Is there more to Woodinville than rural living? Peut-être (maybe). If you read the last post you may remember the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce website states: “[Woodinville offers] rural living in an urban setting.”


Not to disagree with the Chamber of Commerce, but the town scores more points in the rural living/outdoor recreation category than in the urban setting department.


Downtown Woodinville (a.k.a. “the town center”) is a collection of strip malls surrounding a large parking lot, anchored by “the Golden Triangle”: a grocery store, a Target store, and a movie theater. If you want convenience (and many people appreciate to be able to run errands in one hour with just a few stops), then this is the place for you. If you want character and charm, fuggedaboutit.


Woodinville town center: cars…


… and more cars

Where are the restaurants? The fun and distinctive shops? The quaint buildings? The small town charm mentioned in brochures?


In fact, I move for Woodin-ville to be renamed Woodin-lot or Woodin-place next year. The sooner, the better for a true ville, to this French girl, it is not.


Before some of you go up in arms, hear me out, s’il vous plaît.


I was duped you see.


Before I ever came to the United States as a college student in 1984, I watched countless American movies and TV series; read numerous American novels. They all taught me this single truth (which I took as self-evident): Even though American towns can be quite different from their European counterparts, they still offer quaint and welcoming downtowns. Imagine growing up in Europe, and watching Little House on the Prairie for years. Remember that charming little town, Walnut Grove, MN? Remember the lively streets, the shops (Olsen’s Mercantile,) the feeling of community?

The Ingalls were lucky to live in Walnut Grove, MN

Garrison Keillor described the ideal American town in Lake Wobegon Days. Nostalgic pieces about American small town life are published on a regular basis. In fact, I could keep listing books and movies that relentlessly promote an idealized vision of small town USA. Even Walt Disney immortalized the Main Street concept in his theme parks.


Main Street USA yesterday…


Main Street USA today…


Main Steet USA immortalized by Uncle Walt


I am telling you again. I w.a.s. d.u.p.e.d. When I moved to Woodin[ville] eleven years ago, I was robbed of the quintessential lively, pedestrian-friendly Main Street I had taken for granted. We all know what I found there instead (see above.)


Not all is lost. Please take note. The French love arguing, but they can also be fair. Illustration:


Woodin[ville] boasts a unique garden center, Molbak’s, complete with a well-stocked gift store, classes and workshops, seasonal events and a popular café. This wonderful place has often cheered up Woodinville residents on rainy winter days. There is no better place to be in Woodin[ville] during the Holidays when all is cold, grey and wet outside. Magnificent Molbak’s.  Please don’t ever leave!


That’s not all. Woodin[ville] also has a world class restaurant, the Herb Farm, one high-end hotel and restaurant complex, the Willows Lodge, and the ever-popular Redhook Brewery and its lively restaurant, patio and summer outdoor movie nights. Interestingly, none of these fine establishments are located in the town center. Once one hits downtown, attractive food options dwindle, unless one does not mind patronizing fast food chains and family restaurants (Check out the town center selection here.)


The Herb Farm : a nine-course Northwest dining extravaganza


The Barking Frog (Willows Lodge),
a favorite lunchtime destination of mine

I think you get my point. Urban design is not Woodin[ville]’s forte. This would fine with a lot of people, if the town had not started advertising aggressively its new status as a major tourist destination over the last few years. What are tourists meant to do here once they have made the obligatory stop chez Molbak’s? Why, drink wine, bien sûr.


Woodin[ville]’s “upsurge as a unique winery destination” (according to the Chamber of Commerce,) started in 1976 with the opening of Chateau Ste Michelle. The oldest winery in Washington state, Ste Michelle was built on the expansive grounds of a country home that had once belonged to a Seattle lumber baron, Frederick Stimson. Chateau Ste Michelle quickly established itself as one of the world’s leading producers of Riesling wine. It did not stop there. Over the years, a gift shop, a wine club, and popular culinary events were successfully launched. Today, Chateau Ste Michelle’s influence can’t be ignored. One of its most inspired introductions to date: The outdoor amphitheater where renowned artists and musicians perform during summer months. Most concerts are sold-out events. For locals and Seattleites alike, a summer concert chez Ste Michelle is one of summer’s “can’t miss” events. Please, Chateau Ste. Michelle, don’t ever leave!


Bienvenue au Chateau Ste Michelle


Elegant and peaceful Chateau Ste Michelle


A true tourist destination. Notice the amphitheater in the background


Wonderful Summer Concerts Series

Over the years, many wineries, large and small, followed in Chateau Ste Michelle’s footsteps and opened tasting rooms in the valley.


Official records vary but it is estimated that 75 to 90 wineries are currently based in Woodin[ville]. I will take their word for it since most are hidden from sight.  As a French native, I find it a little strange to be surrounded by so many wineries without ever seeing a single vignoble (vineyard.) That is because most grapes are grown in Eastern Washington. They say humans can take weather conditions on this side of the Cascade mountains, but grapes can’t.


France’s Burgundy region: vineyards as far as the eye can see.

Tasting rooms have been burgeoning all over town. Move over Napa and Sonoma valleys. Woodin[ville] now boasts its very own Wine Country, inaugurated officially in 2002. One of the most popular events is Passport to Woodin[ville], a wine tasting extravaganza scheduled in the spring.


Tasting rooms…


More tasting rooms
One strip mall. Four (out of many) wine tasting rooms.
Food option? A Mexican chain restaurant.

Tourist buses traveling from Seattle are a common sight these days. To accommodate the influx of vehicles, the city of Woodin[ville] has extensively remodeled a major intersection. Three consecutive roundabouts were built over a year ago. Not just any roundabouts, mind you, award-winning ones! Sadly, you risk your life every time you drive through them because some people don’t seem to notice the 200+ “Yield” signs strategically located all over the roundabouts. A logical conclusion is that Yield signs are not part of drivers’ Ed. classes in the United States.


Three award-winning roundabouts:
Safer from above?


The largest of the three Woodinville roundabouts,
nicknamed “Stonehenge” by a friend

I would argue that the worst possible time to use the new Woodin[ville] roundabouts is on Sunday afternoons, when the wine-tasting crowds get back in their car and try to get home. These guys are dangerous because 1. They are, by then, officially buzzed. 2. They have no clue how to drive on a roundabout 3. They are s.t.a.r.v.i.n.g. and can only think about one thing: “What did we leave in the fridge?”


As I explained at the beginning of this post, food options are limited in town so the poor out-of-towners’ best bet is to head home and have left-overs. But wait: There is hope after all. Look what I found today, and this one is opening downtown. In-cro-ya-ble!


Big Fish Grill, we will have you, whatever you are!


I apologize if the previous post was a bit more uplifting than this story. Who would not want to visit the amazing Woodin[ville] outdoors scene I depicted? It was straight out of Little House on the Prairie, non?


“What about those bears you mentioned in the title?” you ask.


Let’s just say this is an episode that would not have happened in this French girl’s old Parisian neighborhood. A couple of weeks ago, a bear was spotted in a nearby town, then at a local junior high.The school was evacuated as the sheriff searched the premises, shotgun in hand (this part alone must have delighted 8th and 9th grade boys.)

Finally, the bear was captured. How? It was chased up a tree by a 3lb teacup poodle named “Little Schmoopie.” You don’t believe me, do you? Do you think I am like Garrison Keillor, making up stories? Look it up if you don’t believe me. It’s all here. If it is in the media then it must be true, n’est-ce-pas?


A bientôt,

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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