in partnership
Light Tunnel.jpg
(Image courtesy of Warm Beach Camp and Confrence Center)

The largest Christmas Light Festival in the PNW is in Stanwood

It’s a known fact: Seattleites love Christmas lights.

Maybe it’s because of our shorter days during the winter or the cold, wet weather that comes with it, but whatever the reason, we like our lights. The bigger the better, the more the merrier. In recent years, the city has fully embraced the Enchant Christmas light festival at the T-Mobile Park and now it welcomes the new indoor festival, Lumaze on Pier 91. But you might be surprised to learn that the largest Christmas light festival in the greater Seattle area has been operating since 1997 with no signs of stopping.

Inspired by the “Christmas in the Park” light display that was once held at the former Opryland Theme Park in Nashville, one of the board members for Warm Beach Camp and Conference Center looked for a way to bring in guests during its slow season.

Boy, did they. It is estimated that about 72,500 people visit the festival each year.

[Photos: T-Mobile Park has officially turned into a giant Snow Globe for the season]

Over one million lights are strung out throughout the camp’s 15 acres. That is enough light strands to stretch from Stanwood to CenturyLink Field! And the lights are not a permanent fixture. A crew of seven begin putting up the lights in early September, working five days a week up until opening day. Over the years, the camp has become conscious about energy usage. Today, about one third of the lights are of the LED variety.

While most of light displays are presented outdoors, the festival features many activities, entertainment and food options indoors (which works well on those chilly or rainy nights). The festival also offers a half-dozen campfires around the grounds too.

The Lights of Christmas is just as big of a deal as its Seattle counterparts, but since everything is set up within the existing camp campus, it is also a bit more eclectic in style. It has a homey feel to it too. The Warm Beach Camp is also quite a bit away from the freeway, but it is worth the trip. This is isn’t a rinky-dink production. Everything may not be consistent, but everything is done with excellence. While geared toward families, there is much to appreciate for all ages. We’ve found some last minute gifts, ate some great food, enjoyed talented artists and took in the electric views.

The festival is divided into six themed areas. With a few exceptions (like face painting and cookie decorating) almost everything here is included in the price of admission. Save a few bucks for a bag of hot mini doughnuts, which are so popular, they are the equivalent of the Fisher Fair Scone. The six area of the festival include:

  • Joyland: Featuring the famed Light Tunnel, this is where you can sit on Santa’s lap, meet his reindeer and buy some fresh-baked cookies from Mrs. Claus’ Bakeshop. The Emporium Gift Shop and a separate ornament shop are located here as well.
  • Nativity: Here you’ll find the impressive Journey to Bethlehem and Angels Gloria light displays as well as a life-size nativity scene and a group of carolers.
  • Starlight: This section is home to the brand-new Canopy of Lights as well as the Christmas Reflections display. Stop by the Starry Night Coffee House & Gifts for an espresso or hot chocolate, listen to some live acoustic music or sit down crisscross applesauce style and listen in for story time.
  • Baylight: This area features the new and impressive Bayside Wharf Fa├žade alongside the Glad Tiding Barkentine Ship display. You’ll also find the Orca Wild and the Fireball Tree displays here as well.
  • Tinhorn Town: This popular area shows off the vibrant colors of the Mountain Grandeur display. It also serves as the depot for the Warm Beach Express Train that will take you to all corners of the festival where you can see what you’ve missed. You’ll also find pony rides (for kids ages six and under), live country and bluegrass music and the Tinhorn Town Food Court serving everything from fish and chips to southwest quesadillas.
  • Wonderland: This area is a popular one for the kids. The interactive Echo Pond display is located here. So is Bruce the Spruce, the Talking Christmas Tree where kids are continually confused on how this guy can talk. You’ll also find the Shepherd’s Keep Petting Farm and a walk-through Light Maze created entirely out of lights.

[Photos: Snow falls every night on Bellevue's Snowflake Lane]

In addition to the festival itself, The Lights of Christmas offers five-course dinner and dessert theatre productions and Warm Beach even offers overnight stays at a variety of locations across the campus (each with its own theme. This can be a great option for families not wanting to make the trek back home immediately after the lights go dim. Each overnight stay includes tickets to the festival and a hot breakfast.

The Lights of Christmas is open every weekend from November 29 to December 29 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets range from $13-$18, but this year they are also offering three special “pay-what-you-can-afford” nights (December 5, 12 and 29) with no minimum required. This way, everyone, regardless of income, can enjoy the festival.