We humans are simple creatures. String a few colored lights on the front porch and we’ll pause in front of the house with a goofy grin. Drape a few thousand—or many hundred thousand—across your town, and we’ll drive across Washington to see it. Here are some of the best road trip destinations for holiday lights, no power bill included.
The granddaddy of holiday villages—they even call it Christmastown—illuminates the Central Washington city of Leavenworth all the way through February. The Bavarian decor feels right with all the twinkles, and the town shifted from a ceremonial flipping of the switch every night (which focused the crowds at one particular moment) to keeping the illumination on at all times. Costumes, both from an official roaming Santa and unofficial Krampuses, are common.
The Olympic Peninsula city once known for its proximity to Twilight now embraces the artistic side of night. The community does a lantern walk through Webster’s Woods, a sculpture park in town; workshops run in the preceding weeks to create your own lantern. Art installations use light in surprising ways, and the Shadow Sail Theater does an interactive shadow mural.
The decades-old Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium event is so popular, advance tickets are required. Almost a million lights make up the display, including long light tunnels and twinklers in the shape of a giant Pacific octopus. The zoo animals snooze their way through the nightly event, except for the wonderfully named Groovy Goats in Holiday Coats who do an after-hours petting zoo.
It’s cold out, and the seat warmers in your car are toasty. Visitors to Spanaway Park’s annual event stay in the car, driving past almost 300 lighted displays. Holiday 3D lenses will add candy canes or snowflakes to every point of brightness, and an accompanying soundtrack plays on a local AM station.
Like Spanaway’s event, Stanwood’s spectacle is viewed through car windows, ideal for squirmy kids and adults who need rest from Elf on the Shelfing every night. This route, near Camano Island north of Everett, includes two activity stops that allow everyone out of the car. Doughnuts at the check-in area keep energy levels high.
The annual event in Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland takes place just the first weekend of December. Boats draped in decorations navigate the Columbia River for viewers on both banks, with no rules other than boats should be lit up (and follow a few safety rules, of course). The Saturday night parade is followed by a party in which prizes are awarded.
The Mason County city of Shelton is also claiming the title of Christmastown because it scored a Guinness World Record for the most lit Christmas trees (some 797 of them) in 2019. Now every year the town mounts an illuminated Christmas tree maze—both a holiday event and salute to the local timber industry—plus a series of events like a photo scavenger hunt and a cookie stroll.