Seattle and the entire Puget Sound region might not be the first place you think of when you think of Christmas fun, but the fact is that the area literally glitters with light displays left and right. Hey, we have to light things up around here because it gets dark around 4 p.m. and rains a lot in the winter. We seriously need some cheer! And few things serve up cheer like Christmas lights.
From Seattle to Bellevue to Tacoma and Olympia to the south, you’ll find Christmas lights displays large and small, as well as uniquely Northwest events like lighted boat parades and even a Christmas Ship!
Christmas Lights Display in or near Seattle
The Woodland Park Zoo has its annual Wildlights Christmas lights display, which decks the zoo grounds out in more than 800,000 energy-efficient LED lights. Wander the grounds and enjoy the displays, which focus on animals and wild places. Grab a hot beverage to warm up or hang out by one of the fire pits. For guests 21+, there’s beer, wine, mulled wine and hot cider. For all ages, there are food items like pizza and chowder, hot chocolate, and fresh hot doughnuts.
More than half a million lights create a twinkling fairyland out of the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Displays feature flowers, plants, birds and animals, and waterfalls. You can purchase coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and snacks at the Aaron Education Center, and also expect live music on many evenings.
One of my favorite Christmas events each year is the Christmas Ship Festival. While I love wandering through lights displays, the Christmas Ship Festival is just something a little different. Hands down, the best way to enjoy it is to book passage on the Christmas Ship, where you’ll find refreshments, photos with Santa, kids activities, and a choir that performs right on board. The second way (and less family friendly) is to ride the 21+ Follow Boat where you can wear your ugliest Christmas sweater, enjoy different themes each week, and party hardy on the water. The third way to take part in the festival is to wait on shore for the Christmas Ship and Follow Boat (and other boats that might join in the parade) on shore. The flotilla comes to different ports all around the Puget Sound throughout late November and December.
Westlake Center Tree
Maybe all you need is just to stare at a really big Christmas tree. If that’s the case, stop by Westlake Center in Seattle. In the plaza in front of Westlake Center, you’ll find a large Christmas tree decorated to the nines. It’s usually lit for the first time following the Macy’s Holiday Parade that winds through downtown on the day after Thanksgiving. The streets of downtown Seattle also generally feature plenty of strands of lights on trees along the sidewalks for general twinkly goodness.
On evenings all throughout December, you can watch 500,000 lights on the front of Evergreen Church in Bothell dance to music. There’s a viewing area with heat lamps out front, or hang out in the pavilion to warm up next to the fireplace. Cookies and hot chocolate are free.
If you like to pair a Christmassy experience (okay, so this one isn’t quite a lights display, but it’s unique and worth knowing about) with your shopping, then Snowflake Lane is for you. Located on the streets outside of Bellevue Square, this nightly parade brings out hundreds of live performers ranging from drummers to dancers and beyond, lighted floats, falling snow, Christmas lights, characters and more. Needless to say, it’s pretty cool. The parade takes place each night at 7 p.m.
Enchant Christmas kicks the Christmas light experience up a notch. The grounds of T-Mobile Park transform into a veritable wintery wonderland up to and including a massive Christmas light maze, an adorable Christmas market with more than 70 local vendors, live entertainment, and food and drink.
Located at 16504 112 Place in Bothell, this private light display put on by the Keener family is something special. Visitors drive through a 15-foot archway into a display with more than 500,000 lights! Santa is on tap as well and often hands out candy canes as cars journey along the circular pathway. The display has a donation box and all donations go to Ben Towne Foundation. The Keeners also collect canned food for HopeLink.
This neighborhood display in Ballard is great for a winter walk or drive-through (though, expect slower traffic on peak nights). It’s totally free and the displays usually span a few blocks so there’s plenty to see. You’ll find the neighborhood from NW 75th to NW 100th streets in Ballard.
With more than 200,000 lights, this walk-through display in Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park is a little more low-key than some of the larger displays and there’s free parking and free entry. The Argosy Christmas Ship passes by nightly as well for a special perk. The display is sponsored by Ivar’s and there’s an Ivar’s Seafood Bar at the park, hence the clam-inspired name.
Candy Cane Lane
Candy Cane Lane is a long-running neighborhood display (since 1949!) that is one of the best neighborhood displays you’ll ever see. For one, it’s free. Free makes everything better. For two, the houses are gorgeous, 1920s Tudor houses and that doesn’t hurt the charm level at all. The display is located on NE Park Road just off Ravenna Boulevard and 21st Avenue NE (sorry, it’s not actually called Candy Cane Lane) and consists of 23 homes. Most people drive through, but if you can find parking on nearby side streets, it’s fun to walk too.
In the South Sound
Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma is one of the best Christmas lights displays in the area. The zoo grounds transform into a twinkly expanse of animal and locally inspired displays created from more than 700,000 lights. Displays include a giant octopus, a replica of the Narrows bridges, and Mt. Rainier. There’s a café near the entrance where you can grab a bite to eat or a cup of hot chocolate to stroll with, and the classic carousel is open to ride too.
It’s a fact that Northwest winters are a bit rainy, and if the night you want to go light viewing is rainy, you don’t have to brave the elements. Fantasy Lights is the largest drive-through display in the Northwest with more than 300 displays to check out as you wind through Spanaway Park all in the comfort of your own car. Lines might look long, but they move steadily. If you don’t bring your own Christmas tunes to listen to, tune to 95.3 FM.
Wild Waves is a theme park in Federal Way that turns into a winter wonderland once a year. You can still ride most of the rides, but you can also get photos with Santa, enjoy some live entertainment, and – of course – check out all the twinkling lights.