The West

Top places to go in the West in 2022

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  • Bend, Oregon
  • Big Sky, Montana
  • Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada
  • Craters of the Moon, Idaho
  • Crested Butte, Colorado
  • Estes Park, Colorado
  • Leavenworth, Washington
  • Long Beach, California
  • Mono Lake, California
  • New Cuyama, California
  • Walla Walla, Washington
    • Bend, Oregon
    • Big Sky, Montana
    • Burning Man, Black Rock City, Nevada
    • Craters of the Moon, Idaho
    • Crested Butte, Colorado
    • Estes Park, Colorado
    • Leavenworth, Washington
    • Long Beach, California
    • Mono Lake, California
    • New Cuyama, California
    • Walla Walla, Washington

    Bend

    Oregon

    Try every outdoors activity under the sun in this dreamy Pacific Northwest mountain town.
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    A trip to Bend is a must for any nature-loving traveler, and the quaint yet lively atmosphere strikes the perfect balance between relaxation without the boredom of other small towns. Enjoy numerous festivals, craft breweries, and coffee shops, including the famous Deschutes Brewery. Most of these spots are pet-friendly, allowing Bend, dubbed “Dogtown USA,” to live up to its endearing nickname and giving visitors and their pups a chance to get away together. 

    The adorable, close-knit America-meets-mountain-lodge vibe is the perfect place to relax after a long day in the mountains, which is the entire reason any traveler comes to Bend. No one visits to stay inside (we’ve done enough of that the past two years), and the area boasts an average of 300 sunny days a year, the most in the state, and a feat for a PNW city! This makes it the perfect destination for skiing (downhill or cross-country), hiking, biking, horseback riding, anything that requires getting out in nature. Highlights include the Deschutes National Forest and River, Mount Bachelor, and Cascade Lake Scenic Byway.

    The lodging options are wide-ranging for this small mountain city. Looking to relax in luxury after all that time in the great outdoors? Don’t miss The Oxford Hotel, set right in historic downtown, where mountain chic meets environmentally friendly. Looking for something a bit more budget-friendly? You can’t go wrong with the Waypoint Hotel, located in the lovely Orchard District (just 15 minutes from Downtown), a modern twist on a mountain lodge (and it comes with complimentary breakfast). Airbnb and VRBO are always a great option, as well, particularly if planning a group trip or if you require specific amenities such as a yard, pool, or a pet-friendly space.

    Bend is a year-round destination, depending on your weather tolerance and activity preferences (don’t go in summer if you want to ski or the reverse if you want to hike). Its high elevation means chilly nights are a reality no matter the season, so pack accordingly.

    Insider Tip

    If you plan to hike and/or visit the many parks, make sure to buy parking passes ahead of time. A Sno-Park Pass allows parking at most trailheads in Central Oregon and a Northwest Forest Pass for national forests in Washington and Oregon.

    Big Sky

    Montana

    This northern Rocky Mountain community isn’t so under-the-radar anymore, but it’s still ripe for discovery.
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    Technically, it’s all right there in the name: Big Sky. But as the inky midnight sky peppered with twinkling stars is really one of those magical things you need to see for yourself, it’s easy enough to articulate the areas’ other wonders, beginning with the vast landscape. Most travelers fly into Bozeman and are treated to an hour-plus of majestic surrounding landscape on the way to Big Sky. Cell service cuts out at some point along the mountainous roads, but all the better for taking in the magnificent sights of this rugged country.

    Skiers and snowboarders won’t find any flaws in Big Sky skiing, where, even during the high season around Christmas and New Year’s, the mountain never feels crowded. There’s plenty to keep non-skiers in the group happy too, thanks to mountainside properties boasting aprés ski and outdoor hot tubs. 

    Outside of the ski season, fly fishing, horse-back riding, and visits to Yellowstone National Park are popular activities. Not everyone will get to see a moose, but have your camera ready just in case.

    Beginning December 15, high rollers can get a taste of Big Sky’s first luxury property thanks to the addition of Montage Big Sky. But if descriptions that boil down to remote beauty are more your jam, then a stay in one of Lone Mountain Ranch’s cabin in the woods is mandatory. Dinner at Horn & Cantle, the property’s on-site restaurant, should be enjoyed even if you stay elsewhere.

