ZooLights in Oakland Dazzles Kids of All Ages

When the animals are sleeping, kids of all ages are invited to head out to the Oakland Zoo where hundreds of thousands of lights illuminate the sky and brighten holiday spirits during the annual ZooLights. Last year, friends humored my request to attend ZooLights and traipsed off to the zoo with me for what I hoped would be a fun evening. We were pretty sure we’d be the only adults there without kids, but we ended up being in good company. Many other “grown ups” had the same idea. The show in the meadow, where dozens of animal characters come to life to your favorite holiday tunes, is the highlight of ZooLights. I dare you to keep from tapping your toes and humming along as the show takes you on a musical journey throughout the animal kingdom.

Santa takes a break from his busy schedule to visit ZooLights on select evenings, where he’ll be joined by live entertainment. He may even convince Rudolph to join him, but the red-nosed reindeer wants assurance the lions and tigers really are taking a long winter’s nap.  Check the website for dates and times.

In addition to the meadow show, guests should follow the starlit pathways through the candy cane lane-themed Adventure Landing to take a ride on the Outback Express Adventure train through the wild Australia exhibit. Take the chill off the evening with a cup of hot cocoa or coffee and enjoy a selection of go bites from the zoo cafe – a cup filled with holiday cookies and treats – while you take in the holiday displays.

After ZooLights, we headed to Paradiso, just a couple of miles away in San Leandro, for a cozy dinner in their wine room. We were blown away at how good the food was at this corner restaurant situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Fresh pasta with homemade sauces, wood fired pizzas, steaks, chops and seafood are all on the menu. Pastas start at $19, pizzas at $14 and entrées at $23.  If you prefer someplace more family friendly, check out Rubiano’s Pizzeria, also in San Leandro. Pizzas, pastas salads and sandwiches are on the menu, with kids selections starting at $6.99.

If you go: Find the ZooLights in Oakland at the Oakland Zoo, at 9777 Golf Links Road. ZooLights takes place each evening from 5:30-9pm, December 4 to January 3 with the exception of December 24 and 25 when the zoo is closed. For everyone’s safety (including Rudolph), all animals will be in their night houses during ZooLights. Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for children (2-14) and seniors (65-79), and free for those under 2 or over 80.

ZooLights operation hours are weather permitting. Visit oaklandzoo.org or call 510.632.9525 for daily information. Visit paradisosanleandro.com to check out the menu and make a reservation. Get info on Rubiano’s at rubianos.com.

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