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.
This year, Garden d’Lights opens Saturday, Nov. 26, and runs through Dec. 31, 2022. The show is even open on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, but is closed on Christmas Day.
On a drizzly evening, we headed over to 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.
Last year, the friendly Snap d’Dragon was located near the end of the route, and the tropical fish were on a temporary hiatus visiting Nemo and Dory. You can download a Critter Map before you go (they will not be provided at the event) and look for each critter as you follow the path through the garden.
A raised bed added pops of color right near the entry, and we saw a handful of pretty floral components lurking along the pathway. 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 in a garden 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.
Perhaps the only complaint I've heard is that people tend to crowd around the most impressive sights so they can be harder to see for the short set. We visited on the early side of the evening and had better luck, so I’d recommend the same approach to other families with young kids, and anyone looking to avoid crowds.
Turn in early, or keep the holiday spirit going?
Visiting some of the local zoo light displays is spectacular, but it’s a bigger commitment when may end up walking 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 short drive up the road. Push back bedtime for a little more low-cost holiday magic? Why not? Count us in!
If you go…
When: The display is open every night, 4:30–9 p.m., Nov. 26–Dec. 31. Surprisingly, this includes Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, but the display is closed on Christmas Day, so it’s a great option for fresh air and holiday cheer when many other attractions are closed.
Cost: Tickets cost $8 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 (cash and credit cards are accepted), or park for free at adjacent Wilburton Hill Park and stroll over.
Restrooms: Accessible restrooms are located near the Trillium Store
More holiday fun for 2022:
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2021 and updated for 2022.