Life is slowly returning to normal and that’s no exception at the Lincoln Park Zoo, where the ever-popular ZooLights will brighten the holidays for visitors of all ages.
This is the 27th year for the beloved attraction, and people are once again welcome inside the animal enclosures to warm up and get an up-close look at the resident wildlife, which includes nearly 200 species from aardvarks to yellow-spotted Amazon River Turtles.
“Our indoor spaces were not open last year due to COVID-19 and those buildings are really wonderful,” says Director of Marketing and Events Stephanie Foster. “And this year we also have the newly renovated Pepper Family Wildlife Center, which is really state-of-the-art.”
That redesigned space, home to African lions, snow leopards, Canadian lynx and red pandas, encourages healthy species-specific activity after experts spent years studying their behavior to maximize their wellbeing.
To celebrate the opening, a towering 18-foot-tall holiday tree will grace the wildlife center, a perfect spot for family pictures or festive selfies. “I believe that it will become a fan-favorite photo op year after year,” says Foster.
What you’ll love
ZooLights, presented by ComEd and Ivesco QQQ, is all about giving families fun, festive experiences throughout the zoo. Highlights include:
- Light Up the Lawn: A new feature in which people can pay to “flip the switch” on the South Lawn light show each evening at 4:30 p.m.
- Photos with Santa: The big man will be on hand from 4-9 p.m. each day to pose with the kiddies through Dec. 23.
- Enchanted Forest: Reimagined and enhanced this year, this whimsical spot inside the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo is alive with magical atmosphere that brings a fairytale land to life with flowers, mushrooms and dripping lights. One $4 ticket per guest required.
- Light Maze: Presented by Invesco QQQ, this dazzling jumble of lights is a fun place in which to get harmlessly lost. It’s best experienced with 3D Holospex glasses, available on a first-come, first-served basis at the gift shop and Park Place food court. $4 ticket required to enter.
- Throughout the grounds, concession stands will offer child-appropriate snacks and drinks, as well as adult beverages like warm spiced wine, cold beer and special cocktails. Be on the lookout for Snowy’s Spirits & S’more, an over-the-top holiday-themed pop-up bar to roast s’mores over a fire pit, sip on festive cocktails and hot drinks, and devour sweet treats of all kinds.
New this year are sensory-friendly evenings on Nov. 30 and Dec. 15 during which all music will be turned off and blinking or moving lights will be static. It offers offer a calmer environment for children with autism or other sensitivities who can be overwhelmed by loud and overly bright environments. “We are trying it out this year to see how well it’s received,” Foster says.
A fun holiday tradition
Dating to 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is among the nation’s most established zoos. It remains one of the last free zoos in the country, though ZooLights does require a $5 per person admission most evenings (Mondays and Tuesdays are free.)
The annual event has proven to be so popular that many families of blended generations come again and again, Foster says.
“It has definitely become a beloved Chicago tradition,” she says. “When you put millions of lights on grounds that are already beautiful, it’s just that much more festive. And this year is going to feel just like the ZooLights of the past that everyone knows and loves.”
ZooLights runs 4-10 p.m., rain or shine (or snow), Nov. 20-24, 26-30, Dec. 1-23, 26-31 and Jan. 1-2. To keep capacity limited, advance tickets are required for all guests, even on the free Monday and Tuesday evenings. No walk-ups allowed. Tickets must be obtained at lpzoo.org/events/zoolights-presented-by-comed-an-invesco-qqq.