This university town is one of the state's friendliest and most easygoing places. "Modern" Ellensburg had its origin in a July 4 fire that engulfed the original city in 1889. Almost overnight, Victorian brick buildings rose from the ashes; many still stand, though their functions have changed. Stroll downtown to discover art galleries, comfortable cafés, secondhand-book and -record stores, an old-fashioned hardware store, and one antiques shop after another.

One of central Washington's biggest events is the Ellensburg Rodeo, held Labor Day weekend. On the national circuit since the 1920s, the rodeo has a year-round headquarters on Main Street, where you can buy tickets and souvenirs. You can also get a bird's-eye view of the rodeo grounds from Reed Park, in the 500 block of North Alder Street.

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