Visit a Chicago Holiday Tradition: ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo
Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo

ZooLights In Brief

Lincoln Park Zoo gets into the holiday spirit with "ZooLights," when it illuminates itself with lights, Santa's Safari, ice carving demonstrations and more.


Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago


End of November through Jan. 1


4:30 p.m.-9 p.m.


Admission is free.

Getting to ZooLights By Public Transportation

CTA bus routes 22, 36, 74, 151 or 156

Parking at ZooLights

Pretty much forget street parking, as visitors compete with all the apartment buildings in the area. The Lincoln Park Zoo paid parking lot is located on Fullerton Avenue just west of Lake Shore Drive. Regular rates apply. It's highly recommended to take a taxi, Lyft or Uber.

About ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo

Every year from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, Lincoln Park Zoo decorates the zoo with strings of lights and bright displays and extends their hours into the evening in celebration of the holiday season. But it's not just about the lights. The zoo provides other Christmas attractions as well such as:

  • Santa's Safari -- a unique photo opportunity with Santa, as he's alongside life-like exotic animals
  • Giant snowglobes featuring holiday characters
  • Family crafts and temporary tattoos
  • Ice Carving Demonstrations
  • Endangered Species Carousel
  • Holiday Express train (a miniature train for tots)
  • African Safari Ride (a simulation ride)

Nearby Restaurants To Warm Up Before/After Zoo Visit

The Blanchard: The French-inspired eatery is classic and modern simultaneously, and its adjacent drinkery has quickly become a sexy new hot spot for date night. Pull up seats to the bar and order one of four foie gras presentations paired with one of the house cocktails. Choose from The Blanchard's signature Old Fashioned of whiskey, vanilla and lavender fumé and aromatic bitters; a Negroni or La Vie en Rose of vodka, lemongrass syrup, Cocchi rosa aperitif wine and rose water. 1935 North Lincoln Park West, 872-829-3971

Hotel Lincoln: Located on the 13th floor of the hotel, the upscale J. Parker rooftop lounge is a particularly hot draw in the area for young professional singles. In 2015, the owners constructed a glass-enclosed patio rooftop, making it a year-round cocktailing option. J. Parker boasts a strong cocktail program, which includes classic and seasonal offerings, plus curated wine, spirits, and beer lists. Extreme craft beer enthusiasts should also appreciate Beermiscuous, the lobby-level cafe offering more than 300 options.

And Perennial Virant, which is kid-friendly, is on the first level. 1816 N. Clark St., 312-254-4700

Mon Ami Gabi: Traditional French cuisine is spotlighted at this cozy bistro that feels like it belongs in the heart of the Champs-Élysées. In addition to onion soup, beef bourguignon and 12 different versions of steak frites, Mon Ami Gabi offers a children's menu. Little ones may order French bread pizza, chicken fingers or grilled cheese. 2300 North Lincoln Park West, 773-348-8886

Naoki: Tucked behind the kitchen of Intro Restaurant in Lincoln Park, the ultra-sleek Naoki Sushi showcases creations from a long-time sushi vet. Naoki Nakashima presides over the kitchen where he kicks out traditional Japanese rolls, Naoki-style sashimi--where he really shines--and more. Every meal should start off with an order of edamame "guac" dip, which arrives with house-made rice crisps. The beverage program highlights sushi-friendly cocktails, beers, wines, and sakes. 2300 North Lincoln Park West, 773-868-0002

North Pond: Nothing beats brunch with a great view, and this James Beard-winning restaurant offers that and plenty more. For $35 per person, guests choose seasonal dishes for a three-course meal. A nice stroll over to the nearby Lincoln Park Zoo caps off a perfect afternoon. 2610 N. Cannon Dr., 773-477-5845

Park Hyatt Chicago: The premium luxury hotel in the middle of the Michigan Avenue shopping district is only 10 minutes away from the zoo.​ ​NoMI is the property's dining and drinking destination, and it serves up seasonal, global fare. It's an especially popular meeting spot during the holiday season. 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-335-1234

R.J. Grunts: Across the street from the zoo, R.J. Grunts has the grand distinction of being the originator of the salad bar. It's also a great, family-oriented spot for over-sized burgers and sandwiches such as the patty melt, plus chicken fingers, taco specials every Monday, onion rings stacked on a stick, and hand-dipped shakes and malts. 2056 North Lincoln Park West, 773-929-5363

--edited by Audarshia Townsend