If you like craft beer, you’ll like Yakima, Washington because 75% of the United States’ hops come from Yakima. But there’s more to the town than that. Find out what things to do in Yakima, Washington are worth checking out.
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Yakima has a funny history because for a while, the town didn’t exist where it is. The town was moved a couple miles by horses.
The deeper I get into this post, the more I realize this town is filled with the craziest stories. And I’m gonna tell you all the best ones. Just stick with me.
Picture it. Yakima City. 1883.
At that time, Yakima was a few miles to the south. But, a year after establishing itself, the Northern Pacific Railroad was like, “You’re too far south. We can’t stop there.” And Yakima was all, “Well what if we move up north a little?” And the railroad was all, “Yeah, do that.” So Yakima packed 100 of its buildings onto rollers and literally rolled them into a new town.
And then the new town called the railroad and was all, “Hey train. We’re North Yakima now. We left Yakima behind, so please come stop here.” And the train did.
But then, a couple years later (okay, like three decades later), North Yakima called regular Yakima and was like, “This is getting confusing. People are confusing us with you and you with us, and we’re not you and you’re certainly not us, so, we’re gonna be Yakima now and you need a new name. K’thanks, bye.”
And so the original Yakima changed its name to Union Gap and that’s that.
24 Hours In Yakima, Washington
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I hope you’re coming to Yakima on a full stomach because we’re starting you off after lunch, so you have a full day before dinner.
If you’re coming to Yakima, Washington, you’re most likely coming for a drink. No. I’m serious. There are about a gazillion wineries and breweries in the town. There’s also a very TikTok famous panaderia that went viral because of its very ‘gram-worthy drinks.
So, let’s start with the TikTok drinks. Because the line for them is long and you definitely want to get your drink while it’s daytime. If not, you miss out on the best lighting for your shot.
Panaderia El Solecito (303 W Pine St) was a drive through panaderia. Quick side note for people who have never been to the Pacific Northwest: These types of shops are everywhere. You just drive up, grab your drinks and pastries, and drive off.
They’re really popular for Red Bull Italian sodas or Lotus drinks (Lotus being a different brand of energy drink), which are very PNW-specific. They’re basically energy drinks mixed with flavored syrups.
Panaderia El Solecito takes this to another level and serves their drinks in over the top plastic containers shaped like lightbulbs and giant gummy bears. Candy is also served on the side of these drinks. And, in the case of a Halloween drink, light up eyeballs were dropped in the bottom of one. Think the crazy milkshake craze from a few years ago and apply it to a non-dessert drink.
If you’re like me and energy drinks aren’t your thing, you can actually order it with lemonade as the base instead. So, keep that tip in your pocket.
Another tip. These drinks are expensive. You’re paying for time and creativity, yes, but I don’t want you to wait on line for an hour and then get sticker shock because the drinks range from $14 to $20. They’re a nice splurge, especially if you’re on vacation, but that can caught you off guard.
After you get your drink, head across the street to the Yakima Electric Railway Yard. There, you’ll find two train museums: the Yakima Valley Trolleys Carbarn Museum (306 W Pine St) and the Yakima Valley Trolleys Powerhouse Museum (418 S 3rd Ave).
Here’s what’s cool about that. It’s actually the only intact, early 20th century interurban electric railroad left in America. And you can ride it between Yakima and Selah, either on the historic homes tour or just a scenic ride through the Selah Gap.
Inside the YVT Powerhouse Museum, you can see train cars and working pully systems that date back over 100 years. If you don’t know what you’re looking at, it’s not that interesting I guess. But we were lucky enough to bump into a volunteer named Larry while we were waiting on line for our TikTok drinks who gave us a private glimpse into the museum and gave us some history.
The museum is free to enter, which is great, but it’s only opened seasonally, which is not great. If the museum is closed, you can still wander closer to the Yakima Valley Trolleys Carbarn Museum and look into the railway yard to see a bunch of old trains on tracks.
