for the win!  (Only open on Saturdays through March 31st) There’s also the High Camp day lodge, with its outdoor BBQ and beer options, but there’s just something to be said for the best-kept-secret of the mid-mountain yurt. Sigh…

If you’d like to stay near the ski hill, there are several options:

  • White Pass Village Inn – Comfortable, condo-style and studio lodging directly across the street from the main ski lodge – with a year-round, outdoor pool!
  • “Lot C” – Camper/RV camping. There’s a parking lot just past the crest of the pass, heading east. It’s first-come-first-served and can get crowded on weekends, but it’s FREE and depending on time of year, you can ski down from the hill, directly to the lot/campsite. There’s also often a cozy, communal fire pit going on into the late night where you can hang out with fellow ski bums.
  • There are many cabin rentals available in the near vicinity. From small cottages to cabins that will comfortably sleep 10+, there are many great options. Hit up VRBO or Airbnb for a great selection. (The one we usually rent sleeps 9 of us, has a great kitchen and a nice outdoor hot tub – about a 20 minute drive to the ski hill.)
  • Packwood Lodge – About a half hour west of White Pass is the little town of Packwood. This is a nice spot located directly off the highway. There is also a RV/camper lot adjacent to the lodge.

In addition to the sacred pastime of downhill skiing and snowboarding, there are also many other outdoor opportunities in the White Pass area.  Hiking, camping, rock climbing, fishing and dirt biking in the summer and snowmobiling and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, to name a few. There is definitely no shortage of amazing outdoor opportunities to be had in the White Pass area or its parallel adventure zone, SR 410 and the Chinook Pass area.

Heading east on either SR 410 or US 12, you will arrive in the small town of Naches. Gateway to the Yakima Valley, the sky further opens and the horizon begins to stretch out in front of you. Tucked into the hills overlooking the Naches area is the even smaller town of Tieton. Surrounded by beautiful orchards and vineyards, this area once (and still) dedicated to agricultural pursuits, is now also home to a growing Arts community called Mighty Tieton. They have regular events in the area featuring local artisans and the local cidery, Tieton Cider Works has a new tasting room close to the downtown Yakima area where they showcase their cider creations. (With bocce ball and cornhole!) And if you happen to make the trek over to Tieton Cider Works, also consider stopping into nearby Yakima Craft Brewing. They’ve been brewing great beer for the last 10 years and now have a new tasting room and events space. I’m particularly fond of their Good Monk Belgian blonde and their 1982 red ale. Delicious! (Kid friendly, too!)

When driving through the idyllic hills of the Naches Heights area, a good spot to enjoy the view and a nice glass of wine is the Wilridge Winery & Distillery.  The winery is located on a hill overlooking Naches and is nestled next to well-established orchards and vineyards. On a recent visit, many of the people visiting the winery had made prior stops at nearby “you-pick” cherry orchards to stock up on Rainier cherries and other local varieties.  (Check out Thompson’s Farm or Johnson Orchards for you-pick opportunities throughout the various fruit harvesting seasons.) The tasting room is set inside a 100-year old farmhouse and on summer days, it’s lovely to sit outside on the porch while enjoying your wine tasting. The staff is very accommodating and the tasting experience has a relaxing, homey feel about it.  They also have live music and themed events throughout the year. Additionally, they’re dog-friendly, put out fresh water dishes and like to indulge their four-legged guests with giant treats.

If you’re in need of a little adventure with your wine, there are also rock climbing and rappelling opportunities on nearby cliffs as well as quick access to the Cowiche Canyon Uplands Trails. I was much too interested in wine-tasting endeavors on my recent visit, but hope to check out those areas on my next trip. (Preferably before doing any wine-tasting…)

