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ZooLights: When The Oakland Zoo Glows at Night

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Thousands upon thousands of LED lights flicker against a towering backdrop of eucalyptus, cypress, pine, oak, and elm. Acrylic cobwebs wrap the palm trees, walkways, and exhibits of the Zoo in intoxicating color. It’s the perfect place to bring friends, family, or a first date.

The front entrance to the Oakland Zoo radiates with color.

Looking for something to brighten your yuletide season? Head to the Oakland Zoo for its annual ZooLights festival–a hallucinogenic holiday wonder running daily from 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. through January 1, 2018 with closures December 24 and 25.  An Adult ticket is just $10.00

The real animals are sleeping elsewhere. In their place, neon fauna pop against the inky silhouette of foliage around the Zoo. Camels, toucans, giraffes, and crocodiles parade, prowl, and perch around every corner.

Lasers project varicolored grids onto black lawns, transforming them into psychedelic clusters while classic Christmas tunes play through hidden speakers.

Over 35,000 guests attend ZooLights each year. It takes 30 workers 10 weeks to put up all the lights for the event. Most of the work is done by Impact Lighting in San Francisco, with some work done in-house.

The coup-de-grace at this year’s ZooLights is the newly-installed electric gondola that zips guests to the top of the Knowland Park Hills for an unrivalled view of the Bay Area. This experience alone is worth the price of admission.

The new gondola cars, trimmed with holiday lights, appear to float as they fade into the Knowland Park hills.

Completed earlier this year, the electric gondola is a state-of-the-art Swiss-made system; silent, swift, and a visceral joy to ride. High up at the top of the line, the lights of the Zoo glint like a miniature Paris as they blur against the jeweled Oakland hills.

The view of the Zoo from the electric gondola must be experienced in person.

The Nutcracker-themed Adventure Landing has tons of fun rides for kids.

Kids and families are the main draw for the event, with visits from Santa Claus, rides on an old-fashioned carousel, and expeditions on the Outback Express, a train decked out in holiday swag. But ZooLights is the kind of event anyone, young or old, can enjoy–especially those old but young at heart.

ZooLights cordons off a little realm of fun and wonder in a bustling city. Everyone there is savoring the evening, strolling, enjoying. Strangers pass as muffled shapes with flocks of kids in tow, and the only noises to be heard are laughter, catchy holiday jingles, and the humming, heavenly multitude of lights.

ZooLights runs daily, 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. through January 1, 2018, with closures December 24 and December 25.

Admission is $10 for adults, $9 for kids ages 2-14 and seniors ages 65-75. Kids under 2 and seniors over 75 get in FREE!

The Oakland Zoo is located at 9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland 94602

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James Gage

James Gage

Will write 4 food.