A couple pose in the snowy mountains for a photo. The two are standing and smiling and both people are wearing sunglasses.  There are mountains and evergreen trees in the background. The sky is blue. The woman is wearing a yellow long-sleeved shirt with a scarf, and the man is wearing a long-sleeved white shirt and has a hat and backpack on.

Budget-Friendly Holiday Experiences in Washington

The perfect gift doesn’t have to fit in a box. Give the gift of memories that last well past the holidays with these budget-friendly winter experiences.

Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager
Published Dec 5, 2023 in: Spending & Shopping

Read time: 10 minutes

Whether you're buying for someone who doesn't want more stuff, or you're looking to kickstart the holiday spirit, try thinking outside the gift box.

Here are some ideas for budget-friendly winter activities in Washington state:

Tour Holiday Lights

Holiday lights can range from dazzling professional setups to modest roofline adornments in a neighborhood near you. Either end of the spectrum can give you that warm glow and brighten up the dark Pacific Northwest winter nights. Here are a few options:

  • Zoolights: Nov. 24, 2023 - Jan. 1, 2024; $12 - $16; Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma. This elaborate display boasts 800,000 lights, including a giant Pacific octopus, Seahawks tree and Tacoma Narrows Bridge. BECU members get $2 off Zoolights tickets by paying with a BECU credit card or debit card.
  • WildLanterns: Nov. 10, 2023 - Jan. 14, 2024; $26 - $37; Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle. Wander through themed lanterns, including a magical snow world, parrots and toucans of the Fine Feathered Friends zone, and giant spiders and bright flowers in the Bugs and Blooms display. BECU members can get 10% off.
  • Winter Brilliance glass exhibit: Nov. 24, 2023 - Feb. 29, 2024; $22 - $35; Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle. This exhibit features 700 hand-blown glass forms by well-known, Tacoma-born glass artist Dale Chihuly. The installation includes chandeliers, towers, reeds and icicle clusters, and uses original light, music and video projection.
  • Lady of the Lake Fireworks Cruise: Nov. 25 and Dec. 31, 2023; Jan. 13 and 20, 2024; $10 - $17; Lake Chelan Boat Co. Charters, Lake Chelan. Choose from two different winter boat tours aboard the Lady of the Lake, both culminating in fireworks displays that you can enjoy from out on the water: The Small Town Fireworks Cruise (Nov. 25 and Dec. 31) and the Winterfest Fireworks Cruise (Jan. 13 and 20).
  • Luminous Light Sculptures: Nov. 28, 2023 - Jan. 9, 2024; Free; Westlake Park, Seattle. This free holiday light exhibit includes a 13-foot reindeer and a giant snowflake and candy cane, right in the heart of downtown Seattle.
  • Manito Park Holiday Lights: Driving tours, Dec. 9 and 10; walking tours Dec. 11 - 20, 2023; Free; Manito Park, Spokane. Enjoy thousands of holiday lights by car or on foot during the annual Holiday Lights display. This tour, organized by the Friends of Manito, winds through a rose garden and across a rock-arch bridge.

See the Nutcracker

Going to see "The Nutcracker" is an annual holiday tradition for many families. The story takes audiences into a child's magical dream of a Nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve, and a royal court of dancing flowers and snowflakes.

You can see a wide range of productions, from classical ballets to modern retellings, produced by professional companies and local dance studios.

Whatever you choose, there's a "Nutcracker" to fit your style and your budget. Here's a sampling:

In this photo ballet dancers are performing on a stage. The photo depicts a scene from the Nutcracker ballet. There are seven people in the image and each dancer is posing on one leg while raising their hands in the air.
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers Elizabeth Murphy and Lucien Postlewaite as Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, with PNB company dancers in a scene from George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker." Photo by Angela Sterling.

Visit Snowflake Lane

Snowflake Lane is a combination of festive lights, decorations and a nightly holiday parade between Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square. The parade includes music, dancers, floats and even falling snow.

The show starts at 7 p.m. nightly from Nov. 24 - Dec. 24, 2023. Adding to the fun? It's free.

Go Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing can be as easy as going for a walk in the snow. Just be sure you dress appropriately, know your route, check the conditions and pack the essentials to stay safe.

You can opt for groomed trails at a ski area, guided walks or, for the more advanced snowshoer, blaze your own trail through the backcountry.

Here are a few options to get out and enjoy a winter wonderland:

A family of three poses for an outdoor photo while snowshoeing. There is snow on the ground. All three of the people in the photo have snowshoes on their feet. Each person is bundled in winter clothes. Behind them are trees and snow.
Snowshoeing can be a low-impact, low-cost winter activity to get you in the holiday spirit.
  • Spokane Parks and Recreation guided snowshoe walks ($20-$60) is your chance to tour the snowy hills while learning the basics of snowshoeing. Some tours conclude with a visit to a local brewery.
  • Summit at Snoqualmie ($45) has an extensive system of groomed trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. You have to rent snowshoes from the Summit to use their parking lot and trails.
  • Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail is a 212-mile trail dotted with trailheads. You can hop on the snowy central section near Hyak (PDF map) and go east. Enjoy the day for just the cost of a Sno-Park permit ($25).
  • The U.S. Forest Service maintains more than 119 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails on mountain passes and near ski resorts across Washington state. The cost for accessing the trails depends on the location. Check your destination for details. Forest Service day passes are $5.

