WHY VISIT the Tri Cities, WA + Things to do in the Heart of Washington Wine Country
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I’d heard raving reviews about the wine region of Tri Cities, Washington while traveling through Northern Idaho and promptly added it to my USA Bucket List.
I was able to check that off only a year later when TBEX was finally able to host their annual travel blogging conference again post-COVID.
I love how TBEX is held in lessor known destinations (Huntsville was a much-loved Alabama surprise for me!) and Tri-Cities didn’t disappoint.
During the three days of the conference, it was difficult to move my attention away from conversations and laughter with my travel blogging friends over another fantastic glass of wine, to experience the three cities of this region.
But, I enjoyed a fantastic three-day press trip at the end of the conference to discover why Tri-Cities is a worthwhile destination in Washington for any traveler, but particularly wine lovers.
Where is Tri-Cities, WA?
Tri-Cities is located in Southeast Washington about two and half hours from Spokane. It’s located on the confluence of three rivers – the Snake, Yakima, and Columbia Rivers.
There are three cities that make up this area: Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco – each with their own personalities to explore.
This region has been the home of the Umatilla, the Nez Perce, Wanapum, and Yakama tribes since ancient times. That all changed with Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery arrival in this region which opened the pathway for migration.
In the late 1800s, the area started to grow due to the railroad passing through here until in 1943 when the US government decided that the bend in the river was the perfect place for their top-secret Manhattan Project. This was all related to creating the reactors needed to produce plutonium, which was used in one of the atomic bombs.
This led to an explosion of growth in the area as workers came from around the country – even though most didn’t know why or what they were working on.
Why visit the Tri Cities, Washington?
This area is known as the Heart of Washington Wine Country, so if you’re a budding sommelier, an avid sampler, or just a fan of tasting quality wine this is the region for you.
It’s located on the same latitude as famous wine regions in Europe, and thanks to the prehistoric Missoula flood and ancient volcanic explosions, the mineral rich soil here makes it perfect for growing grapes.
There are more than 200 wineries within a 50-mile radius, and they range from large nationally renowned wineries to smaller independent wineries with incredible stories to tell – and wines to match.
The spotlight tends to always be on California for top quality wines, but as I repeatedly stated during my trip, “This wine is so much better than California.”
The Red Mountain AVA makes up most of the Tri-Cities area, which is also part of the larger Columbia Valley AVA.
Red wine dominates the region with cabernet sauvignon leading the pack. Although you will still find plenty of white grapes such as Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay.
It’s also close to Walla Walla and the Yakima Valley, two other outstanding wine regions in Washington.
But it’s not just wine to enjoy here. Thanks to its quasi-desert climate, the Tri City area boasts 300 days of sunshine year-round, providing ample opportunity to step outside and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. Take your pick from hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and swimming.
As this is one of the most fertile regions in Washington, you’ll find abundantly fresh food and cuisines from all around the world.
Plus, there are many museums and science attractions that help tell the rich story of this region including the Manhattan Project Historical Site, The Bechtel National Planetarium, the REACH museum, and the LIGO Hanford Observatory.
Stay at the Lodge at Columbia Point
While my first few nights at the Courtyard by Marriott in Richland were comfortable and more than adequate, my heart sang, “this is heaven,” when I moved next door to the four-star Lodge at Columbia Point for my two-night stay.
This is the perfect accommodation for your visit to the Tri Cities. Here your accommodation transforms from just a bed to sleep to an experience to enjoy.
I was so happy the three days of our famil were at a relaxing pace, so I actually had time to enjoy this beautiful lodge, my lux King Suite, and the gorgeous Columbia River views from my private patio.
The lodge’s interior decorating is warm and inviting, with all views leading outside to the stunning river views, and patio firepit.
The hotel also has an open-air swimming pool and spa, a living room library, and a restaurant.
The classy Drumheller’s serves breakfast and dinner with innovative meals made from season, fresh and local ingredients.
I loved my mushroom Florentine omelet for breakfast, and my Grand Coulee Steelhead with Sweet Pea Puree, Oyster Mushrooms, Risotto, Beurre Rosé for dinner was incredible.
