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 December can feel like too much, wreaking havoc on both our wallets and the daily routines that keep everyone on track?
While we can’t solve all of December’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" (or "Stranger Things 2").
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 time. 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: Head up a level for a happy-hour stop at Spazzo, an Italian eatery with atmospheric lighting, lots of white noise, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere, including open pizza ovens. Happy hour is from 3–6 p.m. daily in the dining room. Grab a booth and settle in for specials that include $4 off wine, beer and drinks; $3 off small plates; and $4 off pizza. Kid winners include the house-made meatballs, bruschetta and margherita pizza. Mix in artful veggie dishes such as the roasted Brussels sprouts and caprese salad. The kids’ menu includes robust dishes such as pasta, grilled salmon and pizza for $10, including drink and dessert.
Backup: On the ground level, stop by Kitanda for a hot dog and hot chocolate special (only $2) for the kids while you enjoy a pick-me-up of gluten-free Brazilian cheese bread or acai bowl and an espresso.
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. 24 through Dec. 24. And during the day, just around the corner, families can take a spin at the covered holiday rink at Downtown Bellevue Park (be sure to include playtime at the awesome new Inspiration Playground, too); line up for Santa pics at Bellevue Square (and admire the stunning Christmas tree); and of course, get some shopping in.
More holiday secrets
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 blackberry spice martini. 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. The conveyor belt, of course, gives kids a job to do (genius). Also, find even more happy hour ideas on Bellevue.com.
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 wild counterpoint to Snowflake Lane’s scripted show. From 4:30–9 p.m. every night from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31, hundreds of thousands of twinkling LED lights adorn the garden paths in stunning arrangements (download the critter map here). And the price is right: Tickets are just $5; kids 10 and under are free; and there are even a number of free nights. (Buy online and you can bypass the lines.)
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), chile and street tacos — and is affordably priced. The “Hoppy Hour” specials (offered daily from 3–6 p.m.) slice off a few more bucks: Get smoked ribs for $10, a soft pretzel, street taco or smoked wing for $3 and an 8-inch pizza for $7. The kids’ menu (mac 'n' 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 exotic pastries.
Diagon Alley/Swansons/Olympic Manor
The surprise hit of this year’s holiday season might be the Diagon Alley replica created by an exceptionally talented and community-minded Ballard dad, Jonathan Chambers. While he started building for Halloween, he’s keeping the display up through Dec. 31, with ample public hours. Flourish & Blotts, Ollivander’s, quidditch supplies – it’s all there in torchlit glory (stop by in the evening for the full effect). Find the house across the street from Whittier Elementary School's playground; the address of the house is 7514 13th Ave. N.W. in Ballard. The Diagon Alley Project website lists viewing hours as Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. and Saturday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Donations are encouraged to support pancreatic cancer research. Check the project blog for updates and possible continuation into 2018.
Just 1.3 miles north is a never-fail holiday stop: Swansons Nursery’s Reindeer festival, with reindeer on display, Santa in the house and a gorgeous model train set-up. Not far from Swansons, in the Olympic Manor development, you can also see Ballard’s famed neighborhood holiday light display (enter at N.W. 85th Street and 23rd Ave. N.W.).
Cheap bites: About half-mile from Diagon Alley, 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 hummous plate. (Tip: Ask for a side of habanero sauce for the tacos, and order extra pita right away). Consider dipping into the regular menu, too, which includes ten (!) kinds of fries and a full list of salads, burgers and more gourmet pub fare.
Backup: Just a tortilla toss from Diagon Alley, 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 eat up.
Woodland Park Zoo's Wildlights
Holiday cheer: More than 600,000 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 6-year-old WildLights makes for a magical evening out. Two improvements this year: Parking is free, and there are special events such as the Harlem Globetrotter nights.
Cheap eats: The good news: Just a few blocks north of the zoo, the Phinney Market Café is one of north Seattle’s most family-friendly restaurants, with Northwest-inspired pub food that ranges from an inventive kale salad to an espresso-rubbed burger on a Macrina bun to Alaskan sockeye salmon. You’ll have to tear the kids away from a train table that will even draw in your jaded 8-year-old (trust me, I’ve tried it). More good news: Happy hour starts at 2 p.m. (and runs until 5 p.m.) and is all day on Tuesdays. The bad news: Everyone else knows about it, too, so time your visit for off hours if you can.
Backup: A short drive away, Wallingford’s Tutta Bella’s wood-fired pizzeria charms with a happy hour (daily 3–6 p.m.) that includes $7 pizzettes and small plates such as meatballs and a Salumi board. Plus, $4 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 (it’s all about Seattle this year and in a new locale across from the Sheraton), do a tour of the Fairmont Olympic (trees and teddy bears) and end up at Westlake Center and Pacific Place, which has a snow fall twice a night. 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: perfectly salted egg drog 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: In 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–Friday, 4–6 p.m.) has $6 deals on bruschetta, calamari and margherita pizza, plus $6 wine pours and select cocktails. Don’t miss the Mona Lisa-themed kids’ menu, too.