    For fans of winter’s most popular sport, the only answer is winter, although technically Big Sky’s season is so long that a late fall or early spring visit could mean plenty of swooshing. Summer is gorgeous and a sleeper hit for reasons pertaining to Mother Nature.

    Insider Tip

    Even though the mountain is large enough that it never feels too hectic, if you can swing a weekday visit outside of the festive season, all the better. This goes for securing dinner reservations too.

    Burning Man

    Black Rock City, Nevada

    Leave your expectations in the dust and spend a mind-opening week among doers, artists, creatives, engineers, and dreamers.
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    Ask anyone who’s attended, and they’ll tell you Burning Man is as magical as it is challenging. With an unforgiving landscape, the weather varies from oppressive heat in the afternoons to near-freezing temps at night. Desert dust makes its way into every orifice. Breaking down into tears is inevitable for almost anyone who attends, whether it’s from dehydration or the touching notes and mementos left to burn in the Temple.

    But Burning Man is like no other place on earth. Different from a music festival, this week-long event involves the building and breaking down of a temporary city filled with art, educational classes, music, and more. Having shifted to a virtual event for both 2020 and 2021, veteran Burners and newbies alike have their eyes set on Black Rock City, the name for this metropolis in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The theme for 2022 is Waking Dreams—and after a period of time that has felt so much like a living nightmare, it couldn’t be more fitting. Burning Man is a week of wonder co-created by every individual who attends, and this wild and wacky city can feel pretty dreamlike. So go and climb larger-than-life art pieces resembling jellyfish and robots, attend workshops on anything from poetry to geology, and dance beneath the desert sky until the sun trades places with the stars.

    While you’re there, lodging in Black Rock City is entirely up to you—but don’t be surprised if crusty Burners who have attended for decades grumble when you roll up in a crisp, clean RV. A tent or yurt and a shade structure will do just fine, man, and you (and all of your belongings) will be covered in dust by the end of the week anyway.

    Reno makes an excellent pit stop before or after Burning Man. The Aloft Reno-Tahoe International Airport has everything for that last, restful sleep before a week in the desert, plus its airport location suits those arriving by plane. For a more luxe transition back to reality, the Grand Sierra Resort, a 4-star casino and resort complete with a spa and an After-Burn Party (don’t worry, everyone is required to wash off all that dust before getting into the pool).

    Burning Man always takes place the week before Labor Day, culminating with the burning of The Man effigy on Saturday night. Regional Burns take place throughout the year, though, all around the globe, and they can help scratch that Black Rock City itch with the same crowd but at a different time and place.

    Insider Tip

    It’s never too soon to get involved in the Burning Man community. Besides getting familiar with the 10 Principles of Burning Man, research what camps have members based in your area or what art projects can use your precious volunteer time. Becoming familiar with the community now makes the experience in Black Rock City even more worthwhile–and helping to build and bring something exciting to the desert is what makes the city run.

    Craters of the Moon

    Idaho

    Shoot for the moon with this extraterrestrial excursion to a unique and otherworldly National Monument.
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    Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve traces lava flows on an active volcanic rift. Here, travelers have access to unearthly terrains we’ve only glimpsed through telescopes. Lava sands, artistically-warped pines, volcanic cones, bat-ridden caves, and—of course—craterous lava fields mirror the moon’s surface to the extent NASA researchers and astronauts have used this rocky, black topography for training and data collection.

    Here the living meets the dead as lush fern and wildflowers miraculously emerge from dense, solid lava rock. Unique and varied flora, fauna, and rare geologic encounters abound throughout the reserve’s 7-mile scenic driving loop. Explore the cosmic trail spurs and viewpoints including a steep (but worth it!) hike up Inferno Cone. In addition, the 3.5-mile North Crater trail weaves up to views of Spatter Cones and beyond via Big Craters’ breath-taking rim as the Pioneer Mountains frame the distant horizon.

    And when the sun sets, the Craters of the Moon party begins. Think full-moon guided hikes and Star Parties where you can catch Milky Way vistas through a lava tube and scope satellites with the naked eye in this recently designated “International Dark Sky Park.”

