Leavenworth, Washington is one of those places that I always remember passing through on any long trip to my Grandparent’s house. This was usually around Christmas time, and there was something about that snowy village that made a song pop into my head
“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”
Because really, Leavenworth is its own little winter wonderland tucked into North Cascades. People from all over the state and beyond come here to experience this unique Bavarian town for the holidays.
So what is so magical about this little place?
I decided to visit there for myself for the very first time to find out (and to celebrate turning 24, woot woot!) It turned out to be a beautiful, romantic weekend. I couldn’t ask for anything more in a winter getaway.
Below are some of the amazing things I saw, ate, and did while visiting Leavenworth.
One of the greatest appeals of Leavenworth in the winter time is that you have a good chance of actually experiencing a white Christmas! Nestled high in the mountains, Leavenworth is blanketed by snow nearly all winter long. The surrounding peaks add to its serene atmosphere, as do the snow-dusted Bavarian store fronts. In the town center, there is a small hill for children to sled and play on, and you are a short drive away from Stevens Pass for skiing and snowboarding. The chilly weather just makes grabbing a hot cocoa and warm German pastry even more enjoyable!
After spending two days in Leavenworth seeing all that it has to offer, I can say that there is something for everyone. There are countless souvenir shops where you can buy beer stein ornaments, miniature nutcrackers, and furry hats. If you are looking for gear for your outdoor adventures, Leavenworth has that too. One shop will even look up your family crest and have it printed on all kinds of memorabilia. Some of the shops sell winter and Christmas-themed goods all year long, making Leavenworth seem more like the North Pole than a tourist destination. I ended up buying a gorgeous wool stocking sold at a fair trade shop, right next door to a comic book store. Leavenworth is a great place to find unique gifts for your family and friends, or stock up on all the winter décor you will ever need.
Fun for Everyone
Being surrounded by the snowy mountains, Leavenworth is a great place go on some wintery adventures. If skiing or snowboarding is your thing, check out Steven’s Pass and hit the slopes. If you are on a tighter budget, you can bring your own sled to many of the surrounding hills for free. In town, there are several museums and galleries to see as well. The famous Nutcracker Museum houses thousands of antique nutcrackers and shows a short video on the history of the nutcracker. Entry fee proceeds go toward maintaining the museum and running special events.
If you are not familiar with Bavarian food and European delicacies, Leavenworth is the place to go. Known for its succulent bratwurst sandwiches and sweet pastries, Leavenworth has something to satisfy every palate. Several shops offer fresh made fudge and sweets in a variety of flavors, from Olde Fashioned chocolate, to fried cinnamon rolls. Each restaurant offers its own signature specials as well. Renaissance Cafe is known for its house-made biscuits and “God’s Food”. Others offer meaty sandwiches, hot soups, and sassy cocktails. I got a mouth-watering side of roasted garlic with seasoned crostini, and a turkey herb melt for lunch. If you are looking for boozy concoctions, wander into any pub or bar and you are sure to find the perfect drink to hit the spot.
Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Events
Most notably, Leavenworth is known for its holiday atmosphere and famous Lighting Festival. The storefronts, gazebo, and surrounding buildings are covered in over half a million lights! The seasonal lighting ceremony includes music by local bands and fun events for the kiddos. Book your accommodation in advance if you hope to attend the events. Even if you miss the ceremony, the lights stay up through December. We were in Leavenworth a day after the festivities and it was still bustling and beautiful. If you are looking for affordable and cozy accommodation, check out airbnb.com. We found a wonderful studio within a 6 minute walk of downtown for only $131 per night. I would definitely recommend this place! The hosts were super helpful and the space was perfect.
Leavenworth, Washington is a magical place to visit in the winter time. If you are looking for the perfect holiday getaway, you will find it here. You will not be lacking things to do, see, and eat! Find out more about Leavenworth at Leavenworth.org, or leave your questions in the comments below!
Born and Raised in the WA: Life as a Washingtonian
This phrase pops up on my Facebook feed often. It is usually accompanied by memes with Evergreen trees, bearded men in flannel, and lots and lots of rain.
Most of them leave me chuckling to myself, thinking, Ha! Isn’t that true!
Because, above all, Washington is known for three things:
The Space Needle
I’m not going to deny it. It does rain a lot here. Even after living here for 24 years I am still not used to it. Maybe that is why when I travel I opt for tropical beaches with lots of sunshine. *sigh*
The Seahawks are awesome, and you can’t visit Washington without seeing the Space Needle!
