Is the big guy in the red suit with the pearly 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
1. 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 St. and 24th Ave. N.W. in Ballard).
Details: Santa photos available on select dates through Dec. 23. Book online.
2. Santa at the Space Needle, Seattle Center.
To go with the glassy new Space Needle surroundings, Space Needle Santa has a nifty new glass sleigh and you're free to snap your own photo with him. Santa makes appearances on select dates in November and December; check the schedule online. While you're at Seattle Center, check out the Winterfest train and village display at the Armory and many free Winterfest performances, and, of course, the Space Needle tree.
Details: Visiting Santa requires paying admission (pay in advance online or in person) to the Space Needle.
Head to NAAM to visit with Black Santa the weekend of Dec. 7–8. Photos are first come, first serve, but the museum will have interactive story time and Stubbs BBQ on hand selling food to keep you busy while you wait.
Details: Black Santa will visit NAAM Dec. 7–8, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. It's $15 for a photo with Santa and sittings are first come, first serve.
4. Santa Lane at Nordstrom stores
Nordstrom stores in downtown Seattle and Bellevue Square have Santa Lane set up in their stores from Nov. 29–Dec. 24. (Dec. 15 is typically the last day to have photos taken in time for Christmas delivery.)
Details: Each store's website (Downtown Seattle, Bellevue Square) mentions Santa Lane, but directs you to call for specific daily hours and Santa's daily break schedule. The downtown store offers the opportunity to meet Diversity Santa (and in the past has had an American Sign Language-speaking Santa); call 206-628-1000 for details. Note: Unlike previous years, the Southcenter Nordstrom will not host Santa this year.
5. Asian-American Santa at the Wing, Seattle.
Asian-American Santa will be at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on Saturday, Dec. 7, noon–3 p.m. Unfortunately, it looks like all of Santa's bookable time slots are full. There'll be walk-up spots every half-hour if you want to try your luck. While you wait, you may enjoy crafts and holiday activities at no cost.
Details: A fee of $12 gets you three minutes with Santa and one print of a single pose. Museum admission is not required to visit Santa. While there, check out the local artist gift fair as well (10 a.m.–5 p.m.)
6. University Village, Seattle.
Choose from 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 your photo opp with play time at the covered playground and dinner at popular spots such as Din Tai Fung or The Ram.
Details: Santa is in the house daily, for pretty long stretches, Nov. 29–Dec. 24, with a break from 2–3 p.m. (On Mondays you can get your pet's photo taken with Santa.) See the full schedule online.
On weekends, watch Santa dive with the fishes in the aquarium's 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters exhibit. Stand in front of the glass and snap your own photo with Diving Santa, or have your photo taken by a pro photographer. Check the schedule for live music from performers such as Mikey Mike the Rad Scientist, local kindie bands Recess Monkey and Caspar Babypants, plus story time with Santa himself. On Saturday, Dec. 7, ASL Santa will appear.
Details: Santa dives Friday–Monday, Nov. 29–Dec. 2, Dec. 6–9, 13–16 and 20–23; check times online. Viewing included with admission to the Aquarium; photo packages available for separate purchase.
8. Westfield Southcenter Santa, Tukwila.
Find Southcenter's Santa experience on Level 1 near Macy's. Photo packages range from $40–$50. Make a reservation and purchase your package in advance to skip the line.
Details: Santa is at Southcenter daily through Dec. 24. Check daily hours online.
9. Yuen Lui Studios, Bellevue, Lynnwood and Seattle.
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 three locations around the Sound. Check the website for dates at the location near you and call soon to schedule an appointment (866-983-6584) because Santa's time slots fill up fast. Note: The Tacoma location closed down last July.
Favorite Eastside Santas
1. Cougar Mountain Zoo Reindeer Festival, Issaquah.
At this unique, private zoo in Issaquah, Santa is in his house, and live reindeer (who are zoo residents) are on the grounds. Kids can mail a letter to Santa, sit in his sleigh, hear a story from an elf and visit the other critters, of course.
Details: Santa is at the zoo from Dec. 1–23, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Admission to the zoo is $12.50–$15.50; 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.
2. Bellevue Square Santa.
The Santa at Bellevue Square is another Arthur & Associates Santa; Choose from six Santas! After a photo session, go see the Snowflake Lane show (starts at 7 p.m. daily) or go ice skating at Bellevue Downtown Ice Rink.
