Christmas lights displays are a holiday tradition for many. Whether you’re looking for a fun date idea or a night out that the whole family will enjoy, the Tacoma area’s Christmas lights have got you covered.

While there are displays all throughout Western Washington, Pierce County is one of the few places that has a really awesome drive-through display, which is perfect for rainy evenings when a walk-through display just doesn’t sound appealing. Pierce County is also home to Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium – one of the larger displays in the state!

Explore Zoolight’s fantastic annual light display at the Point Defiance Zoo. Photo credit: Point Defiance Zoo

Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

When: November 29-January 5 (closed December 24)

From 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. every night, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium serves up the area’s largest Christmas lights display. This year has been a fabulous year for baby animals being born at the zoo and 2019’s displays will honor all the babies, including a baby tapir, baby tamandua, baby beaver and some wolf pups! There will be an impressive 700,000 energy-efficient LED lights set up in displays and on bushes and trees all throughout the zoo grounds. Along with the new displays, also expect a lot of the traditional favorites from the giant octopus to the purple Flame Tree to just about every animal at the zoo.

Note that the Pacific Seas aquarium will be closed, but you can warm up at the South Pacific Aquarium while you visit the sharks, or in some of the animal habitats that are open like the meerkats.

Ticket prices are $13 at the gate/$11 in advance online or at Fred Meyer/$6.50 for members at the gate or online/and free for kids 2 and under. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is located at 5400 N Pearl Street in Tacoma.

Fantasy Lights Spanaway
Fantasy Lights is a drive-through Christmas lights display with more than 300 displays. Photo credit: Kristin Kendle

Fantasy Lights

When: November 28-January 1

If you don’t want to walk out in the weather or you just prefer to stay in your car, Fantasy Lights is the way to go. Where Zoolights is a huge walk-through display, Fantasy Lights is an equally huge drive-through display. With more than 300 displays, including animated ones that seem to jump over your car and lighted tunnels to drive through, Fantasy Lights is the largest drive-through Christmas lights display in the Northwest.

Fantasy Lights is open from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. nightly. On peak nights, there will probably be a line of cars backed up onto Pacific Avenue, but the line moves steadily. If you didn’t bring your own Christmas music, tune the radio to FM 95.3.

Admission is $15 per car or minibus up to 24 people/$45 for buses with 25+ people/$8 on special discount nights December 1-5. Fantasy Lights is located in Spanaway Park at 14905 Bresemann Boulevard S in Spanaway.

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.

Tacoma Tree Lighting
Tacoma’s downtown Christmas tree is a tradition for many. Photo credit: Amelia Skinner Photography

Downtown Christmas Tree

When: November 30

Downtown Tacoma’s Christmas tree has been a holiday tradition since World War II! The tree will light up for the first time this season on November 30 at 6:15 p.m. Before that, festivities will fill the lobby of the Pantages Theater and street outside with holiday fun for all. Starting at 4:30 p.m., photos with Santa and carols are available in the Pantages lobby. Best of all, the event is free!

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.

The Pantages is located at 901 Broadway in downtown Tacoma.

The Christmas Ship

Okay, so it’s not exactly a lights display, but Christmas lights are involved and there’s plenty of festive fun to be had. The Christmas Ship Festival is put on by Seattle’s Argosy Cruises each year. The Christmas Ship is one of the Argosy boats decked out in lights that visits different ports throughout the Puget Sound each night. You can, of course, board the Christmas Ship and that’s a whole lot of fun (you can board the ship in Tacoma on December 8 and 9), but you can also wait for free on shore for the ship to arrive. When it arrives, it comes with any follow boats that have joined it and then hangs out while a choir performs on board. Those on shore can admire the lights and listen as the choir music is broadcast via loudspeaker to the shore.

On December 8, the Olympia Youth Chorus Cantabile will perform, and the ship will stop at Skansie Brothers Park in Gig Harbor at 6:50 p.m. and at Jake Hyde Park on the Tacoma Waterfront at 7:55 p.m. On December 9, the Puyallup High School Norselanders will perform, and the ship will visit Browns Point Lighthouse Park at 7:05 p.m. and Dash Point Dock at 7:40 p.m.

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