Have you ever heard of Dayton, WA? If you're like most people, chances are you haven't. I needed to find us a stop between Glacier National Park and Bend, OR to break up the long drive. The requirements were that we would spend the night in a place that we have never visited and that there would be some type of draw to the town that we were staying in. Dayton is a close forty-five-minute drive to the Palouse Falls so I randomly selected it as a place that we would spend a night during our road trip while visiting a beautiful nearby natural wonder.
The forty miles leading to Palouse State Park were pretty harrowing. We had zero cellular signal for miles on end in the middle of never-ending plains with no other cars around. The rolling yellow wheat fields were calming as they guided the windy roads through endless paths to what seemed like nowhere. The drive itself was an adventure, we even spotted wild coyotes along the way! The surrounding landscape was so dry we couldn't comprehend that a waterfall would soon greet us amidst the expansive fields of nothingness. Yet, before we knew it, the state park signs guided us to a majestic sight. An oasis in the midst of seemingly useless land. Miracles truly greet those who seek them patiently. We opted to admire the falls from the viewing point although many others braved the treacherous trails along the rocky, high ledges. Not only was the drive incredible, but the falls were also magical, and the following landscapes along the drive yielded lakes and rivers intersecting with bridges that were truly a remarkable treat.
On a Saturday evening, there may have been two people strolling down the town's Main Street. I don't know what to make of Dayton. It's a desolate ghost town with well-kept shops and architecture. The town is urgently awaiting a revival, the sidewalks plead for visitors. Colorful murals, inviting storefronts, and polished buildings are eagerly awaiting more visitors to discover it. There literally was nothing going on here on a Saturday night. Nothing. Except for a gorgeous sunset, cool evening summer temperatures, and of course the realization that I was in a town that no one has ever even heard of. If you are driving from Glacier National Park to Bend, OR I do recommend a visit here. However, don't go out of your way just yet.
In a town like Dayton, I would never expect "elegant and comfortable dining" but that is exactly what Weinhard Cafe promises and delivers. You know it's going to be good when a New York native/ Los Angeles transplant leaves everything behind to find solace in nearby Walla Walla and opens up a restaurant with her Italian-born, Le Cordon Bleu trained east coast chef husband. Alas, the tiny town of Dayton has an even tinier food scene that exclusively lies within Weinhard Cafe's four walls. While the husband is the culinary wizard of the establishment, the wife is its personality. As a fast-paced, social, and slightly sarcastic gal, Vicki spends time chatting with her guests, getting to know them, and making them feel right at home. Indeed, the homey experience made me feel like we were having dinner in a family member's home. In fact, we are still looking into this, but there may be a chance that we are family! If it turns out that we are related, ending up in Dayton will all begin to suddenly make sense.
In our usual tradition, we ordered a bunch of items on the menu: wild salmon over risotto, truffle fries, homemade bucatini with porcini, rigatoni with vegetables picked from the owners' garden, broccoli cheddar soup, truffle fries, a burger, and a turkey sandwich. Everything was solid and every bite was devoured. The highlights though were the bottle of local Sauvignon Blanc and the homemade desserts: pecan pie and "dark chocolate kit kat cake". Over the course of our meal, I learned that Dayton is actually in the middle of wine country and that there are highly regarded vineyards in the neighboring towns. Just two months ago, the husband-wife team brought a little taste of New York and Italy to Dayton. I have a feeling the pioneering duo will directly impact the direction the deserted town takes.
The town of Walla Walla is renowned for its wine with over one hundred wineries in the area. Nestled in a valley surrounded by hills and vineyards many folds flock to this city for great food, wine, and shopping. The downtown area is bustling and lined with patios inviting those strolling by to come inside for wine tastings. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at the funky AK's Mercado Their scones were fantastic as were their Mexican-inspired breakfasts. On Sundays, they make homemade beignets. Lucky for us, we dined on a Sunday and left with a bag of steaming beignets to enjoy on the road. It's only a thirty-two-minute drive from Dayton and would make a more lively place to stop for a night or two as you drive from Montana to Oregon.
Lodging at the Weinhard Hotel is your best bet in this part of Washington. The hotel dates back to 1890 and has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. There have been many accounts of ghost sightings at the inn. Original photos of visitors and founders that date back to past centuries add to the haunted energy that lurks in the halls. Management strives to make guests feel comfortable and they clearly take pride in thoughtful touches like complimentary artisan chocolate in rooms along with exclusively made Thai hair products and even a locally sourced bottle of cabernet sauvignon awaiting at your door upon waking up. Surreys are also available for guests to borrow to ride around in. In my opinion, the inn imbues a kitschy Victorian vibe but regardless, its charm and thoughtful amenities eventually won me over. The small hotel is spotless and rooms are decorated with an eclectic collection of Victorian-American antique pieces. Our two rooms cost almost half the amount of the usual rates we pay for just one room. If you somehow find yourself in Dayton, this is your best option, although this doesn't necessarily mean it's a great option.
I take great pride in discovering unknown treasure towns in the United States. Dayton won't make my list of "best undiscovered American towns" but if, and only if, you seek an unusual stop along your road trip between Montana and Oregon then I say, give it a try. The only way to get to know the United States is by experiencing all parts of it. Keeping an open mind and exploring less-known regions truly gives you an honest sense of what is available in all parts of the country. The best part of discovering these tiny towns sprinkled throughout the USA is by speaking with the locals. Just by talking, and listening, we found a former New Yorker in this town of two thousand residents and even potentially located a family member in the most unlikely place. The roads truly lead us to the best adventures in life. Get in your car and drive to the weirdest, smallest, town near you. Sit for a coffee and talk to the staff. You'll be delighted by what you find out.