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Choose Your Own Adventure in Washington Wine Country

Washington State brings more to happy hour than any other state in the Union

Washington produces more hops and apples than any other state, and is second only to California in terms of wine grape production. The high volume is matched by the quality of the wine, cider and beer produced, with wines in particular earning consistent critical raves of late, a winning streak kicked off by Robert Parker’s 100-point designation of Quilceda Creek Vintners’ 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley.

A desire to see the place responsible for such bounty is enough to draw millions of visitors annually, but adventure in Washington can be found all around—and sometimes inside—the tasting rooms that dot the landscape. The culture and spirit of Washington, perhaps unsurprisingly for such a large and agriculturally focused state, is centered around the outdoors. What kind of Washington adventure are you thirsty for? We offer three enticing options below, which can be combined or taken solo.

Best Time to Visit Washington Wine Country

Washington is in its prime between late April and the beginning of November, from bud break to harvest. If you don’t love heat though, avoid late-June through the beginning of August when the mercury often registers in the triple digits.

Adventure One: Taste All of Washington in Seattle & Woodinville

Seattle is undoubtedly Washington’s calling card to the world. The Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is the easiest airport in the state to fly into, and a great region to focus or kick off an adventure. For the best experience, plan on spending at least one day in Seattle, and at least one more in Woodinville, a 25-minute drive away. (Rent a car at the airport, or if you just plan on staying in Seattle and Woodinville, rely on the many taxi and ride-hailing services).

The city of Seattle is surrounded by water, mountains and evergreen forests, and contains thousands of acres of parkland within its bounds. It is the largest city in the state, with behemoths like Microsoft and Amazon calling it home. Woodinville, meanwhile, with more than 130 wineries and tasting rooms, is a mecca for the best wine, food, beer and cider from across Washington. (Where to Sip, Stay & Eat in Woodinville Wine Country.)

Dynamic, biker friendly and urbane, both Seattle and Woodinville are devoted to the incredible bounty of the farmland that defines the rest of the state.

Sips & Bites From Around the State

Surrell on Madison in Seattle is the first and only restaurant completely devoted to serving Washington wine. Chef Aaron Tekulve’s intimate restaurant also features a garden space, where he serves of 9-10 micro seasonal, whimsically produced and presented tasting menus featuring the best of local farms, ranches and vineyards. For a more casual experience, check out the wine bar experience, where food and drinks can be ordered a la carte. If you pull up a chair to the wine bar, don’t miss the king salmon on rye crostini with lebnah, or the grilled and marinated market vegetables with charred scallion cream cheese.

Washington Wine Country - Surrell on Madison, Photo by Kathleen Willcox
Surrell on Madison, Photo by Kathleen Willcox

Hit Stoup Brewing, home of the Citra IPA, with a food truck and private garden. Nearby in Ballard is Reuben’s Brews with 24 beers on tap, a food truck and a different charity is hosts every Thursday.

Emerald City also takes its cider seriously. Don’t miss Locust Cider with its innovative spin on cider (try the Rio Red Grapefruit, an off-dry mashup of tart Washington cider apples and Rio Red grapefruit) and a dog-friendly patio.

A few minutes from downtown, SODO Urban Works awaits, with 10 of Washington’s best wine and food crafters in one space.

Sip Andrew Latta’s small-lot wines from unique vineyards and uncommon varietals—primarily Rhone offerings fermented with native yeasts—at his SoDo tasting room. 

Block Wines, Sleight of Hand Cellars, Rotie Cellars and Structure Cellars are just a few of the other winemakers on tap.

In Woodinville, the question isn’t where to go, but where to start?

The answer: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington State’s oldest winery, steps from Willow’s Lodge, with a refreshingly heterogeneous range of wine experiences, from astrological tastings, to charcuterie making, to customizable private wine tastings in private cabanas. There are also traditional explorations of library and premium offerings available, and pop up tastings for the Marchesi Antinori’s Col Solare portfolio and the international portfolio under Ste. Michelle’s vast umbrella on tap. Experiences start at $25.

From there, pop across the street to the Hollywood Station. It’s the old Redhook Brewery, remade as a wine lounge with DeLille Cellars’ tasting room and farm-to-table restaurant, The Lounge at DeLille Cellars. (If you go, grab the lush duck poutine). Sparkman Cellars, cirque and cabaret performers Teatro ZinZanni are also on site.

For more ideas: Where to Sip, Stay & Eat in Woodinville Wine Country

In Seattle, Don’t Miss 

Check out the 605-foot Space Needle (you can’t miss it in the skyline), built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. Take a 43-second ride up the elevator and gawk at Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains and Elliott Bay.

