When I was a kid, I used to spend two or three weeks each summer in Walla Walla, Washington… a dreary farming community in middle of nowhere where my Mom was raised. As much as I loved visiting my grandparents, as I got older, the visits became more and more boring. There was nothing to do in Walla Walla.
Now, twenty-five years later, the LA times says that Walla Walla is trendy… more than that, it’s a vacation spot.
A $53-million revitalization of its once-dying downtown core helped Walla Walla
to win a 2001 Great American Main Street award from the National Trust for
Historic Preservation. A year later, the trust chose the city as one of
America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations, or "pockets of serenity amid the
sprawling clutter and homogenization that have overwhelmed so many American
Last December I decided to have a look for myself. I
found a bit of Americana with a lively arts scene and three colleges, a
community that wears its pride on its sleeve, calling itself "the town so nice
they named it twice." And nice it is, with first-rate restaurants and
accommodations, art galleries and wineries.
It almost makes me want to go back and visit… though only a few members of my family still live there… and it’s still in middle of nowhere.
Walla Walla, just north of the Oregon border in southeastern Washington, isn’t
the easiest place to get to, but locals say that’s part of its charm and helps
to ensure that it won’t become an overtrodden Napa Valley. Horizon Air (a
subsidiary of Alaska Airlines) has three daily flights to and from Seattle, a
50-minute hop, or it’s 260 miles away by car on U.S. Highway 12.
When I was a kid, we used to fly into Portland… a good four-plus hour drive from Walla Walla… or, in later years, we’d arrive in Pendleton. I don’t remember how we got to Pendleton, but it was still an hour or two from Walla Walla, if my memory is correct.
My grandparents lived in Walla Walla for fifty years, most of the time in an unusual looking house on Division Street, near a park and a hamburger stand. Later, they moved to the country club, and another unusual looking house (though more contemporary), which meant we could tool around in their golf cart and pretend we were driving a car. I did a lot of reading in Walla Walla, and bike-riding, and a lot of writing, too, on my grandmother’s portable typewriter that printed in cursif. I still have all the "novels" I wrote as a kid in Walla Walla in a box in the garage. One of these days, I’ll have to open the box up and take a look at them…