December is filled with free entertainment opportunities for toddlers. Lots of shopping centers do shows to pull people in, hoping that you’ll spend money once you get there, but you don’t need to!
We live a block from Bellevue Square, so we’ll start with the show that I hear every night through my windows: Snowflake Lane at the Bellevue Collection happens at 7 pm every night till December 31 (yes, our toddler is memorizing all the songs already). If you arrive around 6:40, there will be music playing, and costumed performers wandering around greeting and interacting with the crowd. From 7 – 7:25 or so, there’s a big show: parade, drummers, lights, stilt walkers, dancers, and snow! (bubbles that look like snow). It’s a lot like a show at Disneyland in terms of the energy and how much is happening. So, if you like that vibe, you’ll like this show. The crowds aren’t bad at all* (they were on the first night, when the parade happened and all the viewers were crammed on the sidewalk… but every other night it’s been fine. This year they are closing Bellevue Way for the show, so the audience is out on the road with plenty of room to move around.) It’s outdoors, so be sure to bundle up! [FYI: if you want the “snow” experience indoors, Pacific Place in Seattle has a snowfall every night at 6 pm]
At Redmond Town Center, there’s a carousel and a “train ride” and an “ice rink” that each have a small cost. Last year when Ben was 2, he was madly in love with trains, and was thrilled by the train ride through the parking lots there. http://redmondtowncenter.com/custom/winterwonderland.php
Look here for more ideas for Christmas activities on a budget: http://www.parentmap.com/article/holiday-magic-on-a-budget