- Distance from Seattle: 113 miles
- Best time: April to October
- Best for: Girl's GetawayRomanticFood and Wine
The North Cascades offer bright mountain mornings, lazy afternoons, and wine- and ale-soaked evenings, making it a perfect escape for couples. At first glance, the town of Leavenworth can come across as a tourist trap, but once you dig a little deeper, you'll likely fall head over lederhosen for this Bavarian-style village, which is rich in dining, drinking, and shopping options. The town's charm is hard to ignore: Flowerboxes and murals adorn buildings, German-accented street festivals and markets abound, and the relaxed pace of village life is a welcome retreat from big-city living. To round out the weekend, meander through the sun-drenched Wenatchee wine and orchard country and partake in a bit of wine tasting to toast your good fortune. – By Lora Shinn
Cascades Cheat Sheet
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1 Driving into Leavenworth, the town's Bavarian oom-pah can't be missed. But one of its quirkiest little eateries is—paradoxically—Mexican. For a post-drive pick-me-up, stop into South for its famed guacamole, along with creative cocktails like the Sweet Basil Daisy (margarita infused with basil, served with a chili-salt rim).
2 Take a stroll through nearby Waterfront Park to work up an appetite for dinner. Wander through a well-shaded pine and fir forest to Blackbird Island and along the Wenatchee river. Look for wildlife,including deer, beaver, and maybe even a cougar (of the non-human variety), that might wander down to the river for a drink. Watch the skies for raptors, plentiful in this region. The park's flat trail loop is about three miles long and takes about an hour to walk. Go to the corner of 8th Street and Commercial Street, follow Commercial Street down a steep hill, and at the bottom of the hill, you’ll find the trail to the left.
3 Polish off your night with a casual dinner at Munchen Haus, noshing on bratwust and imbibing in beer as the sun slips behind the North Cascade mountain range. Top off your sausage with one of more than a dozen mustard options and Washington-brewed drafts from the Icicle Brewing Co. This flower-bedecked outdoor beer garden's lights come up as evening arrives, and the convivial atmosphere may keep you sipping contentedly for a few more rounds.
1 Fortify yourself for the day's adventure with breakfast at Leavenworth's Pavz Café Bistro, a popular spot known for its sweet and savory stuffed crepes. Our favorites are the shaved black forest ham crepe with Swiss cheese and Béchamel sauce and the apple strudel crepe with sliced apples and golden raisins. Either pairs quite nicely with a mimosa or straight glass of bubbly—you're on vacation, after all.
2 Just down the block, head into The Nutcracker Museum. Okay, it may not sound like a winning destination, but where else will you find more than 5,000 nutcrackers on display? And who knows—that Darth Vader nutcracker may just capture your sweetheart's eye.
3 Just 12 miles outside of Leavenworth, in the cottage community of Cashmere, Apple Annie Antique Gallery is an unexpected find: a massive, 70,000-square foot antique shop. Among its well-organized wares, the depot features Mad Men–style dressers and Art Deco coffee tables, vintage magazines and prints, and extensive collections of jewelry, glassware, and china from various eras. If antiques aren't your thing, there are plenty of other midday activities nearby, like delicious sales at the famous Aplets & Cotlets candy factory, a visit to a local farm, or a nearby hike.
4 Also in Cashmere, recharge with a bite at the charming Anjou Bakery. The award-winning shop offers artisanal breads, European-style pastries, and filling sandwiches (our favorite is the deceptively simple ham and butter, starring Niman Ranch ham tucked into sweet cream butter on a fresh baguette). Plan to linger here awhile, leaving enough time to savor a pear tart and espresso in the cool shop, which often plays a jazz soundtrack. C'est la vie.
5 Reenergized, drive another fifteen minutes east along Highway 2 to downtown Wenatchee. Duck into the Wenatchee Valley Visitors Bureau Center, where you can learn about surrounding orchards and sample several locally made wines and hard ciders in the onsite tasting room. Ready for more than a sample? Head over to Tastebuds Coffee & Wine to taste your way through the list of hard-to-find local and international wines.
6Back in Leavenworth, Visconti's Italian Restaurant is a top-rated spot for a romantic dinner. Call ahead to request a window table in the upstairs dining room. Then, get ready for a feast of fresh pasta, locally raised meats (fans rave about the steak), and farm-fresh veggies in seasonal, earthy dishes. We like the handmade ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and pumpkin and topped with fresh sage butter and the spit-roasted chicken that's grilled in an apple wood-fired oven and finished with fresh lemon and oregano. An extensive (and fantastically priced) list of Washington State and Italian wines rounds out the meal.
1 Wake up to a lazy, locavore breakfast at O'Grady's Pantry, at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort, where chefs bring seasonal pastries and farm-fresh quiches to hungry visitors on a lovely outdoor patio, alongside top-notch coffees and teas. Even if you're not staying here, the restaurants and 2-acre organic garden on site is open to the public and worth visiting.
2 Shopaholic couples should spend some time strolling through Leavenworth's compact streets, which boast enough quirky, interesting stores to keep shoppers busy for hours. We recommend The Hat Shop, where hundreds of silly (and some stylish) hats cover the walls from floor to ceiling. Also, Jubilee Global Gifts is known for its fair-trade and sustainably made handcrafts, like jewelry and purses. Fair warning: Even the kitsch starts to charm you after a while. Find a full listing of local stores on the Leavenworth shopping website.
3 For a final taste of Leavenworth, assemble a picnic for the trip home. The Cheesemonger's Shop offers cheeses and sausages from around the world, along with baguettes and piquant mustards. And Schocolat will provide enough cocoa calories to fuel the trip home. On second thought, those truffles are so delicate that you'd better eat them now.
Where to Stay
Centrally located across the street from Leavenworth's city gazebo, the Bavarian Lodge (rooms from $169/night) is a warm, country-styled budget hotel that features a year-round heated pool, hot buffet breakfast, and free DVD checkout library.
Sleeping Lady Resort (rooms from $182/night) is one of the region's favorite escapes, long-treasured for its focus on sustainability and integrating nature into the hotel, from hand-hewn log beds to organic foods in the restaurant. Note: No TVs in rooms—when they say they want you to unwind, they mean it.
When to Go
Summer attracts flocks of travelers all season long. The warm, sunny days on the eastern side of the mountain range are a perfect foil for Seattle's often-cloudy weather. The cherished local Sound of Music performance is an annual outdoor tradition, with the mountain range as a fitting backdrop.
In the fall, harvest festivals welcome the region's bumper crops of apples and pears (the area is one of the top producers of organic pears in the United States), and if you like beer, there's always Oktoberfest.
Winter is spectacular in Leavenworth. In December, the Christmas Lighting event, festive carolers, and powdered-sugar snow lend a perfect plucked-from-storybooks village atmosphere. Many hotels accept bookings up to a year in advance for the holidays, particularly weekends—but rates are among the highest of the year. After the Christmas season, you'll have an easier time locating a room, but remember this area is popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
How to Get There
By car (from Seattle): Leavenworth is about two and a half hours from Seattle. You have two choices: Travel east on I-90, take the Leavenworth exit (milepost 85), go east on State Route 970 to US-97, over Blewett Pass to Highway, and then turn left on Highway 2 to Leavenworth. Or, travel north on I-405 to Bothell, then take Highway 2 for 85 miles over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth. In winter, check mountain pass conditions, which may require traction tires or chains and a choice between one of the two routes.