| Family fun | Holidays

Holiday Happenings, Simple, last-minute winter fun

A little spontaneity is a good thing during the overscheduled month of December. You may have your long-held tickets to "The Nutcracker" or other big holiday show, but there's a lot to be said for leaving chunks of time open for whatever you happen to feel like doing in the moment -- and for not parting with wads of cash during a season in which the family budget is severely tested. Just head out whenever the mood hits, and remember: You can't go wrong by keeping it simple.

Downtown Seattle

Downtown Seattle sparkles during the holidays with the giant decorated tree at Westlake Park, the Macy's star and train display, and special, kid-friendly activities all over town.

  • Walk in a Winter Wonderland. The city itself might not see a flake of snow this winter, so Pacific Place at Sixth and Pine steps into the void with a "snow" flurry in the four-story atrium, 6 p.m. daily through Dec. 24. For information about nightly events, call 206-405-2655 or visit www.pacificplaceseattle.com. FREE.
  • Gingerbread Village. Giant slabs of candy-encrusted gingerbread smell like heaven, and the wit and creativity displayed by the six architectural firms who design the themed houses is a treat, too. The display is open daily through Jan. 1. City Centre, 1420 5th Ave., 206-624-8800. Free, but donations benefit the Northwest Chapter of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
  • Nutcracker March. Sixty artist-decorated nutcrackers are installed all over downtown Seattle and are on view daily through Jan. 2. Want to find every one? Download a digital walking tour at www.nutcrackermarch.com. FREE.
  • Holiday Carousel. The charming 1906 Parker carousel, with its intricately carved wooden horses, has been a downtown holiday tradition for two decades. It's open daily through Dec. 31, closed Christmas Day. The $2-per-person donation benefits the Northwest Center. Westlake Park, 4th and Pine. http://downtownseattle.com.
  • Teddy Bear Suite. The Fairmont Olympic Hotel's large Suite 342 is transformed every year, with the help of a professional decorator armed with hundreds of stuffed bears, into a holiday dream space for kids where families can take pictures or relax with story books provided by the Seattle Public Library. Daily, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., through Dec. 25. Free, but donations benefit uncompensated care at Children's Hospital. 411 University St., 206-621-1700.
  • Seattle Center. The 20th annual Winterfest celebration includes a number of opportunities for free or low-cost holiday recreation on a Seattle Center campus that's been strung with thousands of lights. All events run through Jan. 1, and are closed on Christmas Day. For the daily schedule of events, call 206-684-8582 or visit www.seattlecenter.com.
  • Holiday Ice Rink. Lace up your skates for a turn around Fisher Pavilion's state-of-the-art ice arena. It's open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Adults $5, children 6-12 $3, children under 5 skate free with a paying adult (three children per adult). Skate rental $2.
  • Holiday Carousel. Although smaller than the carousel located in Westlake Park, this ride still boasts plenty of vintage charm. Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. $1.
  • Holiday Train Display. The elaborate train layout in the Center House, designed to look like a late 19th-century country village, is mesmerizing to kids and adults alike. Visit daily, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Christmas Eve, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. FREE.


  • Like Winterfest, Bellevue's Magic Season offers a range of activities, including holiday shows at The Theatre at Meydenbauer Center and several outstanding drop-in events. For more information, including the Ice Arena schedule, call 425-453-1223 or visit www.magicseason.com.
  • Snowflake Lane. The music and light show -- complete with live toy soldiers -- is back at the Bellevue Collection (on the sidewalks between Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square) for a sophomore run. The nightly shows happen through Dec. 24. For more information, call 425-454-8096 or visit www.bellevuesquare.com. FREE.
  • Bellevue Magic Season Ice Arena. The arena, located in Bellevue Downtown Park, is outdoors (the only one of its kind in the area) but partially covered so the crowds won't be deterred by rain. Spectators can hang out in the warming hut and listen to the holiday music. Open daily, with extended hours from Dec. 19-Jan. 1. The $8 admission includes skate rental. 10201 N.E. 4th St.
  • Garden d'Lights. Bellevue Botanical Garden dresses up for the holidays in hundreds of thousands of colored lights twisted into fanciful flower and garden shapes. The garden is open nightly, 5-9:30 p.m., through Jan. 1. 12001 Main St., 425-451-3755, www.bellevuebotanical.org. Free, but donations requested.
  • Sound Transit Design in Light. Regional architecture and engineering firms have designed light displays that are installed along the Northeast 6th Street pedestrian corridor. Head down in the evening through Jan. 1, with kids and/or pets in tow, for a walk and a cup of hot cocoa. FREE.

Other Fun

  • Country Village Light Display. View animated light displays that include a dragonfly, marching ducks, a sea serpent and more. Kids can also take a train ride for a nominal fee. Open daily through December 24. Country Village Bothell, 425-483-2250 or www.countryvillagebothell.com. FREE.
  • Real Live Reindeer. Swanson's Nursery in North Seattle hosts a pair of reindeer every year, which can be viewed daily, 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m., through Dec. 24. On Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., visitors can participate in the reindeers' feeding times and learn about reindeer lore. 9701 15th Ave. N.W., 206-782-2543, www.swansonsnursery.com. FREE.
  • Christmas Ships. If paying to ride one of the Christmas Ships isn't your thing, check the ships' schedule at www.argosycruises.com. The ships visit beaches all over the Puget Sound area, and families can go to listen to music, enjoy the spectacle and (sometimes) gather around a bonfire for refreshments. The ships visit beaches nightly, Dec. 1-23. FREE.
  • Clam Lights. Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton is decorated for the holidays with a dazzling light display. View the lights nightly, 5-9 p.m., Dec. 2-Jan 1. 1201 Lake Washington Blvd. www.ci.renton.wa.us FREE.
  • Parade of Lights. In the mood to just drive around the neighborhood in search of decorated houses? Visit KOMO 4's Parade of Lights Web site, which lists homemade light displays -- and there are many -- by county and city, and includes pictures so you know what you'll be seeing in advance. http://komotv.com/holiday lights FREE.

Kris Collingridge is ParentMap's Out & About editor, a mother of two and a firm believer that simpler is better -- especially around the holidays.

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