Ellensburg, Washington, is just a two-hour drive from Seattle and is one of the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest. Located east of the Cascade Mountain Range off Interstate 90, Ellensburg offers outdoor recreation like biking, fishing on the Yakima River, hiking and more. The charming city is home to around 20,000 people, and is located in Kittitas County, named one of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the country in 2017. It’s a community where people know their neighbors and also welcome fresh faces. The historic downtown is full of shops, galleries, museums and fabulous restaurants that will keep you busy during a weekend visit.
In the summer months, local and regional vendors fill the street, selling their fresh produce and wares at the Ellensburg Farmers Market, open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays May through October. Throughout the year you can catch beer festivals, 5Ks, comedy shows, car shows and live music events throughout the city.
Whether you’re visiting Central Washington University, here for the Ellensburg Rodeo or just passing through, there’s more than meets the eye to this small town, located in the center of the state. There’s also the added bonus of free parking.
Downtown Arts and Culture
Ellensburg has a vibrant arts community ranging from downtown murals on historic buildings to art galleries and classes. If you arrive in Ellensburg on the first Friday of the month you’ll find the downtown bustling with activity as businesses host the First Friday Art Walk, where each venue showcases a different artist’s work each month.
Gallery One, open seven days a week, offers rotating high-quality and diverse contemporary art exhibits, while the Clymer Museum offers a peek into the town’s western heritage. The Clymer Museum has partnered with the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame and the Western Art Association to form the Western Culture and Art Center under one roof on Pearl Street.
The Kittitas County Historical Museum, located on Third Avenue, is open Monday through Saturday for those hoping to discover pieces of county history. The museum offers displays including antique automobiles, items from early Ellensburg and Kittitas County businesses, military history items and more.
A must-visit place for fans of the creative is Dick and Jane’s Spot, a house off of First Avenue and Pearl Street, decorated with more than 10,000 bottle caps and thousands of reflector pieces. The home belongs to artist Jane Orleman and late artist Richard Elliott, both of whom transformed the home into a work of art. The house features artwork from more than 40 other Northwest artists. Free public parking is located on the north side of the house.
The city of Ellensburg boasts 20 parks, including outdoor trails, athletic fields, playgrounds and pocket parks. For a walk in nature, take a stroll on the wooded trail at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park off Umptanum Road or head over to Carey Lake, fondly known as People’s Pond for volleyball and barbecues.
Are you traveling with dogs? The city of Ellensburg has two off-leash dog parks — one with lake access at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park and another at Rotary Park off of Fifth Avenue. The off-leash park at Rotary has two fenced in areas with ample running room. One is for small or timid dogs, while the other is for larger dogs and those comfortable socializing with others. There’s a great community of regular park-goers so both dogs and people can work on their socialization skills.
Grab a Beer
Iron Horse Brewery, located on Main Street in downtown, is known regionally for its Irish Death, a dark smooth ale with notes of chocolate. Other winners from the brewery are the High Five Hefe, their take on a hefeweizen with added honey and ginger, and the 509, an easy drinking, Northwest mild ale. Can’t decide what to drink? Grab a sampler for tasters of 4-6 beers on tap so you can also try their rotating seasonals.
The brewery aims to create a community gathering space where customers from all walks of life are welcome to join the banter and revelry derived from visiting an independent craft brewery. It serves a menu with pub staples like beer pretzels and burgers, but also has unexpected offerings like a beet salad and the Hamilton, a Korean pickled chicken sandwich with kimchee slaw. All are equally delicious when paired with a cold pint. Their outdoor patio allows dogs, but you must enter from the outdoor gate. Enjoy a game of cornhole while sipping your beer on the patio on a warm sunny day.
Whipsaw Brewing, located on Wenas Street, is equally worth a stop. Their Buzz On Blackberry Wheat Ale with blackberry, lemon and floral qualities is a local favorite. Their Stumpblower IPA is a bright, hoppy beer with grapefruit, lime, papaya and strawberry aromas. Both beers are also available for purchase to go in cans. Another hit is their non-alcoholic root beer. Whipsaw features indoor and outdoor seating, and allows people to bring in their own food or purchase some from an on-site food truck, currently the Aardvark Express.
Downtown Ellensburg is filled with locally owned businesses selling clothes, gifts, books, flowers, home goods, furniture and more.