Will you learn anything by peeking behind the gates? No. But it’s still very interesting to get a glimpse of history and just remember how people traveled in the past (especially when you think about how the railroad is really the only reason that Yakima exists where it is).
The museum was really interesting to me because it focused more on the actual engines than the intricacies of railroad travel. Our local train museum, the Wilmington Railroad Museum, focuses on the latter. And while that’s informative, it’s not as fun to look at.
If you’re really into museums, and/or the train museum is closed, the Yakima Valley Museum (2105 Tieton Dr) should be your next stop.
The museum is a great place to spend some time, especially if it’s raining when you’re in town. There’s a huge kids section too, which is really nice if you’re traveling as a family.
Quick note: The museum is part of Time Travelers, which is a free reciprocal membership network. It’s similar to the American Horticultural Society reciprocal admissions program (which we’ve mentioned a ton) except it’s for historical museums, not botanical gardens. So, if you have a membership to a history museum at home that’s part of the program, you can get in for free.
What’s fun is that there are a variety of exhibits about the Yakima Valley at the museum. And if you’ve been traveling around the area, you’ll be able to pick out a few things from around the area, like a piece from the locally famous Dick and Jane’s House in Ellensburg, Washington.
Fun aside: The house, which is a must see if you’re in Ellensburg, is actually bequeathed to the Yakima Valley Museum and will be transferred over upon Jane Orleman’s passing (her husband, Richard “Dick” Elliot has already passed).
Yakima used to be know as “The Fruit Bowl Of America” because of the amount of apples, cherries, and other fresh fruit that’s grown in the area. So of course, a lot of the museum is dedicated to that. It’s now known as the “Palm Springs Of Washington” — mostly because someone with too much money put up a sign once and it stayed. And, that sign’s history is in the museum too.
My favorite part of the museum, though, is the neon section. That’s one of the permanent exhibits in the museum (there are rotating exhibits as well). It reminds me of the Neon Museum in Las Vegas. There are a bunch of old Yakima area signs there that flash and light up and it’s just cool to see.
If it’s still light out when you’re done with the museum, Franklin Park is located basically in the museum’s backyard. There’s a really nice playground there, a huge green space for kids to run around and play games, tennis courts, and a nice amphitheater that hosts live music.
If you’re there in the summer months, be sure to check out the Franklin Park Summer Sunset Concert Series. It runs Friday nights from July through mid-August.
Next door to the park is a public pool, which actually is hosting an April Pools Day event on, you guessed it, April 1st with free swimming, safety lessons, and more.
Now that it’s getting late, you’re probably getting hungry, let’s go have some dinner.
We highly suggest local favorite Cowiche Canyon Kitchen (202 E Yakima Ave). The ambiance is really nice for a date night, but it also feels casual enough that you don’t have to get dressed up to dine there.
I had the Mediterranean Chicken Kabobs, which came with cherry tomatoes and red onion on the skewers, and then jasmine rice, kalamata olive, hummus, tzatziki, and pitas on the side. It was one of the best things I ate in the area.
The restaurant is definitely affordable, but if you’re eating on a budget, there are a bunch of restaurants in the area that you can buy Restaurant.com gift cards for. I always look for those when I’m planning trips where I’m really stretching my travel budget. You buy a discounted restaurant certificate and easily save on your meal.
In Yakima, you can use it at restaurants like El Mirador, Willy D’s, and Last Frontier Restaurant. Let’s talk about that last one a little more. Last Frontier Restaurant is located in Nob Hill Bowl (3807 W Nob Hill Blvd), which is actually one of our late night suggestions.
If you’re looking for something to do, bowling is a good idea. And Last Frontier Restaurant is in the bowling alley, so bowling after dinner just makes sense.
However, if you walk in the bowling alley and look to your left, there’s a small door for Nob Hill Casino. Yes, there’s the tiniest casino I’ve ever stepped foot into in the bowling alley. When you open the door, there are a handful of table games … and no windows. It feels kind of hidden and illusive.
