Is the big guy in the red suit with the suspiciously white beard part of your December traditions? If so, read on for our readers' picks for the best spots around Puget Sound to see Santa, get photos without (too much) crying and enjoy one-stop holiday fun. Got a good Santa tip? Let us know in the comments! And many thanks to our readers who supplied the sweet Santa photos.
If your family includes someone with sensory or special needs, check out our guide to sensitive Santas, too.
Favorite Seattle Santas
1. Swansons Nursery, Ballard.
Readers love all the holiday fun at this Northwest Seattle nursery (holiday train, reindeer, nice quality Christmas trees), but especially the Santa. "He is a very real-looking Santa and the decorations at Swansons are so beautiful, providing wonderful photo opportunities." Another reader suggests combining a visit to Swansons with a stop for a delicious treat at nearby Larsen's Bakery (N.W. 80th Street and 24th Avenue N.W. in Ballard).
Details: Santa photos available on select dates through Dec. 23. Book online.
2. Santa at the Space Needle, Seattle Center.
To go with the glassy new Space Needle surroundings, Space Needle Santa has a nifty new glass sleigh and you're free to snap your own photo with him. Santa makes appearances on Dec. 1–2, 8–9, 15–16 and 21–24 and be sure to verify hours online.
While you're at Seattle Center, check out the Winterfest train and village display at the Armory and many free Winterfest performances, and, of course, the Space Needle tree.
Details: Santa is onsite Dec. 1–2, 8–9, 15–16 and 21–24. Visiting Santa requires paying admission(advance online or in person) to the Space Needle.
Head to NAAM to visit with African-American Santa on Dec. 9, 15 or 16. Sitting fees are $10 for up to four people and $15 for five or more. Sitting fee includes one 4x6 print plus the opportunity to purchase additional photos from the photographer. The museum provides activities for those waiting in line to see Santa, including movies, crafts, cider and hot cocoa and letter-writing to Santa.
Details: Black Santa will visit NAAM on Dec. 9, 15 and 16, 11:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Sitting fees are $10 for up to four people and $15 for five or more.
4. Santa Lane at Nordstrom stores (with racially diverse and ASL Santas): Nordstrom stores in downtown Seattle, Southcenter and Bellevue Square have Santa Lane set up in their stores from Nov. 23–Dec. 24. (Dec. 15 is typically the last day to have photos taken in time for Christmas delivery.)
Details: Check each store's website (Downtown Seattle, Bellevue Square, Southcenter) for specific hours and Santa's daily break schedule. The downtown store offers the opportunity to meet Diversity Santa (and in the past has had an American Sign Language-speaking Santa); call 206-628-1000 for details.
5. Asian-American Santa at the Wing, Seattle.
An Asian-American Santa will be at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on Saturday, Dec. 1, from noon–3 p.m. Unfortunately, it looks like all of Santa's reservable time slots are full. There'll be a few walk-up spots if you want to try your luck.
Details: A fee of $15 per family gets you three minutes with Santa and one print of a single pose. Museum admission is not required to visit Santa.
6. University Village, Seattle. Choose from four different Arthur & Associates Santas at University Village. A reader reports: "The Santas are all awesome and have real beards and the customer service is great." Follow with play time at the covered playground, and dinner at popular spots such as Din Tai Fung or Blue C Sushi.
Details: Santa is in the house daily, for pretty long stretches, Nov. 23–Dec. 24, with a break from 2–3 p.m. See the full schedule online.
On weekends, watch Santa dive with the fishes in the aquarium's 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters exhibit. Stand in front of the glass and snap your own photo with Diving Santa, or have your photo taken by a pro photographer. Check the schedule for live music from performers such as the Dickens Carolers and local kindie bands Recess Monkey, The Not-Its! and Caspar Babypants. On Saturday, Dec. 1, ASL Santa will appear.
Details: Santa dives Friday–Monday, Nov. 30–Dec. 3, Dec. 7–10, 14–17 and 21–24; check times online. Viewing included with admission to the Aquarium; photo packages available for separate purchase.
8. Westfield Southcenter Santa, Tukwila.
Find Southcenter's Santa experience on Level 1 near Macy's. Photo packages range from $40–$50. Make a reservation and purchase your package in advance to skip the line. In addition, kids can sign up for story time with Mrs. Claus on Saturday, Dec. 1, at 9 a.m. Story time costs $5.
Details: Santa is at Southcenter daily through Dec. 24. Check daily hours online.
9. Yuen Lui Studios, Bellevue, Lynnwood, Seattle and Tacoma.
Reader tip: "We love Santa pictures at Yuen Lui: low lights, no crowds, extra time. This makes a Santa visit tolerable for a family with four kids under age 6."
Details: Yuen Lui has photo studios in four locations around the Sound. Check the website for dates at the location near you and call soon to schedule an appointment (866-983-6584) because Santa's time slots fill up fast.
Favorite Eastside Santas
1. Cougar Mountain Zoo Reindeer Festival, Issaquah.
At this unique, private zoo in Issaquah, Santa is in his house, and live reindeer (who are zoo residents) are on the grounds. Kids can mail a letter to Santa, sit in his sleigh, hear a story from an Elf, watch candy canes being made and visit the other critters, of course.