Read reviews and book your stay here.
Bike or Walk Columbia River Trail
One of the best things to do in the Tri-Cities region is to walk, run, or bike along the Columbia River trail. (see Reel here)
Called the Sacagawea Heritage Trail, in honor of the young Native American woman who helped guide Lewis and Clark on their expedition, the trail runs for 23 miles along both sides of the river, linking all three Tri-City towns and several parks and bridges.
As both my hotels were on the river, I walked along the path several times.
Our group also cycled a fair way along it on ebikes on the first morning of our tour. The paved path is fairly flat, so normal bikes would be more than adequate. It was fun to do it on an ebike and we covered a lot more ground.
You can see more of the Sacagawea sites in Idaho
Tour a Biodynamic Winery at Hedges Family Estate
Location: 53511 N Sunset Rd, Benton City, WA 99320
One of my favorite things to do in Tri cities was visiting Hedges Family Estate, a Biodynamic Winery located on an elevated section of Red Mountain.
Chief winemaker, Sarah Hedges greeted us at the door to their stunning French-inspired Chateau with a glass of sparkling rose.
As we appreciated the light and fruity flavors of the wine and stunning views over the tulip garden and vines, she shared with us more about the history of her family’s winery and how it’s focused on unique farming practices that are in tune with nature’s pulse.
More specifically, of natures’ pulse as to how it beats in the Tri Cities particular soil, climate, and the cosmic cycle calendar.
Kayla Braich, vineyard manager, led us to the vines and told us more about the natural fertilizers and preparations that help take care of the soil and allow the vines to thrive. It’s a more proactive and holistic approach to farming in comparison to organic farming, which is quite reactive.
My question, why isn’t every farmer doing this?
Let’s hope agriculture starts to lean more in this direction as success stories like this show others the possibilities of farming profitably while cherishing the soil so it can keep on providing.
Doesn’t feel more like common sense than rocket science to me, but you know, humans.
So, of course, since Hedge’s wine is grown in such a natural and lush way, I felt okay with sampling lots of it.
We moved inside the tasting room for a special wine blending class. Blending is the specialty of Hedges, and since it’s a vineyard producing mostly red grapes, our class was all about finding the perfect red blend for each individual.
I wish I had the wine intelligence to know exactly how to blend that perfect glass – nor do I have it in me to fake to you that I do.
For me, it was, taste a bit of this, add a bit of this, taste a little more, add a smidgen more.
Until I found quite a palatable blend of equal parts syrah and merlot, topped with a splash of cabernet.
With my own signature red wine – which I’m calling Bio Love – I sat down with my new friends for a DELICIOUS, fresh-from-the-farm lunch of chicken and rice prepared by head chef, Aislinn MacManigal- all gluten free.
My Bio Love was nowhere near as stellar as Hedges SVL Souzao-Tinta Cao, a dry Portuguese red that we all could not get enough of.
It’s good to be back in Washington for sure!
Red Mountain Trails Wagon Ride
Location: 27314 Ambassador PR NE Benton City, WA
By this stage, we were all a little tipsy and giggly as a group of mostly women is wanting to do. We all piled in the back of a red wagon from Hedges for a ride through the vineyards of Red Mountain to Red Mountain Trails Winery.
Here we alighted at their outdoor pavilion tasting room to enjoy wine flights while sitting around the campfire roasting s’mores and exchanging stories and giggles.
A visit to the Tri-Cities will be a memorable vacation with a group of friends.
Some of our other TBEX friends arrived from their Red Wagon Trails tours by horseback and bike to complete their good days around the fire with smores and (more) wine as well.
Blind tasting with Frichette Winery
We did not get to visit this small 5.5-acre boutique winery estate on Red Mountain, but we had the pleasure of enjoying an evening of blind wine tasting with owners Shae and Gregg Frichette at the Lodge at Columbia Point.
This husband-and-wife team started their tasting room in 2013 after deciding they needed to “do something that gave them goosebumps.” That was after they flipped a coin to see whether they would move back to either’s respective hometowns: South Carolina or the Tri-Cities, WA.
