The Ultimate Guide to Christmas lights in Oregon 2021
Christmas lights held extra magic in Oregon in 2020. Some neighbors put their lights up a little earlier than other years. Others kept their lights up a little longer than normal, well into January or February.
In the PNW, many of us were waking up in the dark. Going to work in the dark. Spending all daylight hours indoors working. And coming home in the dark. In the darkest months of the year, during one of the darkest years we have seen, it was as if we as a community knew we all needed that extra light and hope. And what light and hope we had, we did our best to share and spread to those around us.
To continue in the spirit of spreading cheer, I’ve gathered some of the best places to view Christmas lights in Oregon this holiday season.
ZooLights at the Oregon Zoo
Traditionally, ZooLights at the Oregon Zoo has been an animal-themed walk through experience. However, last year due to COVID, they offered a drive through experience instead. This year, the Oregon Zoo is offering the best of both worlds—a walk-through option and a drive-through option.
Walk Through Nights
Bundle up warm for a one-mile stroll through the zoo, as you marvel at the sparkling 1.5 million lights. The traditional walk-through option allows you to move at your own pace, but I would plan to spend about an hour and a half there.
Take time to stop and explore the food trucks, ride the carousel, and pause to take some fun photos. Be sure to make time for a ride on the light-adorned train for a unique view of ZooLights. You can eat dinner, snack on elephant ears and kettle corn, or warm up with a hot coca.
Drive Through Nights
The drive-through option is perfect for those who don’t tolerate (or simply don’t like) the cold nights or long walks. You will see mostly the same lights as on the walk-through nights. The 30 minute drive leads you through the zoo and sometimes even through behind-the-scenes areas you can’t see during normal zoo hours.
But don’t worry, you can still enjoy the snacks and drinks! Place an order for your snacks when ordering your tickets online, and they’ll be delivered to you at check-in. Come in your sweats or pajamas, snuggle up in a blanket, and enjoy the lights from the comfort of your seat.
Dates: November 24th, 2021, to January 9th, 2022, starting at 5pm (closing time varies dependent on the night). The drive-through option is available Tuesday through Thursday night for 4 select weeks. All other nights are walk-through nights.
Cost: $16-29/person (walk-through option), $65/vehicle (drive-through option). Although Zoo Lights is not included in your Zoo membership this year, a 20% discount is offered to Zoo members.
TIPS: You must purchase your tickets online in advance, and don’t forget your mask. Arrive 25 minutes early for drive-through nights.
Winter Wonderland at the Portland International Raceway
Opening the day after Thanksgiving at the Portland International Raceway, this will be Winter Wonderland’s 29th year running. Proceeds from this event go to the Sunshine Division, which provides healthy meals for Portland families in need, year round.
For bicyclists and dog-lovers, this year there will be two special car-free nights open to view the lights. November 29th is Bike the Lights Night, and November 30th is Lights & Leashes Night.
Dates: November 26th, 2021, to January 1st, 2021. Opening and closing times vary, depending on the night.
Cost: Pay per vehicle; prices vary depending on vehicle size, with tickets starting at $46/car. Admission is $15 for adults ($5 for kids 6-12; free for kids 5 and under) on special nights.
TIPS: It’s best to attend this light show early in the evening, weeknights, or early in December. Peak times are later in the evening, weekends, and the week of Christmas, when wait times can be as long as an hour.
Lightopia in Hillsboro
Lightopia is a new Christmas light show as of last year, founded by Hillsboro firefighters bringing Christmas and meals to local families in need. It’s located in Hillsboro at the Gordon Faber Recreation Complex, right off highway US-26. I find this light display to be the most enjoyable and relaxing, as this half mile, 15-20 minute drive-through is less trafficked compared to other light shows (for now).
Dates: December 9th, 2021, to December 31st, 2021, starting at 5:30pm
Cost: This is a free event. However, you’re encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy or non-perishable food item. Donations will go to the Hillsboro Firefighters Toy & Joy Drive and the Hillsboro School District Food Pantry.
TIPS: Although it is free, you still must make reservations online in advance. Reservations open on Wednesdays for the following week. First Reservations open December 1st.
Christmas Festival of Lights at The Grotto
This event is located at The Grotto, or the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, in Northeast Portland. The Grotto covers 62 acres and is a shrine of the Roman Catholic Order of the Friar Servants of Mary.
