For many, summer is synonymous with road trips. Somewhat contrarians that we are, fall and spring spell roadtripping for us. Too often when on a road trip, the tendency is to focus on the destination, instead of the journey. We like to make a habit of stopping at one or two off-the-highway towns and cities every day when travelling.
One of the highlights of our 8,907 km, six week, USA Fall 2013 road trip was our stay in Pasco, Kennewick and Richland (PKR) aka Washington’s Tri-Cities. Though not on our list of specific places to visit, we decided to get off the interstate and explore. The next thing we knew, three days were spent exploring these cities and their surroundings. We were very lucky fortunate it happened to be was a Friday, Saturday and Sunday (keep reading to find out why).
Where to stay?
As luck would have it, we found the Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House conveniently located just off the highway and right on the Columbia River. Check in was quick and we had a great room with view of the river and the park. It was an easy walk from there to The Parkway (downtown Richland) with its boutiques, restaurants and even a great cinema. The backyard of the hotel was the mighty Columbia River and its walkway. There is even the Columbia Point golf course just down the road.
Check out the farmers’ market - on Fridays, The Parkway street is closed from 9 am to 1 pm when it transforms into a farmers’ market from early June until the end of October. This popular market attracts thousands of locals and tourists; this year’s opening day attracted a record 5,000 visitors alone. So, get there early.
Pasco’s Farmers’ Market is more traditional. It’s long, open-air pavilion structure allows vendors to sell right out of their trucks. Located in downtown Pasco, a city with a rich Hispanic culture, the market has an authentic farmers’ atmosphere – everything is definitely fresh from the field. The market also has a carnival feel with lots of fun, kid activities. Markets here are Wednesday (8 am to 1 pm) and Saturdays (8 am to 12 pm) from early May to late October. While at the market, make sure to take some time to explore its downtown - great windows!
Another morning activity would be to check out Country Mercantile on Crestloch Road in Pasco just north of the airport. In many ways this family-owned and operated food store it is like a market, offering lots of fresh produce, as well a gourmet jellies, sauces, honey and fresh baked goods an amazing selection of handmade fudge and chocolate – even homemade salsa chips, tamales and enchiladas There is also a deli bistro area for lunch if you so choose. Country Mercantile would be good to combine with Pasco Farmer’s Market, especially for foodies. If you are travelling with kids this is definitely a place to go at they have mazes, rides and other family activities.
One of the things locals love to do in the morning (before it gets too hot) is to hike up Badger Mountain. Water sports are also popular in the morning as you can beat the crowds. Hiking and biking trails are everywhere, in Chamna National Preserve there is the Amon Basin, Tapteal Bend and Tapteal Trail. There is also the Sacagawea Heritage Tail - a 23 mile paved waterfront trail system that links all three cities.
A good website to check for outdoor activities and organized tours is The Reach where you will find things like “Hops to Bottle”, “Farm to Table” and Jet Boat History tours of the Columbia River.
An obvious “must do” is the Red Mountain Wine tour. Do your own tour or book an organized tour and let someone else do the driving. Red Mountain is one of the smallest American Viticultural Areas (AVA) at only 4,040 acres, yet it offers 24 different wineries for touring and tasting. It has a very distinctive climate with very warm days, but cool evenings (due to the sharp bend in the Yakima River and the shadows of the Red Mountain). It is well known for growing some of the best Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes not only in Washington, but in the entire USA. More information can be found at www.redmountainava.com
If you are really into wines, we recommend staying on the mountain. There are several options but our recommendation would be one of the two cottages at Tapteil Vineyard Winery.
If you don’t have time to drive out to Red Mountain, Tulip Lane in Kennewick offers a great alternative with its three lovely wineries –Tagaris, Barnard Griffin and Bookwalter. Spend a lovely afternoon wandering the vineyards and tasting the wines. We did and it truly was lovely.
The Uptown Plaza, in Richland is a hidden gem; you won’t read about this in any tourist information. A retro ‘60s outdoor shopping plaza, it has been reborn as an antique/vintage mall. For any “treasure hunter,” this is the place to go for a half-day of browsing heaven. Caution: don’t go in the morning as some of the shops don’t open until later in the day.
A trip to the Tri-Cities wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Hanford Site, a decommissioned nuclear production site just outside Richland. Established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project, it is the site of the first, full-scale plutonium production reactor and is where the plutonium was made for the atomic bomb that detonated over Nagasaki, Japan in 1945.
This September the B Reactor celebrates it's 70th birthday. Information on celebration programs will be posted at http://www.ourhanfordhistory.org/
Tours of the B Reactor are available on specific days throughout the summer. Check the website http://manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov/ beforehand. (Note: All tour participants must be 12 years of age to participate and if under 18, a parent/guardian must sign a release form).
The Hanford site is also home to other centres for scientific research including the LIGO Hanford Observatory where they are trying to observe gravitational waves of cosmic origin that were first predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. If you have a budding Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) in your family, this is a “must do.” We did and my head is still spinning with talk of neutron stars, black holes, cosmic gravitational waves, ultra high vacuum systems and interferometers. Unfortunately, public tours happen only on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of the month, so you plan your visit carefully – we were just lucky.
Evenings & Eats
We’d suggest that you plan for long leisurely dinners as part of your Tri-City visit. Our best find for fine dining was at the JBistro at the Bookwalter Winery along Tulip Lane. Offering both indoor and outdoor dining, the atmosphere can be both, casual or romantic (especially by the fire pits) and there is live music Wednesday to Saturday. The signature dish is their Wagyu ribeye, served with the Truffle set (truffle butter, black truffle salt and white truffle oil) for dipping. If the Copper River salmon is on the menu it will be a mouthwatering choice and the Crème Brulee satisfied even my “sweet tooth.”
Cheese Louise is a great lunch spot along The Parkway in Richland. I loved my grilled Apple & Brie Panini and Brenda couldn’t stop raving about her Cranberry Bleu Salad. This is also a great place to create your own gourmet picnic lunch with a good selection of cheeses, breads, seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as drinks. The staff (aka cheese mongrels) are happy to help create your custom picnic.
Spudnut (you gotta love the name) is the “must do” place for breakfast or lunch. This 60-year old donut shop with a difference (donuts are made with potato flower) is located in the Uptown Plaza so go for a donut brunch and then browse the shops in the early afternoon. Don’t be surprised if you have to share your table with a huge tray of donuts either!
Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery offers a great family ambience, complete with a selection of board games. We went on a Sunday night and it was great people- watching fun. The food and brews were great with wood-fired pizzas, an Atomic Giant Soft Pretzel in the symbol of an atom with orbiting electrons, Atomic Ale’D Red Potato soup and B-Reactor Brownie caught our eye and didn’t disappoint.
Frost Me Sweet is a quaint bistro in Richland best known best for its cupcakes but has a good and varied menu. The people-watching here is spectacular too.
If you love wine, food and are into the Big Bang Theory TV show like we are, Washington’s Tri-Cities is a must place to visit. For more info go to Visit Tri-Cities.
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