But to be honest, Washington is much more than rain, a pointy building, and the 12th Man.
Here’s what it’s like being a tried and true Washingtonian…
Did You Mean Washington, DC?
Whenever I am traveling and I tell people that I am from Washington, they assume I mean Washington, D.C. This is a fair assumption, since D.C. is the capital of the United States. Many people have never even heard of Washington State, a point that makes me a very sad bear. For some reason, though, if I say I am from Seattle, I see that gleam of recognition in their eyes ( I blame you, Sleepless in Seattle.) I have been to DC and the two states couldn’t be any more different. Washington State is full of laid back, get outdoors kind of folk, and DC attract a much more *refined* crowd. That’s not to say that we Washingtonians can’t get fancy. We may even break out our nice flannel on occasion.
Hiking is #Life
Washingtonians love hiking. Or at least we SAY we love hiking.
Obviously not every person in Washington is a fan of hiking, but it seems to be one of the most popular hobbies of Washingtonians. Go on any online dating site and you’ll find that in bios across the board. Don’t think I’m being a hater though- I love hiking. There are so many mountains, parks, and trails in Washington to choose from! Whether your version of hiking is taking a walk around Green Lake, or trudging through snow on your way to Mailbox Peak, there is something for everyone. But, you’re not a real Washingtonian until you have hiked Mount Si. Don’t forget the trail mix!
Washington weather is so sporadic that it’s almost funny. You may step out your front door to see that it’s pouring down rain, just to have it turn 60 degrees and sunny in the afternoon. For this reason, Washingtonians are used to wearing layers. You must be prepared for all kinds of weather. Don’t bother looking at the forecast. Many-a-times has one expected sun, just to be caught in a downpour without a jacket. A safe bet is to wear a t-shirt, a sweater, and a jacket at all times. If the temperature is warm, you can strip down. If it starts to rain, you will be prepared. You may THINK that today will be the day that you don’t need a jacket…. But you could be wrong. The Washington weather gods have a sick sense of humor.
Washington, aka The Evergreen State got its name for the Evergreen trees that cover our landscapes. However, more than literally being green, Washington is notorious for its environmentally conscious folk. It has already been established that we are pretty outdoorsy, so it is important to us to keep nature looking happy and healthy. In Seattle you can find many people riding their bikes to work, using compostable plastics, and buying local and organic goods. We even have a ban on plastic bags! Outside of Seattle , you can find many sustainable farms with everything from cows, corn, goats, berries, apples, cucumbers…. really anything! The University of Washington has been ranked as one of the most environmentally friendly universities in the country, and Washington State University has a top-notch farming program. Washington is already making a shift toward relying on wind and solar energy instead of fossil fuels. Every little bit helps to make our state and world a better place for everyone!
Seattle in particular is known for its coffee snobbery, and with good reason. Perhaps it is because we are the home of the original Starbucks, or because the hipsters here run rampant, but we are obsessed with this magic black bean liquid. Every Washingtonian knows how to order coffee a variety of ways and can tell the difference between “bad” coffee and “good” coffee. After working in a restaurant in downtown Seattle, I have found this last point to especially be the case. People will ask you where you get your beans and if they are organic. And who could blame Washingtonians for this obsession?Coffee is the perfect drink to keep you warm on a long hike or camping trip- two things we LOVE to do. If you come to Washington, you best believe you are going to encounter this nectar of the gods at every corner.
The Red/Blue Mountain State
This is a concept that I just came up with but it is oh-so true. West of the mountains, you have shiny, Liberal Seattle and hilly forests of green wherever you turn. But cross over to the East and it is like you are in a completely different state. Eastern Washington is much flatter than the West and consists of farms, country, and berry fields. Eastern Washington is more politically conservative than Western Washington as well. This can be a shock to those who venture out of the Seattle “liberal bubble” and encounter conservative billboards, Christian radio stations, and Republican candidate signs. Not to mention, the strong rivalry between the University of Washington and Washington State University. There is a lot of healthy (and unhealthy) trash talk between the schools at the college football games. But in the end, we all got that Washingtonian blood and are proud of it!
Washington is Gorgeous AF
Many people don’t seem to realize how beautiful Washington is. I am honestly amazed by where I live every single day. When I come back from a long trip, I just appreciate it even more. Seattle sits right on the edge of Lake Washington and Puget Sound, so you are never far from glistening waves or the sandy beach of Golden Gardens. About 45 minutes to the East, you can find magnificent mountains, lakes, and forests to explore. All through-out Washington there are quaint towns to visit such as Leavenworth, Fairhaven, or Lynden. The crazy weather brings with it all four seasons, so you can expect hot summers and cold, snowy winters. The landscape of Washington is so diverse that you can really find something to meet anyone’s tastes. More and more people are realizing how much of a gem this state is! Of course, if you are a Washingtonian, no one needed to tell you that! California’s got nothin’ on us!