    Need more volcanic action? Black Magic Canyon is like Zion’s shadowside, with darker volcanic rock forming waves to hike through and explore. Don’t miss Idaho’s wackier side en route with a stop by the Potato Museum and the demonic, nuclear Submarine in the Desert.

    This otherworldly attraction is a can’t-miss accommodation itself. Pitch your tent among moon-like rocks under dazzling skies at the Lava Flow Campground (complete with flush toilets from April-September) or grab your pack and venture into the Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve wilderness with a backcountry permit. The nearby VRBO/Airbnb scene offers a level-up glamping experience—check out Champagne Yurts for uniquely-themed domes—just don’t count on cell service.

    Summers blister as black rocks amplify heat with no shade in sight; snow piles up for icy Idaho winters, causing road closures limiting trail access. Early fall is the sweet spot! Shoot for September and October, where temps average in the 40s and 50s. Either way, prepare for gusts of wind.

    Insider Tip

    Snag a permit for cave entry during summer months. BYO flashlight! And make sure to follow rules and regulations in place to protect bats from lethal white fungus, carried by humans.

    Crested Butte

    Colorado

    Aspen is chic, but Crested Butte is funkalicious cool—home to 800 miles of mountain biking trails, an uncrowded ski resort, and a wildly colorful, historic miners’ town.
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    Nestled centrally in the Colorado Rockies, Crested Butte has been a hidden gem for a reason–it was hard to reach. With a 50% increase in flight capacity from Denver, Dallas, and Houston to nearby Gunnison (GUC) airport for the 2021-2022 ski season, Crested Butte is more accessible than ever for outdoor enthusiasts seeking high-altitude adventure. 

    By day, the Crested Butte Mountain Resort—which turns 60 this season with a full schedule of festivities—beckons extreme skiers and snowboarders with the steepest lift-serviced tree-cut run in the U.S. Beginners are welcome too, of course, with the new upgraded bunny hill and Peachtree lift. For non-downhill skiers, explore 30 miles of pristine trails with a nordic ski lesson at the Nordic Center or catch a show at the Center for Arts.

    By night, Elk Street, the town’s main street, transforms from a tranquil site-seeing stroll to a party promenade. Bars—like the nearly century-old saloon Wooden Nickel, the craft-cocktail den Dogwood, or Montanya Rum distillery—fill with thirsty locals and visitors alike for celebratory apres-ski drinks. For dinner, check out the gourmet 5-course meal in a yurt at Magic Meadows or Sunflower where the innovative, farm-to-table menu changes nightly; reservations required.

    West Wall Lodge—with a stellar outdoor heated pool and hot tub—or the more budget-friendly Elevation Hotel are your best picks for ski-in, ski-out stays. If you like being in the heart of the action in town, Scarp Ridge Lodge—a converted saloon that offers backcountry skiing via snowcat—is like the exclamation point on your Crested Butte vacation.

    Unlike most ski resort towns, Crested Butte’s summers are peak season for wildflower peeping, hiking, and biking. As one of the least crowded ski mountains in Colorado, if you want to maximize your time shredding snow instead of waiting in lift lines, go in the wintertime—especially on off-holiday times, like the end of January or early February.

    Insider Tip

    Use the free shuttle, Mountain Express, from the ski resort into town so you don’t have to fight for parking. Shuttles run every 15 minutes during the summer and winter seasons.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Crested Butte Guide
    Fodor's Colorado

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

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    Estes Park

    Colorado

    This town is considered the base camp of the Rocky Mountains and is home to herds of wild elk.
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    Considered the base camp of the Rocky Mountains, Estes Park is a small town about an hour and a half drive away from downtown Denver and a short drive from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Flanked by mountains and alpine lakes, Estes Park is perhaps best known for its herds of wild elk, which descend on the town every fall. Come September and October, thousands of wild elk–including a resident herd of 30–venture from higher elevations to take over the town of Estes Park for their mating or “rut” season. Everywhere you look, you’ll see elk lounging by the waters of Lake Estes, munching leaves on the front lawns of residential homes, and stubbornly holding up traffic as they amble across the street. Like, say, pigeons to New York City, the residents of Estes Park seemingly live in harmony with their antler-touting visitors. In fact, every October, the town hosts an Elk Fest, featuring a line-up of music, Native American dancing and storytelling, and a bugling contest. 