I only ran in to purchase a chip and then ran out, so I can’t tell you how lucky the casino is, but you might want to try your luck.
And, if you feel really lucky, you can head to Casino Caribbean (1901 Boggess Ln) too. This one feels like a casino that found itself inside a Rainforest Cafe. It’s bigger, for sure, than Nob Hill Casino, but still not as big as an Atlantic City casino. It is free standing, though, and has a bunch of tables (and a restaurant).
As with Nob Hill, I only ran in for a chip and ran out, so I can’t tell you if this one was lucky either. But it might be.
If casinos aren’t your thing, but theater is for you, check out the events schedule for live performances happening at the Capitol Theatre (19 S 3rd St). The historic building’s architect was B. Marcus Pretica, who was the choice of Alexander Pantages. Pantages is renowned throughout the Western United States since he built a network of theaters there.
Actually, there’s one in Tacoma. Which we mentioned in a post because it’s haunted. Coincidentally, the Capitol Theatre is haunted too.
The ghost of a stagehand, known as Shorty, haunts the theater. Ah, we shouldn’t say haunts. He’s a very friendly ghost that plays pranks. Like turning on the lights when no one is in the building and causing keys to stop working.
If none of those appeal to you, this is when you can check out the area’s local wineries and breweries.
Personally, we loved the atmosphere at Bale Breaker Brewing Company (1801 Birchfield Rd). If I lived in Yakima, this would be my spot. There’s a gorgeous outdoor area with picnic tables and a huge screened in outdoor area, so if it’s a nice day out, it’s perfect.
If you’d rather go wine tasting, we’re gonna pass you off to this link. There are over 90 wineries, many which boast a tasting room, in the area. That link has a comprehensive wine map that we can’t even try to replicate.
Now that you’ve had your fill of bowling or ghosts or both, it’s time for bed.
The Hotel Maison (21 East Yakima Ave), which is part of Hilton, is centrally located in downtown Yakima. It’s a two minute walk from the Capitol Theatre and also two minutes from Cowiche Canyon Kitchen. So it’s super convenient if you’re actually following our recommendations.
If you are walking from one to the other, walk to the building that’s attached to Hotel Maison. That’s City Place. It was formerly the downtown Yakima Mall, but now it’s a multi-use space with office buildings, which isn’t really that exciting. But, there’s artwork on display in the windows of a street facing empty space. That’s part of Yakima’s Windows Alive program, which is part of the downtown revitalization.
That’s a really cool initiative.
Empty storefronts are, unfortunately, common, especially given the way the world’s been lately. So, the program fills the empty storefronts with artwork from local artists. It’s a great way to support local artists and fill up downtown. It’s brilliant.
Ghosts last night at the Capitol Theatre, zombies this morning. Cheese Zombies, that is.
If you’re from the area, you will squeal with delight over the words cheese zombie. If you’re not local, let me explain. Back in the 1950’s, schools in the Yakima area were given a lot of (government) cheese. So, the cafeteria workers decided to put that cheese in bread. Which sounds like a grilled cheese, right? Except it’s not. I mean, it is but it’s not.
The cheese is put in the middle of two sheets of dough that are pinched together, then baked. So it comes out looking like a sheet pan cake … and is cut that way.
Personally, I think it’s a lot of bread for the amount of cheese. But that’s because I grew up on the other side of the country from the cheese zombie. For people who went to school in the Yakima Valley, it’s the perfect, nostalgic ratio.
Getting the cheese zombie now, outside of a school cafeteria, is pretty hard. You can find it at Bron Yr Aur Brewing (12160 US-12, Naches) on specific days in specific seasons. We, however, found it at Viera’s Bakery & Deli (516 W Lincoln Ave). Get there early if you want this for breakfast because it will sell out.
If it does, go with a doughnut for breakfast.
I’m not really a sweets for breakfast person, but the doughnuts at Viera’s Bakery are so light and airy and delicious. It’s like eating a sweet cloud of dough. There are also a bunch of other pastries at the bakery, like croissants and cookies, so grab some for later.