Washington rocks! Whether you are a Washingtonian or just simply panning a visit, you go to know that Washington has something to offer everyone. We are much more than our rainy reputation!
Washington State never ceases to amaze me. Living Seattle, I am never more than an hour away from the beach or from the mountains, city or country. Seattle is the bustling, creative, and eccentric hub of the state, attracting all kinds of people, occupations, music, and interests.
I have lived in Seattle for 5 years, having come here to attend university. I grew up only a few hours to the north in the San Juan Islands, but desired a change of pace. I had never considered myself much of a city girl until I moved here, but I quickly fell in love and felt comfortable calling Seattle my home. Over time, I have become familiar with both the tourist sites and hidden gems. I decided to compile a list of my own favorite things to do in Seattle, in the hope that others will see what I see in this amazing city.
1. Bike riding along the Burke Gilman Trail
The summer before my freshman year of college, I worked by butt off at three jobs and was able to save up to buy my very own bike. I love getting exercise and being outdoors, so I was constantly looking for new routes and trails. The Burke Gilman Trail runs from Ballard, through University District, and ends in Bothell.
It is about 27 miles long, but is perfect for riding your bike from one park or shopping center to another. It is very scenic and well-maintained, so it’s great from just a stroll or exercise. I love to stop at the Fremont Canal and watch the boats, or grab a breakfast sandwich at Solsticio Café.
2. People watching at Green Lake
As an introverted artsy-type, there is few things I like more than people-watching and drawing in a public park. In the summer months, Green Lake is a great place to catch some rays, get exercise, or walk a furry friend. There’s also a place to do stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) or rent a rowboat. I like to set up a picnic either alone or with friends and see what people cross my path. It tends to get very busy on sunny days, so on those days I can walk about 20 minutes from my house or take the bus. The lake is also a beautiful scene for drawing, if you are artistically inclined.
And you are only a few blocks away from good food.
3. Tour the University of Washington campus
I must admit by personal bias here, but I believe the University of Washington has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. More than just the architecture, it houses a whole area of Japanese cherry trees which blossom in the spring, becoming a peaceful place to relax and take pictures. There are many historical buildings and statues, which makes the place seem like more of an outdoor museum than a university.
There is a gorgeous rose garden with stone benches surrounding the UW fountain. On a clear day, the fountain perfectly frames Mount Rainier in the distance. There enough to see on a self-guided tour, so no need to spend any money on this one. But, I am always one to encourage venturing to University Way, where one can find restaurants from the Vietnamese variety to Ethiopian.
4. Bar Crawl in Capitol Hill
By far, Capitol Hill is my favorite area to go out, grab a bite, and get my dance on. This LGBTQIA-friendly district is home to my favorite dance clubs and bars in Seattle. On a Friday night, I like to catch the guest-list at Q Nightclub, a swanky club that booms house music, hosts popular DJs, and even throws in some fire-dancers and performers once in a while. If EDM isn’t your style, make your way to Rhein Haus, a Bavarian-inspired pub with large beer steins and bocce ball. This joint is huge, so feel free to bring all your friends and chow down on some amazing soft pretzels and brats.
For the more something a little more quirky, hit up the Unicorn. The Unicorn has fantastic drinks, such as my personal favorite, “The Cheap Date”. There are arcade games to play, raunchy décor, and popular karaoke nights. And, if it’s your 21st birthday, you get to wear the nearly 2 foot long unicorn horn, which is bedazzled with rhinestones and glitter. This is the place to go to have a wild time.
Finally, I love to end my night at R Place, as it has no cover after 1 am. R Place is a happening gay bar, complete with mainstream hits and go-go dancers (of all genders). The drinks are run-of-the-mill but by the end of your bar crawl, this is the perfect spot to let loose and dance like no one is watching.
5. Kayaking on Lake Union
One of my favorite things about Seattle is its close proximity to water, whether it be Golden Gardens, Alki Beach, or Lake Washington. I love swimming, going for boat rides, or simply looking at the view. With so many options available, Seattle is never lacking of places to go kayaking, and Lake Union is my preferred place to get on the water. For approximately $15 per person, you can rent a kayak for an hour or more, venturing under the Fremont Bridge and down the canal, or to the east around Gasworks Park.