    If you’re headed to Estes Park for Elk Fest, book a stay at the Estes Park Resort. This resort has great views of the surrounding Rocky Mountains and is located right on Lake Estes, which happens to be a popular hangout for the resident elk. With its outdoor fire pits, you can roast marshmallows in full view of the snow-peaked Rockies and wandering elk. The resort was recently remodeled and offers a range of family-friendly hotel rooms and suites that have all of the expected amenities with some added perks like private balconies. On-site, the resort serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner from its Dunraven Restaurant, which also sits lakeside and serves up an Italian menu in a funky space filled with Mona Lisa-inspired artwork. If traveling with a large group, you can rent one of the private Mountain Village Cabins. These gorgeous two-story cabins feature floor-to-ceiling windows and fireplace mantels created from recycled Colorado wood. 

    Come to Estes Park between mid-September and mid-October when the town welcomes wild elk. 

    Insider Tip

    Hop on the Estes Tram (due to reopen Memorial Day 2022). The tram whisks you away to the top of Prospect Mountain, where you can enjoy an aerial view of Estes Park and its natural surroundings without the uphill hike. 

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Estes Park Guide
    Fodor's Colorado

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

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    Leavenworth

    Washington

    Spirits are bright in this Bavarian-themed village with Christmas cookies and gingerbread lattes for sale year-round.
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    Last year’s holiday season was incredibly depressing. Amid the peak of the pandemic, families weren’t able to travel and be together. Christmas felt empty, like stale, generic-brand cereal. But now that we’re able to travel safely, it’s time to make up for all that lost Christmas magic. And in Leavenworth, Washington, it’s dialed up to 11. The Bavarian-themed town in Washington’s Cascade Mountains is like stepping into a snow globe that’s on the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie. Every building has that adorable, made-in-Santa’s-workshop aesthetic. Even the gas station. It’s a literal winter wonderland, from meeting lady reindeer at an endangered reindeer farm to sampling tasty local craft brews such as a black forest cake stout from Icicle Brewing Company. And you have to make time for the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum and its collection of more than 7,000 nutcrackers.

    There’s a definite fairy-tale vibe to Leavenworth. And if you’re visiting with kiddos, you can stay in your own little Bavarian-inspired cottage at the Leavenworth Tiny House Village. Each of the five homes is decorated in a Franco-German provincial style, but for extra Christmas vibes, book the bright red Rudolph.

    There’s fairy-tale style for the 18+ crowd, too, but it’s much more sophisticated. Located along the Wenatchee River right off Leavenworth’s main Front Street, Posthotel looks like Snow White had an unlimited line of credit at Restoration Hardware. The staff dress like 19th-century milkmaids, but that’s where the playful Anthropologie kitsch ends. Because Posthotel is the ultimate relaxation haven. Guests are encouraged to wear plush robes and slippers 24/7 as this European-style hotel is also a European-style wellness retreat. Access to the spa’s hydrotherapy suites of steam rooms, saunas, pools, and whirlpools is complimentary and so is the health-focused, European-inspired breakfast and lunch. There’s also a full-service spa with massage and facial treatments, but nothing beats a nap in the quiet lounge’s chaise waterbeds. 

    Leavenworth is fun year-round, but the snow brings the fun, from Victorian sleigh rides to sunset snowmobile tours. And the nightly (and free!) Christmas lights are something you have to see. From Thanksgiving through February, Leavenworth becomes a Village of Lights with more than 500,000 twinkling lights on display.

    Insider Tip

    Check out is at 11 a.m., but Posthotel allows guests to stay on the property until 2 p.m. for one last swim, soak, or steam. 

    Long Beach

    California

    Long Beach is wholly itself and weirdly wonderful; a treasure that is often hidden in the shadow of Los Angeles.
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    Long Beach may be well-known for its stunning landscapes, cutting-edge restaurants, and welcoming vibe, but spend a little time here and you’ll quickly understand why locals don’t want to leave. Perhaps best known for its waterfront attractions like the Queen Mary and the Aquarium of the Pacific, there is another side to Long Beach that must be experienced to be understood.

