If you want to extend the warmth of our past spectacular summer just a bit, Washington’s Tri-cities beckon in southcentral Washington. The October average temperature hovers around a pleasant 66 degrees. The three cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick) offer family-friendly farm activities, wine-tasting on warm patios, affordable dining, colorful hikes and quirky stops.

From Seattle, two main routes head south to the Tri-Cities after going over the I-90 pass (currently aflame with fire-colored vine maples). You could shoot along I-82, which traverses mountains that rise like rolling waves. But taking WA-243 south from Vantage rewards drivers with spectacular fall scenery. The two-lane road threads between the Columbia River and dramatic basalt columns, sweeping vineyards and swirling sand, as autumn turns nearby shrubs yellow, orange and red.

The road ends in Richland, a good home base for riverfront lodging, plentiful restaurant options and easy access to outdoor fall fun. Orient yourself to the landscape and ancient history with the 3.6-mile Candy Mountain Trail, featuring interpretive markers so you can learn your sagebrush from rabbitbrush. Watch for enormous “irregulars,” or rocks placed in situ by ice-age floods. Turn 360 degrees along the trail’s ridge to enjoy valley views and to spot the nearby, more strenuous hiking at Badger Mountain, along with Horse Heaven Hills, and even Mount Adams and Mount Rainier on blue-sky days.  

Stop for lunch post-hike at Endive Eatery, a Euro-style bistro disguised in a strip mall for a coffee and pastry, brunch or lunch. Select from the day’s fresh quiches at the case or order wholesome vegan, vegetarian and meaty international fare. The extensive menu includes several Benedict takes, sausage rolls, bowls, soups, salads and sandwiches. Creative salads and the Sexy Time sandwich (grilled chicken breast, bacon, caramelized onions, brie) are also on offer at Graze, with two locations in the Tri-Cities.

Then, roll into the outdoor Uptown Shopping Center, part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The low-slung mall first opened in 1949, a throwback adorned with newer midcentury-style murals and vintage neon signs. Plunder for serendipitous finds amid multiple antique malls, funky shops and Adventures Underground, a haven for fantasy and sci-fi fans, tabletop game players, and parents of kids who love all of the above. Gaggles of teens browse the incense, T-shirts and eccentric gifts at Octopus Garden.

The center’s food options range from doughnuts to dive bars and everything in between. Plan to line up (the next morning) at Spudnut Shop before the potato-based doughnuts sell out. At Kagen’s Coffee and Crepes, staff flip and fill thin pancakes with savory and sweet fillings. For delicious pizza, hot, balloon-like pita served with hummus, and other tapas, visit Dovetail Joint, the mall’s most upscale resident with indoor and outdoor dining areas.

Next, set up at your hotel. Affordable chain hotels line streets throughout the Tri-Cities, but after the long drive, reward yourself with a stay right on the Columbia River. Richland offers the area’s only four-star hotel, the Lodge at Columbia Point, where you’ll find spacious rooms with riverside views and complimentary continental breakfast, a sheltered-yet-outdoor pool and hot tub, a small library, and an on-site full-service restaurant and bar.

The Marriott Courtyard Richland Point’s one-bedroom suites next door might be a good choice for families requiring separate sleeping quarters. Both the Lodge and Marriott offer free bikes for use, allowing guests to cruise the wide, flat and paved 7-mile pedestrian and bike Riverfront Trail along the Columbia. Rest on a river-facing swinging bench and watch for skunks, migrating birds and other wildlife among colorful autumn trees and shrubs at sunset. You’ll also come upon Howard Amon Park’s beach, playground and grassy spaces, and Northwest art at Gallery at the Park.

For dinner in Richland, dig into ribs at Porter’s Real Barbecue, or burgers, banh mi and pasta at Frost Me Sweet Bakery and Bistro. Near the waterfront, you’ll find The Bradley, which offers indoor and patio seating for a leisurely meal. Try Nicoise salad, confit wings in two rotating sauces (ask to split an order, to sample both), and other Mediterranean-style tapas, served with wines and house craft cocktails.

For your second day in the Tri-Cities, explore more of the outdoors. Families may want to head east toward Pasco, where amid fields of corn, two major festivals take place throughout October. The Country Mercantile in Pasco offers more amusement-type rides suitable for younger children. Middleton Fall Festival’s ticket price includes more than a dozen old-fashioned activities such as a corn maze, train rides, giant slides, a climbable straw pyramid and more. Just don’t miss Middleton’s apple-cider doughnuts.

Families and adults might stop by the Pasco Flea Market’s dozens of open-air stalls for toys, t-shirts and sweatshirts, mangos and jicama, phone cases and religious icons. If you go hungry, prepare to be overwhelmed by the mouthwatering scent of fresh-made tacos and brightly colored chicharrones de harina.

For adults, outdoor options include numerous golf courses, including Columbia Point, public tennis courts, and hiking and birdwatching at Chamna Natural Preserve. The region is home to clusters of wineries offering tasting and attractively manicured interiors and exteriors. Tagaris Tasting Room and Taverna sets a fine example, featuring a sunny, fountain-equipped patio, Mediterranean cuisine, and an extensive wine list. If you’re still thirsty, two more notable wineries sit next door, J. Bookwalter’s and Barnard Griffin.

Red Mountain Trails (M3 Media photo)

Wine lovers may wish to explore the Red Mountain AVA wine region a few minutes west of Richland, where almost two dozen wineries and tasting rooms dot the vineyards blazing with autumn color. For an Old West experience, Red Mountain Trails takes visitors on horseback or wagon rides through the vineyards, along with 3-hour guided bike wine tours.

After wrapping up your day, a difficult choice must be made: Return home to Seattle, go east toward Walla Walla’s wineries, or just sit in the Tri-Cities sun a little longer.

Before you go: Mask use is less consistent than in the Puget Sound area, however many shop owners and restauranteurs do request and enforce mask usage. Be sure to respect local requests, and stay home if sick so as not to overload regional hospitals with visitors. Restaurants may not have outdoor patio heaters, so bring extra layers if you hope to eat outside and temperatures drop or the wind picks up. Watch for rattlesnakes on hikes.

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