Bundle up and head over to Lincoln Park Zoo, where more than two million twinkling lights and all of your animal friends are waiting to celebrate winter with you and your family at the annual ZooLights festival. There is nothing quite like walking around the zoo on a crisp winter night, serenaded by the pretty holiday lights - especially if there is a carpet of just-fallen snow. ZooLights flips on the switches Friday-Sunday night through Dec. 12, then nightly (excluding Dec. 24-25) until January 4.
Here are 12 tips for making the most of Lincoln Park Zoo's annual ZooLights festival.
Download a map and schedule of events before you go
Save time and plan your night out before you go. You can find a map of the zoo, including a schedule of events here.
Visit with Santa
Santa will be hanging out in the Primate House, so bring your wishlist!
Watch amazing ice carvers in action
Don't miss the "arctic artists" in action, as they create dazzling sculptures out of blocks of ice. Stop by to see them at the Cannon Drive entrance and be sure to check in again at the end of your visit to see what icy animals they've created for the evening!
See the spectacular outdoor light show
The light show, located at the center of the zoo, near the food court, is a must see: my kids always love to see the tree lights "dance" to our favorite holiday tunes.
Eat dinner at the zoo
Traditional zoo fare is met with holiday treats at ZooLights: grab a spiced wine, hot cider or cocoa to keep your hands and your tummies warm at Park Place Café, or dig into Mexican food, Italian fare, burgers, and deli sandwiches. Café Brauer is open nightly with festive cocktails, beer, wine and snacks. A Holiday Brew Stop will be serving a variety of seasonal beers from Louis Glunz.
Don your magic glasses to see ZooLights in an entirely new light
Don't forget to pick up a pair of magic glasses (available at the zoo's main entrance) so you can see the lights through special 3D lenses.
Chat with the zookeepers
Keeper chats will be held at the Regenstein Small-Mammal Reptile House. at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. in the gallery. Visit with snakes, lizards, bats, sloths and other warm-weather animals, and learn how the zookeepers take care of these animals in the wintertime.
Shop for holiday gifts
The Wild Things! Gift Shop is a great spot to shop for gifts, ornaments, toys and stocking stuffers.
Skate a figure eight
Participants of all ages can enjoy ice skating all winter long at the ice rink at the Farm-in-the-Zoo! Bring your own skates or rent them at the Farmhouse. Warm up in the Main Barn and enjoy refreshments for purchase. Lockers are available for rental. Value pass options are also available for frequent visits.
Consider becoming a Lincoln Park zoo member for extra ZooLights perks
Tonight, from 5-9 p.m., zoo members will enjoy the zoo all to themselves! Perks include free skate rental and ice time at Ice Skating at Lincoln Park Zoo (located at the Farm-in-the-Zoo), free rides on the AT&T Endangered Species Carousel, free rides on the new Lionel Train Adventure, and a 20 percent discount on retail purchases at Wild Things! gift shop. Throughout ZooLights, members will also enjoy exclusive access to the Members Lounge in the Tadpole Room on the lower level at Park Place Café from 5-8 p.m. , where they're invited to warm up with free hot chocolate, cider and tea, cookies and crafts. To become a zoo member, visit lpzoo.org/support/become-member
Share the warmth
Throughout ZooLights, the zoo will be collecting new and gently used winter clothing. Donated items will be distributed to Chicago charities. Every Friday night at ZooLights, help ComEd, Lincoln Park Zoo and Chicago Cares "Warm Up Chicago" by bringing new hats and gloves for those in need and receive a free illuminated gift. Donation boxes will be located inside the Kovler Lion House and Park Place Café.
Be sure to check out the other winter offerings this year at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Yes, baby, it's cold outside! But there is still so much fun to be had at the zoo - from family polar parties to sleepovers with the animals.