Details: Santa photos daily through Dec. 24; check hours online. If you like, stop by Lincoln South Food Hall Monday–Thursday, Dec. 2–19, 6–6:30 p.m., for a meet-and-greet with some of your favorite Snowflake Lane characters before the show.
3. Redmond Town Center Santa.
Another Arthur & Associates Santa is in a hut at Redmond Town Center, conveniently located near the holiday carousel and skating rink. Choose from five different Santas. Other holiday activities at RTC include a mini train and a Springfree Trampoline, where kids can "jump for joy."
Details: Santa photos daily through Dec. 24. Check hours online.
Santa parks his sleigh at Crossroads for a couple of December weekends and then the full week before Christmas. (Perfect for procrastinors!) The Crossroads Santa also welcomes pets for a special session Thursday, Dec. 12, 4–8 p.m., and your purchase benefits the Humane Society.
Details: Santa is welcoming families Saturday–Sunday, Dec. 7–8 and 14–15; and each day Dec. 19–24. Check hours online. Photo packages for purchase from John Galt Productions. Find Santa near Hallmark and Party City.
5. The Bravern, Bellevue.
Santa is back at The Bravern this year! Stop by for your photo. One reader reports that this Santa is "amazing with the kids!"
Details: Santa is in the house daily through Dec. 24; check hours online.
7. Factoria Marketplace Santa, Bellevue.
A reader says, "I almost don't want to share as there is never a line, never pressure to purchase and several places for a family meal afterwards."
Details: Daily through Dec. 24. Note that hours listed are subject to change. Photo packages available for purchase.
6. Christmas Creek Tree Farm, North Bend.
Cut your own tree and visit Santa if you come on the right day.
Details: The farm is open for Christmas tree cutting Dec. 6–7 this year, and Santa makes a one-day appearance Saturday, Dec. 7, 9:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Favorite South Sound-area Santas
1. Kent Station Santa.
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 may be able to request a special appointment at 253-856-2301.
Details: Find Santa in his cottage on the fountain stage outside of AMC Theatres on select dates through Dec. 23. Be sure to also check out the new Selfie Station behind the Santa House! Photo packages start at $20. Check hours online and note that Santa also has a daily break time.
2. North Pole at the Fair, Puyallup.
Head to the Washington State Fairgrounds to experience not just Santa, but the whole North Pole. Kids can tour Santa’s house, play in Santa’s Office and Library, 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 setup 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 through Dec. 23. Booking a Santa appointment time ($30–$40) includes entry into the "North Pole" and a credit towards photo purchase. Make sure to read the fine print on the booking page. Book early as a lot of dates are already sold out. Good news: If it was play time at the "North Pole" you were after, there is still the option to just go play for $5 per person.
3. 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 appears at Watson’s Fridays, Dec. 6 and 13, from 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. It's free to visit with Santa and snap your own photo.
4. The Old Cannery Furniture Warehouse, Sumner.
Downtown Sumner's Cannery building goes all out for holiday cheer and includes a chance to snap free photos with Santa in his sleigh. A reader says, "He has a 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 very long because it's free and popular.
Details: Santa's onsite for photos Nov. 29–Dec. 1, 7–8, 14–15 and 21–22. Free to snap your own photos.
Favorite North-end Santas
1. Sky Nursery, Shoreline.
Looks like Santa is back at Sky Nursery this year — for one day only. One reader offered 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."
Details: Santa stops in Saturday, Dec. 7, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Please bring food bank donations. Free to snap a photo. Stick around for a make-your-own pinecone bird feeder craft (noon–2 p.m.), a Ukulele band playing Christmas music (2–3 p.m.), plus free cookies and hot cider!
2. 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.
3. Mill Creek Town Center Santa.
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 will be available for pictures starting Friday, Nov. 29. on select days through Dec. 24. On Dec. 7, he is "Coming to Town" in a celebration where you will find activities from 2–8 p.m., including a parade, tree lighting, live reindeer and free train rides. Have a visit and snap a free photo, but expect a crowd.
4. My Snohomish Santa, Snohomish.
This friendly-looking Santa sports a real beard and has cookies and other treats on hand. Pets are welcome. 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 Nov. 30 through Dec. 24 on select dates; check hours online. Photo packages start at $24.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2014 and updated for 2019.