I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and I would look forward to going downtown for the holidays and taking in the beauty of the lights, the sounds, and the enchanting window displays that Macy’s and other department stores would spend countless hours and expense to celebrate the season. It wasn’t until I had a child of my own that I discovered the beauty and enchantment of the season again, and now transplanted in Seattle, I explore the seasonal festivities that our downtown Seattle has to offer. And more importantly, for free! This I share with you, plus some other great free or cheap things to do for the holidays.
Our holiday exploration usually takes two or three days to ensure we take it all in at a leisurely pace. Our first stop is usually early to go see Santa. There are plenty of Santas to visit around town, but the downtown Nordstrom’s Santa’s Shack seems to be the most popular. Although lines are long (as a gauge, each Nordstrom massive window equals one hour of standing in line and once you are in the warmth of the elf shack, it is another 45 minutes), you do get to watch Santa from one of the windows and elves serve you hot apple cider and cookies typically. Now, as we all know, Santa pictures are not free. But standing in line, sitting on Santa’s lap, and telling him what you want is. Pictures start at $15.00. I highly recommend going during the week and going as soon as it opens at 9 a.m. Call Nordstrom for hours and prices.
After a good lunch at one of the fabulous restaurants downtown, we walk around Macy’s window displays including their annual train display where two of the windows you can actually control the trains by placing your hands on certain window spots.
Once night falls, we enjoy the lights around the city (the giant Macy’s star, the humongous Christmas tree in Westlake Center, and every tree in the city that aligns the streets) and the feel of the hustle and bustle of people going home from work, or coming into the city to enjoy the nightlife or holiday activities.
We eventually venture over to the carousel ride in Westlake Center to ride a wooden horse and watch the lights, the bustle of people, and Christmas tree go by in a joyous dizzy blur. Depending on the time, we try to make it to Pacific Place by 6:00 p.m. to watch the indoor atrium snow on the patrons below– very festive, indeed.
Then we come to my personal favorites, the Teddy Bear suite and the JDRF Gingerbread Display. We trek on over to the Olympic Fairmont Hotel, admire the regally-dressed trees including the 25-foot noble fir in the main lobby and the gingerbread creation by Executive Pastry Chef Artis Kalsons, and then head up to the Teddy Bear Suite. No matter the age, it is awe inspiring and enchanting to walk into one of the Fairmont’s beautiful rooms, donned with dozens of teddy bears wherever you look amidst almost idyllic Christmas decorations and a regal bed with plenty of places to tuck into a corner against giant teddy bears and read teddy bear-themed classics, such as Corduroy, a personal favorite. It truly is peaceful and restful and usually not that crowded so you can sit and enjoy it. And a candy cane and chance to win tea at The Georgian as you exit to boot. All donations taken at the Teddy Bear Suite benefit uncompensated care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
We typically will try to go for dessert either at another restaurant downtown after seeing the wonderful, delicious display, or we head home to dream about sugar plum fairies and gingerbread trains.
Carousel Ride in Westlake Center
WHEN: November 27-January 3
WHERE: Westlake Center
400 Pine St
Seattle, WA 98101
HOURS: Monday-Thursday 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.; Friday 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Saturday 10:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Sunday 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m.
Christmas Eve/New Year’s Eve 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. January 3 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
Pacific Place Atrium Snow Fall
WHEN: Every evening from Friday, November 25 to Saturday, December 31 at 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: Pacific Place
600 Pine Street
Teddy Bear Suite at the Olympic Fairmont Hotel
WHERE: Olympic Fairmont Hotel
411 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101
WHEN: November 25 between 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. and November 26 through December 26 from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
DONATIONS: Donations taken at the Teddy Bear Suite benefit uncompensated care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Sheraton Hotel Gingerbread Display
WHEN: November 22, 2011 until January 1, 2012
WHERE: The Seattle Sheraton Lobby
1400 6th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
TICKETS: The display is free to the general public. No tickets are necessary, but the Seattle Sheraton is accepting donations onsite on behalf of the Northwest JDRF chapter.
Other Holiday Free Events
Celebrity Chestnut Roasting
In front of the Olympic Fairmont Hotel, celebrity roasters roast chestnuts on University Street from noon to 1:00 p.m. where you can purchase a cone of hot roasted chestnuts for $5.00.
WHERE: Olympic Fairmont Hotel on University Avenue between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue
411 University Street
WHEN: December 1 – 19 on weekdays between 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
COST: $5.00/cone. Proceeds benefit YWCA Angeline’s Day Center for Homeless Women.
Garden d’Lights at Bellevue Botanical Garden
The Bellevue Botanical Garden is a wonderful place to stroll at night and take in the more than 1 million lights in the shapes of wonderful holiday characters, flowers, and amazing garden artistry, all created by volunteers. There is usually a minor cost associated with this, but there is free admission for all Monday- Wednesday between December 5-December 14.
WHERE: Bellevue Botanical Garden
12001 Main St
WHEN: 5:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. daily, last entry 9:30 p.m.
COST: $5.00 for ages 11 and older. Ages 10 and younger are free
Free admission for all Monday-Wednesday and December 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14
Bellevue Snowflake Lane
Experience the holiday magic with the annual celebration of Snowflake Lane along the sidewalks of Bellevue Way and NE 8th at The Bellevue Collection, in the heart of Downtown Bellevue. Magical snow falls nightly as live toy soldiers and winter characters, music, and a dazzling light show brighten the night and warm your heart.
WHERE: Sidewalks at The Bellevue Collection (Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square).
WHEN: Nightly at 7:00 p.m., November 26 – December 24 and December 26 – 31
PARKING: Free parking at Bellevue Square, Bellevue Place and Lincoln Square
Free Menorah Lighting at University Village
WHEN: December 21, 2011 at 6:00 p.m.
WHERE: University Village
2623 NE University Village
Seattle, WA 98105