    Take a walk down Second Street in Belmont Shore and indulge in the restaurants and bars along the way. Order a kebab plate at Open Sesame, and venture a little further down to Shannon’s Bayshore, an Irish pub that has become known for its Shoot the Root shot, a Long Beach rite of passage. Head over to the 4th Street corridor and go shopping on Retro Row, where you can hit up places like The Hangout, a collective of small businesses that includes a small bookshop. Ride your beach cruiser along the Shoreline Bike Path, take a gondola ride through the canals of Naples, or hop on a ferry to Catalina Island for the day. The city thrives with its arts, culture, and music, and it is also home to a diverse LGBTQIA+ scene. With its own public airport, a park dedicated to Harvey Milk, and donation-based yoga on the bluff, it’s no wonder that Long Beach is finally having its moment.

    There are a variety of accommodation options in Long Beach to suit every type of traveler. Looking for a charming boutique hotel that is just steps from the beach? Stay at the Belmont Shore Inn, which is just a short walk from the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier and the Belmont Brewing Company. The Hyatt Regency is a landmark upon itself, towering over the harbor in the heart of downtown. 

    There is never truly a bad time to visit Long Beach—with an average of 345 days of sunshine every year, the weather makes it a great year-round destination. Because of its coastal location, summers may have a bit of the marine layer that is often referred to as “June Gloom.” Visiting in the spring and fall are your best bets for soaking in the sun.

    Insider Tip

    Long Beach’s Aqualink water taxi is an inexpensive way to beat the traffic, especially during the summer months. For only $5 each way, you can enjoy the cool sea breeze on the 40-minute ride between Alamitos Bay and the downtown harbor at Shoreline Village, both worth exploring for their restaurants and bars.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Long Beach Guide
    Fodor's California

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

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    Mono Lake

    California

    Spectacular (and super salty) out-of-this-world sights to be seen at Mono Lake.
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    Mono Lake is located near Lee Vining, California, in Mono County. One of the most ancient and hauntingly beautiful lakes in North America, it’s roughly 70 square miles in size—and almost three times saltier than the ocean. There’s no fish in this lake. Instead, it’s home to trillions of tiny brine shrimp and the alkali fly, which provide a nutritious “all you can eat” buffet for the 300-plus species of millions of migratory and resident birds. And those otherworldly, unique limestone formations seen towering out of the water and along the shoreline? They’re called “tufa.” They’re formed underwater as the calcium-rich freshwater springs bubble up from the lake bottom and combine with the carbonates of the water. Visitors can make a visit to the South Tufa State Natural Reserve located off SR 120 East.

    This lake access point showcases the most prolific tufa towers, as well as a boardwalk self-interpretive guided tour. The especially adventurous can embark on a kayak trip; rentals are available through Caldera Kayaks and Mono Lake Kayaks. Plan to kayak in the early morning when the water is calmest as afternoon winds can make paddling difficult and dangerous.

    For those seeking a more luxurious outdoor experience, opt for Double Eagle Resort & Spa. This property is nestled into the wild next to the whooshing waters of nearby streams, towering pines and sits at the base of 11,000-foot Carson Peak. There are four alpine lakes within eight miles of the property, hosting a plethora of additional outdoor adventures to be had after a day exploring Mono Lake. There’s also Lakeview Lodge which is open year-round and hosts offering cozy cabins and cottages at an affordable price point.

    Mono Lake can be enjoyed all throughout the year, but in the fall when the leaves are changing, the colors are a spectacular sight of crimson and gold. It’s an extra special experience. Spring and summer weather bring warm temperatures and the chance to swim or kayak on the lake. And for those who want to visit in the winter, make sure to face snowy, icy conditions and prepare accordingly for a winter wonderland. 

    Insider Tip

    About 45 minutes north of Mono Lake is Bodie State Historic Park, the largest unrestored ghost town in the West, with 200-plus abandoned buildings standing in a state of “arrested decay.” There’s also Tioga Pass and the east entrance to Yosemite National Park for an add-on day trip excursion nearby. Finally, be sure to drive the June Lake Loop (SR 158) which is a gorgeous 15-mile horseshoe detour from US 395 featuring lakes, waterfalls, and the charming village of June Lake. 

