It’s a bit roomier over on the Eastside. From Seattle, head over the I-90 or 520 bridges to enjoy a variety of free or affordable light shows on land or water, shop sprawling malls while listening to music, go ice skating at the region’s largest rink and enjoy a memorable holiday-themed hotel stay that leaves you feeling like you’ve gone on a real vacation.
Get last-minute shopping done at the Bellevue Arts Museum’s Holiday Arts Market for unique handmade items from Thursday through Sunday. While there, visit BAM’s exhibits on architecture and urban design or the sculptor Tip Toland. In downtown Kirkland, the Winter Show of Miniatures and Small Works at Parklane Gallery features more than 100 tiny paintings, photos and other artworks and runs Thursdays-Sundays until January 2.
Eastside malls combine the usual shopping with free entertainment. Redmond Town Center offers reservations with Santa, gift cards for shoppers on exclusive days and a winter performance series. Listen in on holiday music at Crossroads Bellevue, at Marketplace at Factoria and hear carolers at Village at Totem Lake. One of the largest free events in our region is Snowflake Lane, Presented by the Bellevue Collection, as luxe as its namesake. The nightly downtown Bellevue parade features Santa, marching bands, falling snow, Rudolph and graceful floats for viewers lined up on sidewalks.
Eastside light shows range from simple to spectacular. For a peak Northwest experience, set sail with the Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship Festival. Aboard a ship adorned with hundreds of lights, where you’ll be serenaded by choirs, and visit Lake Union communities. Tickets sell fast, but you might be lucky.
If tickets are gone, or you find the prices steep, wave to the lit-up holiday hip parade and listen to the floating choirs from shore at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Bay Park, on December 18 or while warming near a community bonfire in Kirkland at Denny Park on December 19.
A half-million tiny lights transform the Bellevue Botanical Garden into Garden d’Lights, a nighttime wonderland of plants, flowers and critters displayed until December 31. You must buy online timed tickets to enter, but they’re incredibly affordable ($5/each). Parking is another $5.
In Redmond, you can skip the everyday, expected light strings for a diverse collection of gorgeous, contemporary light displays created by working artists. Take a free self-guided tour of a dozen-plus works between 5–11 p.m. at Redmond’s Downtown Park.
After your lights-walk, The Meydenbauer Center offers a very family-friendly, intimate performance of “The Nutcracker” by International Ballet Theatre. And for all ages, the Downtown Bellevue Ice Rink is the region’s largest seasonal rink, at 9,000 feet, and generally open late, until ten or so. Triple-axle in for the rink’s events, such as Ugly Sweater Skate, free or private skating lessons or free ice cream toppings.
Kids might enjoy playing an “I Spy” game with the gingerbread house contest in downtown Kirkland. Use this Google Docs form to find the 8 locations and vote for your favorite gingerhome, whether the humorous Nightmare on Snowflake Lane entry or the spires of St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Also, in downtown Kirkland, adults can buy tickets to December 17th Sips & Snowbells Wine Walk, where a stroll through the town offers stops with sips from many cellars and brewers. In Woodinville, grape fans may also want to visit Ste. Michelle’s family-friendly Winter Wine Land on December 18 for a horse-drawn carriage ride, or sweet treats, hot chocolate and mulled wine around firepits, carolers nearby.
Stay with a holiday-themed hotel
Turn your Eastside exploration into a weekend getaway gift to yourself or the family with a December holiday-themed deal at one of the region’s swanky hotels, many of which may include free parking, discounts and/or complimentary late checkout.
The Heathman Hotel in Kirkland is ideally situated for exploring downtown’s walkable streets filled with shops and restaurants and offers two deals. The “Sleigh the Holidays” special includes a $25 dining credit, among other perks. The Holiday Stay & Shop offers a mini stocking stuffed with shopping discounts and a $50 dinner credit for Hearth restaurant, now serving “Hearth Warmer” cocktails such as warm spiced wine and a hot toddy with maple & cherry smoked syrup.
Three downtown Bellevue hotels — Hyatt Regency, The Westin Bellevue, and W Bellevue — offer Snowflake Lane Getaways in conjunction with the parade, including a $100/night Bellevue Collection gift card, free admission to the local KidsQuest Children’s Museum, and more.
For an appealing, romantic landscape away from the city hustle, the Elfin’ Good Time package at Willows Lodge in Woodinville offers a $50 food and beverage credit, two branded mugs, cinnamon whisky and a plush elf. At the Salish Lodge & Spa, book the “Comfort and Joy” extraordinary to enjoy an in-room cocktail kit, keepsake holiday ornament, peppermint foot scrub, fuzzy slippers and 15% off shopping at The Country Store, onsite.
Even the Grinch would feel the holiday spirit upon encountering the swag and decorated trees gathered at The Lodge at St. Edward Park. This former 1920s brick seminary was recently transformed into a stunning 5-story, 84-room hotel on the National Historic Registry. Secluded enough to feel like a country escape, the hotel’s guests can hike winter-accessible trails through Saint Edward State Park to Lake Washington’s shores. If the weather’s terrible, sip premium Moonstruck hot cocoa and play board games within the handsome guests-only library or take a self-guided smartphone tour of the building’s history.
Surprises abound — browse the 200+ works from local artists for sale throughout the hotel (hand-picked by the hotel’s own curator) or claim a delicious reward if you find one of the tiny cloth gnomes hidden throughout the property.
Dine on Northwest-inspired foods in the upscale Cedar & Elm or sip a Siberian Sugar Cookie (a holiday twist on the White Russian) in the funky Tonsorium Bar, where a unicorn head greets guests in the former barbershop (AKA tonsorium). Seasonal evening happenings include wreath- and gingerbread house-making, live music, and meet-the-artist events.
Most hotels have a room available for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day — although New Year’s Eve may be another story. But there’s still time for an Eastside escape.
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