The Rejuvenation of Centralia, WA

by SarahJoy Smith\ Photo ©  Stephen A. Wolfe

Centralia, in its heyday, was a bustling hub of commerce, but recent years were not so good to the little city, and, aside from an outlet mall and a few antique peddlers, there was little to offer anyone detouring off Interstate 5. Then, just a few years ago, some innovative people decided to bring the historic downtown to life again. So far, the rejuvenation is nothing short of amazing, and there’s more to come.

The quaint downtown with it’s main drag is now the perfect place for a day trip or even a quick weekend getaway. Day trippers can enjoy vibrant shopping, arts and dining scenes along the eight-block strip that still boasts brick side streets and historic buildings.

To begin with, try the food. Morning visitors should check out Santa Lucia Coffee Roasters (luciacoffee.com) at Tower and Locust. It’s where the locals go for great coffee and breakfast options. Lunch options include authentic Indian fare or homemade classics like soups and sandwiches from Dawn’s Delectables (dawnsdelectables.com). For dinner you don’t want to miss handcrafted Italian foods at the Boccata Deli and Market (eatatboccata.com), if it’s just the two of you. Families may enjoy the Tiki Tap House (tikitaphouse.com) pizzas across the street. In Centralia, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone at the next table to learn the local scoop on the town’s hot spots.

Weekend travelers enjoy the newly and lovingly refurbished Hotel Centralia Square (centraliasquare.com). The building was home to the Elks in years past, and the current owners can tell a few strange stories about what they found lurking in the rooms as they began the restoration. Oh, if the walls could talk! Each room has been carefully recreated with as many old pieces as could be salvaged. Original marble, claw-foot bathroom fixtures and wooden floors have been matched with high quality beds and art to create a classic feel. (Be sure to check out the ballroom.)

The main drag is also home to Blind Pig Spirits (blindpigspirits.com), a craft distillery with a friendly tasting room, the playfully named Heymann Whinery (heymannwhinery.com), as well as a handful of fun and artful boutiques. The iconic Fox Theatre (centraliafoxtheatre.com) is open again and in the middle of a substantial remodel. Currently, the non-profit in charge shows old movies and hosts shows to bring in patrons and restoration dollars.

While in Centralia, don’t miss McMenamins Olympic Club, a historic establishment with a checkered past that, today, is hybrid hotel-bar-restaurant-theater, all presented in the true fun and funky McMenamins style.

Amtrak makes nine stops a day in Centralia’s historic depot, right in the heart of downtown, and Centralia is also easily accessible by I-5. To learn more about visiting Centralia, go online at cityofcentralia.com. Make sure you check out their summer event calendar.