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Southern Sierra Guide
    Fodor's California

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

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    New Cuyama

    California

    This random, remote desert hideaway is the perfect road trip escape from Los Angeles.
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    New Cuyama was founded in 1951 by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and the company town has struggled since the oil empire left in the late 1970s. Pistachios, fruits, and vegetables are grown in the surrounding farms for companies like Bolthouse Farms, but the small community of fewer than 600 in the high desert of Santa Barbara County was never a tourist destination until 21-room boutique hotel Cuyama Buckhorn opened last year, bringing new jobs and a new industry to celebrate the previously desolate but beautiful location.

    Visit community development organization Blue Sky Center next door and see how they’re fostering rural revitalization and supporting small businesses like Cuyama Beverage Co. You’ll definitely want to try their local mead, flavored with jujubes and sage honey.

    Nearby, you can hike or bike in Los Padres National Forest, keep your eyes peeled for condors at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge and go off-roading in Ballinger Canyon.

    Cuyama Buckhorn is the only game in town, and it looks like a simple truck stop and diner, but the mid-century modern meets rustic Western design is retro-chic, with outdoor fire pits, billiards, and a professional-grade crushed oyster shell bocce ball court. There’s no spa, but the heated pool and barrel sauna offer excellent sunset mountain views. Chef Daniel Horn worked at Aman Resorts for 12 years, and his Santa Maria-style red-oak smoked tri-tip is out of this world. There are plenty of vegan options too, from veggie tacos to Tehachapi Grain Project red fife grain bowls with sweet potato and BBQ-spiced mushrooms.

    Spring, specifically end of March through early May when the wildflowers are in full bloom, is the prettiest time of year.

    Insider Tip

    Motorcycle clubs often breeze through on weekends, stopping for breakfast and coffee at the general store. Avoid the crowd, or join the fun for people-watching. Don’t forget to grab some of Horn’s homemade sauces, jams, and bottled cocktails to take home.

    Plan Your Trip Visit Fodor's Central Coast Guide
    Fodor's California

    by Fodor’s Travel Publications

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    Walla Walla

    Washington

    Relax amid small-town charm with an award-winning glass of wine in hand in delightful Walla Walla.
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    A trip to Walla Walla provides travelers an opportunity to enjoy America’s best winery district (two years running!), at the intersection of Eastern Washington’s past and very upscale present. Enjoy a ride on an antique trolley through the beautifully maintained historic downtown followed by a glass of award-winning wine or cup of locally roasted coffee at one of the many outdoor patios. There’s plenty to browse at the numerous eclectic boutiques and antique shops, not to mention the Walla Walla General Store, a neighborhood favorite.

    Walla Walla is where country Eastern Washington meets the bougie wino crowd, so no matter where travelers identify on the spectrum, they’re sure to feel right at home. Whether it be a romantic getaway, solo adventure, or friends trip, the golden hills covered in cascading vines and some of the best sunsets out west provide the perfect backdrop. The Blue Mountains are close enough for travelers that feel the call of the outdoors (or just want to burn off a glass or two too many of adult grape juice).

    The Inn at Abeja is the stuff of dreams, located on a large estate of rolling fields, immaculate gardens and vineyards, it’s the perfect place to indulge in a weekend in Walla Walla. The unique room choices range from a carriage house to a re-done barn tower, with an upscale French Country design any HGTV makeover show would envy. Better yet, you’ll be able to taste regional favorites at the onsight winery, restaurant, and in-house breakfast.

    A more affordable yet cute option is the Inn at Blackberry Creek, a restored vintage farmhouse that is cute, cozy, and boasts some of the best locally sourced breakfasts in the state. Each room is named for a famous French artist and decorated accordingly. Please note no children under age 12.

    Late spring to early summer boasts lovely weather and is when most wineries release that year’s vintage. If traveling in July-August, check the wildfire alerts. Fall is a nice, less weather-extreme alternative and provides additional activities such as apple picking.

    Insider Tip

    There are six winery regions in Walla Walla, with some, particularly the East Side, difficult to get into. Thus a tour is often the best way to ensure entrance (and avoids the need for a DD). Check out options here.