Go Ice Skating

You don't need to have a permanent ice skating rink in your neighborhood to skate your way into the holiday spirit. Temporary ice rinks pop up this time of year. Here are a few rinks to consider:

  • Bellevue Downtown Ice Rink ($15 - $20), Nov. 17, 2023 - Jan. 15, 2024. Skaters are encouraged to buy tickets online. Limited walk-up tickets are available.
  • Oly on Ice ($9 - $15), Nov. 17, 2023 - Jan. 15, 2024. This rink, run by the City of Olympia, also has limited walk-up availability, so you might want to book your time online in advance.
  • Pacific Ice in Everett ($12 - $15), Nov. 25 - Jan. 18. Located at the Pacific Rim Plaza at Waterfront Place, overlooking the Port of Everett. Consider booking your tickets online in advance to ensure your spot.
  • Numerica Skate Ribbon in Spokane ($7 - $10), Nov. 18, 2023 - March 3, 2024. The ribbon puts a different spin on the traditional oval skating rink. Located at Riverfront Park, the track is 16 feet wide and 650 feet long with a 3,500-square-foot attached pond.
This is an image of an outdoor ice skating rink. In the photo two children are ice skating. There are city buildings in the background and it's a dusk evening.
The Numerica Skate Ribbon in Spokane includes a 650-foot-long track and a 3,500-square-foot attached pond.

Shop at a Holiday Market

Immerse yourself in a festive atmosphere at a local holiday market. You can sample holiday treats, sip festive beverages and shop local artisans' wares.

Here are a few suggestions to inspire your search for a holiday market near you:

  • Seattle Christmas Market ($20), Nov. 24 - Dec. 24, 2023, at Seattle Center. This market has a European Christmas Village theme. It includes artisan shops, food vendors, live entertainment and a merry-go-round.
  • Winter Wonder Market (free) Dec. 2 - 23, 2023 at The Wonder Market in Spokane's historic Wonder Building. Swing by the third annual market and support rotating local vendors each week. On Dec. 9, Spokane's Wishing Star Foundation will have Christmas trees available, and all proceeds go to the nonprofit.
  • United Indians Native Art Market (free), Dec. 15 - 17, 2023, at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Seattle's Discovery Park. This market features art from Native people in the Puget Sound Region and beyond. If you can't make it to the in-person event, the online gift shop is open year-round.
  • Holiday Bazaar at the Skagit County Fairgrounds (free), Dec. 22 and 23, 2023. Enjoy food trucks, craft vendors, sweet treats and more.

Shop for a Christmas Tree

Smelling fir trees and fresh air as you roam the rows of a Christmas tree farm can put anyone in the holiday spirit. At many tree farms, you can also sip cider, enjoy sweet treats, stop by a gift shop and visit Santa.

Here is a small sampling to suit a range of tastes — from those who prefer a simple forest stroll to those who want a full holiday experience.

A daughter and father pose next to a Christmas tree on a farm. The young girl is wearing a pink jacket, gloves, and a hat. She is smiling. The dad is holding up the Christmas tree and has a tool in his hand. He is wearing a blue jacket. In the background there are several other Christmas trees on the farm.
Christmas tree farms offer a range of experiences, from simple, forested groves to gift shops and pictures with Santa.
Five people pose indoors in front of a large holiday tree. The tree has many lights and decorations on it. The tree is very colorful and had red, white and green ornaments. Two of the people who are posed in front of the photo are wearing large scarves. All five of the people in the photo are standing and smiling.
You can see elaborately decorated trees and help raise money for the Spokane Symphony at Christmas Tree Elegance.
  • Trinity Tree Farm, Issaquah, Nov. 24, 2023, until trees sell out. The farm has carolers, a Newfoundland Dog Christmas Tree Pull and photos with Santa. Check the website for event dates.
  • Red Barn Christmas Tree Farm, Puyallup, open Nov. 24, 2023; no closing date listed. The farm offers U-cut, fresh-cut and flocked trees, as well as a gift shop in a big, red, historic hop barn. It even has a small train to take you deep into the grove.
  • Cedar Falls Tree Farm, North Bend, Nov. 24, 2023, until trees sell out. This farm offers a forested, rustic experience. If you get chilly, you can warm up sipping cider by an outdoor fire.
  • U.S. Forest Service ($5 - $10 per tree), most national forests. The Forest Services allows harvesting with a permit. Contact the district office near you to get a permit. Remember to dress appropriately and take the supplies you need.
  • Christmas Tree Elegance ($1 per raffle ticket), at the Historic Davenport Hotel and River Park Square in Spokane, Nov. 28 - Dec. 10, 2023. The event is a fundraiser for the Spokane Symphony. Organizers raffle off decorated trees, some with values of nearly $5,000, donated by individuals and businesses.

Visit Leavenworth

Every year, from the day after Thanksgiving through Dec. 24, the city of Leavenworth transforms into Christmastown.

Whether you go for a day trip or take a few days for a winter getaway, you'll have plenty of options to get in the holiday spirit.

Holiday lights twinkle as choirs, carolers and bands perform in a gazebo in the middle of town. There are plenty of food vendors and shopping — and a free gift-wrapping station for all the holiday gifts you buy. The kids can get photos with Santa, drop a letter to Santa in a big mailbox and make crafts.

Be sure to catch the Gingerbread House Exhibition and display of Santa costumes from around the world.

Five people pose for a selfie in front of a lighted holiday trees in Leavenworth, Washington. The five people are all smiling and dressed in winter clothing such as beanies, hats and scarves. There is snow on the ground and it's night time outside.
A visit to Leavenworth combines holiday lights, carolers, shopping and crafts.

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Portrait of Katie J. Skipper

Katie J. Skipper (She, Her, Hers)
BECU Community Content Manager

Katie writes for BECU about personal finance and social justice topics. Her career spans reporting for newspapers and communicating on behalf of government agencies and private businesses. Learn about Katie's career and education on LinkedIn.