Driving out of the Naches area, there are many ways to head into Yakima proper. North 16th Ave and North 1st Street are two main thoroughfares available off of US 12, but for the most direct route to the downtown heart of Yakima, I’d recommend hitting up I-82. If you’re heading over from western Washington during the winter, chances are you took I-90 through Ellensburg. (Check out my Kittitas County article for more info about the Ellensburg area and I-90 corridor.) Since I-90 goes over the lowest mountain pass in the state, Snoqualmie Pass, this is hands down the most popular winter route between western and eastern Washington.  That said, I-90 is generally the most popular route year-round, which can make for long drives heading back to western Washington on Sunday afternoons. If you’re good with night driving, it’s often a much better deal to get on the road in the evening and plan for a later return. Stop at a nice restaurant on the way out of town and enjoy the sunset before returning to what very well might be a rainy evening…

On that note, there are many great dining opportunities and general distractions to enjoy in the downtown and greater Yakima area. Since Yakima is my hometown, there are many standards to which I’m loyal. However, with the expansion of the local wine and brewery scene, Yakima is exploding with new and exciting eateries to check out.  Here are a few of my new – and old – favorites:

  • Crafted– Trendy, but relaxed dining in downtown Yakima. Housed in one of Yakima’s classic brick buildings, Crafted offers seasonally-inspired NW cuisine and features locally sourced ingredients. Great food, delicious craft cocktails and a good wine list – A fine addition to the downtown Yakima scene.
  • Cowiche Canyon Kitchen & Icehouse – Located in downtown Yakima, Cowiche Canyon Kitchen & Icehouse is known for great steaks, hand-crafted cocktails and farm-to-table ingredients, all presented in a well-designed, modern setting.
  • Carousel – Right around the corner from Crafted, Carousel offers a NW take on classic French cuisine. Dinner, brunch on Sundays and a well-rounded wine and cocktail offering – check them out!
  • The Sports Center Restaurant & Bar – The Sports Center is classic Yakima and offers a classic American pub-style menu. They regularly feature music and it’s usually a pretty lively scene on the weekends. My dad and I both have played their stage in our early performance days – And back when my dad was a sign man in Yakima, he also worked on the artwork for their iconic neon sign. The Sports Center will always hold a special place in my heart.
  • Essencia Artisan Bakery – Stop by Essencia when downtown and in need of fresh baked pastries, breads, coffee or a tasty, café-style lunch.
  • Golden Wheel Restaurant and Lotus Room – Bringing Cantonese-style Chinese cuisine and powerful cocktails to downtown Yakima for the past 75 years, the Golden Wheel is another Yakima classic.
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Part of the downtown Yakima scene for 75 years!

Even though Yakima has been rocking the nation’s hop scene for many decades, it’s really only been in the past 20 years that local breweries have come on the scene and started taking advantage of the hop bounty.  Some tasty options in the downtown area:

As thankful I am Yakima finally has a local brewing scene, I am extremely thankful to the vintners of the Yakima Valley for fully embracing the area’s vast potential for wine making. (Mmmm – delicious, delicious wine…) The wine-making efforts of Washington State have come to legitimately rival those of California and France and the Yakima Valley is key to this success.  If you’re in the downtown Yakima area, here’s a list of tasting rooms to check out:

  • Gilbert Cellars – Comfortable tasting room in downtown Yakima with a modern flair. I very much enjoy their 2017 Vin du Vallee and their 2012 Reserve No. 2.
  • Antolin Cellars – Across the street from Gilbert Cellars. A cozy atmosphere, friendly staff and tasty wine.
  • Kana Winery – Located in the beautiful, Art Deco style Larson building in downtown Yakima. Stop in for their happy hour tastings and live music.

Downtown Yakima is known for its classic buildings and many are featured on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the things I always loved checking out as a child were the various merchant advertisements painted on the sides of the classic brick buildings. Many of these are still visible and will hopefully continue to stand the test of time and urban development. Some of the gems in downtown Yakima architectural crown:

