Bavarian Charm in Leavenworth, WA

Leavenworth is one of those cities which, despite growing up in Washington, I never visited before moving to the other side of the country. I’ll be honest, in high school I thought Leavenworth was a small town with plenty of cows and not a whole lot of nightlife. One of those blips on the map that we passed by when making the long drive to visit family in Spokane.

How wrong I was.

It was only after I moved to Orlando, over 3,000 miles away, that I discovered Leavenworth for what it really is: an adorably themed Bavarian-style town nestled along the North Cascade Mountains.

The Main Road in Washington State's Downtown Leavenworth

Established in 1890 by Western pioneers, Leavenworth hit its stride when the Great Northern Railway came to town. As the railway headquarters, the small timber town enjoyed a constant stream of visitors throughout the year, and saw a massive boom in its industry and commerce. Of course, once the railway re-routed and moved its headquarters elsewhere, Leavenworth suffered. With the heart of its business opportunities torn out, the city limped along until the 1960’s, when two businessmen from Seattle saw an opportunity to re-invent Leavenworth as a tourist attraction.

Inspired by the Danish-themed city of Solvang, California, downtown Leavenworth underwent a major face lift, and emerged as the themed village that still exists today. And while the railroad may have shifted directions,a new Amtrak station (established in 2007) brings visitors to the town throughout the year, helping Leavenworth to enjoy the same popularity it did 100 years ago.

When I visited in April, however, we did not take the train. Mom and I hopped in the car and enjoyed a two hour drive, past Wallace Falls and through the Cascades, the scenery getting prettier and prettier as we continued along. It was one of those cases where the journey truly is as good as the destination.

 photo Driving from Redmond to Leavenworth WA_zps9c1fudzu.jpg photo The Pacific Crest Lodge at Stevens Pass_zpsrslmqcqc.jpg photo Driving Through Stevens Pass to Get to Leavenworth WA_zpsanexperz.jpgGorgeous Mountain Views on the Drive to Leavenworth, WATaking in the Mountain Views Near Leavenworth, WAWilkommen to Leavenworth, WA

I loved the little town as soon as I saw it. Sure, it’s a little over the top, but how could anyone not love this? I felt as if I were in Disneyland, or some other faraway themed land. And while I planned on playing it cool, I could not stop pulling out my camera to take photo after photo. From the cute shops and street signs, the murals and the statues, and the stunning mountain views, it really did feel a bit like I’d been transported far away, to Switzerland perhaps. I wondered if the ode to Bavaria was viewed as obnoxious, touristy and overly cheerful, but as we strolled around, I saw more and more older European couples, clearly locals, enjoying life in their little slice of home.

 photo Stunning Mountain Views in Leavenworth Washington_zps5hr0lclz.jpg  photo Festhalle Leavenworth Washington_zpsv7lssjs9.jpg  photo Beautiful Storefronts in Downtown Leavenworth_zpsidpi2get.jpg  photo Welcome to Leavenworth_zpsw0iuin1q.jpgMunchen Haus, Bavarian Grill Sausages in Leavenworth, WA

After doing a quick lap around downtown, Mom and I walked down to the Riverfront Park. Along with pretty tree-lined trails and picnic areas, the park runs alongside the Wenatchee River.

Talk about gorgeous.

 photo Hiking in the Leavenworth Riverfront Park_zpskcbwla3b.jpg  photo Wenatchee River as Seen from the Leavenworth Riverfront Park_zpsyobunkyv.jpg  photo Gorgeous Views of the Wenatchee River from the Leavenworth Riverfront Park_zpsm05crxrt.jpg

We spent a little while here exploring, taking photos, and just relaxing by the water before hiking back up to the themed downtown area to shop around and grab lunch. (Why is it that every time I visit home I’m reminded of how out of shape I am!?)

Mom sent a postcard and chatted with the shopkeeper at “A Matter of Taste,” while I drooled over the impressive array of sauces, dips and jams available for sampling. I brought home two mini jars of honey creme (my favorites were the Irish Cream and Huckleberry), and was seriously tempted by the Caesar dip. Now I know what to buy next time I’m in town. A Christmas visit with Dan is definitely in the works!

 photo Delicious Sampling Honeys at A Matter of Taste Leavenworth_zpsngvqr3rn.jpg

Distracted by a cute chalkboard sign advertising a $3 wine tasting, featuring Huckleberry Riesling, I made a quick stop in the next shop over, the name of which I can’t seem to remember. I really enjoyed all three samples in the tasting, and wound up bringing home a bottle to share with Dan once I landed in Orlando. And yes, I picked the bottle for looks as much as taste. It was the most “Bavarian” looking bottle in the store, and the perfect souvenir!

 photo Huckleberry Riesling Wine Tasting in Leavenworth WA_zpsmkbwjl3m.jpg

Sauerkraut, beer and sausages are more Dan’s specialty, so I saved the beer gardens for a future visit with him. Mom and I ate at an Italian restaurant called Visconti’s. The food here was just okay and I don’t plan on returning, but the downtown and mountain views from our dining area almost made up for the boring food.

 photo Viscontis in Leavenworth Average Food Great Views_zpsmvfzuzqs.jpg

After lunch it was more shopping and walking around, followed by a visit to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum.

