A truly American experience, driving around to see holiday lights brings back childhood memories of seeing spectacular, glowing holiday scenes. Know of a great holiday light display we missed? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
WildLights, Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle
Woodland Park Zoo's third annual holiday lights show is bigger and brighter this year, with wild creatures and scenes illuminated by more than 600,000 LED lights. Once again, the Zoomazium becomes Snowmazium, with evening story times and "snowball" fights. New this year: A synchronized music show. Other highlights include indoor and outdoor displays, visiting reindeer, the carousel to ride and family entertainment like strolling carolers and animal ice sculptures.
Details: Tickets cost $6.50–$9.75; buy online at zoo.org/wildlights. Open nightly from Nov. 28–Jan. 4, from 5:30–8:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 24–Dec. 25). There are several family-friendly eateries within walking distance of the zoo, including Zeek's Pizza and Phinney Cafe (with a play area!).
Garden d’Lights at Bellevue Botanical Garden
Bellevue Botanical Garden's annual lights show is stunning, affordable and a bit wild (don't let your toddler run too fast ahead of you on that dark garden path). It features half-million colored lights twisted by volunteers into fanciful flower and critter shapes; don't miss the smoking dragon! Note that the garden completed an expansion in 2014, including a new visitor's center. Visit early in the evening (or very late) to avoid crowds.
Details: Open nightly Nov. 29-Jan. 4; cost is only $5, ages 10 and under free; reserve tickets online to avoid long lines. Free-admission nights are Dec. 1, 2, 3 and 4, and Dec. 8, 9, 10 and 11.
Ivar’s Clam Lights at Gene Coulon Memorial Park, Renton
This free, classic Seattle display kicks off on Friday, Dec. 5 with live entertainment, the official lighting ceremony, the Parade of Boats and an appearance by the Argosy Christmas Ship.
Details: Open nightly from Dec. 5–Jan. 1, from 5:30–9 p.m. Free.
Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma
One of the region's most beloved displays, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's spectacular show comprises 575,000 lights, 100 percent energy-saving LEDs. The scenes range from old favorites such as the green-and-purple flame Tree and huge roaring tiger to newer scenes such as the 15.5-foot-tall Mount Rainier, or the 12th Man Seahawks tree. New displays include an animated shark chasing a school of fish across the top of the South Pacific Aquarium. Kids can also watch (and touch) live animals including stingrays, goats and meerkats. Santa will scuba dive with sharks in the balmy South Pacific Aquarium on six selected evenings, Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 and 23. And don't forget the camel rides!
Details: Tickets cost $7.50–$9 for non-members; under age 2 free. Buy online for discounts or at Fred Myer stores and you can also purchase a combo pass at the front gates for entrance to the zoo and Zoolights. Open nightly from Nov. 28–Jan. 4, 5–9 p.m. (closed Dec. 24). Stop by the Antique Sandwich Company (on Pearl Street) for a bite on the way, or the cafe at the zoo. If Tacoma is a trek for you, don't forget to hit the museums in downtown Tacoma, from LeMay-America's Car Museum to the new Tacoma Art Museum to the free Children's Museum of Tacoma.
Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Park
This two-mile display is the largest drive-through light show in the Northwest, now in its 20th year of delighting families with holiday scenes along the lake. Enhance the experience by tuning your radio to FM 93.7 for holiday favorites performed by a local high school. Tip: This popular event typically has an hour wait on Friday and Saturday nights, so try weekday nights for a less crowded drive. If your family is into antique cars, consider combining it with a trip to see the nearby LeMay Family Collection at Marymount Event Center (open Tuesday–Saturday).
Details: Tickets start at $14 per vehicle; scroll down this page for a $3 coupon). Open nightly from Nov. 28–Jan. 1, from 5:30–9 p.m.
Holiday with Lights at Wild Waves, Federal Way
Wild Waves holiday lights extravaganza features one million lights and 25 rides and attractions. Through Dec. 23, kids can visit Santa’s Workshop in the North Pole to get a photo. On Dec. 7, 14 and 21, families can enjoy classic holiday carols sung by Brooklake Christian School Choir at 7:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. They have the following food locations: Carousel Café, Mrs. Claus Espresso (Hot Cocoa with Mrs. Claus!) Disco Eats and Treats Lumberjack Burgers
Details: Open Dec. 5–6 from 5–9 p.m., Dec. 12–13 from 5–10 p.m., Dec. 14, 5–9 p.m., Dec. 19–21, 5–10 p.m., and Dec. 26–31 5–10 p.m. (Park closed Dec. 24–25.) Tickets are $9.99–$12.99/person online, with many discounts available.
The Lights of Christmas, Warm Beach, Stanwood
With over a million lights on display and literally dozens of attractions, you could spend a weekend exploring the North Sound's huge holiday lights festival (and some people do). It includes live music, story-telling, a petting farm, pony rides, train rides, local art, gifts, snacks and -- drum roll, please -- Washington State's only talking Christmas tree. The Starry Night Coffeehouse is also open.
Details: Tickets cost $10–$15; free for kids ages 3 and younger. AAA members get a $2 discount. Open Dec. 4–7, 11–14, 18–23, 26–30, 5-10 p.m.
Country Village, Bothell
Add some spark to the holidays with the animated holiday light display at Country Village Bothell which features a 40-foot sea serpent, giant dragonfly, and fiddling pig. Children can greet Santa with traditional tree lighting, caroling, and hot roasted chestnuts with Santa’s Arrival, a free event on December 6. Kids can also see live reindeer are also in attendance (10 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), check out Santa's workshop; and attend special events such as Cookies with Mrs. Claus. (See the schedule.)
Details: Light display and other holiday activities daily from Nov. 15–Dec. 24. Santa’s arrival at Country Village occurs on Saturday, Dec. 6. Snack or dine at Country Village's many restaurants including Carolina SmokeBBQ, The Village Bean (with a play area), or Village Hot Dogs.
Famed neighborhood displays
Candy Cane Lane, Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood: An old-school neighborhood light display, Candy Cane Lane lights up N.E. Park Rd. off 20th Ave. E. and Ravenna Blvd. Crowds form every year to view these homes that residents have been decorating since the 1940s. Drive through, or park and walk to avoid a wait. It's typically open from early December to Dec. 31, from 4–11 p.m. Free.
Olympic Manor, Seattle's Ballard neighborhood: Midcentury architecture and lots of holiday spirit draw huge crowds to the annual holiday light display in Olympic Manor, between N.W. 75th and N.W. 100th in North Seattle. Again, it gets crowded and some opt to park and walk through the neighborhood.
Woodinville Wonderland, 23620 N.E. 183rd St. in Woodinville. Many homes claim to have the best holiday lights, but this one consistently makes it to the top of visitors’ lists, with over 100,000 lights. Animated lights move to music and delight carloads of families every year. The family spends about a month setting this up and collects donations for the Special Olympics. Typically open nightly, from Dec. 1–31.
Timberline Neighborhood in Sammamish. Another neighborhood that gets a lot of buzz each year is Timberline in Sammamish. Residents deck out their homes in light displays, and past years have included a Grinch House and the Polar Express Station at N.E. 42nd St. and 204th Ave. N.E.
Steve Pool’s Parade of Lights. An online resource that lists tons of individual homes known to light up the holidays. Use it to make your own holiday lighting map.