ZooLights for the Holidays

Christmas lights turn Bay Area animal zoos into a glowing, fun excursion for the family
Glow Zoo
This holiday season, consider ZooLights—and take the whole family to the glow happening at both the Oakland Zoo (as pictured here) and San Francisco Zoo. Photo: courtesy Oakland Zoo
Glow Zoo
Photo: courtesy Oakland Zoo
Glow Zoo
Photo: Steve Goodall
Glow Zoo
Photo: Steve Goodall

Are you craving a little light this time of year? Many of us are, as the days turn quickly into night and the darkness lingers. Christmas lights help, Hanukkah candles too—and then there’s the zoo.

Once home to bears, lions, and snakes, zoos today have become entertainment destinations—even when the animals are fast asleep and invisible to view.

Consider ZooLights, a phenomenon that has been shaking up the animal world for some years now. This year both the Oakland Zoo and San Francisco Zoo are great places to take in the glow.

In Oakland, the animals may be abed—the real ones that is—but filling about half the zoo’s acreage are delightful structures shaped like animals and strung with lights. There are adults elephants, Dumbo-like baby elephants, lions, hippos, and reindeer of course.

And not only that—they sing.

Or seem to sing. Christmas songs and sound bites from popular holiday movies play over the light show.

“It’s funny. It’s entertaining,” says Nicky Mora, the Oakland Zoo’s public relations chief, who just spent an evening at ZooLights.  She notes that the play of the lighting is “all timed to the music.”

It’s not surprising that the lighting effects are grand. They’re set up by the same folks who light up San Francisco’s City Hall whenever a local team triumphs, not to mention ceremonial lighting for the San Francisco Opera and Coit Tower.

And the event is not entirely for kids. “We see all ages, to be honest, from two years old, and babies, on up,” Mora says. “We also see people in their senior years who simply want to come out and enjoy the holiday tradition.”

While the zoo’s larger animals may not be visible, both the reptile and amphibian house and the “big house,” as Mora calls the insect house, are open so folks can warm up a bit. Snacks—chicken sate, garlic fries, and the like—are available. Santa will stop by some nights.

And the miniature train will roll. “Who doesn’t love riding the train in the dark at the zoo?” Mora asks.

There are also rides for the young ones in the Adventure Landing area of the zoo.

In Oakland, ZooLights runs from December 7 through January 6, 2019 (closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).

“It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit,” Mora says.