Advent calendar. Holiday cards. Teacher gifts. Travel plans. Stocking stuffers. School concerts. Santa pics. Giving back. Gingerbread houses. Gingerbread Village. Decorating. And then… making dinner too? Is it any wonder that the holiday season can feel like too much, wreaking havoc on both our wallets and the daily routines that typically keep everyone on track?
While we can’t solve all of this season's challenges, we can offer an evening's respite: a dose of holiday cheer and a kid-friendly happy hour. Put this combo at the top of your to-do list.
Most restaurants offer cut-rate nibbles (and drinks) at exactly the time of day when families are out shopping and pursuing holiday cheer — and lots of them are open to kids. So you can partake in fun holiday haps and snag an early dinner (and glass of wine for you) without blowing your budget. Imagine: With dinner done and no dishes in sight, you can put the kids to bed and fire up "It’s a Wonderful Life."
Snowflake Lane and skating: Downtown Bellevue
Holiday cheer: The Eastside’s best-kept holiday secret (at least to many Seattleites) is Snowflake Lane, a free and thrilling holiday parade of falling snow, lights, live drummer boys and Jingle Belles, costumed characters, princesses and Santa. It’s performed at 7 p.m. nightly on the sidewalks around Bellevue Square from Nov. 23 through Dec. 24. And during the day, just around the corner, families can take a spin at the covered holiday rink at Bellevue Downtown Park (be sure to include playtime at the awesome Inspiration Playground); line up for Santa pics at Bellevue Square (and admire the stunning Christmas tree); and of course, get some shopping in.
Cheap bites: Downtown Bellevue abounds in all kinds of eats, but it’s hard to go wrong at P.F. Chang’s. Located in The Lodge, right on Bellevue Way and the Snowflake Lane route, this spacious, bustling Asian eatery offers standout small plates for $6 each that may do you the extra favor of expanding your kids’ palates. Go green with chicken lettuce wraps and cauliflower tempura and California rolls; or fill them up with pork dumplings and housemade spring rolls. Wash it down with a $6 cocktail such as an Asian pear mojito or a honey-thyme gin and tonic. Tip: Happy hour is Monday–Friday, 3–6 p.m.; if you time it right, you could finish up right before the Snowflake Lane show (or grab a window booth and watch from Chang’s cozy interior). There are also two roaring fireplaces in the Lodge just before you walk into Chang’s, perfect for a quick warm-up.
Backup: Just a little farther south on Bellevue Way, Blue C Sushi offers a happy hour that wins in the immediate gratification department: Every Monday–Thursday, 3–6 p.m., all conveyor belt plates are just $3.50, plus there are drink specials on offer. The conveyor belt, of course, gives kids a job to do (genius).
Bellevue Botanical Garden
Holiday cheer: Just a mile and a half east of downtown Bellevue, Bellevue Botanical Garden’s annual Garden d’Lights show is a serene and lovely counterpoint to Snowflake Lane’s scripted show. From 4:30–9 p.m. every night from Nov. 24 through Dec. 30, hundreds of thousands of twinkling LED lights adorn the garden paths in stunning arrangements. And the price is right: Tickets are just $5 and kids ages 10 and under are free. There are even a number of free nights (Nov. 24–29); expect a crowd on these popular nights. For ticketed nights, buy online and skip the queue at the ticket window.
Cheap bites: About two miles north of the garden, Bellevue Brewing Company is a 300-person taproom that not only allows minors until 8 p.m., but serves kids’ meals on a Frisbee they can keep! Its regular menu stars upscale pub food — stone-fired pizza, salads, sandwiches (try the Cubano) and street tacos — and is affordably priced. The "Hoppy Hour" specials (offered daily from 3–6 p.m.) slice off a few more bucks. Try smoked ribs for $10, a soft pretzel for $5, a street taco or smoked wing for $3 or an 8-inch pizza for $7. The kids’ menu (mac and cheese, hot dog, grilled cheese and such) offers an entrée, fruit and a drink for $7. Weekend bonus: kids' meals are half-price on Sundays. Check out the craft beer menu for the grown-ups.
Backup: Just about a mile from the garden, Uwajimaya Bellevue boasts a full array of Asian eats to fill a hungry crew with varied tastes. Try Sadako’s café for prepared Asian food, Ellenos Yogurt for probiotic-packed treat; and Fuji Bakery for pastries.
Swansons' Reindeer Festival and Olympic Manor lights
The north end of Ballard hosts an annual, never-fail holiday stop: Swansons Nursery’s Reindeer Festival. While awesome and aptly-named Curley the camel no longer makes an appearance, adorable reindeer Dasher and Comet definitely warrant a visit (from fans of Sven and everyone else). Turn up for the daily Meet-the-Reindeer presentation (11 a.m.) to learn more about the animals. Saturdays and Sundays feature a 4 p.m. presentation in addition to the 11 a.m. session.
Swansons also puts up a themed model train display and kids will love spying all the different little details. This year's theme is Pacific Northwest Wonderland.
