7 7 Secret Gem Things to Do in Pendleton, OR

Harrison Yates | April 7, 2021 @ 12:00 AM

In the foothills of the Blue Mountains, and established on the Umatilla River, Pendleton is a city proud of its history. If you want a snapshot of what the Old West was like, you need only look at Pendleton in the mid-to-late 1800s. 

With its three Native American tribes, the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse, its farms and ranches, its gambling and redlight district, Pendleton was a microcosm of the West during that era.

 

This city of 17,000 citizens has a terrific motto: the real West. And, the citizens are entitled to it. Most of the fun things to do here center around the history of the city and the region.

 

Pendleton Center for the Arts

This is a fun place to visit for art lovers of all types. Pendleton Center for the Arts is a gallery, a community center, a performance hall, and a school. Located downtown in the restored Carnegie Library building from 1916, everyone’s bound to find something that interests them.

The galleries include all sorts of artwork. The center also puts on a variety of performances, such as music and dance. It even highlights writers and modern literature. Check the website for class brochures. The center offers classes for all ages, and you’ll find class schedule brochures for youth, teens, and adults.

 

Pendleton Underground Tours

Now we really get into the Wild West side of Pendleton. If you love American history from that time, you’ll enjoy visiting Pendleton Underground Tours. There, you’ll learn history and folklore about Pendleton that they don’t teach in schools.

The site includes underground tunnels where the Chinese workers who built the local railroad lived. You’ll also learn about the era’s bordellos, gambling establishments, and more. Essentially, this is a deep look at Pendleton’s old redlight district.

Plus, the site has a gift shop (stylized Gift Shoppe), a hotel with a western feel where you can book a room. Pendleton Underground Tours is located in the Pendleton Historic District. Three turn-of-the-20th-century buildings make up a big part of the tour: the Empire Building, the Hendricks Building, and the Empire Meat Company. 

 

Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

Three local Native American tribes were, and are, a big part of the cultural landscape in Pendleton, and have been in the region for thousands of years. Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

Explores the 10,000-year history of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse tribes and the surrounding region.

Before you leave, you’ll want to visit the museum store, but you can also check it out on their website. It sells CDs, DVDs, books, clothing, toys, jewelry, and much more. Normally there’s an admission price, but entry is free on the first Friday of every month.

Exhibits have been closed during COVID, but the store and cafe are open Tuesday through Saturday. Store hours are 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and cafe hours are 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Check the website for information about when museum visits will reopen.

 

Pendleton Round-Up

A week-long, yearly event that takes place in September, the Pendleton Round-Up is a celebration of the city’s Wild West history. The first annual round-up took place in 1910 and is a cultural touchstone in Pendleton.

This event includes cowboys and cowgirls and participation from the local Native American tribes. You’ll get to take part in events like the dress-up parade with people in costumes, plus floats and cars, the kick-off concert with country music stars like Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn, and Rascal Flatts, and the Happy Canyon Show, a volunteer show about the founding of Pendleton. You can visit the Tipi Village, watch the rodeo, and a lot more.

 

Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery

Do you like whiskey, rum, and vodka? Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery makes them all, and in various flavors.

This isn’t just a place for adults, though. 

Yes, they do host tastings, but this is also an eclectic restaurant with a lot to enjoy. The menu includes items with names like Magic Mushroom Sticks (battered portobello mushroom fries), Bread Makes You Fat? (leftover pizza dough, baked and served with oil and vinegar), and Tower of Power Nachos (chips with black beans, jalapenos, three kinds of cheese, carnitas, and additional ingredients). They also serve a variety of salads, several types of mac & cheese, and wood-fired pizzas.

 

McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge

This is a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors in Pendleton. At McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge, you can watch the local wildlife, go on hikes, and a lot more. Since a lot of animals live in the area, you’ll have to stay on the paths, and dogs are not allowed. They advise caution and keeping your distance when you see various animals. Bring your binoculars and move slowly when you spot animals like mule deer.

You’ll get a good look at various plants, too, including cottonwood trees, sagebrush, bitterbrush, and blue-bunch wheatgrass.

It’s not all about hiking here, though. The refuge allows fishing and boating between March 1 and Sept. 30.

 

Wildhorse Resort and Casino

The Native American tribes in Pendleton have an exciting resort where visitors can enjoy all sorts of activities. Wildhorse Resort and Casino has a five-screen movie theater, an 18-hole championship golf course, seven restaurants, an arcade, a 24-lane bowling alley, a food court, and a 24-hour casino.

 

It’s run by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which include the Umatilla, the Walla Walla, and the Cayuse. Stay in the hotel, which is 10 stories high and has 300 rooms, or in the RV park, which features 30-amp and 50-amp spaces with full hookups.

 

Stay in the hotel or RV park/village. There’s a cineplex with five screens, 18-hole championship golf course that can host corporate meetings or other events. You can take a trip here or make it part of a larger trip along the West Coast.


If you’re looking for a great storage space here in Pendleton, just visit our facility at 1220 Airport Rd. At Keylock Storage, we have both drive-up units for your stuff and uncovered parking for your boats, RVs, and cars. Plus, we offer online bill pay, sell storage supplies in our on-site store, and have top-notch security. We look forward to working with you.