Compete your holiday shopping—and find beer and deer—in the PNW’s premier Christmastown
written by James Sinks
Pretty much anywhere, you can open your wallet and browse for holiday gifts. Yet few places—at least, on this continent—can approach the kitschy yuletide charm of Leavenworth, the Pacific Northwest Christmastown filled with Bavarian-styled buildings, beers, bratwurst, and boutiques in Washington’s north Cascades.
Festive holiday shopping is only the beginning. Surrounded by snowy and showy 8,000-foot peaks, Leavenworth offers a wonderland of winter outdoor pursuits you won’t find at any strip malls or retail websites. Fly down powdery slopes at Mission Ridge Ski Area; try nordic trails, tubing runs and ski jumping at Leavenworth Winter Sports Club; navigate sledding hills pretty much everywhere; and—once things really cool down—strap on crampons for ice climbing.
If that’s not enough to convince you to start making travel plans, there also are horse-drawn sleigh rides with cocoa and a farm where you can feed reindeer.
Two-and-a-half hours from Seattle by car or three-plus hours by Amtrak, the city of almost 2,500—named after a Portland businessman who helped finance its founding—has been luring droves to its German-themed downtown since it was reimagined a half century ago. The place consistently ranks among Washington’s top tourist draws, and was recently named in the top five Christmas towns nationally by the experts at MyDatingAdviser.com.
Leavenworth’s alpine village motif, inspired in part by Danish-flavored Solvang, California, was envisioned by two local entrepreneurs as a way to help revive the economy in the 1960s, after the Great Northern Railroad relocated its switchyard and the sawmill closed.
Any time of year here, German music fills the air while burly Bavarian fare like pretzels, spaetzle and schnitzel fill bellies. Come the holidays, Leavenworth unfurls an impressive Vilkommen mat.
On Thanksgiving weekend, the trees begin their seasonal lightshow and locals stage a European-style open-air holiday bazaar, known as Christlkindmarkt. While the festivities and market have been scaled back again due to the pandemic—the popular lantern parade is still on ice, for instance—there will still be prodigious cheer, carolers, and regular sleigh rides to visit Santa. Come prepared for cool weather and crowds.
At the venerable Andreas Keller Restaurant, there’s German music most days and German food all days, and also a gluten-free menu. Or visit more-recent arrival Watershed Cafe, where the chefs concoct Northwest-focused fare. To warm your liver, head to Stein Leavenworth, with fifty-five beer taps, or try the award-winning reds at Silvara Winery.
Downtown, tame your shopping list in 100-or-so shops and eateries, which peddle everything from gingerbread to sweaters to cheese. At the Kris Kringl boutique, where the motto is “it’s Christmas all year long,” you’ll find more ornaments than your tree branches can hold. Nearby, the Nutcracker Museum boasts the world’s largest collection, with more than 9,000 and counting.
Then there are the deer. A mile from town, the Leavenworth Reindeer Farm is home to twenty-eight caribou, six of them born this year, according to manager Erika Bowie. The place hosts 75,000 people annually for tours, at $40 a person in peak season, also art collectors who buy local artisans’ wares from the gift shop in the circa-1906 barn. During the holidays, not surprisingly, Santa hangs out with the reindeer, too. Book ahead.
The place is licensed federally and educates visitors about all things reindeer, a protected species, including the fact that antlers can grow an inch a day. The deer, on the other hand, like to educate themselves about whatever food visitors are holding.
And can holiday shoppers take a reindeer home? Bowie laughed. Not a real one. “We have lots of stuffed animals in the gift shop.”
Icicle Brewing Company
Icicle Village Resort and Alpine Spa
Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort
Warm Springs Inn & Winery
Icicle Outfitters/sleigh rides
Leavenworth Reindeer Farm
Leavenworth Winter Sports Club
Mission Ridge Ski Area