In addition to the reindeer and model train display, not to mention all the lovely plants, there are two ways to meet Santa at Swansons. Wandering Santa will stroll the grounds Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m.–noon and 4–6 p.m., on Nov. 27–29, Dec. 4–6 and Dec. 11–13. For a photo appointment with Santa through Bonjour Photography, schedule online. Santa will be on hand for photos select dates Nov. 17–Dec. 23.
Not far from Swansons, visit the Olympic Manor neighborhood where you can park and stroll the streets enjoying the many homes that get decked out in holiday lights. Enter from 15th Ave. N.W. and N.W. 90th Street or from the south side at N.W. 85th Street and 23rd Ave. N.W.
Cheap bites: A couple of miles from Swansons, the Barking Dog Ale House rules the neighborhood hangout scene, with cheery lights, comfy booths and a friendly vibe. Bring your pooch and your kid and settle into a six-person booth; the extensive happy hour menu (3–6 p.m. daily) includes mac and cheese, generous-portioned cod tacos and a hummus plate. Consider dipping into the regular menu, too, which includes nine (!) kinds of fries and a full list of salads, burgers and more gourmet pub fare.
Backup: Nearby Un Bien serves straight-up Caribbean fare (Cuban sandwiches, fire-roasted corn, rice and beans; it's the successor to the famous Paseo). No happy hour, just affordable, savory fare that kids and grown-ups will love.
Redmond Town Center
Holiday cheer: Redmond’s walkable mall — with ample parking, great selection of stores and multiple play areas for kids — has long been a draw for families, but RTC has seriously upped its holiday game in recent years, especially for tots. You can get your Santa pics at the Santa hut, ride a carousel, go ice skating in a tiny rink (heads-up: it's artificial ice), ride a mini-train, and enjoy performances and story times. And though it’s not an official holiday event, Springfree Trampoline is running a pop-up trampoline station where your energetic kids can get some free jumping in.
Cheap bites: While Pecado Bueno doesn't call it happy hour, it does call itself the home of the $3.75 house margarita — available all day, every day. So it's a little like permanent happy hour! The menu features tacos, burritos and salads, plus kid-friendly all-day breakfast with items such as huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. The kids' menu offers a quesadilla, bean-and-cheese burrito, hot dog and other kids' stuff.
Backup: On the ground level, stop by Creperie de Paris for a super kid-friendly sweet or savory crepe.
Woodland Park Zoo's Wildlights
Holiday cheer: More than 700,000 LED lights in the shape of lions, tigers and bears; plus Santa, antique carousel and faux snowball fights in the Zoomazium: Woodland Park Zoo’s expanded WildLights makes for a magical evening out. Two improvements this year: Parking is free, and there's a nightly "Winter Warm-Up" which allows adults to enjoy a selection of beer, wine and spiced hot cider; hot chocolate and fresh hot donuts are available for the littles. Enjoy your refreshments staying warm by the fire.
Cheap eats: A mile and a half north of the zoo, find ultra family-friendly neighborhood hub Naked City Brewing Company. Naked City's happy hour takes place Monday–Friday, 3–6 p.m. and features grown-up drink specials plus tasty snacks such as a hot pretzel for $3 and a trio of nano burgers for $7. Naked City's regular menu is a treat for vegetarians with a host of meat-free options, and it has recently upped it's gluten-free game. In addition to offering gluten-free fare, it's reduced gluten content in a bunch of its beers.
Backup: A short drive the other way find Wallingford’s Tutta Bella. The wood-fired pizzeria charms with a happy hour (daily 3–6 p.m.) that includes $10 pizzas and small plates such as bruschetta and a salumi board. Plus, $5 wine.
Holiday cheer: It takes some mental gymnastics to be up for navigating Christmas in the city, but once you’re there, the density of holiday sights per block is unparalleled. My tip is to start with the Gingerbread Village, do a tour of the Fairmont Olympic (trees and teddy bears) and end up at Westlake Center and Pacific Place, which is replacing its nightly snow flurry in the atrium with a holiday sing-along. Consider transit or ride-hailing to avoid parking hassles.
Cheap eats: It may not even have a kids’ menu but Dragonfish Café, just a block east of Pacific Place and across the street from the Paramount Theatre, offers a wow-worthy happy-hour menu (2–6 p.m. daily): perfectly salted egg drop soup for just $1.95, fresh and fat avocado and cucumber rolls for $2.95, and spring rolls and chicken potstickers for $3.95. Dim lighting and background noise helps families fold into the afternoon business crowd.
Backup: Inside Pacific Place, Il Fornaio offers a quieter, more elegant happy hour that is literally above it all. Walk up the sweeping staircase to the restaurant’s second level where you can sit in the lounge with kids and enjoy the view of sparkling holiday lights below. Happy hour (Monday–Thursday, 4–6 p.m.) offers deals on select menu items and a few discounted adult beverages.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2017 and updated for 2018.