The holidays are known for many things—volunteering to help others, gifts, gatherings with friends and family…and lights! Just as the winter skies are growing darkest, holiday lights swoop in to save the day (or the night, as it were). Pierce County has some of the region’s biggest and brightest displays within its bounds, as well as a number of neighborhoods where you can drive around with some tunes of your choice on to view decorated homes.

oly orthoMost of the area’s holiday lights displays light up the day after Thanksgiving


Zoolights is the biggest Christmas lights display in the South Sound, and it’s a tradition for many families in the area for good reason—it’s an awesome experience. Whether you’ve got young children, teens, a group of friends or are looking for a romantic holiday stroll with your special someone, Zoolights is your place. Light displays cover almost the entire grounds at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and include displays that showcase some Northwest pride, from the Narrows Bridges to Mount Rainier to eagles swooping down to grab a salmon from a stream, as well as plenty of tigers, macaws and other zoo residents. Highlights include a giant purple octopus that’s usually perched on top of the aquarium as well as a tree at the center of the zoo grounds that has probably more lights on it than any tree in Tacoma—also purple with a green trunk.

Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium has animal light displays as well as displays that show some local pride. Photo credit: John Froschauer.

Beyond lights, Zoolights also has bonus activities, especially for the youngest light peepers. Camel rides will thrill the very young and a classic carousel is open as well. Stop by the café near the entrance and get some hot chocolate, coffee or tea to sip as you wander.

While many of the zoo animals are sleeping by the time the holiday lights come on, some critters are awake. Unless it’s booked for a private event, the aquarium is open and makes a nifty place to warm up. The meerkats are also usually awake.

Zoolights is located at Point Defiance Zoo. Displays are open from November 25 to January 1, from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. each night.

Fantasy Lights

Another amazing holiday lights experience is Fantasy Lights. Located in Spanaway within Spanaway Park, Fantasy Lights is ideal for those south of Tacoma or those who don’t want to spend an evening out in the cold or rain. This display is all drive-through all the time, making it ideal for rainy evenings or groups with small children. Many nights will have a long line to get in, but the line moves steadily. Once you’re in, you’ll drive along a two-mile stretch filled with about 300 displays, including gingerbread men who jump over your car, a dragon, and dazzling tunnels. If you didn’t bring your own holiday tunes along, tune in to FM 95.3.

Fantasy Lights is located at Spanaway Park just off the corner of 152nd Street S and Pacific Avenue on Military Road. Displays are open November 24 to January 1, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. each night.

Downtown Christmas Tree

Tacoma Tree Lighting
Tacoma’s treelighting ceremony has been a tradition since World War II. Photo courtesy: Courtesy of Broadway Center/Chip Van Gilder

If you like your Christmas lights on a proper Christmas tree, the Tacoma Christmas tree is located in downtown Tacoma at 9th and Broadway. Since the World War II era, a tree has stood at this spot. Before the tree is lit up for the season, join in a sing-a-long at the Pantages and then sing carols and take photos with Santa. The sing-a-long is always a classic musical and does have an admission fee, but the tree lighting is free!

The 2016 tree lighting is on November 26 at 5:00 p.m. at 9th and Broadway.

Holiday Lights at Wild Waves

Just north of Tacoma, Wild Waves has yet another lights display. More than 1 million lights decorate the theme park and the rides are open, making this display especially great for families with older kids. There are also bonus activities, from a tent with falling snow, areas to write letters to Santa or make crafts, sing-a-longs and a day to take photos with Santa on December 23.

Neighborhoods to Drive

Of course, you don’t need to go to an event and shell out some dollars to view Christmas lights. Many houses around the county get decked out for the season. Climb into the car, put on some holiday music and spend some time winding through a neighborhood. North Tacoma is one of the best neighborhoods to drive right in town, as is the West End. Both areas have enough homes that go all out to keep things exciting. In Puyallup, don’t miss Silver Creek and Crystal Ridge. And in Gig Harbor, Wildwood Estates is a good neighborhood for lights.

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