If you want to dive head first into the holidays, there may be no finer way to do so than to head to a Christmas lights display. Full of festive fun and twinkly displays, Pierce County’s lights displays offer a couple different experiences. So whether you want to walk around with a cup of hot chocolate or stay in your car where it’s warm, never fear! There’s a perfect Christmas lights display for you.
When: November 23-January 6
From 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. every night, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium serves up the area’s largest Christmas lights display – and in 2018, it’s even larger than usual as it’s the zoo’s 35th anniversary! There will be a whopping 700,000 lights decking out the zoo grounds in both displays as well as on bushes and trees along the pathways. This year also saw the opening of the new Pacific Seas Aquarium, so look for new displays highlighting some of the zoo’s newest residents.
You’ll spot plenty of old favorites too, including ice skating puffins, the giant octopus, polar bears and the flame tree at the center of the zoo – a tree with thousands of purple and green lights that’s a pretty amazing spot for photos. To cap off the experience, stop by the café near the zoo’s entrance and grab a warm beverage or snack. Visitors can venture inside some of the buildings to visit the few animals who stay awake for this event, including the meerkats and the sharks at the South Pacific Aquarium. Younger visitors might enjoy a ride on the classic carousel or a camel.
Take note that the new Pacific Seas aquarium will be closed during Zoolights, but if you want to see it, you can get a Day/Night Combo Pass and visit the zoo during the day as well. Tickets are available online. Discount tickets are available in advance at Fred Meyer, or you can buy for full price at the gate. Members get in at a steep discount.
When: November 22-January 1
If you prefer to stay warm and toasty in your car, Fantasy Lights might be the Christmas lights display for you. While Zoolights is explored on foot, Fantasy Lights is a drive-through display located in Spanaway Park. Like Zoolights, Fantasy Lights is one of the area’s largest lights displays. Unlike Zoolights, this one is completely drive through. Put on some holiday tunes of your choice and enjoy about 300 displays along the road – some of which are stationary, some of which are animated. Stop so that Rudolph or Santa or the gingerbread man can take a flying leap over your car.
Fantasy Lights is open from 5:30 – 9:00 p.m. each night. On Fridays and weekends, you’ll probably see a line of cars backed up onto Pacific Avenue, but the line moves steadily. If you didn’t bring your own Christmas music, flip the radio to FM 95.3.
Neighborhoods to Drive
While Christmas lights displays are a lot of fun, sometimes you might want something low key or free, and that’s where driving around to look for decorated houses is the perfect way to go. Drive around most neighborhoods and you’ll spot some well-decorated houses, but if your neighborhood is a little low on lights, then there are a few safe bets. North Tacoma, especially around the Proctor District, is usually a worthy holiday drive. West Tacoma, University Place and Puyallup neighborhoods like Silver Creek are also generally fine places to go.
When: November 24, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Now in its 73rd year, the downtown Tacoma Christmas tree will light up for the first time on November 24 at 6:15 p.m. Starting at 4:30 p.m., photos with Santa are available in the Pantages lobby. At 5:30 p.m., live holiday music fills the air. At 6:00 p.m., enjoy a brief speaking program before the tree is lit at 6:15 p.m. All of these happenings are free, but if you want the festive evening to continue, Imago Theatre’s Frogz starts at 7:30 p.m. at the theater.
And if you missed the tree lighting, stop by the corner of S 9th and Broadway in downtown Tacoma to see the tree throughout the holiday season.
When: December 1-2, 7-9, 14-23, 26-30, hours vary by night
Just north of Tacoma, Wild Waves decks out the theme park in lights and many rides are open as well, which is perfect for families with older kids. More than 1 million lights decorate the park, Santa is here for photos and wishes, and kids can visit Toyland where they’ll find a tent filled with falling snow, tables where they can write a letter to Santa or enjoy some crafts, and there are sing-a-longs and other holiday fun too.