Over the last weekend before Christmas, my friends and I went on a little road trip to Leavenworth, WA. Leavenworth is a popular little tourist destination (pop. 1,965) tucked away in the mountains, that’s well-known for its Bavarian style buildings. It has become the place to go for tourists to celebrate Oktoberfest and Christmas on the west coast.
From Vancouver, it’s about a 4.5 hour drive and luckily we left early enough that there was no border line up! The border guard had warned us that there is a law where vehicles are required to possess chains for the winter season; otherwise, we may have been fined $300. Check out some winter driving tips here to make sure you’re prepared for the snowy roads. For us, there was only one section that was covered in snow, but a snow plough was making its rounds right in front of us.
We did our accommodation booking late October / early November and to find a place for 7 people proved challenging. We ended up staying at Springhill Suites in Wenatchee, WA, which is about a 30min drive east of Leavenworth. The hotel was clean, nice and friendly and served complimentary breakfast to their guests. The one strange thing was having the washroom/bathroom sliding doors not being able to lock.
On our drive to this small town of just under 32,000 people, we passed by some pear trees covered in snow and a sign that claimed that it was the ‘Apple Capital of the World’.
Our first stop to eat was a little place called Wild Huckleberry. It had decent reviews and only 5min away, so why not. It was a small brunch place in a house. I ordered the Blackstone Eggs Benedict, which was really just eggs benedict with sliced tomato and apple smoked bacon bits. It was good, but the hashbrown was greasy and oily to my standards. My friends ordered other eggs benedicts, soups and fish and chips. Their comments were that the soup was a bit too salty, but no complaints for the fish and chips!
It was about 3pm when we made it to Leavenworth and boy was parking a challenge. There were a few lots that offered $10 parking that went towards charities/foundations. Then there were free lots and street parking, but we were circling the town for about 30-45min before finding an actual spot. It was mostly due to the high volume of vehicles looking for parking since the Christmas Lighting Festival started at 4:30pm. We lucked out and got some free street parking southeast of Highway 2 on Front Street. Everything west of Front Street was closed off for the crowds!
The buildings and signage were all Bavarian themed on the exterior including the local Starbucks and McDonald’s. Walking up and down the street reminded me of Whistler Village, but with really cool buildings. The streets were incredibly crowded, most likely because it was the last Lighting Festival weekend for the year. Along the side with buildings were restaurants and shops, then the other side consisted of smaller kiosks and food vendors. My friends ended up buying a bag of pears for $5. Other kiosks included a mulled wine tent, sausage stands and other treats.
Through the crowds, they have people dressed up in mascot outfits that you can take pictures with. Or if you needed to stay warm, there were a few fire pits with people huddling around them.
Christmas Lighting Festival
Before the Lighting Festival, we put our name down at Andreas Keller Restaurant and were told that we would have a table ready by 7pm. Our backup restaurant was going to be King Ludwig’s, but we didn’t have to resort to that.
The Christmas Lighting Festival started with a couple short speeches, one by the Mayor of Leavenworth and Santa also had a minor speaking role. The main stage took place at the gazebo, west of the large Christmas Tree that was going to be lit up. I couldn’t see the stage very clearly from where I was standing, but they had speakers set up around, so we could hear what was going on.
After the speeches, there was music playing and we watched 2 pairs of stars approach each other from both ends of the street that met up in front of the gazebo. Then the whole audience started a countdown at 10 and once we struck 0, we could see the lights of the buildings and trees turn on one by one. It was truly a magical sight! At the end, there were fireworks going off, which was surprising.
Andreas Keller Restaurant
We had about 2hrs to kill before dinner at Andreas Keller Restaurant, so we wandered through the small shops and stores. We got some mulled wine and chatted while we killed time for the crowds to die down.
We checked in on the restaurant and it looked like we got bumped up to 6:30pm from our original 7pm time slot, so that was a bonus! The restaurant itself was in the basement, but it was set up with a guy wearing lederhosen playing an accordion for our entertainment. We ended up ordering the Sausage Sampler Platter, that came with our choice of 3 types of sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels, Schweinshaxe, pork hock with weinkraut, red cabbage and German fried potatoes, Andreas Keller Sampler, which had more sausage and pork hock, and the Schnitzel “Wiener Art”, a crispy pork cutlet and a German potato salad.
The food and service was great and would recommend this place!
Unfortunately, we missed the Nativity Scene that happened at 8pm because we took longer than expected at dinner. The town still goes all out as the people dress up the characters from the birth of Jesus Christ, even the baby. There was also an opportunity to take pictures with Santa, but we skipped out on that.
Leavenworth Ski hill
The following day, we decided to check out the Leavenworth Ski Hill. It was $17 for admission and tubing rental. We didn’t do much research prior, so we were heading to the unknown. Once we got there, we saw the hill and realized we’re definitely spoiled by our ski hills in BC! It was a sad little slope with only one run for tubing.
I’m still boggled at how it’s called a ski hill, when there was no skiing involved, but perhaps we only saw a part of the ski hill? But if you’re looking for a small hill, perhaps for small children, this is the place to be.
- Book your trip early! It was hard for us to find accommodation for 7, but there were still only a couple rooms for 4 available during the time of our booking. (Late October, Early November)
- Bring a car. If you find accommodation in Leavenworth, you’re good to go and don’t need to drive around much, since everything is so close together. However, driving is pretty much the only way to get to Leavenworth, but Amtrak does have a stop in Leavenworth.
- Parking can be difficult to find during peak seasons. Make sure you plan enough time so you don’t miss any of the events going on in the town.
- The town is pretty small and can be explored in a day. There might be some hidden hiking trails, but we didn’t explore that option.
- Make sure you’re prepared for winter driving. Chains are required by law to have in your vehicle, so make sure you have them. Check out some winter driving tips prior to your departure.
- If you’re eating in Leavenworth, make sure you put your name on the list at the restaurant. It can get really busy, really fast, but it’s better to have your name down. Check in with the restaurant to see if you got bumped up on the list.
- Skip the Leavenworth Ski Hill, it’s a small tubing hill. I’m not really sure why it’s called a ski hill, since there wasn’t any skiing involved. I can see it being a good hill for young children, but that’s about it.
- Put down your phone/camera and just enjoy the Christmas spirit. I was initially going to try to capture the Lighting Festival on camera, but there were too many people and the amount of phones and cameras in the air was kind of ridiculous. Instead, soaking up the environment was by far the better choice!
This is definitely an incredibly festive place, so it was worth the drive to enjoy the atmosphere! I won’t make this an annual visit, but one every so often.
If you’re looking for more information about Leavenworth, you should check out their website to see activities and events that run throughout the year.
Alex is interested in hiking, technology, marketing and photography, where he loves to capture the candid moments. One of his goals in life is to travel to each continent and explore all 7 New Wonders of the World. He is a working professional in the Information Technology and Market Research industries. Connect with him on Twitter, Google+ or Flickr.