Now that you’re full of carbs and cheese (but mostly carbs), walk it off at the Yakima Area Arboretum (1401 Arboretum Dr). The botanical garden is 12 acres of greenway and flowers with a gorgeous Japanese pagoda within in. There’s a water with bridges traversing it (a staple in Japanese gardens), which is just a really nice, serene spot to sit rest for a minute since you’ve really been running through town.
In spring and summer, you can take that rest over at the garden’s rose garden, which I can only imagine is beautiful when it’s in bloom.
If it’s fall, you can enjoy the fall foliage on the trees, which is what we did. And winter gives you a great view of all the trees that the arboretum has to offer.
If you want lunch and a show before you head out of town, head over to Reno’s on the Runway (2012 S 16th Ave), especially if it’s a clear day. It’s basically on the runway of the McAllister Field, a very small airport with (if the Internet is to be believed) one actual scheduled passenger flight. It does have cargo flights.
So, as you sit and eat your lunch (guacamole stuffed avocado, if you’re looking for recommendations), you can watch the planes fly. So fun.
And, if you’re not museum’ed out from yesterday, the McAllister Museum of Aviation (2008 S 16th Ave) is right next door. You can 55 displays about the history of Central Washington Aviation, including a ton of aircrafts and engines.
The museum preserves the history of Charles and Alister McAllister, who have been dubbed the “Wright Brothers of Yakima Aviation” (because why not).
If you’ve had enough of museums, but you still have a little time before your 24 hours is over, you have a couple options.
If it’s nice out and you want to spend some time outside, the Yakima Sportsman State Park (904 University Pkwy) is a 266-acre state park with nature trails, a playground, and more. For a rainy day activity, a great option is the Yakima Family Fun Center (7200 W Nob Hill Blvd #1928) in the Meadowbrook Mall. That’s a fun indoor arcade for kids.
In the same parking lot as the Family Fun Center is Ace Hardware (7200 W Nob Hill Blvd). And sure, that’s not somewhere you really want to spend your vacation however inside this Ace Hardware is a Owens Meat vending machine. Yes, it’s a vending machine that sells meat.
Owens Meat is a Cle Elum, Washington staple, but since you’re not in Cle Elum, getting beef jerky out of a vending machine in an Ace Hardware is the best you’re gonna do. Plus, it’s a good story. And as we’ve established, Yakima is filled with those.
And now your 24 hours in Yakima are over. You can go anywhere you’d like, but you can’t stay here. So travel the very short drive to Union Gap or Toppenish. Or, take the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway to Ellensburg or Issaquah. Or maybe keep going and do a day trip in Tacoma and Seattle.
Wherever you go, you’ll enjoy it.
Seasonal Things To Do In Yakima, WA:
The Downtown Yakima Farmers Market, selling fresh produce and local wares, is on Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm from mid May through October. It usually on 3rd St. but will be moving to a newly constructed rotary market building (located in a lot next to the Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital). That’s slated to be finished by the May 14, 2023 opening.
Holiday Light Fest at State Fair Park
During Christmastime, State Fair Park hosts a drive through light fest, which is incredible. So, if you’re in the area in December, check it out.
Yakima Taco Fest
Sign me up to be at the annual Yakima Taco Fest in May. Food trucks set up and sell tacos, beer vendors are on site, there’s a stage with music, and more all at the State Fair Park and Event Center.
One of the most fun things to do is sit outside, eat food off a truck, and listen to music. So go to this if you’re in town. You’ll have the best time.
Yakima Valley Sundome:
The Yakima Valley Sundome is a huge events center in Yakima. It hosts things like sporting events, home and garden shows, the Central Washington State Fair, concerts, and more. Be sure to check the Sundome’s schedule while you’re planning your trip.
Which of these things to do in Yakima, Washington are you adding to your itinerary? Let us know in the comments.