An astounding 2 million lights illuminate a quarter mile walk through the Grotto. Plan to spend about an hour to an hour and a half enjoying the lights and outdoor Christmas carols. Also, be sure to check out the online schedule, as concerts are offered indoors, every night of the event.
Dates: November 26th to December 30th, 2021 (Closed Christmas Day) 4:30 or 5pm to 10pm
Cost: $16 for adults, $8 for children (3-11), free for children 2 and under. Order in advance online to save $1-2/ticket.
TIPS: You must provide proof of COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test within the past 72 hours at entry.
Pioneer Courthouse Square Tree Lighting
Don’t miss the 37th annual tree lighting at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. It will take place the day after Thanksgiving at 6pm. This year’s tree lighting will be celebrated virtually this holiday season and broadcast on KGW as a safety measure during the pandemic. At 75 feet tall, this Douglas fir will be a beautiful sight to see!
Date: November 26th, 2021, 6pm
Portland Christmas Ships Parade
The Portland Christmas Ships Parade began with just one boat in 1954. Hosted by the Columbia and Willamette River fleets, it now includes 55 to 60 boats in the Christmas Ship Fleet.
There are multiple options for viewing this parade. You can simply find a spot to stand on the river bank and watch. However, a cozier option many people choose is to watch the parade from one of the restaurants or hotels that line the Columbia and Willamette Rivers in Portland.
If you visit the Christmas Ships Parade website, you’ll find a schedule listing the parade route, as well as good restaurants and hotels along the route. Just be sure to make your reservations early, as some may start to fill up as much as a year in advance!
Dates: December 3rd to December 21st, 2021
Cost: Free to $$$?, dependent upon where you choose to watch the parade from. The Christmas Ships Parade is supported solely by donations, so if you go, considered making a donation online.
Pittock Mansion Christmas
Lions, reindeer, and polar bears, oh my! Ok, so this is not exactly Christmas lights in Oregon, but Pittock Mansion has a beautiful holiday display each year. This year’s theme is “Critters Make Merry,” where you’ll find reindeer, mice, and more. Explore Henry Pittock’s Mansion decorated for the holidays and catch a breath taking view of Portland from the mansion’s grounds.
Dates: November 22, 2021, to January 4th, 2022. 10am-4pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day)
Cost: $13 for adults, $9 for children, free for children 6 and under and to members
Silverton Christmas Market at the Oregon Garden Resort
The Silverton Christmas Market is an event that has got it all going on. Where do I even begin?! I suppose I’ll start with the Christmas lights, since this is a post about Christmas lights in Oregon, after all. The light display includes 1 million lights, starts at the Oregon Garden Resort main lodge, and winds through the grounds.
You can book an over night stay at the Oregon Garden Resort to make the most of the experience. Explore the traditional German Christmas Market, sip on some glühwein, meet Santa and Frosty, and go snowless tubing. There’s even Biergarten serving local brews.
The Silverton Christmas Market is partnering with Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA). Bring non-perishable food items to donate to their food drive from December 1st through 23rd, for a chance to win a free overnight stay at the Oregon Garden Resort.
Dates: November 26th, 2021, January 9th, 2022, 5-9pm
Cost: $15-18 for adults, $5 for children (6-12), free for children 5 and under. Week days are less expensive than weekends, and Silverton residents receive will receive a discount with proof of residence. Snowless tubing is $3-8. Parking starts at $15.
TIPS: No cash accepted at this event.
Seaside Parade of Lights and Tree Lighting
Do something unique this holiday season and head out to the Oregon coast for a parade. The Seaside Parade of Lights will start on Necanicum Dr and move through downtown Seaside. The tree lighting takes place after the parade.
*A little side note: Did you know this year (2021) marks the centennial anniversary of the Seaside Promenade? Take a stroll down the promenade and enjoy the smell of the ocean while you’re in the area.
Date: November 26th, 2021. Parade starts at 7pm, Tree Lighting at 8pm
I hope this guide to Christmas lights in Oregon was helpful. If you’re looking for Christmas lights in Washington, Flannels or Flip Flops has got you covered! Looking for more things to do in the PNW? Check out these 10 PNW travel blogs you need to read in 2022.