  • E. Larson Building – Beautiful, Art Deco style building, circa 1931. A true standout in the Yakima skyline housing various businesses. They also have a long-running light display on the side of the building at night which is regularly updated.
  • Hotel Maison – Looking for a classic place to stay while indulging in local wine and beer? Built in 1911 to accommodate the local Masons, it’s now home to Hotel Maison and is a wonderful tribute to the heyday of downtown Yakima. (Well on its way to enjoying the next heyday!)
  • Capitol Theatre – Built in 1920, the Capitol Theatre has hosted quite an amazing array of Arts and Entertainment over the years. (My grandfather performed there in big band shows!) After a horrible fire in the 70s nearly destroyed the theatre, it has been lovingly rebuilt and maintains its strong dedication to Arts in the Yakima Valley area today.
  • Fruit Row – Not really a building, per se, but more a series of buildings and warehouses which greatly helped define the importance of the Yakima fruit growing operation. (And still do!) There is presently a grant in place to fund exploration of making this part of town a National Historic District. I sincerely hope this effort succeeds. In the meantime, it’s an interesting drive through the area roads. Wooden fruit crates stacked tall, in far-stretching rows all the way down the street… My mom worked for the Washington State Fruit Commission back in the day as well as doing much seasonal work at the Snokist cannery. The fruit scene of the Yakima Valley is part of my history and I’m always proud to hear of Yakima Valley produce making its way around the world.

There are many ways to enjoy Yakima and several events and festivals throughout the year can set you on that path:

  • Craft Beverage Yakima Walk – November 10th in downtown Yakima. Walk around the downtown area and sample what all of the cideries, breweries and wine tasting rooms have been up to!
  • Fresh Hop Ale Festival – Takes place at the end of September and features many of the local area breweries. This year it was set up right in front of the historic Capitol Theatre.
  • Yakima Taco Fest – Happening mid-September, it’s a festival of Tacos! Enough said.
  • Yakima Uncorked – Visiting Yakima in June? Consider checking out the Yakima Uncorked festival to learn all about – and taste! – local wine and food.
  • Downtown Yakima Farmer’s Market – Buy directly from local farmers, check out local artisans, enjoy local food – all in the heart of downtown Yakima. (Sundays, May – October)
  • Yakima Valley Museum – There are a few sources responsible for molding me into the nerd I am today, but the birthplace of said nerdiness can be traced directly back to the Yakima Valley Museum. I continue to channel that same sense of wonder I experienced there as a 5-year old anytime I visit museums to this day. Thanks, YVM!
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Now displayed in the Yakima Valley Museum, this neon song is classic Yakima. (My dad worked on the artwork for it!)
  • Franklin Park – Directly next door to the Yakima Valley Museum is the lovely, Franklin Park. I spent many a day with my parents, grandparents and friends enjoying its grounds and it always makes me smile. The terraces in the park are particularly cool in the winter and they have great concerts and festivals during the summer.
  • Birchfield Manor – Just outside of the downtown area, check out the Birchfield Manor inn and restaurant for a delicious meal, a cozy room and a step back into old Yakima charm.
  • Central WA State Fair – Here’s the deal: I LOVE the Central Washington State Fair. I love looking at incredibly intricate fruit/vegetable/agricultural displays. I love checking out vintage tractors. I love eating GIANT “elephant ears” (Fried bread with a lot of cinnamon & sugar on it – YUM!) and hand-dipped corn dogs. I love visiting the horses, cows, chickens, rabbits, goats, etc. and generally taking in the farm animal scene. I looked forward to the fair every year as a kid and I look forward to it presently. Crisp fall air, the smell of the harvest season… Bring it on. Bring me to the fair! (And please bring me another elephant ear. Thanks!)

Yakima is the largest city in the area and the namesake of the county, but there are several other interesting towns and places to visit in the nearby vicinity. Heading east out of Yakima, I-82 is the most popular and direct route. However, for an interesting (and potentially delicious) detour, consider heading out of town via the Union Gap area.