I know this Washington Wine region is grateful for that lucky spin as now this wonderful family offers premium wines and stellar hospitality to travelers and locals alike.
Even more dynamic and bolder than their wines is the personality of Shae, who uplifted the tempo and vibrancy of the evening with her stories and encouragement as she guided us through the 5 “S’s of wine tasting. You can see the Reel here.
- See – put white paper over the wine to look at the richness of color
- Swirl – to get air
- Smell – get all those hints of fruit, wood, and the rest
- Swish and Sip – Swish that wine in the mouth to get the flavors all over your tastebuds
- Savor – with good friends.
We applied these little insider tips to sample three blind red wines and attempt to label them. I’m sorry Shae for being a very bad student, I got a big ZERO correct.
But I very much enjoyed the experience and the silky richness of their reds. I may have sneaked a few extra top ups of the Cabernet Franc. It went so well with our delicious steelhead meal provided by Drumheller’s and followed by crème brulee!)
Frichette Winery is open daily for tastings, and they often have fun live events!
Wine Tasting at Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard
We were fortunate to get a behind-the-scenes tour of Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard, the largest continuous vineyard in Washington with more than 2,000 acres of estate vineyards producing world-class wine grapes for its five company brands as well as dozens of other wineries.
Goose Ridge was founded in 1999 by the Monson family, and the 20 year old granddaughter of the family gave us a tour of the property. The love for her family and the estate shone through and she told us she always knew she’d get into the family business as it’s so tied into her memories of her family living and working among the grapevines.
We enjoyed learning about this family-owned winery on our drive touring the vineyards, including their cherry trees and the beautiful view from the top of the hill.
We then moved to their Richland Tasting Room, located in the heart of their 2500-acre vineyard for a fun hour of sampling their outstanding wines, ciders, and even vodka!
Our knowledgeable server was friendly and attentive as she guided us through a tasting of whites and reds. She then directed us out to the firepit for a cozier wine tasting experience with wonderful views.
They make 16 varieties of wine, as well as 8 brands of alcohol including cider and vodka.
If you are a fan of Syrah, do not miss the velvety texture and a fragrant floral spicy aroma of the Goose Ridge reserve Syrah! Whatever you sample, I can promise you it will be good!
At Columbia Gardens Urban Wine & Artisan Village
It may have poured down during our TBEX party at the Columbia Gardens Urban Wine Village, but that didn’t stop us all from enjoying more amazing local Washington wine.
This pedestrian friendly destination at the Port of Kennewick waterfront currently has three winery tasting rooms that we wine-hopped between: Gordon Estate, Monarcha Winery, and Bartholomew Winery.
Bartholomew Winery was the last wine tasting bar we ended up in and remained. They were definitely our favorite wines with unusual grapes and flavors.
They pride themselves on “think outside of the box and take risks that most wineries don’t.” I had never heard of varieties such as Carmenere and Tannat before. The latter being especially, “Please sir can I have some more?”
My friend, Jeremy from the wine blog, Grape Pursuit, walked out with several bottles for his cellar.
Food trucks are waiting for you in the parking lot for when you start to feel puckish. I highly recommend a delicious bowl of crawfish etouffee from Ann’s Best Creole and Soul Food. I was thrilled that it was gluten free.
Tagaris Winery and Taverna
Our last meal for my Tri-Cities trip was at Taverna Tagaris, the fine-dining restaurant at Tagaris Winery. This was another indicator to me just how unexpected and classy the Tri-Cities region is.
This is Mediterranean cuisine in an old-world setting. The interior is intimate and creates an atmosphere that encourages conversations. Outside is a beautiful terrace with tables centered around a fountain. The owners have a long history of family winemakers that goes all the way back nearly 1,000 years in Greece.
As we had drank so much wine up to this point, I opted for a refreshing mango margarita cocktail before dinner, but made sure I had a glass of organic Syrah before leaving as their wines are award winning and sustainably made. It didn’t disappoint
I struggled to choose a meal from the extensive menu of tapas and entrees that are full of flavor and quality, organic ingredients from local farmers, and foragers.