Explore galaxies near and far at the Pacific Science Center.

Wander the Pike Place Market, with its legendary sign, Rachel the Piggy Bank, gum wall, O.G. Starbucks and 225+ artisans and makers selling their wares

Visit the Seattle Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park (for free)!

Get Moving

  • Ride one of 22 Washington State Ferries across the Puget Sound, and then head to the nearby island communities of Bainbridge and Bremerton to explore, wander and taste.
  • Ride Seattle’s Great Wheel to see the city from a whole new perspective.
  • Cruise around the dozens of miles of waterfront bike paths on rentable (regular, hybrid and e-bike) bikes from Pedal Anywhere or Lime Bikes.
  • Or, bike right into Woodinville, on the 26-mile paved Burke Gilman Trail.
  • For hardcore bikers, check in with Bicycle Adventures, curators of adventures across the Cascade Mountains, the Columbia Gorge, the Volcanoes of Washington and more.
  • White water river rafting and kayaking are popular across Washington, especially in the Skykomis and Sammamish Rivers. Check in with Whats Sup for the best options.
  • Go whale watching with the Puget Sound Express.  On 4.5 hour tours, you’ll also see porpoises, dolphins, sea lions, seals and more.
  • Get a peak of wine country and Seattle from a hot air balloon. Reach out to Let’s Go Ballooning for dates and rates.

Where to Stay

The Willow Lodge is a boutique, luxury space just steps from all of the Woodinville tasting rooms, with two onsite restaurants, the Barking Frog and Fireside Lounge, gardens with walking paths, a spa and free bike rentals. Rates start at $369.

Budget options in Woodinville are available too with rates starting around $120 a night.

The Willow Lodge - Where to stay in Woodinville, WA wine country
The Willow Lodge, Photo by Kathleen Willcox

Adventure Two: Head East to Wine Country

While you could remain in the Seattle and Woodinville region and get a taste of every AVA’s wines thanks to the representative array of pop-up tasting rooms there, you will truly get a sense of the terroir you’re tasting when you drive east across the Cascade Mountains. The drive takes 4-4.5 hours, includes dramatic mountain vistas, and clearly illustrates the transition from temperate rainforest (Seattle / Woodinville) to the rugged, dry desert clime of the Yakima Valley, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla, Candy Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs surrounding the Tri-City region. 

Taste, Experience & Stay

Start your adventure in Red Mountain. Experience a true biodynamic winery in French chateau guise at Hedges Family Estate, learn about the process and spirituality of biodynamic farming, wander gardens, visit the chickens, and enjoy generous servings of local bites (cheese, meat, fish, served tapas style). Reservations required.

Head over to the O.G. Red Mountain vineyard, Kiona Vineyards, where the tasting room is open (flights start at $15), and the patio is dog-friendly. Reserve ahead to order local bites, or bring a picnic.

Time for bed? If you have an RV, you can connect to Harvest Hosts and stay at Kiona Estate. Or stay at the centrally located Lodge at Columbia Point (20-50 minutes to most of the Eastern Washington AVAs mentioned above). Prices start at $200 a night.

Not tired? Push onto Heaven Hills and visit Alexandria Nicole Cellars for their big wine and bigger hospitality. Call ahead for the latest, but they offer frequent Sip & Paint, Yoga and Brunch events. They can also host you March-October in twee, tiny houses amid the vines. Prices start at $200 a night.

Head over to Walla Walla, and start your experience at L’Ecole No. 41, one of the most critically acclaimed wineries in Washington, and perched in an impossibly adorable historic 19th century Frenchtown Schoolhouse. Check the calendar for events or reserve a tasting ahead. Pop next door to equally iconic Woodward Canyon Winery, open daily for tastings, starting at $15. These pioneer wineries, both of which are located in 19th century farm buildings, and surrounded by rolling wheat and green pastures, put Washington wine on the international stage, but stay rooted in the community that nurtured them.

Washington Wine Country - Northstar
Northstar Winery, Photo by Kathleen Willcox

Head over to Northstar Winery, launched in the 1990s, represents the second generation of Eastern Washington wineries. Visitors can play winemaker for the day in unique $125 wine-blending experience, emerging with their own blended and designed bottle of wine. Or rent a private cabana and enjoy flights of premium and library wine, local bites and lawn games.

Over at Browne Family Vineyards, off-the-grid hospitality and fun is part of their DNA. There’s wiking (wine + hiking), week long yoga and wine immersions, bike tours in partnership with Kickstand Tours (participants explore a number of wineries on e-bikes), cooking classes. And classic tastings for the traditionalists.