Often considered part of Yakima, Union Gap is its own town and brings important history and charm to the greater Yakima area. It also sits at the official gap in the rolling hills surrounding Yakima, welcoming travelers in and out of the area. Some noteworthy places to visit when in Union Gap:

  • Miner’s Drive-In – Classic burgers in Yakima/Union Gap. Miners has been around for 75 years and shows no sign of slowing down. I have the fondest memories of rolling through their somewhat awkward drive-thru with various family members over the years. The burgers are HUGE, they have awesome shakes and fries and they have the most glorious condiment ever created – FRY SAUCE. No arguments will be entertained. Fry sauce is the best.  Annnnnnnd… SCENE! Go to Miners. You don’t even have to hit up the drive-thru if you don’t want to as they have added ample indoor – and outdoor picnic – seating over the past many years. Go to Miners!
  • Yakima Farmer’s Market – Check out this version of the Yakima Farmer’s Market in the Valley Mall parking lot on Valley Mall Blvd and S. First Street. On my recent visit they had a good variety of stands and produce as well as several great food truck/stand options. One of the stands was serving straight-up high tea – with all the trimmings! (Sundays, May – October)
  • Los Hernandez– Pride of Union Gap – and rightly so – Los Hernandez serves absolutely amazing tamales which recently won a James Beard America’s Classics  Try the asparagus tamales when they’re in season – SO delicious!
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Classic burger drive-in in Union Gap. I think they serve Pepsi…
  • Fruit City – An excellent selection of local produce as well as smoked salmon and cheeses. The staff is very friendly and helpful – and the prices are great! (But don’t shuck the corn. Just don’t.)
  • If snowmobiling is your thing, check out the action around the Tampico area and the Ahtanum State Forest. The trails are plentiful, the snow excellent and the scenery beautiful. This is also a great place to hit up year-round and is equally excellent for ATVs and UTVs as well as general summer outdoor pursuits. I have very fond memories of snowmobiling with my family in this area… Beautiful! Note: You’ll need a Discover Pass when visiting.

Heading out of Union Gap, through the actual gap, will take you in the direction of many small towns along I-82.  If you’re feeling leisurely, another option is to take the Yakima Valley Highway. (Take Exit 40 off of I-82 to hook up with the Yakima Valley Highway.)  The section of I-82 from Union Gap to Prosser wasn’t actually built until the late 70s and the Yakima Valley Highway was one of the main thoroughfares in the area. It can be slow going, but it’s an interesting look at rural Central Washington and how things have developed over the years. (Note: I’ll be covering Prosser, the birthplace of Washington wine, in my upcoming Benton County feature.)

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The actual gap heading into Union Gap!

On the topic of rural sights, there are many beautiful spots in the area highlighting local history as well as many spots which have hardly changed at all over the course of history.  From the ancient rolling hills (which have always reminded me of pushed up, rumpled carpet) to old wooden barns and rusty tractors, it’s easy to forget what era you’re in – especially when there aren’t many cars on the road. There are numerous spots along these Central Washington back roads worth investigating, but here are some of my lifelong favorites:

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Yakama Nation Museum in Toppensish
  • Feeling lucky? In need of some buffet action? Check out the Legends Casino and get started on that new retirement plan.
  • Toppenish is known for its large number of murals painted around town and you can hop a horse-drawn, narrated wagon tour to learn all about them!
  • In celebration of one of the valley’s most lucrative and enjoyable crops, the American Hop Museum will tell you all about how the area grew to become the nation’s premier hop supplier. BEER!
  • Fort Simcoe State Park in the White Swan area is an interesting look into the history of the area’s western settlers and their expansion into the Yakama lands. Note: One of the things I remember vividly from childhood visits were the rattlesnake warning signs posted around the grounds. There are also bears. Watch where you step – and watch after your picnic baskets… You’ll also need a Discover Pass – or there’s also the option of paying a day fee to visit.
  • Have a group of friends and want to do some local area wine-tasting? The Cornerstone Ranch Farmhouse is a good option for lodging while enjoying such pursuits.
  • Located not too far from Toppenish, is the small town of Grandview. On one the many clear days, you’ll have good view of both Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier as well as a short route to nearby Bill’s Berry Farm. Year-round events (Pumpkin patches and Christmas trees!) and a farm store with fresh berries and take-n-bake pies make this a great stop any time of year.
  • Visit the Teapot Dome Gas Station in nearby Zillah for a dose of kitschy Americana. It was originally built as a send-up on the Teapot Dome Scandal which occurred during the Warren G. Harding administration, but more importantly to me, it always reminds me of my mom. Every time we drove by it on road trips, she’d break out in song…

I’m a little teapot, short and stout

Here is my handle – Here is my spout

When I get all steamed up, hear me shout,

“Tip me over and pour me out!”

