It’s fair for the kids to get a little confused about geography, if you’re visiting certain Washington towns. You drive a few miles, then tour a burg 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. Welcome to a European-style Washington town.
Next time you’re feeling Europe-sick (and don’t have the funds for a flight), check out these five Washington towns. Okay, some or most may not be “authentic” but more designed to draw the eye and dollar of tourists—but that doesn’t really detract from their charms.
Poulsbo: Scandinavian Washington Town
Easily a daytrip from Seattle, this shop-rich, Kitsap Peninsula village offers a quaint harbor bobbing with boats, quirky grocery shopping options (Marina Grocery Store has licorice-sampling area, so you can pick your pleasure — salty or sweet?), adorable bakeries (Sluys’ Poulsbo Bakery slings maple-doughnut gingerbread boys), a tiny bookstore with a generous children’s area (Liberty Bay Bookstore), decent toy shop.
Leavenworth: Super German Washington Town
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 village). 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: Dutch Washington Town
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).
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.
Soap Lake: Eastern European Washington Town
Okay, it’s not exactly European, but the town embraces its spa-town appeal to recent European immigrants. You’ll notice Ukrainian flags in windows and on cars, and you can enjoy truly amazing Italian-Brazilian cuisine at La Cucina di Sophia (make a reservation, I’m not kidding—no matter what). Or grab a nosh (dumplings, borscht, deli meats and cheeses) at Mom’s European Deli. I don’t want to oversell the situation; there isn’t that much to do in Soap Lake, but I love it.
Odessa: German Washington Town
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.