ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo Makes the Season Bright!

It’s an annual tradition for a reason! An insider shares what makes ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo a holiday must-see, including this year’s fun new features.

Now in its 29th year, ZooLights Presented by ComEd and Invesco QQQ is in full swing at Lincoln Park Zoo. With the stunning backdrop of Chicago’s skyline and Lake Michigan, plus views of the resident animals, the zoo transforms into a winter wonderland like no other in the city. 

Gretchen Kirchmer, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Director of Marketing & Events, says that ZooLights is one of her favorite events because it is such a special, annual tradition for so many.  

“When I ask guests what brought them to ZooLights, most say that it’s because it’s been a longstanding holiday tradition with their parents and grandparents,” she says. “I have been able to meet so many new parents with infants and toddlers who are so excited to share that they are able to extend the tradition into a new generation, and it just shows how truly important this event is to the community.”

Ready to join in the fun? Here are the details:

ZooLights dates, times and fees:

Dates: ZooLights is open most evenings through Jan. 7

Pricing: Free admission on Mondays; Weeknight tickets are $7.

On Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday, December 31, tickets are $10.

Member perks: Members get up to eight free tickets, free or discounted parking, 20% off additional event ticket purchases, and further discounts on merchandise, food and beverage and other items at the zoo. “Becoming a member or gifting a membership is an incredible way to support the zoo and its mission throughout the year, while taking advantage of some really great discounts and deals through the holiday season,” Kirchmer says.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo events and attractions:

Garden Glow Light Show on the South Lawn

This year, ZooLights introduces lantern-style displays featuring flowers, dragonflies, birds, caterpillars and other life found in a garden. “These amazing 2D and 3D displays were chosen this year to reflect the zoo’s incredible horticultural efforts,” Kirchmer explains. 

For an even bigger holiday vibe, this visually stunning experience is set to a musical score. 

Birds and trees at ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
Photo credit: Brandon Tucker, Lincoln Park Zoo

Children’s Zoo light show and Houston Family Play Treehouse

The Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo unveils a modern light show with an array of light poles and large and small glowing spheres. For the first time, the new accessible climber (and bathrooms) are open every evening for hours of indoor play for the little ones.

Santa visits Pepper Family Wildlife Center

This year, Santa finds a new home in Pepper Family Wildlife Center along with the traditional 18-foot holiday tree. “This area is a perfect setting to take photos with Santa and stay for photos with the tree — and hopefully, with the lion pride, who have been quite active in the evenings,” says Kirchmer. 

Cooking decorating with Mrs. Claus

Cookie decorators young and old can get a cookie and fixings for just $8 and let their creativity soar.

“On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, Mrs. Claus will demonstrate cookie designs, talk to the cookie decorators and offer cozy holiday cheer,” says Kirchmer.

New music joins the traditional favorites

“We will still have our beloved Victorian carolers, but in addition, we will have a cappella carolers roaming the zoo,” Kirchmer says.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
Photo credit: Brandon Tucker, Lincoln Park Zoo

Holiday fun beyond the lights

Stilt walkers portraying the Elf on the Shelf and the Nutcracker, along with ice carvers on Main Mall, add an extra layer of holiday enchantment. Don’t miss a ride on the Ferris wheel for a breathtaking view.

Holidaze: Adults Night Out

On Dec. 14 from 6:30 to 10 p.m., Adult’s Night Out: Holidaze offers a different vibe for the 21+ set. Guests can enjoy festive cocktails, free Ferris wheel rides, special food, two DJs, photos with a certain Dr. Seuss character who hates Christmas, free Endangered Species Carousel rides, a first look at some stunning ice carving, and all the illuminated fun without any crowds, kids or strollers. This is a great date night idea!

For an extra fee, VIP ticket-holders get special perks like exclusive covered bars, complimentary food and a fast lane to the Ferris wheel.

Family-friendly New Year’s Eve

To ring in the New Year, Lincoln Park Zoo is adding special programming to ZooLights for a combined adults and family celebration on Dec. 31! The extravaganza includes countdowns every hour, toasts with sparkling wine or juice, hot chocolate and DJ entertainment. Arts and crafts stations for the kids, festive food and local celebrities add even more excitement to this family-friendly celebration.

ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
Photo credit: Brandon Tucker, Lincoln Park Zoo

Membership has many benefits and makes a great gift!

“Memberships and donations keep us up and running as a free-admission zoo and help support the zoo’s critical conservation work,” says Kirchmer.

Members enjoy discounted or free parking, a 20% discount on ZooLights tickets, and discounts on gift shop merchandise, food and beverages. Members get access to the zoo throughout the year plus upgraded perks like free parking, depending on their membership level. This is a great holiday gift as well as a way to give back to the zoo.

To find out more about ZooLights, membership and holiday fun at Lincoln Park Zoo, visit lpzoo.org.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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