Evolve Clothing + Jewelry, located on Pearl Street, is a unique boutique specializing in boho clothing, jewelry, housewares and gifts, many which are imported from India, Thailand and Nepal. Evolve focuses on fair trade, one-of-a-kind quality goods, and the owner Hildi Neff makes annual trips to India to pick out her favorite wares. While browsing Evolve’s collection you’re sure to find a brightly colored print or a scarf to enhance your wardrobe.
Claim Clothing on Pearl Street brings fashion forward and affordable clothing, jewelry, accessories and handbags to Ellensburg, and most items sold are under $50. CWU alumna Megan West opened the store in 2014, and has been bringing affordable and trendy options to the boutique year after year.
Are you planning to do some outdoor recreating while visiting? Stop by Mountain High Sports on Fourth Avenue to purchase high-quality outdoor clothing, footwear and equipment, or rent equipment for the day.
Where to Eat
Start your morning with avocado toast or a scramble bowl with potatoes, eggs, sausage, bacon and cheese and green chili at The Early Bird on Water Street. For sweeter choices, go with the waffles covered with either Nutella and berries or banana and macadamia nuts. When there isn’t snow on the ground you can sit on their outside patio and take in the morning sunshine.
Hayday Bake & Brew on Fourth Avenue opened this year, and is serving up coffee, bagels, wine and beer, fresh-baked breads, quiche, baklava and pastries like lemon raisin scones and raspberry bars. They sell pies and custom cakes by the pan. Gluten-free and vegan options are available. If you don’t find window seats downstairs, head upstairs for additional seating.
D&M Coffee has four locations in Ellensburg, and serves up its own small batch artisan roasted coffee, which is also available for purchase by the bag. Order a Claussen to sound like a local. It’s a caramel Americano iced with a double shot and a splash of cream, named for former D&M barista Amy Claussen. They also serve up lunch options like soup, quiche and pastas.
Craving a burger? Head to The Tav. Want pizza? Cornerstone Pie or Brix are two great choices. For a unique menu of burgers and sandwiches with Guatemalan flair try The Red Pickle. The Red Pickle started as a food truck, grew in popularity, and later moved into their current building on Fourth Avenue. If you go with the Gauchito Burger, a beef burger patty marinated in chimichuri sauce served on a bun with cheese, lettuce and sriracha mayo, always add the egg. The house cut specialty fries are served with either rosemary or Cajun seasoning. The custom cocktails are the real passion of owner Mario Alfaro, who has come up with a menu of signature drinks like the Strawberry Mint Sangria and Jalapeno Margarita.
For a sweet treat, Winegar’s Coffee and Creamery is the place to go. Winegar’s has two Ellensburg locations, but the location west of Central Washington University has the added bonus of being connected to Jerrol’s, a longtime community business currently specializing in books and craft supplies. Winegar’s has been making small batch premium handcrafted ice cream for over 25 years. Think about trying the Gary Dough, maple ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough pieces or Sax’s Salted Caramel, their classic vanilla bean ice cream with a salted caramel swirl. The menu also features coffee and Whipsaw root beer floats, featuring Winegar’s ice cream and nonalcoholic root beer from Whipsaw Brewing.
If you want to stay in the heart of the downtown, Hotel Windrow is the new premier boutique hotel located at the northeast corner of North Main Street and Fifth Avenue in downtown. Amenities include a rooftop deck, fitness center, lobby market, business center and the Basalt restaurant and craft cocktail lounge featuring seasonal fresh offerings and regional beer and wine.
For a camping experience consider the Ellensburg KOA, which offers year-round camping opportunities on the Yakima River. The Ellensburg location features deluxe camping cabins, teepees in the summer months, camping spots and RV hookups. Amenities include fire pits, picnic tables, horseshoe, playground areas, volleyball, a convenience store, laundry facilities (small fee), restrooms and showers.
If you need another reason to say “Yes” to a weekend in Ellensburg, check with the Ellensburg Downtown Association to learn about upcoming community events. The EDA hosts its own seasonal events like the Spring Girls Night Out, Children’s Day Downtown, Buskers in the Burg and more. It’s rare to find a weekend in Ellensburg where there’s not an event or activity happening somewhere in the city.