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Northwest Christmas

Great NW places where you'll find Christmas spirit

By CARY ORDWAY

If you're looking for something a little extra special to do this Christmas season, why not combine your holiday spirit with a short trip to one of the Pacific Northwest's many yuletide celebrations? Nothing beats hugging your family members on Christmas morning – except maybe doing it in an exciting new place filled with the energy and delights of the season. Here are just a few great options:

Seattle

Given the fact that Seattle may be lucky to get a week of snow each year, this Northwest city might not be an obvious choice for a Winter Wonderland to experience the joys of Christmas. But what it lacks in snow, it makes up for in festive spirit and Northwest residents discovered long ago that a trip to the city for Christmas shopping can be rewarding indeed.

From Seattle Center to Westlake Center to the Pike Place Market, the usual visitor attractions become just a little more special on a chilly winter's day. Throngs of excited, bundled-up families and couples sample the seasonal offerings at Westlake such as Quest carousel rides, or the kettle corn and elephant ears nearby. Vendors make balloon animals for the kids while loud Christmas music blares in the background making sure no one misses out on Seattle's holiday spirit.

Make it an overnight trip and it's even better. First, you'll be sure to see the numerous Christmas lights along downtown streets including the famous star on Macy's, the Space Needle lights and many other special seasonal touches. And, by staying overnight, you can turn a shopping trip into a true getaway.

Our base of operations for last Christmas season was a Seattle landmark, the Edgewater Hotel. If you're old enough, you'll remember that the Edgewater was made famous in the mid-60's when the Beatles stayed in one of the waterfront rooms and caught fish out their window. In fact, it became the obvious choice for many famous rock groups that came into town during that period to play for one of Pat O'Dea's spectacular rock concerts.

Today the Edgewater has a classic elegance that combines the best location in Seattle with an updated interior design that evokes the Northwest's rich Native American heritage. The first thing we saw when entering our waterfront room was a Washington State Ferry – just out the window and across the waters of Elliott Bay. Our view made us feel like we were traveling on a cruise ship with nothing but water between us and the ferry. This, of course, is the major attraction of the aptly-named Edgewater – a location literally out on the water with incredible views of Puget Sound and nearby islands.

With a room at the Edgewater – which features a constant parade of boats just outside your window -- there is the temptation to just stay there and enjoy the endless sights and sounds. But you'll find plenty of holiday activities, most within easy walking distance of your waterfront getaway.

Click here for a list of recommended Seattle accommodations.

Leavenworth

Yes, it may get a little crowded at times, but there is nothing quite like the annual Christmas Tree Lighting festival in the Bavarian city of Leavenworth, this year scheduled for Dec 4-6, Dec. 11-13, and Dec. 18-20.

The small village on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains near Wenatchee is known far and wide as one of the nation's best places to enjoy Christmas pageantry. It's been featured nationally on Good Morning America and on the A and E Network. And it's easy to see why: a trip to Leavenworth at Christmas time combines the Bavarian architecture with mountain scenery, a fun array of gift shops, great places to eat and such activities as roasting chestnuts and old fashioned caroling.

On Friday evenings over the three-weekend event, you can greet Saint Nicholas at 4 p.m. as he arrives at the Front Street Gazebo with special treats for the children. While there is no Lighting Ceremony on Fridays, the town is alive with holiday spirit.

Festivities begin Saturdays with Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus arriving in town at Noon. Visitors enjoy live music and entertainment all afternoon into the evening, including the Lighting Ceremony starting at 4:30 p.m. when the village and the trees in Front Street Park come alive with lights and color.

Again at noon Sundays, you'll greet Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus at noon and live music and entertainment will continue all afternoon into the evening. The Lighting Ceremony again stars at 4:30 p.m.

There are many fine accommodations in Leavenworth and, if you're looking for something extra-special, consider traveling to Leavenworth by Amtrak train, which now stops right in Leavenworth. The new station and stop in Leavenwroth now makes it much more convenient than the old schedule, which required travelers to disembark in Wenatchee, about 25 miles east of Leavenworth.

If you're leaving from Seattle, the eastbound train leaves at 4:50 p.m. and arrives at 8:10 p.m. The westbound train leaves at 6:15 a.m. and arrives in Seattle at 10:20 a.m.

Click here for a list of recommended Leavenworth accommodations.

Baker City, Oregon

If you love history and small town friendliness, Historic Baker City, Oregon is one of those places that combines both to offer up a great option for a unique Northwest Christmas.

The historic district includes more than 100 buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places. Many have plaques that tell interesting stories. You can pick up a self-guided walking tour and then just stroll around and chat with the friendly shopkeepers. Since it's Christmas time you really should take a horse-drawn carriage ride as well.

In the center of historic district, be sure to stop and take a tour of the Geiser Grand Hotel, a historic landmark that was built 120 years ago. It's recently gone through a multi-million dollar makeover and features crystal chandeliers, a majestic stained glass ceiling and mahogany columns. Guests can enjoy the award-winning and elegant Palm Court, graced with white linen and silver service.

Baker City also has a burgeoning arts and music scene to dip into. Every Saturday night you'll find live music at the Geiser Café, on Main Street. Every "First Friday" the streets are alive with folks rambling from one gallery or bistro to the other. Be sure to sample the local microbrewery, also on Main. And don't miss the Geiser Grand tours every Saturday afternoon, given by costumed guides from the historic society.

Be sure to check out the Christmas "grand buffet" at the Geiser Grand and, on Friday nights, horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered. Also on Fridays, you'll enjoy Christmas carol sing-alongs down by the Powder River where they have a bonfire and serve up hot cider and s'mores. Other Christmas events are planned on weekends in December.

For more information about Baker City, go to www.geisergrand.com.

Portland

Portland, Oregon has plenty of Christmas tradition and offers several events for holiday travelers. This cosmopolitan city has a lot to see and do any time of the year, but their Christmas celebrations will make your holiday quite memorable.

The Christmas Festival of the Lights at the Grotto, which gets under way in late November and will continue through Dec. 30, features more than a half million lights and over 150 music concerts. This is one of those events where you'll get out of your car and walk through, just soaking up the Christmas color and atmosphere. The event is at 8840 NE Skidmore Street and isn't open Christmas Day.

Another popular event is the drive-through show at Portland International Raceway – a "Winter Wonderland" where you'll enjoy 250 light-filled displays. The show is offered throughout the Christmas season and the Portland International Raceway is easy to find off exit 306B from Interstate 5.

The historic Pittock Mansion is a must-see anytime you're in Portland, but you'll especially enjoy it at Christmas time. The mansion's rooms will be decorated to illustrate different traditions of Christmas, including decorating trees, writing Christmas cards, serving holiday foods, playing Christmas music and giving gifts. The displays start in late November and will run through Dec. 31. The mansion, located at 3229 NW Pittock Drive, is closed Christmas Day.

Click here for a list of recommended Portland accommodations.

Photos, from top: Christmas train at Seattle Center; Winter morning in Leavenworth; dressing up at historic Geiser Grand Hotel; Christmas carousel

Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway; Leavenworth photo courtesy Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce



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