The following post is written by Carrie Simon. Simon is the founder of Washington Wine 9, a custom trip planning service for travelers to Washington State’s wine country.

Have you spent time in the Yakima Valley? I know for many visitors, this portion of Washington’s wine country presents a challenge. Even locals admit the extended Yakima Valley lacks some of the tourism infrastructure that beckons people to Walla Walla – particularly destination restaurants and noteworthy accommodations. But that doesn’t mean that some of those places don’t exist. It just helps to know the area to be able to piece it together.

While there are a few notable restaurants sprinkled throughout the Yakima Valley, one of the area’s charms is uncovering some of the authentic Mexican restaurants Yakima is famous for. Early on, I was told by locals that Taco Loco was a must visit. From the street, one might mistake Taco Loco for just another fast food bomb. But when I walked in, and heard all the banter between the owner and customers, I knew there were a lot of faithful Taco Loco customers in town.

After my first bite, the reason became obvious. If I could transfer the taste of the taco de carnitas de puerco (pork) over this blog, you would get in your car and drive across the pass; you might even hop on a plane. It was that good. Tender to the point it was almost buttery. But it wasn’t. It was just perfect.

Another must is Los Hernandez. Just outside of Yakima in Union Gap, it is nationally famous even featured in Sunset magazine for its hand-made tamales. This family-owned operation turns out more than 60-80 dozen tamales a day (remember, all hand-made). I was lucky enough to arrive in the midst of asparagus season – for a few months each year they make a unique asparagus and pepperjack cheese tamale. It flies out of the kitchen. While the filling was tasty, the delicate masa crumbles in your mouth and is the true star of the show.

Apart from the valley’s food offerings, there are abundant “extracurricular activities” (if the curriculum is wine tasting) going on all the time. Below are just a few of my favorites that occur regularly throughout the high season

Horseback Winery Tours: Have you ever? Cherrywood Bed Breakfast and Barn hosts these rides through the vineyards in Zillah with stops at various wineries and a picnic lunch along the way. What better way to soak up the sun?

Sunday Supper at Wine o’Clock: Located in Prosser, Wine o’Clock serves seasonal, local fare for lunch all week long and dinner on weekends until 8:00 pm, but on the first Sunday each month they host family-style dinners. More food for all! And at Wine o’Clock, the more the better!

Vineyard Tour at Terra Blanca: each weekend Terra Blanca Winery hosts three 90 minute walking tours through their estate vineyard, offering participants a brief education in viticulture, Red Mountain geology, winemaking and more. (Yes, wine tasting is included.) In addition to all that you’ll learn, you’ll see their unique wine cave, too.

Live Music at J Bookwalter: 4 nights a week, Wednesday – Saturday, J Bookwalter Winery in Richland hosts local musicians – on their outdoor patio, weather permitting -and serves a selection of charcuterie, cheese and wine, of course. It is a place where locals and visitors come together and share a dance!

Maybe you spend the weekend in the Yakima Valley, maybe it’s just a stop. But don’t forget about it. It’s the real deal – an authentic experience full of people who are passionate about what they’re doing.