Do you have a favorite holiday outing planned for winter break? Even if Tacoma is a trek for you, consider heading to Zoolights, a spectacular lights display at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium that's been delighting visitors for more than 25 years.
Zoolights features giant nature- and Northwest-themed displays created with more than a half-a-million bright, colorful LED lights. Our family’s favorites include a scene of a polar bear family on an ice float, a dazzling Mount Rainier (new last year), a giant roaring tiger and a 100-foot Giant Pacific octopus perched on top of the aquarium. In addition, there are several moving “action light shows,” including one of a flying eagle snagging a salmon.
Point Defiance debuts new Zoolights displays every year; new exhibits for 2014 include a shark chasing a school of fish atop the North Pacific Aquarium and a bear catching a fish to feed her cub. Several displays have also been updated and redone in brighter LED lights, including swinging Siamang gibbons, a disappearing Cheshire cat, sea lions chasing their prey and a chameleon that changes his colors before your eyes.
While many of the animal exhibits are closed during Zoolights, you can still have a close-up encounter with the residents of Stingray Cove in the South Pacific Aquarium. Or head to the Kids’ Zone, where you can visit with meerkats, snakes, tortoises and frog residents of Animal Avenue. Camel rides are also offered for kids ages 4 and up and there is a vintage carousel ride. (You can also get a combo pass to do the zoo during the day; see below for information.)
Photo opportunities include a holiday-card-worthy giant “wreath of light” big enough for a whole group to fit into. You can also pose in front of the tree in the Seahawks Zone covered in green and blue lights.
Fun fact: Zoolights is now powered by 100 percent LED lights as part of their conservation mission. Another way the zoo will help visitors “go green” this holiday season is a holiday lights recycling program in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Western Washington. Drop off your burned-out and broken lights off at a number of locations including the zoo and the Tacoma Nature Center.
If you go …
When: Zoolights runs from Nov. 28 to Jan. 4, from 5-9 p.m. each night (closed December 24).
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased at a discount in advance for $7.50 at Fred Meyer stores or online. You’ll pay $4.50 at the gate if you are a zoo member, $9 if not. Kids age two and under are free.
Combo pass for zoo during the day and Zoolights at night: Consider buying a combo pass, where you can go to the zoo during the day to see highlights such as the Sumatran tiger cubs (members of the public can see them beginning at 11 a.m. ) and to Zoolights at night. (Note that you'll have to wait in the cafe between the time the zoo closes, 4:30 p.m., and that Zoolights opens, 5 p.m.). Combo pass tickets are $17.50 for adults, $15.50 for youth ages 5-12 and $13.50 for kids ages 3–4.
Tips: The exhibit is outside and spread out so bring strollers if your child tires easily and dress warmly and bring gloves and hats and an umbrella if it is raining. Bring cash: Zoolights is packed with vendors selling cool Jedi-worthy light sabers and delicious hot beverages and snacks.
Warm up: If it is raining or super cold, you can warm up inside the South Pacific Aquarium, the zoo’s café or the indoor carousel building.
Parking: There is lots of free parking in a lot close to the entrance.
Eats: The Plaza Café, adjacent to the carousel, is open during Zoolights and offers a variety of hot entrees, snacks, dinner options, beverages and ice cream.
More lights: See our round-up of great holiday light displays around the Sound.