Road Trip Report: Eastern Washington College Towns

The Tako family has been on the road this week.  We’ve been traveling around Eastern Washington, seeing the sights and checking out small college towns.  We think small college towns make great places to live, and we’re looking for a place we might like to live.

Unfortunately, because I wasted enjoyed my time traveling this week, I haven’t had nearly enough time to write-up one of my usual posts about financial independenceinvesting, saving, or even food.

Sorry folks!

Instead, I’m going share our travels with you via a ‘photo trip report’ .


Getting To Eastern Washington

The first step in a successful road trip is packing.  We try to pack light for road trips, but it’s not easy when you have small children along.  We also knew the weather was going to be ungodly hot in Washington this week, so we packed a full size cooler full of snacks and drinks along with the necessary ice packs!

packing for road trip

The road out to eastern Washington is mainly freeways (which are pretty boring), but we opted to follow the Columbia river east instead.  It takes longer than cutting across the state, but it’s by far the more scenic route.

columbia river

Along the way, we decided to stop for some ‘local food’  — A taqueria near the Oregon/Washington border filled our hungry bellies with delicious Mexican eats.


Taco Jr. #2 was very entertained by the fact that we were eating out for a change. (We hardly eat out).  He couldn’t focus on his meal and started clowning around instead.  Oh well, at least he takes cute pictures.

think about it.

Heading east along the Columbia river, we passed a ton of giant wind turbines generating electricity.  These (and a hundred more not in the photo) didn’t exist the last time I traveled to eastern Washington.  Renewable power generation is really growing!

wind turbines


Stop 1: Walla Walla, WA

After many hours of driving, we reached the first major stop on our trip — Historic and beautiful downtown Walla Walla.

walla walla downtown 0

While many people might have heard of Walla Walla’s famous sweet onions, you probably haven’t heard this little town is absolutely gorgeous.  The streets are lined with trees and hanging flower baskets, amidst historic brick buildings.

walla walla downtown 2

Literally this is the most gorgeous small town I think I’ve ever seen… and it was absurdly clean.  We walked around for hours and never saw even a scrap of trash.  Look at the photos if you don’t believe me — it was just spotless.

walla walla downtown 1

After all that walking we had to sample some of the local food … to make certain it met our deliciously high standards.  This ‘sampling’ was met with significant success.

pizza strawberry gelato
We even found a few friendly octopi hidden in odd corners of this town.

inland octopus  I spy octopus
Besides being famous for onions, Walla Walla is home to Whitman College.  We went for a quick stroll on the campus, and it proved just as beautiful.

  whitman campus


Stop 2:  Ellensburg, WA

The next college town on our road trip, was Ellensburg Washington.  This was our first time to Ellensburg, so we had no idea what to expect of this small town.

Surprisingly, it was very similar to Walla Walla.  The downtown area was very pedestrian friendly and beautiful.

ellensburg downtown

Instead of hanging baskets, Ellensburg had abundant flowerpots strategically placed around street corners.

ellensburg street corner

Historic brick buildings were also in abundance.  What is it about college towns and brick buildings anyway?

ellensburg iconic brick buildings

Ellensburg had this funky cowboy vibe going on too.  Quirky artwork was in abundance.

ellensburg mural  ellensburg sitting bull
While we didn’t spend a lot of time touring the college campus, Ellensburg is home to beautiful Central Washington University (which happens to have the cheapest tuition in the state!).

central washington university


This trip, we visited two college towns in eastern Washington over three days.  We liked both towns, but we’re not ready to make any decisions yet.

Mrs. Tako and I agree that more research is needed.  We’d like to see both these towns when school is in session — Does the town suddenly get crowded?  Are the students noisy and troublesome?

Seeing these towns during other seasons (fall, winter, or spring) might also help give us context for what living in these small towns might be like.

There’s another college town in eastern Washington that needs mentioning too — Pullman Washington.  While we didn’t visit Pullman as part of this road trip, we’ve actually been there multiple times before (visiting friends).  It’s another small college town, much like Walla Walla and Ellensburg.  Beautiful, quiet, and pedestrian friendly.

There’s a lot of positives to living in small towns — a lack of traffic and city noise, cheaper real estate prices, smog free air, plenty of space, and a family friendly environment come to mind.

But, there’s also challenges to living in small towns too…. a lack of ethnic diversity being a big one.  While college towns tend to be better in this regard, it would be a major adjustment for our family.

Could we adjust to these differences and make one of these towns our new home?

You’ll just have to keep reading to find out!


