Holidays | Outings + Activities | South Sound

15 Magical (and Cheap) Holiday Outings in South Puget Sound

From the Old Cannery bridge lighting to Fantasy Lights, holiday sparkle on a budget

There are so many magical events during the holiday season that it can be tempting to try to do them all. But if you’re like most of Santa’s helpers, you’re likely on a budget. Here are some of our favorite affordable South Sound holiday outings to try. Hopefully we've included a few new ones for you!

Old Cannery Bridge lighting, Sumner

Nearly every South Sound community hosts a free tree lighting or similar community event. In Sumner, the flip of a switch illuminates the bridge over the river by The Old Cannery Furniture Store.

Fireworks fill the night sky immediately after. You’ll want to be prompt, or you’ll miss it. On select weekends, The Old Cannery also hosts free photos with Santa (you’ll want to arrive early to get in line for those), and free horse-drawn carriage rides on select days. The bridge lighting and fireworks starts on Nov. 27 at 5 p.m., though the bridge stays lit throughout the season. Check the schedule for other fun before and after.

Price: Free

Mary Bridge Festival of Trees, Tacoma

The annual Festival of Trees to benefit the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital & Health Center, features 60 lavishly decorated trees at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. Public days are Dec. 5 (9 a.m.–2 p.m.) and Dec. 6 (11 a.m.–4 p.m.). Play games in the lobby, take a craft home to share with someone special, have your picture taken with Santa and more. 

Price:  $6/adults; $2/students, ages 13–18, kids ages 12 and under free.

Providence Christmas Forest, Olympia

A similar tree event in Olympia is the Providence Christmas Forest, a five-day holiday fundraiser from Dec. 2–6 at the Red Lion Hotel to benefit Providence Hospital. Check the schedule for public days; Dec. 5 is Children’s Day, with kid-friendly performances and crafts hosted by the Hands On Children’s Museum. 

Price: $6/adults and $1/children under 12.

Old-Fashioned Fun at the Carr Museum, Tacoma

Step back in time for charming holiday fun at old-fashioned prices. The tiny Job Carr Museum in Tacoma is a replica of the cabin of early Tacoma settler, Job Carr. Each year the museum holds a free event with carolers, cocoa, cookies and pictures with Santa, this year on Dec. 5., from 1–3:30 p.m. (Note that photos with Santa are limited to the first 150, and also that cocoa and treats are while supplies last.)

Price: This is a pay-what-you-can event. Professional Santa photos (by Lena Peterson) will be made available — for free! — via Facebook within two days of the event. Non-perishable foods will be collected at the event for FISH Foodbank.

Dickens Festival, Tacoma

Also on Dec. 5, from 10 a.m.–7 p.m., the Dickens Festival in Tacoma’s Stadium neighborhood offers free carriage ride as well as a variety of free, live entertainment, from puppet shows to Beatrix Potter tales to jazz ensembles. Again this year, the festival is also partnering with the Seymour Conservatory to offer a Victorian Holiday Celebration at Wright Park. Meet Santa there in the conservatory all decked out with poinsettias. Enjoy refreshments served by volunteers and staff in period dress.

Price: Free for the festival; a $3 suggested donation for the Victorian Holiday Celebration; $15 for photos with Santa

Fantasy Lights, Spanaway

If Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo is out of your budget, consider Fantasy Lights at Spanaway Lake, a cheaper, drive-through option from Pierce County Parks and Recreation that runs every evening from Nov. 26–Jan. 1. Families can stay warm and cozy while they drive around the lake and take in fanciful displays. A radio station plays holiday music from local school groups.

It’s half-corny/half-magical — the very best kind of holiday outing.

Price: $14/car; look for deals on select nights for half-off (just $7 for the whole carload).

More free or almost-free holiday outings in the South Sound

- Clam Lights, Renton: South King County area families can also take in Clam Lights, a free light show at Gene Coulon Park in Renton; the Dec. 4 opening night coincides with a Christmas Ship visit. Runs through  Jan. 1.

- Reindeer at Watson's, Puyallup: We don’t know if they’re actually practicing for the big night, but you can see real-life reindeer for free at Watson’s Nursery in Puyallup.

- Gingerbread house-making: There are lots of fun, but pricey, gingerbread-house-making events this time of year. Make one for free at a Pierce County Library event. Gingerbread house making takes place at many branches, and all are welcome. Some events require registration, while others are drop-in. Check the website for details.

Polar Plaza

- Skating at Polar Plaza, Tacoma: The Franciscan Polar Plaza has become a fun tradition for Tacoma-area families. This temporary outdoor rink is presented by the Tacoma Art Museum, and you’ll find it right across from the TAM at Tollefson Plaza. Admission prices are $4–$8, plus a $2 skate rental, and kids ages 2 and under are free. 

- Living nativity in Gig Harbor: If it fits with your family’s faith tradition, you might enjoy the annual living nativity at Discovery Baptist Church in Gig Harbor on Dec. 5 and 6, from 5–8 p.m. It’s free, though you will have to pay that pesky bridge toll. Note that it’s an outdoor, walk-through event, so bundle up!

- Free Family Movie: The Grand Cinema in Tacoma hosts a monthly free movie sponsored by Click! December’s movie on Dec. 19 is the holiday charmer, Arthur Christmas. Spots are limited to the first 100, so you’ll want to arrive early.

- The Argosy Christmas ships: Watch the lighted boats go by for free. Some South Sound communities host bonfires or other events timed with their sailing.

- Free puppet shows: The Pierce County Library system hosts a free marionette-in-the-round show that rotates around many branches. Your children will be captivated, and it’s free! Shows are at various times at many branches from Dec. 12–21. Check with your location for details.

- If your family likes to see lights do-it-yourself style, try the Sky Island neighborhood in Bonney Lake, where neighbors try to out do each other with amazing light displays, including some set to music.

- The Lake Wilderness neighborhood in Maple Valley has also had many brightly lit homes in the past. While it’s obviously free to drive yourself around, you may want to bring some canned food, as some houses take donations on behalf of the food bank.

If you have a favorite South Sound event we missed, or a seasonal deal we should know about, do let us know!

There are no comments yet. Be the first to comment

Read Next