Walking in a Winter Wonderland: Houston Zoo Lights

Walking in a Winter Wonderland: Houston Zoo Lights

Tiny tots won't be the only ones with their eyes all aglow. Zoo Lights, the annual holiday event at the Houston Zoo, is an enchanting experience that everyone, kids from 1 to 92, will enjoy. If you're planning to visit this holiday season read on for tips on tickets, parking, and what not to miss! And for fun things to do throughout December, check out our GoList for the month's best events, and our holiday guide for all things Christmas and Hanukkah.

Zoo Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks: Navigating the Zoo Lights Bustle 
From mid-November to mid-January, the zoo closes at 5 p.m. and reopens at 6 p.m. for Zoo Lights. Tickets for Zoo Lights are separate from general daytime admission tickets and vary in price depending on the night you go - prime, value or member night.  As their name implies, value nights (Monday through Thursday) are the way to go to save on admission.  Note that children under the age of one are admitted for free every night.  You can purchase tickets at the Zoo or online (highly recommended, especially if you are going on a prime night). 

For those of you who use typically use the medical center entrance to the zoo, know that it is closed for Zoo Lights and the only entrance is the main one at 6200 Hermann Park Drive. The zoo's website has some parking tips so be sure to visit the site before you go. We arrived a little after 5 p.m. on a member night and were able to snag a parking spot close to the main entrance as patrons were leaving the zoo. We then wandered around Hermann Park for a bit while waiting for Zoo Lights to open. We bought our tickets online and went straight through - no lines, no waiting. Even with no wait plan to spend a solid two hours exploring. With stops for refreshments, potty breaks, and a bottle for the baby, we spent nearly three hours here. 

Photo courtesy of Houston Zoo/Facebook 

Walking in a Winter Wonderland
From the entrance to the exit, almost every square inch of the zoo is covered in bright twinkling lights. Upon entering, we were immediately greeted by Holly Berry, a decked-out Cadillac. The website describes the car as "musical and talking," but that wasn't the case when we saw it. It was still fun to look at. 

As you make your way to the front plaza, there is a multitude of vendors selling all sorts of glow in the dark souvenirs - wands, sabers, you name it. If you're on the fence about indulging, know that some spots along the path are quite dark and the toys make for a fun "won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" game.  

Photo by Frances Broussard Denenburg 

The canopy of oak trees over the Reflection Pool in the front plaza is simply stunning. I couldn't help but think that this would make a unique backdrop for an engagement proposal or special spot for date night! The lights are synced to holiday music which makes for a dazzling performance. In addition, carolers perform around the Reflection Pool at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.  Unfortunately, we didn't know this before we went and missed them.  

As you continue on, you'll find yourself at the entrance to the Enchanted Forest, which is a whimsical, Whoville-esque attraction. Luminous displays are around every corner. A sign at the entrance states "20-minute wait time from this point."  There was no wait at the time we arrived, but with all the strollers and photo opportunities, it's easy to see how the path quickly gets backed up.  

Photo by Frances Broussard Denenburg 

Along the path, you'll encounter Candy, the talking zebra from the North Pole (a favorite of my daughter's), several backdrops for souvenir photos, and carousel rides. You can skip the line for carousel tickets by adding them to your online order for general admission Zoo Lights tickets.  

Have a cup of cheer - aka hot chocolate - at the small stand after the carousel, near the Twiga Cafe (closed at night).  Even though it was a balmy evening, we couldn't resist a cup and a chance to roast our marshmallows for s'mores.  You'll find more concessions throughout the zoo.  

Merrily dance off your sugar high in the chimp disco. My daughter had a blast twirling and chasing after the blinking lights. It was crowded in here with both people and strollers, and at one point I lost sight of my toddler. So it's not a bad idea to dress your little ones in light colors, and the lights will illuminate their clothing making them easier to spot. 

There are still more sights to behold as you make your way back to the entrance are the massive Christmas tree, "Peace, Love and Joy" trees, a glowing inflatable armadillo (my daughter was fascinated by this), and giant "postcards from Texas," which make for great photo ops.  

Photo by Frances Broussard Denenburg 

If you are hoping to see some animals during your visit, know that most of the animal exhibits are closed during Zoo Lights, but you can check out the Kipp Aquarium, Carruth Natural Encounters, or Reptile and Amphibian House. We opted not to tour these on our visit and still spent almost three hours at the light displays. Also, the giraffes were skipping their long winter's naps, so you can catch a glimpse of them at their exhibit near the carousel.  

As we drove away, we decided that Zoo Lights lived up to all the hype and we would definitely be making this an annual holiday tradition. We might even return this year on a wintry evening (here's hoping for cooler weather). 

Top photo by Frances Broussard Denenburg 

Houston Zoo
6200 Hermann Park Drive
Houston , TX 29° 42' 58.7412" N, 95° 23' 27.1536" W