 photo Alpen Strasse and Park Strasse in Leavenworth Washingtons Little Bavaria_zps53qm5xiu.jpg  photo Die Musik Box Storefront Leavenworth Washington_zpsag5bfhvy.jpg  photo Hotel Europa Leavenworth Washington_zps1nr25she.jpg  photo Village Alps Gift Shop Leavenworth Washington_zpskpkcqf9s.jpg  photo Get the Bavarian Feel in Leavenworth Washington_zpsckn6yo3n.jpg  photo Bavarian Themed Photos in Leavenworth Washington_zpspb0qqujv.jpg  photo Wilkommen in Leavenworth_zpsybuvl9ha.jpg photo The Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zps4fe5vxlb.jpg

I didn’t initially plan on writing about the museum, but as we explored more, I started to change my mind. And while the nutcracker collection was unique and entertaining, it was the history that made me want to share this unique little spot.

 photo Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zps1wgrxdbp.jpg

The nutcracker collection was started in the 1970s by Arlene Wagner, who worked as artistic director for a local ballet company. Inspired by the characters of the famous Nutcracker ballet, she and her husband began to collect the wooden figurines in their travels. They began searching for nutcrackers in antique shops and roadshows, often travelling to certain locations just to bring home a certain piece. As their collection grew, so did their fame, and artisans and friends connected them with new finds. Their collection even included nutcracker figures of themselves!

As the couple grew older, they decided to donate their entire collection to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, so that people could continue to enjoy it for generations after their passing. Arlene still works in the museum, and was actually there to greet us upon arrival. Her husband sadly has passed, something which I found unfathomably sad. Sitting there day after day surrounded by all those shared memories sounds simultaneously draining and intoxicating. You have to admire her passion for these little nutcrackers.

 photo 20th Century Nutcrackers from Southern Germany at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsinn79fzl.jpg  photo Christmas Nutcrackers and Wooden Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpspderp54g.jpg

And it’s not just the traditional wooden figurines made famous by the Nutcracker ballet! This collection, which now includes donations from friends and fellow collectors around the world, has entire walls dedicated to metal, wooden, and themed nutcrackers. There is an entire display shelf full of nutcrackers shaped like alligators, a wall of unique carved faces with nutcracking stems, and even a pair of spiked shoes used for the industrial mass-production of pre-cracked nuts.

 photo Collection of Alligator Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum Washington_zpsusza1kiu.jpg  photo Wooden Scandinavian Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpslvhzwvhb.jpg  photo Santa Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpssn1bsfsc.jpg  photo Commercial Nutcracking Shoes at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsjgt9brbz.jpg

 photo Terrifying Sinister Mr. Peanut Nutcracker Lurking at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpslcn351pd.jpg
Creepy Mr. Peanut!

Some of the older, more delicate pieces were not allowed to be photographed, a rule which I respected as we walked up and down the rows. With so many other interesting figurines to photograph, it was no skin off my back!

Looking through those photographs now, I am super tempted to feature them in a whole new post. I’ll share just a few more photos with you and finish things up.

 photo Tirolean Nutcrackers Carved by Anri Woodcarvers  On Display At the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsgfeebyek.jpg  photo Scary Baba Yaga Nutcracker at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpswi9mmwjl.jpg

 photo Burnt Nutcracker from a Fire in the Seiffen Working Museum On Display at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsifgyaz9h.jpg
This nutcracker survived a fire at a working Nutcracker museum in Seiffen.

 photo Spooky Rows of Nutcrackers Fill the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zps9muwriq3.jpg  photo Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpswflyxdfk.jpg  photo A Salute to Disney Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsuxom4sx2.jpg  photo Y2K and Satan Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsvvu5gcf1.jpg  photo Star Wars Yoda Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpsb8jwgs29.jpg  photo An Entire Wall of Christmas Nutcrackers on Display at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpspmgwwo9l.jpg  photo Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutracker Museum_zpsv61fhzob.jpg  photo Peter Pan Captain Hook and Crocodile Nutcrackers at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum_zpshkx8rlxa.jpg

After leaving the Nutcracker Museum, we decided to get back on the road and begin the long trip back home, along those lovely mountain roads. Our few hours in downtown Leavenworth were enough to get a good feel for the town, and I already have a few ideas for a future visit with Dan. I’m thinking we’ll catch a train through the mountains, catch a few tastings, and wander the Christmas markets hand in hand. If we’re lucky, it might even snow! It’s hard to believe that were it not for the quick thinking of two businessmen in the sixties, Leavenworth might not have survived at all.

Leavenworth, the Town That Almost Wasn't

What do you think of Leavenworth? Does it strike you as a novel idea, or a tourist trap? And for those of you who have been to Germany, Switzerland, etc, how does Leavenworth hold up to the real deal?


12 thoughts on “Bavarian Charm in Leavenworth, WA

    1. Sweet wines are my favorite! And if that’s not your style, I’m sure you’ll find something you like from Washington!


  1. I felt like I was traveling with you through Leavenworth. I doubt if I would ever set foot in this adorable little village, but I really enjoyed virtually visiting it. I was amazed by the nut cracker collection. I was amazed by the perseverance the couple and their generosity.


    1. Aww, thank you! And that nutcracker collection is something else. I couldn’t believe the variety, and I loved the story behind the museum.


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