Details: Santa is at the zoo from Dec. 1–23, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Admission to the zoo is $12.50–$15.50; photos with Santa are $15 for the first photo in a special Reindeer Festival photo folder, $10 for each additional photo or $5 for three photos using your own camera.
2. Bellevue Square Santa.
The Santa at Bellevue Square is another Arthur & Associates Santa; choose from six Santas! After a photo session, go see the Snowflake Lane show (starts at 7 p.m. daily) or go ice skating at Bellevue Downtown Ice Rink.
Details: Santa photos daily through Dec. 24; check hours online.
3. Redmond Town Center Santa.
Another Arthur & Associates Santa is in a hut at Redmond Town Center, conveniently located near the holiday carousel and skating rink. Choose from five different Santas. Other holiday activities at RTC include a mini train and a SpringFree Trampoline, where you can "jump for joy."
Details: Santa photos daily through Dec. 24. Check hours online.
5. The Bravern, Bellevue.
Santa is back at The Bravern this year! Stop by for your photo. One reader reports that this Santa is "amazing with the kids!"
Details: Santa is in the house daily through Dec. 24; check hours online.
6. Christmas Creek Tree Farm, North Bend.
Cut your own tree, visit with Santa and enjoy cookies and apple cider at this Christmas tree farm.
Details: The farm is open for Christmas tree cutting and Santa visits Nov. 30–Dec. 2; check hours online.
7. Factoria Marketplace Santa, Bellevue.
A reader says, "I almost don't want to share as there is never a line, never pressure to purchase and several places for a family meal afterwards."
Details: Daily through Dec. 24. Note that hours listed are subject to change. Photo packages available for purchase.
Favorite South Sound-area Santas
1. Kent Station Santa.
A reader raves about the Santa at Kent Station: "He takes his time to chat with the kids. The photographer is extremely nice, too. They allow you to take your own picture." You can bring well-behaved pets and if you have a child with special needs, you may be able to request a special appointment at 253-856-2301.
Details: Find Santa in his cottage on the fountain stage outside of AMC Theatres on select dates through Dec. 23 on the Fountain Stage outside of AMC Theatres. Photo packages start at $15. Check hours online and note that Santa also has a daily break time.
2. North Pole at the Fair, Puyallup.
Head to the Washington State Fairgrounds to experience not just Santa, but the whole North Pole. Kids can tour Santa’s house, play in Santa’s Big Toy Facility, visit the Elf village and more. Reader tip: "It has short lines because you make reservations for photo time slots which eliminates a large portion of the hassle." Another says, "It's a fun set up that allows the kids to play and do activities (most for free, some crafts were 50 cents each) rather than just stand in a long line at the mall."
Details: You can make Santa reservations online, which include entry to the North Pole at the Fair. Booking a Santa appointment time ($30–$40) includes entry into the fair and a credit towards photo purchase. Make sure to read the fine print on the booking page.
3. Watson's Nursery, Puyallup.
This South Sound favorite has reindeer, greenery aplenty and a Santa experience that is beloved: "It's free and he always has a real beard," says a reader. Kids can also do a holiday scavenger hunt in the store.
Details: Santa appears at Watson’s Fridays, Dec. 1, 8 and 15, from noon–4 p.m. It's free visit with Santa and to snap your own photo.
4. The Old Cannery Furniture Warehouse, Sumner.
Downtown Sumner's Cannery building goes all out for holiday cheer and includes a chance to snap free shots with Santa in his sleigh. A reader says, "He has real beard, real glasses, real tummy, real nice, real jolly!! He has the most fantastic costumes that he must have custom made." Note: Lines can be very long because it's free and popular.
Details: Santa's onsite for photos Dec. 1–2, 8–9, 15–16 and 22–23. Free to snap your own photos.
Favorite North Sound Santas
1. Sky Nursery, Shoreline.
Looks like Santa is back at Sky Nursery this year — for one day only. One reader offered this tip: "We did Santa pictures last year at Sky Nursery in Shoreline and it was fantastic — beautiful greenery around us, little [to] no wait and a few vendors to shop from."
Details: Santa stops in Saturday, Dec. 1, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Please bring food bank donations. Free to snap a photo.
2. Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood.
Reader tip: "We have a very shy little guy who has cried every year but this year. The Santa at the Alderwood Mall was so great with him that we got a thumbs up and he even said one word to him!"
Details: Santa is at Macy's Center Court daily through Dec. 24. Book online to save some waiting time, but neither reservations nor a photo package purchase are required to visit Santa.
3. Mill Creek Town Center Santa.
Reader tip: "We love the Mill Creek Town Center Santa coming in town greeting families and end the evening with tree lighting. Many children's activities in the city hall to keep warm."
Details: Santa comes to town at Mill Creek Town Center on Saturday, Dec. 1. There are activities from 2–8 p.m., including a parade and free train rides, but note that there is only a small window for photos with Santa, from 2–3 p.m. Have a visit and snap a free photo, but expect a crowd.
4. My Snohomish Santa, Snohomish.
This friendly-looking Santa sports a real beard and has cookies and other treats on hand. Pets are welcome and they report few lines so not much waiting – good news! Note you'll find this Santa is in a new location this year, so check the website before you go.
Details: Santa is ready for photos Dec. 1–2, 8–9, 15–16 and 19–24; check hours online. Photo packages start at $24.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2014 and updated for 2018.