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Waters and wineries in Walla Walla

Walla Walla, Washington, has long been known for the big, round, sweet onions that ripen in summertime in the valley whose name means “the place of many waters.”

For the past 10 years, those “sweets” have had stiff competition from grapes. Syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon grapes also thrive in the rich soil of southeastern Washington, where the sun shines 260 days a year.

Walla Walla, a small town of 31,000 people, is now home to 100 wineries, as well as three colleges, a historic luxury hotel with a top-notch conference center, and a theater in what was once a utility plant.

Located on the dry eastern side of the Cascade Mountains, Walla Walla’s temperate climate is suitable for outdoor activities year-round, including hiking, cycling and golf.

Its Wine Valley Golf Club was ranked the No. 2 public course in the state by Golf Week magazine in 2012.

“The top-ranked course was Tacoma’s Chambers Bay. It will host the U. S. Open in 2015,” said Ron Peck, executive director of Tourism Walla Walla. “We’re pleased to be in such good company.”

The city’s walkable downtown has tree-lined streets and a funky mix of vintage shops, boutiques, bookstores, good restaurants and 22 wine-tasting rooms.

The Daily Meal, a popular website that covers all things food and drink, describes Walla Walla as “pretension-free and wine- and food-obsessed.”

Whitman College, a small liberal-arts school founded in 1882, has meeting space in its student center. Walla Walla Community College was one of two community colleges in the country to receive the Aspen Institute’s 2013 Prize for Excellence. Its Wine Country Culinary Institute caters events.

Plus it’s a friendly place. Lewis and Clark found it so back in 1805 when they described their hosts as “friendly, honest people.”

“The city has a small-town feel with sophistication and arts, park benches and real stores,” Peck said. “That feel is part of the draw.”


Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center

The premier meeting space in Walla Walla is the 127-room Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center, located downtown. The gracious hotel opened in 1928 and was most recently renovated in 2007. It has a gourmet restaurant, a wine lounge, six wine-tasting rooms and an art gallery.

Off the hotel’s pillared and palmed lobby, the modern conference center has 13,000 square feet of meeting space. A 5,360-square-foot ballroom can be divided into three rooms; seven other meeting rooms can accommodate groups of 12 to 80. A spacious prefunction lobby is used for receptions as well as registration.


Gesa Power House Theater

Built in 1890 as a utility station to power Walla Walla’s homes and businesses with coal gas, the Gesa Power House Theater was resurrected in 2011 as an intimate 342-seat theater that closely resembles London’s Blackfriars Theatre, designed by William Shakespeare for his plays. In addition to the Shakespeare Festival it does each August, the theater provides popular and classic entertainment year-round.

The theater can be used for meetings of up to 300 people. Its lobby hosts events for as many as 150 and a smaller lounge is used for dinners for up to 60 people.

Wineries of All Sizes

Foundry Vineyards can accommodate 200 people for a cocktail reception or 100 for dinner in its art gallery. An outdoor sculpture garden can handle a reception for 225 or 80 guests for dinner. Another winery, Dunham Cellars, makes its home in a rustic, remodeled World War II airplane hangar near Walla Walla’s airport. It can host a meeting, reception or dinner for 150 attendees.

Downtown, Charles Smith Wines is located in a converted auto repair warehouse. It can host multicourse dinners for 15 to 40 people or casual mixers for up to 80 with a rock ’n’ roll theme.


Small Sites for Meetings and Retreats

Walla Walla also has several distinctive sites for small meetings and retreats. The Green Gables Inn, a Craftsman-style mansion, has only five guest rooms but 1,000 square feet of meeting space for up to 30 people.

The Cameo Heights Mansion, located in an orchard and vineyard 25 miles from town, has seven guest rooms and three small meeting spaces. After hours, guests can enjoy the swimming pool with a waterfall, a view of the Walla Walla Valley and a movie room with a 100-inch screen.


Spotlight on Walla Walla, Washington:

Location: Southeastern Washington state

Access: Three hours by car from Spokane

Major Meeting Space: Marcus Whitman Hotel and Conference Center

Hotel Rooms: About 1,000

Offsite Venues: Power House Theater, 100 wineries

Contact Info for Tourism Walla Walla: 509-529-4718