Is the big guy in the red suit with the suspiciously white beard part of your December traditions? If so, read on for our readers' picks for the best spots around Puget Sound to see Santa, get photos without (too much) crying and enjoy one-stop holiday fun. Got a good Santa tip? Let us know in the comments! And many thanks to our readers who supplied the sweet Santa photos!
If your family includes someone with sensory or special needs, check out our guide to sensitive Santas, too.
Favorite Seattle Santas
Swansons Nursery, Ballard. Readers love all the holiday fun at this Northwest Seattle nursery (holiday train, reindeer, nice quality Christmas trees), but especially the Santa. "He is a very real-looking Santa and the decorations at Swansons are so beautiful, providing wonderful photo opportunities." Another reader suggests combining a visit to Swansons with a stop for a delicious treat at nearby Larsen's Bakery (N.W. 80th Street and 24th Avenue N.W. in Ballard).
Details: Santa photos available on select dates through Dec. 23. Book online.
Santa at the Space Needle, Seattle Center. Head to the Observation Deck, where kids can sit with Santa in his groovy spaceship. Snap your own photo or they'll send you a free digital download. Also check out the Winterfest train at the Seattle Center Armory and many free Winterfest performances, and, of course, the Space Needle tree.
Details: Santa photos are at the Space Needle Observation Deck, Dec. 2–3, 9–10, 16–17 and 20–24, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. (except Dec. 10 when hours are 11 a.m.–3 p.m.). Visiting Santa requires paying admission (advance online or in person) to the Space Needle.
Black Santa at the Northwest African American Museum. Head to Seattle's Northwest African American Museum to visit with African-American Santa on the first two weekends of December. NAAM provides crafts and activities for kids while they wait in line and will also screen a movie. RSVP in advance to skip to the front of the line.
Details: Black Santa will be at NAAM on Dec. 2–3 and 9–10, noon–4 p.m. A visit with Santa is included with admission ($5–$7; ages 4 and under free) and photo packages start at $15.
Santa Lane at Nordstrom (with racially diverse and ASL Santas): Nordstrom stores in downtown Seattle, Southcenter and Bellevue Square have Santa Lane set up in their stores from Nov. 24–Dec. 24. (Dec. 15 is the last day to have photos taken in time for Christmas delivery.)
Details: Check each store's website (downtown Seattle, Bellevue Square, Southcenter) for specific hours and Santa's daily break schedule. The downtown store has racially diverse and American Sign Language Santas. Nordstrom says to call 206-628-1000 for details. The Southcenter store has racially diverse Santas; call 206-246-0400 for information.
Asian-American Santa at the Wing: An Asian-American Santa will be at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 1–3 p.m. Unfortunately, it looks like all of Santa's time slots are already full. Plan ahead for next year! (Editor's note: We'll update if Santa opens up more sessions.)
Details: A fee of $10 per family gets you three minutes with Santa and one print of a single pose. Museum admission is not required to visit Santa.
Santa at WildLights, Woodland Park Zoo. In addition to the spectacular light displays at Woodland Park Zoo's seasonal WildLights, you can also get a photo with Santa.
Details: Find Santa at his camp at the zoo during WildLights (5:30–8:30 p.m.) Dec. 1–3, 8–10 and 15–23. Photo packages available for purchase. Santa visit are included with admission to WildLights.
University Village. Choose from four different Arthur & Associates Santas at University Village. A reader reports: "The Santas are all awesome and have real beards and the customer service is great." Follow with play time at the covered playground, and dinner at popular spots such as Din Tai Fung or Blue C Sushi.
Details: Santa is in the house daily, nine or 10 hours a day, Nov. 25–Dec. 24, with a break from 2–3 p.m., and pet photos on Mondays. Check schedule.
Diving Santa at Seattle Aquarium. On weekends, watch Santa dive with the fishes at the Aquarium in its 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters exhibit. Stand in front of the glass and snap your own photo with Diving Santa and stay perfectly dry, or have your photo taken by a pro photographer. Check the schedule for daily story times with Santa and concerts from performers such as the Dickens Carolers and local kind faves Recess Monkey, The Not-Its! and Caspar Babypants.
Details: Saturday, Sunday and Monday, Dec. 2–4, 9–11, 16–18 and 23–24. Viewing included with admission to the Aquarium ; photo packages available for separate purchase.
Westfield Southcenter Santa, Tukwila: Find Southcenter's Santa experience on Level 1 near J. Crew, which features sets including a 24-foot Christmas tree and marquee letters. Photo packages range from $25–$50 and families can bypass lines by making Fast Pass reservations. In addition, kids can sign up for story time with Mrs. Claus on Thursday, Dec. 7, from 10 a.m.–noon.
Details: Santa is at Southcenter daily through Dec. 24. Check daily hours at the link above.
Yuen Lui Studios, multiple locations. Reader tip: "We love Santa pictures at Yuen Lui. Low lights. No crowds. Extra time. This makes a Santa visit tolerable for a family with four kids under age 6."
Details: Yuen Lui has photo studios in four locations around the Sound. Check the website for dates at the location near you.
Favorite Eastside Santas
Cougar Mountain Zoo Reindeer Festival, Issaquah. At this unique, private zoo in Issaquah, Santa is in his house, and live reindeer, zoo residents, are on the grounds. Kids can mail a letter to Santa, sit in his sleigh, hear a story from an Elf, watch candy canes being made and visit the other critters, of course.
Details: Santa's at the zoo from Dec. 1–23, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Admission to the zoo is $10.50–$14.50; photos with Santa are $15 for the first photo in a special Reindeer Festival photo folder, $10 for each additional photo or $5 for three photos using your own camera.
