How to Experience Ellensburg History Firsthand
Dive into the stories of some of Ellensburg’s most iconic landmarks, events, and more of what makes our town what it is. These features have been a part of Ellensburg for decades and will continue playing a large role in our town’s culture for years to come. Each attraction allows you to experience our area’s unique past up close, whether by giving you a glimpse of historically-significant objects, or by welcoming you to participate in age-old local traditions. Add these activities to your itinerary to experience Ellensburg history firsthand during your upcoming weekend getaway!
Visit the Kittitas County Historical Museum
Kittitas County encompasses many of our beloved towns and holds history that traces back to the very foundations of Washington State. This museum, dedicated to preserving and displaying the history and heritage of Kittitas County, stands to remind us of our county’s humble beginnings. Whether you are a resident or visitor, the Kittitas County Historical Museum will have some new knowledge for you to take with you. The museum is open year-round and offers free admission. Featured exhibits range from an antique automobile display to a neon lights exhibit, to a rare rocks and minerals collection! Plus, the gift shop carries over 300 book titles on local and regional history, allowing you to continue your exploration of Ellensburg’s past even after you’ve traveled home.
Experience Ellensburg's Western Tradition
Attend the Ellensburg Rodeo
The Ellensburg Rodeo has been a town tradition since 1923. It is the largest rodeo in Washington State and is known as one of the best rodeos in North America. An essential Ellensburg experience for any traveler, the Ellensburg Rodeo has earned its title as one of America’s Top 10 Professional Rodeos. Held every Labor Day Weekend, the event has grown from a local competition among ranch hands to the professional event it is today, featuring over 600 contestants and prize money exceeding $400,000! The men and women who founded the Ellensburg Rodeo in 1923 were ranchers, farmers, American Indians, and community-minded citizens working to preserve and celebrate a vanishing frontier way of life. From their efforts, Washington State’s world-famous Ellensburg Rodeo was born, and we celebrate our Western roots more than ever. The rodeo is now the pride of Ellensburg, bringing together the best riders, ropers, and wrestlers to compete in what many consider to be the best rodeo arena in the nation! Book your hotel now for the upcoming event to take part in our historic rodeo.
Explore the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame
The Ellensburg Rodeo of Fame is a historical exhibit that was created to cultivate and celebrate the lasting history of the Ellensburg Rodeo. Members of the foundation work hard to maintain the traditions and heritage that encompass what the Ellensburg Rodeo represents. When you visit, you will be able to view traditional regalia, admire heroes of the past, and learn about rodeo terminology that is still used to this day. The Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame opened their doors to the public on July 3rd, 2020 and now warmly welcomes you into their space to learn a few things about the history behind the Ellensburg Rodeo.
View Western Art at The Clymer
Take a gaze at the intricate Western art that adorns the space of The Clymer Museum and Gallery. The museum was founded to honor the late John Ford Clymer, a painter born in Ellensburg in 1907. He is best-known for his nature works featuring the American West, and was a member of the existing Western Art Association. Members of this association found it fit to create an array of western art that would illustrate Cylmer’s career, so they established the museum in the historical downtown of Ellensburg, Washington. This museum will surely take you through a time capsule of history.
Tour Ellensburg's Historic Buildings
Ellensburg’s charm and friendly community creates the magical feeling of being transported to a simpler time. Walking among the historic buildings downtown adds to the allure and provides the perfect escape from bustling city streets. While you explore the area, be sure to examine these historical structures which date back to 1890 and have been preserved to maintain the historical status of the downtown.
One of Ellensburg’s most notable structures is the Davidson Building, a magnificent example of the city’s unique architecture. The colorful building sits in a prominent location on the northeast corner of North Pearl Street and West Fourth Avenue and has anchored Ellensburg’s downtown since its completion in 1889. Over time, the building has become a well-known Ellensburg landmark with its recognizable tower and continues to be at the center of the town’s attention. Plan a visit to marvel at the building’s ornate and carefully crafted Victorian style, and explore the Davidson’s neighboring buildings on a self-guided walking tour through the streets of our historic downtown.
Visit Ellensburg's Oldest Businesses
Robber’s Roost was the first business in the area, aside from the early trading that occurred among Native Americans, cattle drivers, trappers, and miners. It was located on present-day 3rd Avenue, between N Main Street and N Water Street in Ellensburg. There is a placard on the wall commemorating the location, as well as a small stone monument against the wall on the sidewalk.
Since then, Ellensburg has grown to include an abundance of unique local businesses that line our downtown streets. For over 50 years, or even 100 in some cases, these Ellensburg businesses have contributed to our community, welcomed us with open arms, and have certainly demonstrated the local commitment to providing exceptional service from start to finish. Let us introduce you to these establishments and tell you their stories. Plan to visit them during your stay to find out why they’ve been local favorites for half a century and longer!
Shop at Fitterer's Furniture
In 2021, Fitterer’s Furniture celebrated 125 wonderful years of service in Ellensburg. The store has been operating under the same family, in the same town and largely in the same building since 1896. The staff attributes this success to their commitment to providing the service that you miss from “way back when” combined with the furniture that you want in the modern day. When you walk into the store, you can count on a personal greeting from the friendly sales staff – they’ll probably even offer you a cookie or hot coffee too! When you place an order, your sales person will hand write your ticket. When you make a payment, they’ll crank the handle on a 116 year old cash register. They will travel throughout the state to deliver orders for their customers, and they do it at no charge for their Central Washington neighbors. This is a place where things are still done in a uniquely traditional manner, always putting the customer experience first. The folks at Fitterer’s know many of their customers by name and are big supporters of the Ellensburg community. After all, they’ve been here building it (or at least furnishing it) since the beginning!
