Our family generally chooses experiences over toys for the holiday season, so we try to avoid a mile-long wish list of presents. Still, creating memories isn’t cheap and it’s easy to burn through a chunk of change at seasonal favorites like ice skating and WildLanterns.
Bellevue Botanical’s lovely Garden d’Lights is one of the Puget Sound area’s most affordable light displays, with some big name sponsors helping to make it a more accessible option for families on a budget.
After a pandemic hiatus last year, we are delighted that Garden d’Lights is back, operating nightly through Dec. 31, 2021. The show is even open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
On a recent drizzly evening, we headed over for our first-ever visit to this sparkling local favorite.
Old favorites and new finds
With half a million lights to place, you might expect planners to stick to the same layout every year, but where’s the fun in that? This labor of love is a massive undertaking (volunteers spend over 6,400 hours annually on light maintenance and installation), but the Garden keeps things lively by changing up the location of fan favorites.
To find the friendly Snap d’Dragon, look near the end of the route this year. Experienced Garden d’Lights viewers will notice that the tropical fish are on a temporary hiatus visiting Nemo and Dory.
A new raised bed adds pops of color right near the entry, and there are a handful of recently added floral components lurking along the one-way route. We also spotted some dazzlingly red tomatoes.
We spent the most time in the farm area located on the cafe’s lawn, marveling at the detailed fruits and vegetables. Apparently, squash is fine with my kids as long as it's illuminated versus on their dinner plates.
Get cozy, but not too cozy
My kids are super sleuths when it comes to tracking down a snack bar. The welcoming folks who normally run the Copper Kettle have a pop-up station with cocoa, coffee and light snacks for purchase near the Aaron Education Center.
We opted to warm up with hot chocolate on our way over so we could keep our masks on during our visit.
Speaking of which: Masks are required for anyone ages 5 and older in all indoor spaces, and strongly recommended outdoors any time social distancing isn’t possible.
Perhaps the only complaint I heard from friends is that people tend to crowd around the most impressive sights, but don’t necessarily mask up when doing so. We visited on the early side of the evening and had better luck with crowds, so I’d recommend the same approach to other families with kids who are too young to be vaccinated.
Turn in early, or keep the holiday spirit going?
Visiting some of the local zoo light displays is spectacular, but it’s a far bigger commitment when you’ll walk up to two miles and spend several hours on a visit. Since we were traveling with little legs around dinner time, I was grateful for the compact format we found at Garden d’Lights. We arrived early and spent roughly 30 minutes in the gardens, walking a total of about three-quarters of a mile.
The short duration and accessible pathways make this a good option for families with limited mobility or those who need a quick holiday boost before bedtime.
We might have headed straight home ourselves, but a Bellevue-expert friend reminded me that Snowflake Lane is just a quick drive up the road. Push back bedtime for a little more low-cost holiday magic? Count us in!
If you go…
When: The display is open every night, 4:30–9 p.m., through Dec. 31. Surprisingly, this includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so it’s a great option for fresh air and holiday cheer when many other attractions are closed.
Cost: Tickets cost $5 per person for ages 11 and older. Children 10 and younger enter free, but must have their own ticket. Tickets timed-entry and must be reserved in advance online (tickets are not available at the door).
Parking: Onsite parking costs $5 unless you have a disabled parking permit (credit cards are accepted this year), or park for free at adjacent Wilburton Hill Park and stroll over.
Restrooms: Accessible restrooms are located near the Trillium Store
COVID precautions: Masks are required in the few indoor spaces for everyone ages 5 and older, and encouraged outdoors whenever social distancing is not possible.
More holiday fun for 2021: