Let’s take a look at the 5 best stops in Pendleton, Oregon. First of all, I may want to move here and let me tell you why. The weather is mild and dry with 200+ days of sunshine every year! 200+ days of sunshine. What’s not to love?! It’s about 3 1/4 hours from Portland, so it’s a little outside our desired settling-down-at-some-point range, but did I mention they get 200+ days of sunshine? Noelle here, by the way.
We arrived in this small town on the last day of September, it’s sunny and 75 degrees F. The Portland metro area held grey cloudy skies this morning, so we literally just drove east towards the sun! We came to blue skies over Hood River and more blue all the way to Pendleton. Glorious! Our family and friends say it’s been the driest summer they can remember, but honestly, the rain came a couple days after we got home and pretty much stayed around till today when we drove away.
Our kids and grands are typical Pacific Northwest natives. We heard several of them exclaiming joy over the return of the rain. And I know it’s true, because I used to look forward to the rain coming back also. The rain and the beginning of the school year kind of herald in the new season. One I also used to wait anxiously for. But now, after traveling for a couple years and being reminded of what sunshine is like, the gray skies of Portland and Seattle just depress me.
So off we go to Pendleton along Interstate 84 as we make our way to Idaho to visit our daughter. As soon as we got to town, we basically just got off the freeway and drove straight to the Pendleton Woolen Mill.
Pendleton Woolen Mill
1st of 5 Best stops in Pendleton, Oregon
The mill has been making woolen blankets since 1909 and is family owned/operated for more than six generations. Originally making blankets for the Nez Perce nation near Pendleton, they added men’s woolen shirts in 1924 and then a line of womenswear in 1949. During non-Covid times, visitors can tour the mill and see the blankets being made. We watched as best we could through large windows, but mostly could only see a couple hanging blankets and pallets of yarn. It was pretty neat, even though we couldn’t take a tour.
I fell in love with a beautiful Pendleton wool coat and promptly snapped a picture to send our oldest daughter. She also loves the Pendleton woolen line. Well, once we got back to the camper and I began typing this, I looked it up to add a link in case you, dear reader, would like to gift me this jacket. Ha! It’s named Toboggan! Just like Steve’s trail name! So I should have it, but you know I’ll never spend $489 for it. Not in this truck camper, semi-retired, no-income kind of life. We get to see a lot of cool stuff. But a $500 jacket is one of the cool things we just take pictures of.
When I was a teenager, Mom took us to the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Camas, Washington. At that time, it was more of a mill that sold blankets, textiles and fabrics. It was less of the clothing and accessories store that it now is. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. My sisters and I each got to choose fabric for a skirt, while Mom purchased fabric to make herself a jacket. I chose a tan and black plaid, which Mom lined with a silky material and crafted into a pencil skirt. It buttoned up the front and I remember feeling so stylish when I wore it. I loved that skirt and kept it for many years. Anyway, the Camas store is still there and so is the Woolen Mill Store on SE McLoughlin in Portland. You can buy your own fabric there to make your own skirt!
Pendleton Underground Tours
The second item on my list of 5 best stops in Pendleton is the underground tour. Taking visitors through the area’s gritty history, this tour explains the gambling, bootlegging, opium dens, and the Chinese immigrants who lived in the rooms & tunnels beneath the city’s red light district in the late 1890s and early 1900s.
For only $15 each, the 90 minute tour is filled with fun and we highly recommend it. Our guide, Becky, was knowledgeable and made it a fun experience. The saloon was neat and I’d love to return to it during one their summer Saturday cocktail hours.
Above ground, we toured a brothel which had been boarded up in the 1950’s and only recently re-opened. That was an interesting portion of the tour!
Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery
My 5 best stops in Pendleton wouldn’t be complete without a little alcohol! So we stopped in at the Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery and were not disappointed. This distillery is part of Pendleton’s Maker’s Tour, which is a 13-stop, four mile walking tour of local artisans and, well, “makers”. From a Friday night Farmer’s Market to the Pendleton Center for the Arts this Maker’s Tour is pretty fantastic.
As the first distillery in town since the Prohibition, Oregon Grain Growers Brand focuses on crafting quality spirits from locally grown grains and produce. We stopped in for a tasting and tour. We ate lunch, tasted some alcohol and forgot to ask about a tour. Maybe another time?!
I’m a gin lover, while Steve is more of a bourbon kind of guy. However, I was still super excited to try the Pic-Nic Watermelon Vodka. Utilizing watermelons from the Walchli Farms in nearby Hermiston, Oregon, this vodka delivers a good flavor. In case you don’t know, Hermiston, Oregon grows the best watermelons EVER! I mean EVER. So try one. Or if you can’t, then just order yourself some of this vodka!
It sounds a little odd, but Oregon Grain Growers Brand Deluxe Gin is inspired by their 1953 Seeburg Selectomatic Jukebox. They tested over a hundred variations of botanicals when crafting this gin. There are also 100 music selections on their jukebox. Coincidence? I think not. In 2019, this yummy goodness won a gold medal in the Classic Gin Category of the American Distillers Institute’s Craft Spirits competition. It smelled divine and tasted pretty good too.
We got a little surprise from the Horsepower Horseradish Vodka. Now that was delicious! Steve had a Bloody Mary made with it and it more than delivered! We liked it so much, we bought two bottles to go! One for us and one for our daughter (we may have helped her drink a good portion of her bottle 🤣). Yep, I’ve got just a little bit of a horseradish vodka crush going on here!