Bellevue Square. The Santa at Bellevue Square is another Arthur & Associates Santa; choose from five Santas. After a photo session, go see the Snowflake Lane show (starts at 7 p.m. daily) or go ice skating at Magic Season Ice Arena, back at Downtown Park this year.
Details: Santa photos daily through Dec. 24.
Redmond Town Center. Another Arthur & Associates Santa is in a hut at Redmond Town Center, conveniently located near the holiday carousel and skating rink. Other holiday activities include a mini train and a SpringFree Trampoline, where you can "jump for joy."
Details: This Arthur & Associates Santa offers photos daily through Dec. 24. Note: Wednesdays, Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 at 9:45 a.m. will be Santa's "quiet hours" for families of children with sensory or special needs.
The Bravern, Bellevue. Looks like you need to book brunch with the Bravern Santa to meet him this year. We'll update if we find out Santa will be available for regular photos at his usual spot in the lobby on Level 2 in front of the fireplace. On reader reports that this Santa is "amazing with the kids!"
Details: Brunch with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 2 and Saturday, Dec. 9. Book ahead.
Christmas Creek Tree Farm, North Bend. Cut your own tree, visit with Santa and enjoy cookies and apple cider at this Christmas tree farm.
Details: The farm is open Saturday–Sunday through Dec. 3. Snap a photo with Santa at the farm Saturdays, 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. and Sundays, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
Factoria Mall, Bellevue. A reader says, "I almost don't want to share as there is never a line, never pressure to purchase, several places for a family meal afterwards."
Details: Daily through Dec. 24. Note that hours are not online; you have to check at Santa's booth to find daily hours. Photo packages available for purchase.
Favorite South Sound-area Santas
Kent Station: A reader raves about the Santa at Kent Station: "He takes his time to chat with the kids. The photographer is extremely nice, too. They allow you to take your own picture." You can bring well-behaved pets and if you have a child with special needs, you can call to make accommodations at 253-856-2301.
Details: Find Santa in his cottage on the fountain stage outside of AMC Theatres on select dates through Dec. 23 on the Fountain Stage outside of AMC Theatres. Photo packages start at $15. Check hours online and note that Santa also has a daily break time.
Washington State Fair's North Pole at the Fair, Puyallup. Head to Puyallup to experience not just Santa, but the whole North Pole. Kids can tour Santa’s house, play in Santa’s Big Toy Facility, visit the Elf village and more. Reader tip: "It has short lines because you make reservations for photo time slots which eliminates a large portion of the hassle." Another says, "It's a fun set up that allows the kids to play and do activities (most for free, some crafts were 50 cents each) rather than just stand in a long line at the mall."
Details: You can make Santa reservations online, which include entry to the North Pole at the Fair. Booking a Santa appointment time ($30–$35) includes entry into the fair and a credit towards photo purchase. Make sure to read the fine print on the booking page.
Caring Santa at Tacoma Mall. Caring Santa's sensory-friendly Santa experience time slots at Tacoma Mall are all booked up already this year. Plan ahead for next year or find another Caring Santa location.
Watson's Nursery, Puyallup. This South Sound favorite has reindeer, greenery aplenty and a Santa experience that is beloved: "It's free and he always has a real beard," says a reader. Kids can also do a holiday scavenger hunt in the store.
Details: Santa will at Watson’s Fridays, Dec. 1, 8 and 15, from noon–4 p.m. It's free visit with Santa and to snap your own photo.
The Old Cannery Furniture Warehouse, Sumner. Downtown Sumner's Cannery building goes for holiday cheer and includes a chance to snap free shots with Santa in his sleigh. A reader says, "He has real beard, real glasses, real tummy, real nice, real jolly!! He has the most fantastic costumes that he must have custom made." Note: Lines can be long because it's free and popular. Get there early.
Details: Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 2–3, 9–10, 16–17 and 23; check the schedule for exact times. You can also take a carriage ride and meet reindeer on select dates.
Favorite North Sound Santas
Sky Nursery, Shoreline. Santa is apparently not visiting Sky Nursery but may be in future years. One of our readers gave us this tip: "We did Santa pictures last year at Sky Nursery in Shoreline and it was fantastic — beautiful greenery around us, little [to] no wait and a few vendors to shop from."
Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood. Reader tip: "We have a very shy little guy who has cried every year but this year. The Santa at the Alderwood Mall was so great with him that we got a thumbs up and he even said one word to him!"
Details: Santa is at Macy's Center Court daily through Dec. 24. Book online to save some waiting time, but neither reservations nor a photo package purchase are required to visit Santa.
Mill Creek Town Center: Reader tip: "We love the Mill Creek Town Center Santa coming in town greeting families and end the evening with tree lighting. Many children's activities in the city hall to keep warm."
Details: Santa comes to town at Mill Creek Town Center on Saturday, Dec. 2. There are activities from 2–8 p.m., including a parade and free train rides, but note that there is only a small window for photos with Santa, from 2–3 p.m. Have a visit and snap a free photo.
My Snohomish Santa: This friendly-looking Santa sports a real beard and has cookies and other treats on hand. Pets are welcome and they report few lines so not much waiting – good news! Note you'll find this Santa is in a new location this year, so check the website before you go.
Details: Santa is ready for photos Saturday–Sunday, Dec. 9–10, 16–17 and 23–24, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m.–4 p.m. on Sundays. He'll make special weekday appearances Dec. 20–22, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Photo packages start at $24.
This article was originally written in 2014 and updated in November 2017.