YAKIMA – The space looked like I’d remembered it: flooded with natural light from a wall of windows and the image of a snow-capped mountain peak watching over two-tops and bench seating.
I used to joke that this was my living room.
For one year, I lived in the apartment directly above Gilbert Cellars. It was very convenient – for the wine, yes, but also the live music in the basement as well as the location in the heart of Yakima’s historic district. I was only ever a short walk away from some of this Central Washington city’s best wining, dining and shopping.
Snow still covered the ground during my recent visit, my first stay since moving to Spokane nearly four years ago. But spring is my favorite time of year in the Yakima Valley, where I lived for more than 10 years in all.
Here are a few favorite spots in Yakima, starting with Gilbert Cellars, where I couldn’t leave without buying three souvenirs: gewürztraminer, syrah and malbec.
Raise a glass. Top-sellers at Gilbert Cellars, 5 N. Front St., are the Left Bank and Allobroges red blends. Try both during a downtown tasting. Or, have a glass on the grass during the Music in the Vines summer concert series at Hacket Ranch, 2620 Draper Road. The working orchard is home to a natural amphitheater, lined with lavender and overlooking a glassy pond. It’s flanked by lush vineyards and, beyond them, the Ahtanum Ridge, which rises some 1,500 feet in the distance and offers a spectacular backdrop for a show. The setting is especially gorgeous as the sun sets and everything seems awash in a rose-gold glow. www.gilbertcellars.com.
Feel the warmth of Mexico. Cinco de Mayo celebrations in Yakima and Sunnyside draw tens of thousands and boast being among the state’s largest. But opportunities for authentic Mexican food abound throughout the area all of the time.
Sometimes called the Mexican Dairy Queen because of its location in a renovated fast-food restaurant, Antojitos Mexicanos, 3512 Summitview Ave., is a popular spot with an extensive menu – from sweet-but-not-too-sweet horchata and fresh salsas to street-style carne asada tacos in corn tortillas. Plus, it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Weekend brunch gets busy, but service is fast and friendly.
A hole-in-the-wall with a humble storefront, Mercedes and Family, 5603 Tieton Drive, offers some of the region’s best tortas, tacos, tamales, sopitos and enchiladas. Consider the $7 super-filling Big Beef Burrito. And be sure to bring cash.
Tamales are cheaper by the dozen at Loz Hernandez Tamales, 3706 Main St. in Union Gap. Pork and chicken are the specialties. But, in spring, the seasonal asparagus-and-cheese tamales are a much-anticipated treat. And they go fast. Owners Felipe and June Hernandez make everything from scratch, right down to grinding and mixing their own masa.
Take a hike. About 10 miles out of town, find the west-end trailhead for the Cowiche Canyon Trail, which runs along an old railway bed, crosses Cowiche Creek and makes for an easy and beautiful day hike, particularly in spring and fall. Just over 3 miles long and flat, the trail is good for families and hikers of all levels. The off-shoot Winery Trail leads hikers uphill to Naches Heights Vineyard and Wilridge Winery. Trails are maintained by the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy. www.cowichecanyon.org.
Indulge in modern American fare. No other restaurant in the region comes close to offering the same kind of dining experience as Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse, 202 E. Yakima Ave., which opened in late 2014, more than a year after I left town. Otherwise, I would’ve been a regular. The feel is contemporary – high ceilings and clean lines – with the rustic roots of the Yakima Valley, such as a pair of antlers overlooking the dining room. Other design elements include board-formed concrete and wood-lined walls and, in the bar, light fixtures fashioned from antique ice hooks as well as smudge pots used in orchards to prevent frost on trees.
Open for lunch and dinner, CCK specializes in elevated but approachable American dishes by executive chef Cameron Slaugh, who made Zagat’s top “30 under 30” list in Los Angeles in 2015. In Yakima, start with smoky grilled artichoke or housemade ricotta with caramelized vegetables and a warm baguette, then move on to melt-in-your-mouth chicken and dumplings, short-rib pot pie or steamed clams in apple-squash broth with crispy sage. Don’t skip the craft cocktails. Ask bartender Kimber Buehler for her Catcher in the Rye with rye, of course, as well as muddled cucumber, lemon, simple syrup, elderflower liqueur and celery bitters. www.cowichecanyon.com/.
Take a beer break. Opened in 2013, Bale Breaker Brewing, 1801 Birchfield Road, lies on a longtime family hop farm 5 miles east of downtown. It’s known for its super-hoppy Topcotter IPA and Bottomcutter Double IPA as well as the milder Field 41 Pale Ale. In warm weather, take a seat outside, where picnic tables and lawn games sit a stone’s throw from towering hop vines in the middle of America’s top hop-growing region. www.balebreaker.com.
Take a coffee break. Although Yakima hasn’t seen passenger service since 1981, its old Northern Pacific Railway train depot still provides a place to rest and relax. The waiting room of the 1909 depot houses North Town Coffeehouse, 32 N. Front St., offering espresso drinks from lattes and mochas to nitro cold brew as well as gelato and pastries. www.northtowncoffee.com.
Learn the cider house rules. Founded in 2008 by a third-generation farmer, Tieton Cider Works, 619 W. J St., makes craft cider with apples from the family orchard. Wood-lined walls give the bar a rustic feel, enhancing the modern-industrial vibe. Varieties include Blossom Nectar, apricot, spice and dry hopped. tietonciderworks.com.
Lunch at the White House. Done in off-white and flooded with natural light, this café, located in an old Craftsman-style house, 3602 Kern Road, specializes in simple but lovely breakfasts and lunches. Egg dishes, sandwiches and salads are served with doilies and a dusting of powdered sugar. Seating is scattered between the living room, anchored by its original fireplace, and sun room, decorated with antique, green-handled kitchen utensils. In warm weather, opt for seating under the large arbor outside. www.whitehouseinyakima.com.
Veg out. Look for colorful pepper wreaths, organic produce, and other locally grown and made goods at the Yakima Farmers Market, which runs Sundays from early May through October. Located on North Third Street at East Yakima Avenue in the heart of downtown, this small but vibrant market is a good place to stock up. yakimafarmersmarket.org.
Go to a show. Downtown Yakima offers a couple of gems of performance venues. The Capitol Theatre, 19 S. Third St., is the grand dame. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Pantages-style theater, built in 1920, was restored in 1978 after a fire. Today, offerings include performances of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra and out-of-town opera companies as well as concerts, musicals and lecturers with the Yakima Town Hall Speakers Series. capitoltheatre.org. A former church, fashioned after 17-century Italian architectural designs and featuring fantastic acoustics, the nonprofit Seasons Performance Hall, 101 N. Naches Ave., offers salsa classes and concerts. theseasonsyakima.com.
Get hopped up. If you’re a beer lover who especially likes hoppy beers consider planning a trip in fall for the annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival. Held outdoors in downtown, the event has grown to include about 40 breweries, food vendors and live music. www.freshhopalefestival.com/.
Spend the night. Built in 1911, the former Masonic Temple now hosts downtown Yakima’s newest and most modern boutique hotel. The Hotel Maison, 321 E. Yakima Ave., offers 36 contemporary guest rooms a short walk from the farmers market, restaurants, tasting rooms and event venues. Opened in early 2016, the hotel features a European-style breakfast in lobby and off-street parking. Room rates are based on occupancy and run from about $129 to $219. thehotelmaison.com.
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