Valdemar Estates, founded by the family behind Rioja’s iconic Bodegas Valdemar, brings the world to Walla Walla. Visitors can learn how to make paella (or just eat it at one of their many cookouts), dance to flamenco, enjoy tapas, or register for one of their prix fixe dinners. Valdemar is also one of if not the first winery in the U.S. to become fully inclusive and accessible to all guests, with QR codes around the building linking to sites with information in American Sign Language, dictation and text. There are Braille wine and food menus and their wheelchair availability and full access.

Washington Wine Country - Valdemar Estates
Valdemar Estates, Photo by Kathleen Willcox

For a true farm-to-table experience, visit Spring Valley Ranch, a multi-generational 1,000-acre ranch and farm dating back to the mid-1800s. Grapes entered the picture in 1993, and visitors can experience true country hospitality at their weekly weekend events—barn dances, goat yoga, BBQs, and regular open houses on Saturdays.

Head downtown to Walla Walla, explore Pioneer Park, stop by the iconic Walla Walla Sub Shop for incredible sandwiches, rent a bike at Allegro Cyclery to explore the paved trails along Mill Creek or try your wheels at dirt biking at the BMX track. (More ideas on things to do in Walla Walla.)

Downtown, there are plenty of food and non-wine options. Head over to Burwood Brewery, where there is a roomy taproom, frequent food trucks, lawn games and plenty of room outside.  Crossbuck Brewing offers a range of incredible IPAs, barrel-aged beers in partnership with local wineries and distilleries and an addictive menu of healthy-ish comfort food (don’t miss the scallops on the half shell with wasabi and pickled ginger).  Locust Cider & Brewing serves up local cider, cider slushies and savory snacks, with retro video games and ping pong to keep children of all ages distracted.

The boutique, pet-friendly The Finch offers accommodations right downtown, offers customized guidance and advice … and wallet-friendly rates starting around $130 a night.

Getting There

If you want to fly out from here, head to the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.  

Sip in More of Walla Walla with Carpe Travel’s Wine Travel Guide

Adventure Three: Head Up North to Lake Chelan

Head from Seattle and Woodinville up to Lake Chelan, a mountainous drive that will take about three hours. If you plan to take on all three adventures, a drive from Walla Walla to Lake Chelan will take about 6 hours.

This adventure takes you to the remotest outreaches of Washington winemaking, at vineyards surrounding the 50.5 miles glacier-fed lake that influences and defines the climate and life of the surrounding community and farms.

Sips and Bites

Visit Cairdeas Winery, with Rhone-inspired wine (try Washington-first Picardan) and laid-back Gaelic hospitality in the wine “barn”. Reserve ahead for tasting flights, or swing by for one of their many BBQs or release parties. Nefarious Cellars offer stunning views of the lake on the patio. Bring a picnic and hang, let the kids play on the lawn or at the swing set. The Lake Chelan Valley offers some of the best apples in the region, and while cidermaking is fairly new region, Steelhead Cider offers some of the best in the state.

Get Moving

But if you really want a buzz, buckle up for adventure. There are copious public swimming beaches, snorkeling, scuba-diving, canoeing and kayaking, motorboat rentals and of course water skiing and wakeboarding. Hit the trails on a bike, go fishing (more than 600,000 salmon are released every year), take a helicopter ride, paraglide and skydive.

Where to Stay

When it’s time for bed, you could rent a cabin at Watson’s Harverene Resort or pitch a tent at Lake Chelan or 25 Mile Creek State Park. But if you want an unforgettable experience, consider staying at The Lodge at Stehekin, deep in the heart of the Cascade Mountain Range. It requires a commitment: the 27-room rustic lodge is perched on Lake Chelan, but you either have to take a ferry or take a 23-mile hike from Highway 20 to High Bridge, where you then hop on the red bus to Stekehin. Kitchen units are available, and a restaurant and general store are open May through October. Prices start at $215 a night.

While you’re there, nature’s playground awaits. Easy, moderate and difficult hikes (the 8,149-high McGregor for elevation, or the 6,800-high Purple Creek Trail) await, as does kayaking, biking and horseback riding.

Getting There

When it’s time to leave, flying out of the Pangborn Airport in Wenatchee is your best bet.

Washington State can serve up a delicious wine-fueled adventure for urbanites, farm-to-table locavores and adrenaline-seekers. Which adventure will you choose?

Sip in More of Washington

Kathleen Willcox

Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, travel and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is keenly interested in sustainability issues, and the business of making ethical drinks and food. Her work appears regularly in Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Industry Advisor and many other publications.