Not only does the first official day of winter mark the start of a new season, but the “shortest” day of the year as well (winter solstice). The good news: each day from December 21st, throughout the rest of winter, will bring slightly more daylight (and more time for exploring) in December and beyond! One of the beautiful things about winter in the Pacific Northwest is that despite the increase in dreary days this time of year can bring, mild winters with little snow in the lowlands means there’s still plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventures and fun. While there are countless things to keep you busy this winter – here are five of our favorite ways to enjoy the season on Seattle’s Eastside.
1. Experience the Magic of the Holidays
For those that celebrate Christmas, there is no shortage of holiday magic to be had on Seattle’s Eastside. Be sure to check out some of these local experiences:
- Meet Santa: The jolly old fellow may be hiding behind a mask or plexiglass this year, but leave it to him to still find a way into our hearts and photo albums. Bellevue Square and Redmond Town Center are two places you’ll find him this year. For those that prefer an outdoor drive-by Santa experience, head to Issaquah Highlands for “Santa Cruises the Highlands“ December 5th, 13th and 20th.
- Meet Santa’s Reindeer: From December 1st-23rd the Cougar Mountain Zoo in Issaquah, WA transforms into the Issaquah Reindeer Festival. You’ll find the whole fleet of Santa’s reindeer, socially distanced/outdoor photos with Santa, and other exhibits to experience.
- Head to the Holiday Train: Catch the Yuletide Express leaving from the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie. This 25 minute train excursion even includes a small present and cookies from Santa.
- Pick your perfect Christmas Tree: If you’re heading to a tree farm to hunt for that perfect tree, consider keeping it local on the Eastside and visiting Trinity Tree Farm in Issaquah, or Carnation Tree Farm in Carnation. Be sure to pack your muscle and saw skills, as these are both truly “u-cut” experiences. For those looking for a pre-cut beauty, Molbak’s in Woodinville offers not only Christmas trees, but a stunning display of poinsettias and other holiday foliage and gifts as well – they are one of our favorite holiday spots on the Eastside.
2. See Some Sparkling Lights
Take advantage of the 5pm darkness by taking a holiday lights walk or drive through your own neighborhood, and add one of these awesome local spots for a grand finale:
- Redmond Lights (Redmond): From December 4th-January 3rd view various light installations in and around Redmond’s Downtown Park
- Snowflake Lane (Bellevue): November 27th-December 24th there will be music, “snow fall” and glimmering lights along Bellevue Way near Bellevue Square and Lincoln Center malls
- Keener’s Christmas (Bothell): A private Christmas light display in Bothell open 6-10pm throughout the month of December
3. Play in the Snow!
Though we typically only get one or two small snow storms (if any) each year, just a short drive down I-90 East gets you to the Snoqualmie Pass, a winter wonderland for snow seekers. Whether for a casual snow shoe or sledding excursion, or a full day of skiing or snowboarding at Summit at Snoqualmie, we recommend making at least one trip up to the pass this winter.
*Be sure to check driving conditions before heading out on your journey, travel prepared, and stick to the safe/advised routes.
4. Take a (Lowland) Hike
Though many of our favorite higher elevation hikes are too snowy to hike in the winter, and abundance of lowland hiking options bring great outdoor opportunities year round. Even when snow is not present, do be aware of icy conditions one trails.
Some of our favorite year round hikes for families and all-level hikers include:
At just 1.8 miles roundtrip and virtually no elevation gain, the Oxbow Loop Trail offers a toddler friendly hike with stunning views of the surrounding mountainsides, and Oxbow Lake. The parking area is quite small, but if you continue driving there is a second lot just down the road, with a short trail leading to the main trailhead.
If you’re looking for more of a long walk than a traditional “hike” (or trail run/mountain bike ride) check out the Snoqualmie Valley Trail. Winding almost 32 miles from Duvall to North Bend, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail offers agricultural views, river crossings, dense forested stretches, and more.
The trail ultimately connects to the cross-state John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park.
Located a short drive from downtown Carnation, this 2.5 mile round trip hike is mostly flat, and offers various views of the small lake and preserve. Do be sure to grab one of the maps at the trailhead, as several off-shoot trails can make for confusing navigation.
As mentioned in our favorite waterfalls article, Snoqualmie Falls is a 1.4 mile out and back to one of the most stunning waterfalls in our state. The most highly trafficked trail on our list, this hike is a must for any local’s bucket list.
5. Savor the Flavors of the Season
From all things peppermint, to other warm winter favorites, grabbing a beverage or some food to-go is a fun way to savor the season. We recommend getting out to enjoy some of these favorite spots:
Black Raven Brewing (Woodinville/Redmond): Get in the holiday spirit with Black Raven’s Festivus Holiday Ale. Their signature seasonal brew, Festivus is made with infusions of cranberries, various citrus peel fruit and a brewer’s secret blend of spices. (PS: check out our Eastside Brewery Guide to find more local seasonal brews)
Yi Fang (Bellevue/Redmond): Made in-house and from scratch, the ginger lemon tea from Yi Fang is our new favorite non-coffee winter warmer beverage. It can be ordered plain, as a creamy non-dairy tea latte, and with boba for the bubble tea fans.
Dough Zone Dumpling House (Issaquah/Redmond/Bellevue): Warm your soul and your taste buds with the delicious dumplings from Dough Zone Dumpling House. Their made to order, handmade dumplings can be enjoyed steamed, boiled, or pan fried. We taste tested the steamed zucchini shrimp dumplings and pan-fried chive dumplings and could not get enough.
Huxdotter Coffee (North Bend): Check out their seasonal specials such as a peppermint bark latte or peppermint bark dark mocha after heading out on a brisk hike in the gorgeous Snoqualmie Valley (see above).
Lady Yum (Kirkland/Bellevue): We don’t know quite what it is about the scrumptious macarons at Lady Yum, but these things are heavenly. Check out their holiday flavors: gingerbread lemon, peppermint bark, cherry coconut cordial and more.
Salt & Straw (Kirkland): You do not want to miss the insanely good seasonal flavors from gourmet ice cream shop Salt & Straw! Just a few of the seasonal flavors their new Kirkland location is serving up include spiked eggnog, gingerbread cookie dough, and cocoa & peppermint patties. Be sure to bundle up and grab a scoop before Spring.
Boehm’s Candies (Issaquah): Since 1942 Boehm’s has been hand crafting the most delectable European style chocolates out of their candy factory in Issaquah, WA. They’re open year round, but extra festive during the holiday season with chocolate santas, and seasonal items galore.