Every year, the silver lining to it getting dark so early is that we get to enjoy holiday lights. Sadly (and totally understandably), Garden d’Lights, Enchant and Lumaze are all canceled this year.

But there are some light displays that will still go on, including at Woodland Park Zoo and Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, with new safety measures. And The Lights of Christmas, in Snohomish County, will open as a drive-thru. One thing those three displays have in common: This year, you must buy timed tickets online in advance.

Where to see holiday lights in the Seattle area in 2020

The splurge: Woodland Park Zoo’s WildLanterns

The plan to change up this year’s lights at Woodland Park Zoo was hatched last year, long before coronavirus turned our world upside down.

After seven years of the same WildLights theme, Woodland Park Zoo is introducing WildLanterns: 300 lanterns used to create more than 60 scenes featuring wild animals in their habitats. Along the one-way loop, you’ll see giant lanterns shaped like grizzly bears, tigers, sea turtles, giraffes and more.

Brace yourself for a big price hike. At nearly $30 a pop (for adults; it’s nearly $24 for kids ages 3 to 12), the cost adds up fast for a family. (Last year, the price for WildLights was nearly $17 for adults, $13 for kids.) Think about it this way: All the money goes back to the animals. And those rhinos and lions and hippos eat a lot.

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WildLanterns is open at 25% capacity to allow for social distancing. You can stay for as long as you’d like; plan for about two hours. Face masks are required for visitors 5 and up. Food kiosks and restrooms are open. This year, there will be no night rides on the carousel and no snowball fights in the Zoomazium. 

When: Nov. 13 to Jan. 17, 2021, 4-8:30 p.m. Closed Mondays and on Nov. 26, Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

Where: Enter through the West entrance (by the penguins), 5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle

Tickets: Adults (ages 13 and up) $28.95, children (ages 3 to 12) $23.95, toddlers 2 and under are free. Members receive 20% off. Parking is $4. Timed tickets are now for sale at zoo.org/wildlanterns. The event goes on rain or shine; no ticket refunds. The ticket is only for WildLanterns admission and does not get you in the zoo during the day to see the animals.

The classic: Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Zoolights has been a tradition for 32 years and counting at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. (John Froschauer / Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)
Zoolights has been a tradition for 32 years and counting at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. (John Froschauer / Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium)

Zoolights at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium has been a holiday tradition for the past 32 years, and 2020 is no exception. After dark, take a one-way walk through the zoo and ooh and ahh at the more than 700,000 LED lights forming Mount Rainier, sledding penguins, a walrus family, Sasquatch, ice skating puffins and more. New this year: The octopus gets a hockey stick (welcome, Kraken!) and the Tunnel of Lights is longer than ever at 117 feet.

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Capacity is limited to 25%, which is 400 people per hour. Tips for a quieter visit: Come on a wet day, on a weeknight, at the 8 p.m. time slot, and before schools let out for winter break.

This year, PDZA isn’t offering a day/night combo ticket. There will be a few animals on view, like the meerkats. The goats, carousel and both aquarium buildings will be closed during Zoolights.

Face masks are required for everyone 5 and up. If you have a medical exemption from face coverings, you can book a Zoolights ticket for select Mondays (Nov. 30, Dec. 7 and Dec. 14) between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Food kiosks (credit/debit cards only) and restrooms are open. Drinking fountains and stroller, electric scooter and wheelchair rentals are closed, so bring your own from home if you need it.

When: Nov. 27 to Jan. 3, 2021, 5-9 p.m. Closed Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

Where: 5400 N. Pearl St., in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park

Tickets: General admission (for ages 3 and up) $11 (members $5.50) from Monday through Thursday, and general admission $14 (members $7) from Friday through Sunday. Kids 2 and under are free. Parking is free. Buy tickets online at pdza.org/zoolights; no weather refunds. The ticket gets you into Zoolights only (you’d need to buy a separate timed ticket online to visit the zoo during the day).

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The drive-thru: The Lights of Christmas

The Lights of Christmas will be a drive-thru experience this year.  (Kayla Stikeleather / The Lights of Christmas)
The Lights of Christmas will be a drive-thru experience this year. (Kayla Stikeleather / The Lights of Christmas)

Want an ironclad guarantee you’re going to stay warm and dry while checking out holiday lights? This year, The Lights of Christmas at the Warm Beach area near Stanwood in Snohomish County is turning into a drive-thru experience. 

When you arrive on the grounds, tune your radio to 101.9 FM and listen to Christmas music while taking in the more than 1 million lights. The display includes a large Nativity scene and costumed characters — Santa and Mrs. Claus, Frosty and Rudolph — who will be waving. Kids can drop off a letter to Santa at the drive-thru mailbox. The drive takes 15 to 20 minutes and visitors must stay in the car unless they are using the restroom (yes, there are restrooms).

You can buy mini doughnuts and other snacks in the drive-thru, and there’s even a gift shop at the end of the route. Wear a mask if you roll down your window.

When: Nov. 27-29, Dec. 2-6, 9-13, 16-23, 26-30, 5-10 p.m.

Where: Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center, 20800 Marine Drive, Stanwood

Admission per vehicle: Sunday through Thursday, $20; Friday and Saturday, $25; Christmas week (Dec. 20-23), $25. Up to 12-passenger vehicles only; no motor homes. Tickets are nonrefundable. thelightsofchristmas.com