Dine at The Palace Cafe
This storied cafe serves American eats amid tin ceilings and wainscoting in a 1908 brick storefront downtown. Although it has shifted ownership and moved buildings through the years, The Palace Cafe has been serving Ellensburg the same quality of service for over a century. Now located in the Pearson Building and proudly in the hands of the Bugni family, The Palace remains an Ellensburg family tradition, continuing to provide the highest standards in food and service. Stop by for a delicious meal to find out why!
Take a Stroll Through Central Washington University
The doors of the Washington State Normative School in Ellensburg opened in 1891. Classes were held at the Washington Public School until the normal school’s first building, Barge Hall, opened in 1893. The normal school became Central Washington College of Education in 1937, Central Washington State College in 1961, and Central Washington University in 1977. Today, CWU is a comprehensive university that provides high quality programs to more than 13,000 people. The university is a point of pride among locals and the alma mater of many in the area. Take a stroll through the beautiful campus to admire its architecture and walk in the footsteps of students past and present!
Grab Lunch at Campus U-Tote-Em
Established in 1947, Campus U-Tote-Em is a classic burger joint that transports you back to the ’50s with every bite of their traditional fast food. Known through the generations, high school kids of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s would hang out and eat in their cars outside of the restaurant. Nowadays, folks love to bring their children and grandchildren in to reminisce about their favorite high school hangout. They embrace a philosophy of “Quality over Quantity,” believing that you can go to any fast food business for quantity, but only at Campus U-Tote-Em will you find the freshest, highest quality product available, not to mention the fast and friendly service experience that they’re known for.
Shop at Jerrol's
Jerrol’s is a third-generation, family owned and operated department store that has been serving their diverse range of products to the residents, businesses and visitors of Ellensburg for over 70 years. The unique assortment of products has earned the store a reputation for being the “Store with the Whole World Inside.” In fact, the wide scale of product offerings made it difficult to describe the store’s specialty and was cause for confusion, causing several name changes over the years. In 1947 through the mid-sixties, the store was known as Jerrol’s Handy Stop/Shop, however in the late sixties “Handy Stop/Shop” was dropped. Around 1985, “Book & Supply Co.” was added to the name to reflect the true product selection – although most folks still know them as just Jerrol’s. Whether you forgot to pack something for your visit or just want to take a gander, visit Jerrol’s to explore the array of products!
Treat Yourself at Winegar's
Winegar’s Homemade Ice Cream & Coffee has been three generations in the making, already beginning to see the fourth generation get their hands dirty alongside the third! From humble beginnings as a dairy farm in 1956, the founding of Winegar’s Drive-In Dairy came in 1960 and included a modern milking parlor, small bottling plant, and a retail store. Over the years, the business expanded and more family members got involved.
The ice cream business came to fruition in 1992 when Richelle Winegar graduated from Central Washington University and brought to life her grandparents’ desire to make ice cream. After several months of planning and buying equipment, she learned from the northwest ice cream guru, Bud Haxby. Guided by him, an initial process of trial and error began a passion for creative flavor pairings that customers have come to expect from the local shop. The very first flavor of Winegar’s ice cream was “Nutty Truman,” made from the Winegar’s basic mix plus maple and walnuts. Espresso shots were also used to create the first version of what is now Kori’s Coffee ice cream. Winegar’s ice cream was and is to this day a truly unique creation, and the Winegar’s are proud to put their name on it. All ice cream names have something to do with the family or the Kittitas Valley.
In 1996, the family purchased property on the corner of 7th and Main in downtown Ellensburg. The espresso business took off and the ice cream business continued to grow. Over the course of almost 65 years, The Winegar Dairy transformed from “The little dairy on the countryside of West 15th” to Winegar’s Homemade Ice Cream & Coffee, “A taste of home, one lick/one sip at a time!” Stop by during your stay to taste their distinct ice cream and coffee flavors, done the Winegar way.
Experience Ellensburg's Agricultural Roots
Ellensburg’s long agricultural tradition is a source of pride among the locals, and they are happy to share it with visitors! During your time in the area, enjoy these activities to experience local history in a unique setting.
One of the major outputs of the surrounding Kittitas Valley area is Timothy Hay, which is processed and shipped throughout the world. This type of hay is most often used as cattle and horse feed but is also part of the feed regimen for other types of livestock, including goats, camels, and sheep.
Tour Kittitas County's Barn Quilt Trail
Ellensburg is known for its beautiful rolling fields and agricultural history, and you can enjoy the two on a scenic drive through Ellensburg’s countryside. During this adventure, you may notice the barns sprinkled across the rolling fields and the quilt blocks that adorn them. These quilts can be spotted on barns all over Ellensburg and the surrounding county. Together, they create the Kittitas County Barn Quilt Trail, Washington State’s first barn quilt trail, which can be explored via a self-guided driving tour. The first barn quilt on the trail was on the Dominion Barn, which is currently being utilized as a garden shop at Dusty’s Nursery. With its installation, Washington became the 34th state in the country to join the national barn quilt movement. Over the years, more than one hundred quilt blocks have been installed throughout the county as a way to honor the area’s agriculture industry and the families that run it. Download the map to locate and reference the known history of each barn and the significance of its quilt block.
Shop the Ellensburg Farmers Market
Ellensburg is known for its beautiful rolling fields and agricultural history, Support local farmers and artisans by attending the Ellensburg Farmers Market. This lively tradition takes place every Saturday, May through October, from 9am-1pm in historic Downtown Ellensburg. The market is rich in tradition and allows guests to shop farm-fresh local produce, baked goods, and handcrafted products. A great opportunity to support small businesses and pick up some souvenirs and gifts during your visit!