When I was growing up on Bainbridge Island, my father and mother announced one year that we would celebrate the upcoming Thanksgiving in a picnic shelter at the nearby beach park. Initially skeptical, my brother and I embraced the magic moment my parents created and it became one of our happiest holidays ever. Sometimes you need to get out of the house to discover the true spirit of the holidays.
Three Northwest destinations -- downtown Seattle, Leavenworth, Wash. and Cannon Beach, Ore. -- offer a weekend's worth of holiday magic for your family to enjoy -- and are particularly fun for families with elementary-age children.
Downtown Seattle might be just the trip you need for your family to launch into the holidays. For families with a mix of younger and older kids, this getaway offers the advantage of a very short car ride (a bonus given rising fuel costs) and hotels that are eager to accommodate your child's special needs. The magic of the season is all within easy jogging stroller distance, and babies and toddlers will love the bright lights of the city in the evening light.
At the City Centre, you'll find a magical Gingerbread Village on display through Jan. 3, 2006. Six of Seattle's top architecture firms have teamed up with Seattle Sheraton Hotel and Towers' culinary staff to design, bake and build gingerbread displays and holiday creations reflecting this year's theme: "A Charles Dickens Holiday." The Gingerbread Village is free to the public and raises money through donation for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The Seattle Sheraton is offering a Bring Your Family to Seattle special where kids 12 and under eat free from the kid's menu with the purchase of an adult meal at The Pike Street Cafe. Kids will enjoy the hotel's indoor pool and you can linger downtown, with check-out offered as late as 4 p.m. Make reservations by calling 1-866-716-8123.
The Fairmont Olympic Hotel offers several activities that have delighted Northwest families for generations. Enjoy a special holiday tea offered daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Dec. 24. Cost is $45 per adult, $18 for children 4- 12 and free for children under 4. Make reservations by calling 206-287-4049. After tea, tour the hotel's famous Teddy Bear Suite -- admission is free but your donations will benefit Children's Hospital. Next, stop outside to purchase chestnuts. Celebrity roasters work weekdays from noon to 1 p.m., with proceeds benefiting the YWCA's Angeline's Day Center for Homeless Women. The Fairmont also pampers its smallest guests. Upon check-in, children are greeted at the front desk with a goodie bag containing stickers, a slinky, coloring books and a voucher for milk and cookies. At bedtime, youngsters will find robes just their size to wear after a bath, and teddy bears are provided upon request.
If you want to get out of town, the 120-mile trip east to Leavenworth offers outdoor activities for family members of all ages, including snowboarding and cross-country skiing. Even when the hills are bare in Puget Sound, Leavenworth often is covered with piles of magic snow to play in.
Elementary-age kids will be enchanted by the Christmas Lighting Festival. During the first three weekends in December, the scent of hot chestnuts fills the air and holiday music is heard as children sled in the downtown park. On Saturday night at dusk, everyone gathers to sing "Silent Night" and watch the lighting of the village. This year, on Dec. 17, your family can participate in the starlight lantern parade by making or buying a Bavarian lantern and gathering in Front Street Park at 6 p.m. In addition, that night marks the first show of the Living Nativity, also performed Dec. 20-21.
Leavenworth has many hotel and bed-and-breakfast options. The family friendly Best Western Icicle Inn offers an adjacent family entertainment complex, Icicle Junction, that includes an indoor arcade and movie theater (1-800-558-2438 or www.icicleinn.com). Outside of town, the Natapoc Lodging complex on the banks of the Wenatchee River offers several beautiful cabins, each with washer and dryer and some with hot tubs. For an extra charge you can even bring the family dog (1-888-628-2762 or www.natapoc.com).
For a truly memorable outing, take a winter wonderland sleigh ride. The whole family will enjoy gliding across open meadows and along the Icicle River in a horse-drawn sleigh. Afterward, warm up with hot chocolate, spiced cider and coffee in front of a wood stove. Warm blankets are provided for the 30-minute ride. For reservations with Icicle Outfitters and Guides, call 1-800-497-3912.
More adventurous families may prefer to rent snowmobiles from Mountain Springs Lodge, which offers guided snowmobile tours through the Cascade Mountains. Everything is provided including snowmobiles, guide, cold-weather clothing and insulated boots. Call 1-800-858-2276 for reservations.
If you are willing to drive further for holiday magic, consider Cannon Beach, Ore. The entire town decks itself out for the holidays when it celebrates "Haystack Holidays" throughout December. The seaside artist colony offers a variety of events to visitors, ranging from a Christmas tea and wreath- and holiday card-making classes, to an evening lamp-lighting ceremony. Enjoy holiday shopping downtown, including locally made art at several galleries and toys from Geppeto's Toy Shoppe.
The oceanfront Surfsand Resort features kids' crafts and activities and an indoor pool (www.surfsand.com or 1-800-547-6100). Or rent a whole house on the beach from Cannon Beach Vacation Rentals (www.visitcb.com or 1-866-436-0940). A complete schedule of events and lodging options is offered on the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.cannonbeach.org.
Should your children tire of holiday activities and walks on the beach, load them in the car and drive to nearby Seaside, where the indoor arcade along Broadway offers both the newest games and old-fashioned amusements. Then cross the street to the Town Center Mall, where an indoor carousel will delight them. Nearby Zingers Ice Cream Parlor and Sweets offers the pleasure of delicious homemade ice cream.
Kathleen F. Miller is a Sammamish-based freelance writer and mother of two.