Just east of the stunning Cascade Mountain Range is one of the most abundant farm regions in the U.S.A. Cranking out a lengthy list of produce from A–Z, like apples, nine kinds of berries, peaches, squash, and zucchini to name a few, is just business as usual. What few visitors know is that over 75% of the nation’s hops are grown in and around Yakima. Yakima Valley hops grow so well due to the right climate, soil, daylight hours, and irrigation.
Visit the wine center
As for the grapes of the region, Yakima Valley is producing some of the best wines in the U.S.A. with grapes from the Rattlesnake Hills and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs (American Viticultural Area) as well as four other AVAs. A wine trail stretches from Yakima all the way to Prosser with more wine tasting rooms than you can imagine.
If you’re coming mainly for the wines of Washington State, the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center in Prosser is the place to go. This learning center pays homage to Walter Clore who is said to be the main reason Yakima Valley wine is so famous. Known as the “Father of Washington wine” Walter started growing grapes in the Prosser area in the 1930s and tested more than 250 grape varietals to determine which fared best. Although Walter retired in 1976, he mentored many of the winemakers before his death in 2003 at the age of 91. Visit the Walter Clore Center for special events, appetizers, and entrees and find wines from all Washington State AVAs for tasting or purchase.
In Prosser, find around 30 wineries or tasting rooms to sample these fine wines. An excellent place to start your wine tasting would be Vintner’s Village where nine tasting rooms are close enough to walk to all of them in a few hours. Be sure and stop at Airfield Estates in Vintner’s Village and learn about the old World War ll airfield that became a vineyard and winery after the war. The wines at Airfield are some of the best in the Yakima Valley and reasonably priced for the high quality. Consider taking a guided wine-tour to comfortably visit several wineries without worry of a DUI (driving under the influence) ticket. Close to Airfield is Thurston-Wolfe Winery, where I found the most wines I liked, and at the best prices. Most of these wines were under 20 USD and were delicious! Don’t miss trying the port if you visit Thurston Wolfe.
Hit the trail
If you love to tour craft beverage trails, Yakima Valley has one of the best. Visit breweries, brew-pubs, distilleries, and cideries. Bale Breaker Brewing Company is a local favorite beer. I sampled their top cutter IPA and bottom cutter IPA at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse in downtown Yakima. Both were as tasty as could be and paired well with the prawn and avocado salad. Visit Bale Breaker’s taproom at 1801 Birchfield Road for tours and tastings Monday–Sunday. See the link below for hours and directions. Check out the Visit Yakima link below to find a list of cideries and distilleries in the area. With some of the best apples in North America grown in the area, the cideries are turning out some excellent hard ciders.
Visit a farmers’ market
To get a taste of the produce, meat, cheese, and more from the Yakima Valley, time your visit to coincide with a farmers’ market. The Downtown Yakima Farmers’ Market is held on Sundays throughout the summer months at 7 S. 3rd St. In June, gobble up the best cherries anywhere. Both Bing and Rainier cherries are available as well as other lesser known varieties. In June and July, find blackberries, blueberries, huckleberries, and raspberries that are showing up in the market.
To learn about the Yakima Valley’s agricultural heritage, be sure and visit the Central Washington Agricultural Museum. This museum has gobs of outdoor displays, plus some indoor features worth visiting if you love farming history. This free attraction has a walk-thru tour showing visitors what early farm life was like in Yakima. Find dozens of antique farm implements on this walking tour and if you need more of a hike, try the trail behind the museum up the steep mountain overlooking the towns of Yakima, Union Gap, and Selah.
Over in Prosser, find their farmers’ market open on Saturday from May–October 8 a.m. to noon. Find breads, veggies, fruit, arts, and crafts plus Becky’s Coffee with rolls, smoothies, biscuits and gravy to start your morning. Wine is also available at the Prosser Farmers’ Market and don’t miss River Road Walnuts if you love fresh walnuts for baking and munching.
Where to eat or stay
Blessed with excellent restaurants, the Yakima Valley has something for just about any visitor. In Prosser, try the Horse Heaven Saloon and Brewery serving up modern gastropub fare. They serve sandwiches, steaks, poutine, chicken nuggets, and even offer a few vegetarian items, all of which pair well with their beer or local wines. Just ten minutes’ drive south of Yakima, find HopTown Wood Fired Pizza owned and operated by Lori and Carrie. These two ladies serve up some of the best wood-fired pizza and were awarded Washington’s #1 pizza by 1889 Washington’s Magazine. Try the Hop Daddy pizza or a seasonal special like the asparagus pizza and pair with a craft cider, wine, or beer. Look for HopTown’s rolling pizza oven at outdoor events.
For lodging, the Yakima Valley has dozens of choices. For the upscale lodging checkout, Hotel Maison in Yakima or Desert Winds Winery has a few suites upstairs not to be missed. The Best Western Plus hotel in Prosser offers guests clean, comfortable, and reasonably priced lodging in crawling distance to Vintner’s Village. There’s also a marijuana shop across the street selling medicinal and recreational marijuana legally. Just don’t try and take what you buy home if your state doesn’t allow pot to be brought in.
The Yakima Valley also holds several great hiking trails, biking, fishing, and other outdoor activities, but that would take a whole different article to cover. I hope you get out and visit this bountiful region soon. Be warned that it gets hot in the summer, but that’s when most crops are available. Consider the spring and fall when crowds are smaller and weather better if you like to avoid summer travel. Whichever season you choose, you’ll find friendly locals and so much to see, do, and taste that a return visit is likely.