If you’re traveling through the Zillah area, there are many local wineries to check out. (Part of the Rattlesnake Hills AVA) On my most recent visit, I spent some very enjoyable time at J. Bell Cellars. Their gorgeous grounds are surrounded by vineyards, orchards, a giant lavender field and play host to quite a few delicious wines. I could’ve easily spent the entire day hanging out. This would certainly be an easy task on a summer weekend as they have an outdoor, brick oven for pizza and other eats, lovely patio seating and regular music events. I very much enjoyed my wine tasting that day, but particularly liked their 2016 Le Blanc and the 2013 Syrah Yakima Valley. They also have a tasting room in the Woodinville area.

Also in the Zillah area:

  • Set atop a beautiful rolling hill with a stunning, 360 degree view of the valley, Knight Hill Winery was a lovely place to stop. I very much enjoyed their 2015 Cabernet Franc.
  • Stop in at the Jones Farms fruit stand for excellent local fruit and produce. (They also have a Yakima location) They feature a straw maze, duck pond and picnic area at the farm proper.
  • Check out The Cherrywood B&B, a working farm where you can stay in a tepee, take a horseback tour of local wineries and enjoy a lovely breakfast on the patio!

Traveling further east on I-82 will bring you to the sunny town of… Sunnyside.  Pun intended – just like Yakima, it’s typically sunny year-round. Super-hot in the summer and super-cold in the winter, but usually always sunny… A portion of my family lives in the Sunnyside area, so I make regular visits to and around the region and I very much enjoy soaking in the vitamin D.

Comparatively, Sunnyside is fairly small in the greater scheme of Washington towns. However, when stacked against the towns between Yakima and the next large urban area, the Tri-Cities, Sunnyside is quite big and very strategically located. It enjoys easy access to an expansive section of wine country as well as being centrally located for Yakima/Tri-Cities work commutes and adventuring. Sunnyside is a great jumping-off point for a bevy of central and eastern Washington exploration as well as being a nice place to visit in and of itself.  A few noteworthy spots to check out on your next visit to the area:

  • Snipes Mountain Brewery & Restaurant – Great beer and tasty pub-style dining, my family has been visiting Snipes for several years. In addition, we’ve hit up their event spaces for wedding receptions, retirement parties, general family celebrations – the list goes on. My only wish is that they bring back the delicious lavender Hefeweisen they were making about 6 or 7 years ago… Please!?
  • Bon Vino’s Bistro & Bakery – I’m fairly certain my dad and stepmom live at this place. Not to say I blame them as the food is delicious, they have great coffee and pastries and their biscuits and gravy breakfast is sublime. They also offer great catering services.
  • Glez Family Restaurant – Classic, low-key local diner with great food and good service. I’ve only enjoyed breakfast there, but they also offer lunch and dinner.
  • Bob’s Drive-In – Bob’s Burgers! Not the show – the actual burgers. A Sunnyside classic, Bob’s Drive-in has been serving burgers, shakes and fries to local residents since 1947!
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Bob’s Drive-in in Sunnyside. Classic!
  • Co Dinn Cellars – New to the downtown Sunnyside area, Co Dinn Cellars is a modern tasting room set inside the former Sunnyside Water Department building. (c. 1930)
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Co Dinn Cellars in downtown Sunnyside.
  • Located directly across the street from Co Dinn Cellars, Varietal Beer Company brings a lively brewing scene to the downtown area. They host a great variety of in-house brews as well as featured guest taps. (Cider, etc.) They don’t have a kitchen, but they regularly host local food trucks in their outdoor patio area. Live music is also featured on the patio on weekends.
  • A well-stocked grocery store featuring a large variety of Hispanic foods, specialties and sundries, Fiesta Foods is a great foodie stop. I love this store and am fairly addicted to their freshly baked jalapeno cream cheese rolls, in-house tortillas and amazing salsas. (Also in Pasco, Yakima and Hermiston)
  • I am a bit of a shoe collector. I admit it. And whenever I’m in town, I love to hit up Taylor’d Footwear. They have a great variety of shoes, boots, clogs, etc. and I always seem to find something I really REALLY NEED. (Back off – I really needed those clogs…)
  • Sunnyside is a key stakeholder in the agricultural and farming development of Central Washington. A couple of great places where you can learn more about the area’s history and contribution:
    • Sunnyside Historical Museum – Check out the many interesting displays featuring local history and development in what used to be the town funeral home. (Spooky!)
    • Located directly across the street from the museum, be sure to investigate Ben Snipes’ Cabin. (c. 1869, originally located 7 miles from current Sunnyside.) Known as the “Northwest Cattle King”, Ben Snipes is credited with giving the name “Horse Heaven” to the area and is the naming inspiration for local Snipes Mountain. (Also an important AVA)