[Image credit: Flickr1, Flickr2, Flickr3]

21 thoughts on “Road Trip Report: Eastern Washington College Towns

  • August 2, 2017 at 3:34 AM

    I’m glad you and your family had a great road trip! We have also thought about having a road trip this summer, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    I used to go to college in a small town. It was peaceful and quiet except for the high level of poverty and crime rates there. There was also a lack of diversity and great restaurants. Overall, I think it forced the students to party on campus more or make long trips to big cities on the weekends.

    • August 2, 2017 at 9:37 AM

      I’ve checked out the crime rates in these towns, and it appears to be slightly lower (per capita) than the rest of Washington state. Meaning, it’s fairly safe.

      We rarely eat out, so my ideal town doesn’t need to have great restaurants. But diversity is an open question for us. College towns are much better than the average small town in that regard.

  • August 2, 2017 at 6:35 AM

    Mr.Wow has always said that there’s a good chance that we will end up in a college town some day, not sure when that will actually be though. College towns have a lot to offer: stuff to do, food, events, etc. Interested to hear where else you check out. Although, those octopi sightings might be a sign Mr.Tako!

    • August 2, 2017 at 9:39 AM

      We’ve already looked at several college towns in Oregon too — Eugene and Corvallis. They’re great towns, but more expensive than Walla Walla or Ellensburg. We’d like to go back to the Oregon college towns when school is in session also.

  • August 2, 2017 at 6:41 AM

    Both those towns look lovely. I’d just not be sure about living there versus visiting. I guess a college town would have more services for entertainment, shopping, fresh grocery options, good doctors and dentists. But specialist hospitals and airport connectivity will likely be a challenge.

    Some of the small towns in the rural parts of Thailand are absolutely beautiful but I suspect it would get awfully boring after staying there for more than a few months.


    • August 2, 2017 at 9:43 AM

      Some good points there Mike. In general, there’s plenty of entertainment and fresh grocery options in both these towns (they’re not that tiny!)

      It’s true that for specialist doctor’s we’d probably need to go to a larger city however. We’re pretty healthy, so I don’t expect this to be a problem.

  • August 2, 2017 at 8:51 AM

    Thanks for the virtual road trip! I loved Washington. Sadly I only know the base near Yakima and a little bit of Seattle so thanks for expanding my knowledge.

    I’m always amused by the concept of “college town”. I went to UCLA, but do love the atmosphere provided by such towns as Davis in California and Ft. Collins, Colorado. I look forward to more research!

  • August 2, 2017 at 11:00 AM

    Very nice small towns. They are completely different from Mrs. RB40’s home town in the CA desert. It is just a working class town along the freeway. These college towns are like a fantasy, very picturesque.

    • August 6, 2017 at 9:49 AM

      They’re really pretty aren’t they? They reminds me of Pleasantville or something.

  • August 2, 2017 at 12:59 PM

    As someone living in Florida it’s great seeing another one of your adventures in the Northwest. I guess my city could be considered a college town, and yep during the first few weeks of school it definitely picks up around here (for better and worse). Love the octopus sightings btw!
    Costblogger recently posted…Ultimate Costco Travel Guide

  • August 2, 2017 at 5:18 PM

    Easter Washington? Five months of winter. Real winter, not that sissy west coast stuff where people freak out at an inch of slush. Cold? Cold enough to freeze tentacles.

    • August 6, 2017 at 9:48 AM

      Depends upon where you go Bob. Yes, some places are extremely cold, but others are pretty mild.

  • August 3, 2017 at 1:44 PM

    Nice trip! Loved seeing the pictures of Ellensburg. Went to CWU and haven’t been back for a long time since we live out of state now.

    You missed Cheney, WA as well. Not nearly as nice as Ellensburg though.

    • August 6, 2017 at 9:47 AM

      Thanks Eric. I’ll give Cheney a virtual look and see if it’s some place we’re interested.

  • August 4, 2017 at 10:37 AM

    Looks like a great road trip with captured memories – very charming. College towns by me (DC metro area) are cities, BIG and busy – would not want to live there 🙂
    I hope you find something nice. Btw we usually pack coolers full of stuff too, but are still tempted to eat out quite a bit.

  • August 6, 2017 at 2:34 AM

    “We even found a few friendly octopi hidden in odd corners of this town.”

    It’s a sign! You need to go live there 🙂

    I hear you on the lack of ethnic diversity in small towns. In Canada, we have a small town near Toronto called Waterloo (where Wanderer and I went to college) and it actually bucks this trend (because of all the Asian students studying at Waterloo, which has reported been called the “MIT of Canada). In the end, the pros might overweight the cons, or they might now. Sometimes it makes sense to live there for a few weeks and see if you like it.

    Good luck in your search! Hope you find the perfect college town!

  • August 20, 2017 at 10:45 AM

    Don’t forget Moscow Idaho. Might be the nicest small college town in the whole region and just across the border from Pullman


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