Saddle Up to Ellensburg

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by Lara Dunning | Photo © Creative Commons

The central Washington city of Ellensburg has a strong connection to the Western frontier, which, in part, springs from its earliest settlers, A.J. Spawn and Ben Burch, who opened the town’s first store in 1870, dubbed “Robber’s Roost.” Modern Ellensburg is widely known for its cowboy spirit and annual rodeo, but after spending a few days sampling restaurants and seeing the sights, you’ll discover there’s much more to the city than saddles and spurs.
For an authentic Ellensburg experience stay at the 1888 Victorian lodging, Guesthouse Ellensburg (guesthouseellensburg.com), which belonged to a former town mayor. The wine named suites—Merlot and Syrah—are furnished with English antiques and modern amenities, and the guesthouse is within walking distance of shops, restaurants and museums.

Stroll through downtown to admire the historic buildings and murals, particularly “Phoenix Rising” on the Davidson building, which symbolizes the town’s rebirth after a devastating fire in 1889 which destroyed 200 Victorian-era homes and 10 business blocks.

After you’ve built up an appetite, head to the Starlight Lounge for a Washington mule or a classic martini and spicy appetizers like Texas-style baby back pork ribs and chipotle cheeseburger sliders.

On Saturdays, visit the Kittitas County Farmers Market or enjoy breakfast at The Palace Café, a popular 100-year-old establishment. The river trails at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park are perfect for outdoor lovers, and history buffs will be transported back in time at the Kittitas County Historical Museum (kchm.org) with its historical collection of antique cars and gold-mining and timber tools.

Across from the museum, BRIX by Elevage Wine Co. tempts with savory items like devils on horseback or an Ellensburg cowboy pizza. If you’re in the mood for a beverage, Iron Horse Brewery serves locally brewed beer, and Gard Vintners Wine Tasting Room pours their Columbia Valley wines.

Spend the afternoon perusing boutique shops or learn about Ellensburg’s Western illustrator and painter at the John Ford Clymer Museum & Gallery (clymermuseum.com). Throughout his career Clymer won many awards, but his most well-known body of work is more than 80 covers for the Saturday Evening Post.

A 25-minute drive away is the Wild Horse Wind & Solar Facility with 149 wind turbines and panoramic vistas. Join a free, guided, twice-daily tour and marvel at the insides of an active wind turbine. Back in town, snap a picture cozied up to the celebrated “Ellensburg Bull” in downtown’s Rotary Pavilion and then sample a locally-sourced dish at the art deco designed Valley Café.

Go to myellensburg.com to find out more about Ellensburg.