There’s always choice to share a kayak with a friend, but for those of us with a competitive side, it can be even more fun to race along the water full speed. A huge plus is that you get a great panoramic view of the city, including the Space Needle and Queen Anne Hill. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures, but be careful not to drop your camera in the water!
6. Splashing Around in Seattle Center Fountain
Did I mention that I like water? With so many lakes and beaches, it can be hard to choose your ideal swimming spot. If the idea of salt water makes you say “Ew”, perhaps consider venturing to Seattle Center for a day. The International Fountain is one of the many famous sites in Seattle, but it is highly interactive as well. During the summer months, the fountain is in full force, and draws large crowds of tourists and families. Don’t let that deter you though, because once you see it, you will want to jump right it. The fountain plays classic musical hits, choreographing the streams of water with various spouts and blasts.
It is both beautiful to listen to and fun to play in, and can keep kids (and the young at heart) entertained for hours. After a day of splashing in the sun, there are many more sites to see at the Center. This is the home of the famous Space Needle, Experience Music Project (EMP), and Seattle Science Center. All of those activities are surely great, but let me just say that the fountain is completely free!
7. Seattle Underground Tour
Admittedly, I’ve only been on this tour once, but it is one of those “touristy” things that I whole-heartedly support people looking into when they visit Seattle. The tour starts out in a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop in Pioneer Square, making you feel like you are entering a secret society or Prohibition-era speakeasy. The tour continues, over, under, and around the district, as an animated tour guide gives the raunchy, dirty history of Seattle. I’ll try not to offer too many spoilers, but the best part is touring the remnants of Seattle after the great fire- and since Seattle was first built below sea-level, the new city was simply built on top of the ruins.
However, some of the shops still remain, and this offers a spooky, yet nostalgic backdrop to this theatrical tour. I learned a ton, laughed even more, and came away with a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of this great city.
8. Pike Place Market
Most people who venture to visit Seattle are familiar with its famous “Public Market” sign that frames the Pike Place Market downtown. This is the home of the original Starbucks (often crowded, so don’t depend on catching a quick brew here), and the gooey gum wall. As you enter the market, you will see the spot of the infamous fish-throwing, with salmon go flying through the air to be caught it paper, wrapped, and sold. However, aside from these more famous sites, Pike Place Market holds all kinds of oddities, street merchants, and worldly foods. $10 can buy you the most beautiful bouquet of flowers, and there are free samples of delicacies on every corner.
I love going here to just grab a bite and look at the bay. You are also within walking distance of the Westlake Shopping Center to suit all your fashion needs. Although a visit to Pike Place Market seems clichés, you don’t want to miss it!
9. Hike All the Trails!
No matter where you are in Northwest Washington, you are never far away from a trail. Obviously city trails, like the Burke Gilman, are awesome, but sometimes you just want to get into nature, work those calves, and smell some evergreens. So far I have written two blog posts on my experiences hiking near Seattle, but there are so many trails to choose from! Personally, I like getting a little bit of a workout out of my hike, so Lake Serene was a great challenge for me. Of course, there’s no shame in looking for a great view, and there are tons of trails for that as well (try Rattlesnake Ridge or Poo Poo Point).
One of the greatest things people notice about Washington is how green it is, so take advantage of that! We have glorious mountains, beautiful lakes, and breathtaking views. Make it a day trip or make it a weekend, you won’t regret it!
10. Perusing One of the Many Art Museums
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m really into art. I like making it, I like looking at it, I even like destroying it sometimes (to make it into something new). Seattle attracts all kinds of artists, so it’s no wonder that there are many art museums as well as shops to choose from. Every first Thursday of the month, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is completely free, and most of the other museums have their own deals and free days. The SAM houses mostly classical and contemporary art, and showcases a different prominent artist every couple of months. The building itself is architecturally beautiful, and conveniently located downtown by most of the other famous sites.
My other favorite is the Asian Art Museum, located in Volunteer Park, which is one of the best parks in Seattle. The Asian Art Museum is rich in history, and surrounded by historic buildings, sculptures, and has a great view of Seattle. Volunteer Park also houses a conservatory of plants, from ferns and flowers to trees and cacti. I can easily spend a whole day in a museum, and they make that easy because food is usually close by.
In general, art can be seen in Seattle almost everywhere you turn; in the architecture, the graffiti, and the landscapes. Seattle is a gorgeous city, with so much to see and do.
Please come visit us, we would love to have you!
Lake Serene: Peaceful Views in the Washington Mountains