My final choice of the gigantic paella a valenciana was sublime and filled with Saffron Risotto, Pork and Lamb Chorizo, Atlantic Shrimp, Willapa Bay Manilla Clams, and Roasted Chicken.
I was so disappointed I could not finish it, although I pushed my stomach lining to the max and was content to watch the others eat dessert.
Don’t just take my word for it that this is a place you should eat in Tri-Cities, ZAGAT recognized it as “1 of 8 wineries in the world with fabulous food.”
Manhattan B Reactor Project
The B-Reactor on the Hanford Nuclear Site is part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in Richland.
It is one of the most popular things to do in Tri Cities for those who love science, history, and secrecy.
The Park is managed in partnership by the Department of Energy and National Park Service and includes the three secret cities involved in the Manhattan Project: Hanford, Washington; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
The Manhattan Project was created to do whatever was necessary to quickly conduct plutonium enrichment research and in 1943, the government broke ground at the Hanford site in Washington.
Eighteen months later they had produced the plutonium used in the Trinity Test on July 16, 1945, and a month later, the ‘Fat Man’ bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.
Tours of the B Reactor National Historic Landmark share the scientific achievement of building the world’s first full-scale plutonium production nuclear reactor.
The tour of the B Reactor begins at the visitor center where you receive a brief intro on the Manhattan project before you board the bus for about a 45-minute drive through a barren landscape.
It’s here you really understand that the Tri Cities is in a desert and how this Manhattan Project was instrumental in turning it into a livable area.
At the B Reactor, you get to see the Reactor and learn more about it via the guides inside. There are many different rooms to walk around to learn more about the facility and what happened in there. Most fascinating, yet unnerving was the control room.
To be honest, I felt awkward and uncomfortable touring the site. The tour was fantastic so it had nothing to do with that.
Why am I at a place that feels like we’re paying homage to a project whose mission was to kill thousands of people?
How would we feel if a place existed in Japan over the Pearl Harbor bombings?
It’s not like this was the emphasized story of the B Reactor plant but underlying it we all knew its purpose.
When I stopped to think about the science process and how it opened up many doors for energy science moving forward then I enjoyed it more.
I thought back to my time in Vietnam and Cambodia, and how much discomfort and pain I felt learning about the Vietnam War firsthand. But I continued to explore because within it were valuable lessons, namely, war is never a good option and leaves a trail of scars, pain, and agony for generations to come.
It’s where I came to inherently know the importance of practicing peace in my own inner world in order to help create that in the outer world.
Within the walls of the B-Reactor Plant is a history that can’t be changed but should not be erased because we don’t want to face who we can be as humans.
Our discomforts are pushing us to either change our perceptions, come to new understandings, or feel more confident in our beliefs.
It’s learning from this history that makes us better humans. And even though, I often feel like humans are awful and will never get it, I learn stories from ancient times of prisoners being thrown off cliffs in boxes on my trip to Jordan; and traitors being hung, drawn, and quartered with heads hung out on the London Bridge as a warning, and I realize, we have progressed and are doing a little better.
With each new generation learning from the failings of our past, we can only keep getting better.
Water 2 Wine Cruise
One of the most popular attractions in the TriCities area is to cruise the Columbia River with Water2Wine cruises. On our last morning in Richland, we walked outside our lodge door, straight out onto the jetty to board the 74-foot luxury yacht for a 1.5 hour buffet brunch cruise.
We received mimosas upon arriving and were given a fruit platter and pastries before having the buffet brunch in the dining saloon The buffet brunch wasn’t too exciting. I’d be really interested in coming back to experience the two and a half hour, three-course dinner cruise. I’d also find that a better time to appreciate the wonderful Northwest wine available on the boat.
A full-service bar was also available for the purchase of specialty cocktails, wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages.
It is a great way to experience the beautiful Columbia River that gives so much life to this region.
Water2Wine also offer sightseeing only cruises and specialty cruises as well.
Live Music at Wine Social, Downtown Richland
I was disappointed we didn’t get time to explore Downtown Richland, as when we arrived, I was impressed at how cute it looked.
