Four Washington Towns That Think They’re in Europe

It’s fair for the kids to get a little confused about geography, if you’re visiting certain Washington burgs. You drive a few miles, then tour a town with a Norwegian flag flying overhead. A clue that you’re NOT in Norway? Everything’s in English, you pay in dollars and you won’t find nude sunbathing on Poulsbo’s cold, rocky beach.

Next time you’re feeling Europe-sick (and don’t have the funds for a flight), check out these four Washington towns:

Poulsbo. Easily a daytrip from Seattle, this shop-rich, Kitsap Peninsula village offers a quaint harbor bobbing with boats (rent your own at Northwest Boat Rentals), quirky grocery shopping options (Marina Grocery Store has licorice-sampling area, so you can pick your pleasure — salty or sweet?), adorable bakeries (Sluys’ Bakery slings maple-doughnut gingerbread boys), a tiny bookstore with a generous children’s area (Liberty Bay Bookstore), decent toy shop and a sciencetastic experience in the form of the Poulsbo Marine Science Center. PMSC is a lovely little donations-welcome center that offers a touch tank and cool views of the Sound outside — plus arts and science projects for the kids.

Poulsbo's charming streets on the Kitsap Peninsula

Leavenworth. About a three-hour drive east of Seattle, Leavenworth pulls out all the stops in a recreation of Bavaria. The effect is helped along quite a bit due to location, location, location (at the foot of the Cascades, which loom like a Hollywood set behind the town). You can read all about kid-friendly Leavenworth shops, restaurants and hotels on my Leavenworth with kids page. Leavenworth probably offers the most well-developed tourism options, of all the towns listed here.

Lynden. Two hours northeast of Seattle and one hour southeast of Vancouver, BC, you’ll find the sleepy little town of Lynden. There’s not a whole lot to Lynden — in my experience — but the slightly cheesy windmill, faux canals and funky antique malls are worth a morning’s visit. Lynden is also convenient to trans-border traffic between at the  sleepy Aldergrove-Lynden crossing. In Lynden, you can sleep in the Dutch Village Inn windmill (know that they charge extra for kids, even if they’re not using extra bedding).

Lynden: Sometimes, we ride in boat-shoes.

If you go to Lynden, visit on a Saturday, when Dutch Mother’s Family Restaurant is open and slings crazy-big pannekoeken with blueberries and real whipped cream. The town is buttoned up tight on Sunday. This is small, small town Washington.

Odessa. Odessa is located  90 minutes west of Spokane, among Eastern Washington’s rolling wheat fields. Around 80% of the village’s population descended from German or Russian immigrants; the annual Deutschefest in September celebrates the town’s ancestry. One-story businesses (including the Hair Haus and Das Kraut Haus) line the traffic-free streets. Odessa is near the fascinating Soap Lake, where bubble waves wash up on shore.

About Lora

Lora Shinn writes about travel for regional and local publications, including AAA Journey, National Geographic Traveler,, Natural Health and Whole Living.


  1. I live right down the road from Lynden, such a cute little town, with an AMAZING PARK! Best playground ever.

  2. Here are some more things to do with kids in Leavenworth. We’ve built a site with a whimsical tone from a tourist’s point of view. We have a blog of our travels and things we’ve found there that we like.

  3. I agree, Lynden is a wonderful little place to visit!! Just a short drive if you live near the BC/WA border.

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