Road Trip: Pendleton

April 22, 2015 (Updated May 6, 2015)

A brisk wind blows down the sidewalk outside The Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub in Pendleton (pop. 16,935). But the cavernous interior of this brewery housed in a former Packard dealership is warm, welcoming and unaccountably packed on a weekday afternoon. An inside wall retains the remnants of old advertisements, and large windows draw in the Eastern Oregon sunshine to cast a happy glow around the rustic room. With a pint of Splendor in the Glass IPA, you’ll feel like you’ve discovered a well-kept secret. Located 209 miles due east of Portland in Oregon’s cattle country, the entire town of Pendleton feels that way, and it’s definitely worth the road trip.

Old West Traditions
Best known for the annual Pendleton Round-up, the town has hosted this larger than life rodeo every September since 1910. The classic Western rodeo includes steer roping, barrel racing, parades, Native American dancing and kids’ competitions. Take home more than memories: Get fit for a custom cowboy hat at Mountain Peaks Hat Company or a pair of handmade boots at Stapleman’s Custom Boot Shop. For a one-of-a kind saddle, visit the craftsmen at Hamley Western Store or Beckman Saddles. Stop in at Pendleton Woolen Mills, founded in the 19th century and world famous for its blankets designed with Navajo, Hopi and Zuni and other Native American patterns.

Dinner, Drinks and Decadence
Rainbow Cafe is that lively bar you hope to find at any Western town and has been serving the public for more than 125 years. Don’t miss the roast beef dinner. Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s, first opened in 1959, is unforgettable for it’s steaks of all cuts (try Virgil’s Oscar — beef medallions topped with crabmeat, Béarnaise sauce and bacon) and a lively whiskey cocktail menu designed around Pendleton Whiskey. Hamley Steakhouse offers its own delights in the way of an 18th-century bar, tin ceilings and authentic Western artifacts (though the place has only been open since 2007). Menu items are big and varied, and the specialty War Paint cocktail — huckleberry vodka, huckleberries, grape juice and lime — is one for the record books. The offerings at Alexander’s Chocolate Classics are many and delicious. Choose from truffles, toffees, drinking chocolates and chocolate-covered fruits.

History and Story
The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute offers a lesson in cultural traditions of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes. A series of exhibits — We Were, We Are, We Will Be — walks visitors through 10,000 years of history, including the tribe’s meeting the Lewis and Clark expedition and travelers on the Oregon Trail. The center is operated by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. The Pendleton Underground Tours take visitors on a tour of the town’s racy past; Pendleton once housed 32 bars and 14 brothels in a four-block stretch. The two-hour tour covers the area’s dark past in the realms of high-stakes gambling, bootlegging, opium and prostitution.

Arts and Culture
Housed in a 1916 Carnegie library near the Umatilla River flowing through the center of town, the Pendleton Center for the Arts showcases the work of established and emerging artists from around the region and world-class traveling exhibits. The center offers classes, live music and a writers’ series as well. Crow’s Shadow Institute for the Arts includes both gallery and studio space to cultivate the artistic talent of Native American artists. The institute’s primary focus is printmaking in varied mediums, including monotype, woodcut and linocut.

About The

Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.