Instead, we walked straight into Wine Social for an evening of the Beatles. You forget how many hits this band had until you’re thoroughly entertained for two hours with one great Beatles song followed by another. Our group had a fun time singing together!
Wine Social is classy. Founded in 2020 by Marc and Kaitlin Newman to showcase the best local Washington wines and create an experience around drinking wine.
They have charcuterie boards to order and wines by the glass, or bottle. Wine lovers will love the wine wall which holds hundreds of hand-selected local and international wines.
If you’re a couple visiting the Tri-cities, this would be a perfect date night spot.
Lee’s Tahitian – a Unique USA Dive Bar
- Location: 1342 Jadwin Ave, Richland, WA 99354
On the closing night party of TBEX, a few of us decided to continue the fun in what turned out to be one of the coolest dive bars I’ve experienced in the USA.
I’m not sure if anyone could replicate our experience, but it was golden – more so for the surprising factor of it and the interactions we had with each other.
We didn’t know what to expect and walked into an empty front bar decorated with pink walls and chairs, neon signs, and a beer pong table.
Already, I thought it was cool and then Michael came running up to us from the unseen hallway telling us “You have to check this out”
We walked down the long corridor and around the corner which opened up to a pool room bar with karaoke and the most mixed match patrons any dive bar lover would hope for.
What else were we to do but have a whisky shot followed by a jello shot, grab the mike, and belt out some Midnight Oil to leave a small bit of Australia on the dive bar floor? That was a TBEX night to talk about for years to come. You can see the
offending crowd pleasing performance here.
I returned a couple of days later with my TBEX press trip group and fell in love even more with its fun retro, tropical Asian vibe with neon lights, bright colors, and vibrant war mural!
Uptown Shopping Center, Richland
- Location: 1317 George Washington Way, Richland, WA 99354
Lee’s Tahitian is located in the Uptown Shopping Center, which was one of the first car-oriented shopping malls constructed in the United States. This outdoor mall in Richland was originally opened in 1949 and designed for all the new residents arriving in the area for the Manhattan Project B Reactor.
It’s a fun couple of blocks of independent stores, cafes, and restaurants. Mural lovers will enjoy the bright local artwork splashed over the walls. Head to the walkway next to Lee’s Tahitian or the front of Uptown Theater.
Uptown Antique is great vintage thrift cooperative store. We chatted with the owner for a bit who was so joyful and positive and so in love with what she did and the town in which she did it.
We just missed getting a coffee at Kagen Coffee as it had closed. It received favorable recommendations from the locals.
- Location: 1368 Jadwin Ave, Richland, WA 99354
- Website: https://dovetailjointrestaurant.com/
While visiting the Uptown Shopping Center, eat at local favorite, Dovetail Joint.
What began as a food cart, has now turned into a popular restaurant that merges the craft of food and drinks for a great dining experience
Dovetail is focused on minimum wastage and creating an eclectic seasonal farm to table menu with signature cocktails to match.
Lu Lu Craft Bar & Kitchen
On my first day of arrival, I went to which was steps away from my Courtyard by Marriott hotel on the Columbia River.
Apart from having beautiful views from the restaurant, their burgers were delicious. It was my first meal in Tri-Cities and immediately had me saying, I can tell I am back in Washington State.
They are a farm to table dining experience with all meals made from scratch. They also have signature cocktails and an extensive beer menu.
Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery
- Location: 1015 Lee Blvd, Richland, WA 99352
- Website: https://atomicalebrewpub.com/
Another great place in the Tri-Cities for burgers and beer is the Atomic Ale Brewpub & Eatery in Richland. It is the Tri-Cities’ first brewpub.
Hand-crafted ales & wood-fired hand-tossed pizza with names that match the atomic Hanford region. My gluten free pizza was delicious, and my dining buddies loved their burgers and beers.
This place is about good food and conversation with your friends – board games replace TV’s so be sure to ask for them if talking isn’t enough.
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Comment: Have you visited the Tri-cities region? What else would you recommend as a top thing to do?