ELLENSBURG — We know that you know that Ellensburg hosts one of the country's biggest rodeos every Labor Day weekend, four days...

ELLENSBURG — We know that you know that Ellensburg hosts one of the country’s biggest rodeos every Labor Day weekend, four days of watching cowboys and laughing at city slickers dressed up like cowboys.

But what about the other 361 days in Ellensburg? We toured this south Kittitas County town, population 17,220, which was once in the running to be the state capital. Turns out, there’s plenty to do. Ten-gallon Stetsons not required. Here’s an itinerary for a day trip over Snoqualmie Pass and back:

9:30 a.m.

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After a 90-minute drive from the Seattle area, you’ll be ready for breakfast. Head to Palace Café, 323 N. Main St., which has been serving the locals since 1892. The dining rooms are lined with black-and-white photos of locals in their Model Ts and horse-and-buggy rigs.

Grab a historic fact sheet at the front counter for a self-guided photo tour while you wait for your Eggs Benedict.

On weekends, locals brunch at the Yellow Church Café, where German Lutherans worshipped back in the 1920s. “My dad said this is the only church he goes to on weekends,” quipped Leslie Berry, an Ellensburg native.

The Yellow Church Café is at 111 S. Pearl St. (Really, do you need an address to find a sunshine-bright yellow church in a small town?)

10:30 a.m.

If you go this weekend, you might still catch one of Central Washington University’s Chimposiums, where researchers with the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute teach chimpanzees sign language. Visitors are taught a few signs to communicate with the four chimpanzees. Chimposiums, located at the corner of Nicholson Boulevard and D Street, are offered on weekends from March through November. Saturday is the last day this year for viewing. (Call 509-963-2244 for reservations.)

While on campus, check out the Japanese Garden, next to the Student Union & Recreation Center. Also stop by the rec center for tips on the best rafting, hiking and biking trails. The new rec center includes a climbing wall that is open to children ages 6 to 14. Alumni may rent outdoors gear here. (For information on the recreation center, call 509-963-3536.)


Check out the Clymer Museum of Art, 416 N. Pearl St., featuring the work of the late John Ford Clymer, an Ellensburg native who illustrated 80 covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Don’t say his stuff looks like Norman Rockwell. (At least not out loud, anyway.) Some oldtimers consider their Clymer an original.

For modern art, head a few doors over to Gallery One, 408 N. Pearl St.

For outdoor art, check out the “Ellensburg Bull” sculpture at the Rotary Pavilion, on Pearl Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenue, by Richard Beyer, the artist who brought Fremont the “Waiting for the Interurban” artwork. The well-endowed bull was considered too risque, so a cowboy hat has since been strategically placed.

And come see Dick and Jane’s Spot. The house, 101 N. Pearl St., is not just decorated because of the coming Christmas season. For the past 29 years, homeowners Richard C. Elliott and Jane Orleman (Dick and Jane also had a dog named Spot) sculpted and painted artwork outside their two-story house and showcase the work of 40 other artists on their front yard. The exterior features 10,000 bottle caps and 2,000 bike reflectors.

Seattle has commissioned Elliott to create artwork along a two-block retaining wall on Martin Luther King Jr. Way as part of the new light-rail project.

Need a pick-me-upper? Grab some coffee, but don’t utter “Starbucks.” The natives love the family-owned D & M Coffee (five locations). Or grab some ice cream at Winegar’s (three locations), a former dairy farm that for decades sold milk out of bottles to generations of Ellensburgers.

Also check out Kittitas Valley Historical Museum, 114 E. Third Ave.

1:30 p.m. (lunch)

This isn’t a hick town. Most restaurants feature premium wines. Business owners now realize Ellensburg should be a gateway to the wine community, with Yakima a 40-minute drive away and Walla Walla 2 ½ hours away.

Credit Valley Café, 105 W. Third St., and its owner, Gregory Beach, for putting a spotlight on wine here 20 years ago. His art-deco-style cafe and wine shop is one of the most acclaimed wine businesses in Eastern Washington, selling cult wines from Leonetti Cellar and Cayuse Vineyards. His cafe remains one of the best places to eat.

The lanky, distinguished, gray-haired Beach provides small-town hospitality. He’ll give visitors a Wine 101 course and some free tasting, too.

Or eat at Morelli’s Cafe Italiano, 423 N Main St., a popular lunch spot for local waiters and bartenders.

3 p.m.

Head south from downtown, turn on Umptanum Road, then go a quarter-mile past the Interstate 90 overpass to Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park. Stroll along the Yakima River, on a trail that leads to the city park and its lakes. It’s a 20-minute walk.

The park is “less than a mile from downtown Ellensburg, but you are out in the river, out in the dense forest. It’s kind of our little oasis,” said Brad Case, the city’s Parks and Recreation Center Director.

4 p.m.

Return to historic downtown. For a souvenir, visit the Ellensburg Agate & Bead Shop, 201 S. Main St., or Kim Khap Gems and Jewelry, 108 N. Main St., for the “Ellensburg Blue,” a distinctive agate — found only in this town — that jewelers make into earrings and necklaces.

Other stops of interest include Gifts of the Crow, 304 N. Pearl St., a novelty store, and Jaguar’s, 423 N. Pearl St., for Western-wear and rhinestone-studded purses.

Or grab a walking map of historic downtown from the Chamber of Commerce, 609 N. Main St., and tour the dozens of historic buildings.

5 p.m. (dinner)

Pearl’s on Pearl, 311 N. Pearl St., a wine bar and bistro, features a wine list that includes Walla Walla favorites such as Abeja and Isenhower Cellars.

For something more casual, head to The Tav, 117 W. Fourth Ave., a favorite local haunt where oldtimers, professors and students often gather for a beer or three.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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Northwest Weekend reporters pay for all travel, meals and accommodations. No subsidies or special offers unavailable to the general public have been accepted in preparation of this report.