Anyway, we enjoyed a really good meal and even better cocktails before continuing our tour of Pendleton. Steve’s been craving a good hamburger all summer while he was hiking. He was super excited to finally get THE burger that hit the spot!
Pendleton Hats, Saddles & Wild West Gear – Multiple Stops on the top 5 best spots in Pendleton
Pendleton Hat Co.
Another couple stops on the Maker’s Tour make my 5 best spots in Pendleton list. The Pendleton Hat Co. makes beaver and rabbit fur felt hats! What else is there to say? Perk Perkins has owned Pendleton Hat Co. for many years and was busy re-stretching a hat for a cowboy while we watched.
In addition to selling new & refurbished hats and accessories, Perk will also clean and restore hats brought in to him. He cleans them while retaining the “style” and “flavor” they’ve accrued over years of being well-loved. Only a true hat-lover can appreciate the need to retain the style while cleaning and restoring.
I’ve never seen so many cowboy hats as we saw in this store. What a fun stop on our tour.
Hamley Western Store & Saddle Shop
Hamley & Co. owns a renowned saddle company, the Slickfork Saloon, a cafe and a steakhouse. This is definitely a walk into the Old West. The Saddle shop has been crafting legendary saddles since 1905, right here in this same building. It’s certainly a site to see. If you’re in Pendleton, you’ve got to stop in here for a true taste of Old West gear!
J.J. Hamley helped organize the first Pendleton Round-up and the company has provided hundreds of trophy saddles for it. 58 World Champions have ridden with Hamley Saddles. There’s a lot of history here! Plus you can get a great bite to eat too. What’s not to love about this stop.
Staplemans Boots & Leather
This shop is not so much a storefront but more of a traditional boot making shop. There’s a tiny area at the front with different colored leather pieces, then a big counter. Behind it is a large open workspace with two boot makers.
I met Richard, who’s the owner of the shop and has been making cowboy boots since 1999. His assistant is younger and recently moved to Pendleton from the East Coast (via Portland). I chatted with them for a few minutes while admiring their skill. Every single pair of boots and shoes are made by hand. By hand. Who does that? It was pretty cool to watch them for a few minutes. There were literally hundreds of shoe molds (is that what they’re called) on shelves around the shop and both shoemakers were stretching leather around a mold.
It was fun to stop in here and to chat with the artists themselves. I’ve always been interested in leatherwork so it was a treat to see them in action.
No 5 best spots in Pendleton list would be complete without mentioning the Pendleton Round-up. I’ve only been to this rodeo once as a teen and my biggest memory is of a ridiculous allergic reaction to all the hay and animals. I was sneezing and my eyes swelled and I honestly don’t remember anything about the rodeo itself only about the severity of my allergies. However, everyone in the Pacific Northwest knows that the Pendleton Round-up is the place to go for rodeos.
It’s a week long affair every September, with this year completing the 111th year of rodeos. In addition to daily rodeo shows, there are parades, Western shows, concerts and tens of thousands of cowboys and cowgirls (even ones from the city, ha!).
The Pendleton Round-up’s website says the Happy Canyon Night Show “is a show depicting the settling of the American West, beginning with a portrayal of the Native American way of life prior to the arrival of the white man, continuing with the arrival of Lewis and Clark, followed by the prairie schooners of the pioneers of the Oregon Trail and concluding with a reenactment of a frontier town’s rollicking main street mishaps.
The colorful pageant takes you into the past to relive the experiences of our forefathers. The show begins with the portrayal of the early American Indian culture. Emigrants, seeking a new life, come to the frontier and soon the two cultures clash. Fighting breaks out, then peace comes and the scene changes to that of a wild frontier town. The show ends with a patriotic flourish that is unique and not seen anywhere else. Don’t miss the retelling of the story of the “Old West” in a way that you will not soon forget!”
Maybe we need to come back next September to check out the rodeo, the shows and all the fun that surrounds it!
Other cool things in Pendleton, Oregon
Similar to Nevada’s loneliest highway in America, where I collected stamps in small towns, Pendleton has a Charm Trail. Buy a $6 bracelet at one of several “trailheads” then “hike” around town to various stores, museums and eateries where you can purchase add-on charms for $1.50 each. It’s a great marketing campaign to encourage visitors to travel around town and see more of Pendleton’s “charm”. Even the KOA where we stayed has its own tiny coffee pot charm. This is a great idea and I was sorely tempted…just for the thrill of the hunt.
Pendleton Book Store
Steve and I stop at book stores in pretty much every town we visit. We love supporting local book lovers and we appreciated the thoughtful and neat way this store is laid out.
Used books are half their new price with a couple bonus carts of 25 and 50 cent books. I picked up three new to me paperbacks for $1. You just can’t beat that price. It’s a great store, so stop on in if you’re in town!
Downtown Wild West Saturdays
On Saturdays from June through September, visitors and townspeople alike can enjoy free family-friendly Native American and Western shows at 4:00 and 5:00pm. The location changes weekly depending on which city block is closed for the events. There’s even a speakeasy at the Pendleton Underground Tours! From 4-7 pm the over 21 crowd can go on over to the Shamrock Cardroom and Saloon for cocktails.
Downtown horseback rides are available, as well as Old West Wagon rides through music filled streets. It’s too bad we were a little too late for all the fun this year, but I’d love to come back next year!
Make your way to Pendleton, Oregon
Well, I sure hope you’ve enjoyed my 5 best stops in Pendleton tour and that I’ve inspired you to go for a visit. I didn’t mention all the amazing nature surrounding the city, so instead I’ll just share a couple photos from our boondocking a ways out of town near the Snake River. Thanks for stopping by!