If you’ve been visiting from the western side of the state, rather than returning to Yakima via I-82, consider heading back via WA-241 (Hanford Road) over a 16-mile stretch of the Rattlesnake Hills. Once arriving at the “Yakima Barricade” near the Hanford Site, take a left and head towards Moxee and Yakima via SR-24. (Moxee Highway) This route will take you through beautiful rolling hills and across the geological wonder of the Columbia Plateau. Stark and expansive, this part of the Yakima County can seem timeless when you’re the only one on the road. My favorite time of the year to travel these byways is during March and April when the desert grasses are (briefly) green and the air is fragrant with the smell of sage.  (Note: These routes can get fairly treacherous during the winter months. Drive with caution and be prepared for black ice.)

Once you’ve made it over the hills of SR-24, you’ll arrive at the tiny town of Moxee. Tiny in size, but big in importance, the greater Moxee area is responsible for growing and harvesting approximately 78% of the nation’s hops. A very important job, indeed…

When I was young, my parents decided to move from Yakima and build a new home in the Tri-Cities area. We’d drive from Yakima to Pasco nearly every weekend for what seemed like a thousand years while our hew home was being constructed. We always took the Moxee Highway and my brother and I would sit in the backseat of our sleek Datsun B210 watching mile after mile of hop fields pass by. HOPS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE!! What seemed like the most boring scene ever to me as a child now seems like an enchanted wonderland in my adult years. #PRIORITIES #BEER

Datsun
Our super sleek, family ride: The Datsun B210. In Kermit Green!

It should also be mentioned that if you happen to be traveling this road on a clear night, once you are away from town, stop and get out of your car. Look up and marvel at just how many stars are visible and just how limitless and vast the sky is. It never ceases to humble me. It is truly beautiful and positively splendid to behold.

If you happen to be in Moxee in early August, hit up the Moxee Hop Festival for a celebration of all things hoppy. I have very fond memories of visiting the festival as a child. Maybe beer and hop-worship wasn’t involved in my earlier years, but I’m prepared to represent as an adult in current festivities. #PRIORITIES #BEER

Not too far away from the Moxee area, stop in at Bale Breaker Brewing Company to partake in the majesty and bounty of the Moxee area hop harvest. Set in the heart of expansive hop fields, Bale Breaker is both a taproom and brewery. It’s family friendly, dog friendly, regularly hosts local food trucks and various events and is a great place to hang out on a sunny afternoon. Sample their brews, play some cornhole, enjoy a bit of local food… Golden! On my recent visit, I very much enjoyed their Sesiones Del Migrante Mango IPA and their Peach, Love & Happiness Blonde. A big favorite of my family is their Topcutter IPA – a standard pick at the aforementioned White Pass Mid-mountain Yurt…

Coming in or out of Yakima on US 12, I-82 or the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway, you’ll have the option of hitting up the Selah area. (Check out my Kittitas County feature for more information on the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway) Selah is a small town, but there are definitely some cool places to check out. Consider these options when visiting the area:

  • In case you are wondering where the “Apple Juice Capitol of the WORLD” is, wonder no more – it’s in Selah! Help celebrate Washington’s love affair with the apple by visiting the Tree Top Store & Visitor Center All hail the mighty apple!
  • Yakima County has its fair share of old-school burger drive-ins and Kings Row Drive-In is Selah’s contribution to the scene. My mom used to take me there for milkshakes and fries after visiting the dentist as a child. Visit to the dentist to remove sugary treats from teeth = trip to get milkshakes after dentist to reinstall sugary treats to teeth. It’s the dentistry circle of life!
  • Nana Kates – Breakfast, lunch, smoothies, Tree Top juice (of course!), local catering – Check out Nana Kates for many great options!
  • If you’re up for a little outdoor adventure, the Yakima Greenway trail offers many miles of opportunity. (Goes between Union Gap and the Naches/Selah area) There are also many great snowmobiling opportunities in the hills surrounding the Selah area. I have quite a few excellent memories of winter snowmobile adventures with my uncles in this area…
  • Barrett Orchards is located outside the Selah area and is a great option for u-pick fruit. They also have a seasonal pumpkin patch and a store featuring local fruit and wares.
grapes
Delicious Concord Grapes!

Heading back on I-82 towards the western side of the state, there are a few more things to check out before leaving my beloved Yakima County…

In my Kittitas County feature, I made mention of my great love for the Thorp Fruit Stand. Admittedly, I do have a slight bias towards the Thorp Fruit Stand, but I also very much love visiting Precision Fruit & Antiques on my way out of the Yakima area. They have a great seasonal produce offering, delicious local preserves and traditionally canned goods and a great local wine and cider selection. I was also pretty happy with the antique selection on my most recent visit…

Not too far from Precision Fruits and right off of I-82 is the Selah Creek rest stop. Granted, it’s just a rest stop and there’s not a lot to doo, but the view from this area is absolutely spectacular. (Watch out for rattlesnakes!) On a clear day, you can see Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier from around this area and if you happen to visit near sunset, the scene is breathtaking.  A little further west on I-82 you will cross over Manastash Ridge and Umtanum Ridge. This part of the drive through Yakima County is unpopulated and somewhat forbidding, but the views are amazing and it is one of the largest shrub-steppe habitats remaining in Washington State.

Stationed amidst the sparseness of the area is the Yakima Training Center. (Formerly the Yakima Firing Center) The area is not open to the public and is maintained by the military. Oddly, the area actually factors into how I came to be.  As a young man, my dad was in the army and stationed at Fort Lewis. He came with his unit to the Yakima Firing Center for maneuvers and ended up meeting my mom at a local USO dance. (My mom was Miss USO Washington at the time!) They met, they danced…. And the rest is history. Yakima County history!

And so ends this entry of I Ate the State.  Yakima County is not only near and dear to my heart, it is what actually shaped my heart. Family, experience, memories, life – it is what made me who I am today.  I may have long moved out of its borders, but the (apple) core of me will always proudly reside within its boundaries. Visit the area, enjoy the wine, down a beer, revel in the freshness of the produce – I will be right there with you, savoring every last morsel.

Cheers!

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I Ate the State – Yakima County – The Playlist!

A few tunes I took along on my Yakima County adventure…

  • Carry on My Wayward Son (Anchorman Medley) – Kansas & Will Ferrell
  • Crazy on You – Heart
  • Barracuda – Heart
  • Rocky Mountain High – John Denver
  • Outfit – Drive-by Truckers
  • All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
  • Dusty Trails – Lucius
  • Magnolia – J.J. Cale
  • Thunderbolt’s Goodnight – Josh Ritter
  • Come and Find Me – Josh Ritter
  • Wherever Is Your Heart – Brandi Carlile
  • The Wind – Zac Brown Band
  • Ready to Run – Dixie Chicks
  • Take A Back Road – Rodney Atkins
  • West Bound and Down – Jerry Reed & Bill Justis

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