An Insider’s Guide to Holiday Magic 2020 at the Brookfield Zoo

Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo is an annual stop for our family. It’s truly magical to walk the grounds of the zoo, watching all of the twinkling lights, listening to holiday music and enjoying a hot chocolate! A few of our favorite Holiday Magic attractions were missing this year, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying our time with all these great things to see and do.

Holiday Magic 2020 at the Brookfield Zoo

As you enter the zoo from the North Gate, you’re immediately drawn to the 40-foot Christmas tree decorated perfectly. Around the zoo you’ll find countless twinkling lights, delicious treats and festive photo opportunities.

While our focus was on seeing all the light displays, we were lucky to even catch a few animals outside. Brookfield Zoo has taken down the main Dinos Everywhere! exhibit that was in the southeast corner of the zoo this summer, but there are still dinosaurs scattered around the grounds. We were there on a sold out night, but it never seemed crowded. We felt that most people we saw were doing a great job of adhering to social distancing, as well as wearing face masks. As a reminder, all indoor exhibits remain closed at this time.

Brookfield Zoo Lights

There are over 1 million LED lights around the Brookfield Zoo! Everywhere you look, you’ll see beautifully decorated trees that have been sponsored by local schools, churches, businesses and organizations. We loved finding the ones from our hometown. The spot lights above the Roosevelt Fountain are pretty cool, and there were also colorful ones on the East Mall. Holiday music can be heard throughout the zoo, and the excitement of the season is palpable.

Larger-Than-Life Animal Lights

These huge lit-up reindeer in the South Mall were fun to see on our way in.

There’s a huge polar bear near the dolphins, too.

Light Tunnel

This light show set to music on the north pathway along the West Mall that is undoubtedly our favorite part. Colorful arches line the walkway as you walk underneath. Holiday music is playing to match the colors changing. There’s a line down the center of the walkway which was a gentle reminder for families to follow traffic rules. I don’t remember seeing this in previous years, but I was happy to see it in our current state of social-distancing. You also can’t miss the giant Argentinosaurus in the middle of the West Mall that’s still there from the Dinos Everywhere! exhibit.

20-foot-tall Lit Orb Photo Op

Take your own photos in this huge orb with color changing lights! Here’s an idea: have your kids stand about 3-4 feet in front of the wall of lights, change your phone to portrait mode, and snap a picture. The brightly colored lights blur in the background and make for a unique shot. There was a line for this, so if you’re interested in this photo op, make it a priority to get there earlier.

New This Year: Game of Gnomes

Play the Game of Gnomes! Have fun hunting for 24 gnomes stationed around the zoo. Their location is included on the Holiday Magic zoo map if you need a little help. Some of them are pretty tricky to find, such as in a tree trunk or on top of a sign. These little add-ons were a great way to get my girls excited about moving around the zoo. Since many animals were inside with the colder weather, they enjoyed spotting the gnomes whenever you found one.

The Brookfield Zoo has also created social media add-ons, coloring pages, and other activities to go along with this fun new addition in 2020!

New This Year: Santa & Selfies

Santa and Mrs. Claus aren’t making an official appearance in 2020. Families can still get in their photo-op with a life-size cutout of Santa, as well as festive selfie frames stationed around the zoo. Children are welcome to bring a letter addressed to Santa, and drop it in the magical mailbox on the south lawn.

Light Bulb Necklaces

Many people get in the holiday spirit at Holiday Magic by wearing fun light bulb necklaces and headbands. You will find them at any one of several stands throughout the zoo. (The stands also sell other illuminating options as well) The necklaces are $10 each . . . or you can plan ahead and buy them online for $6.03. Click here to buy a light bulb necklace on Amazon.

ComEd was also be handing out LED necklaces at a tent just north of the carousel.

Where to Park at Brookfield Zoo

Your parking must be reserved in advance with your ticket order, and keep in mind, the pricing is different for each lot. We are big fans of the South Gate because of the shorter distance to the entrance, but don’t mind the walk through the tunnel under 31st Street if you park in the North Gate.

Event Details

All tickets to Holiday Magic must be purchased in advance online. Holiday Magic is running on November 27–29, December 2–6, 9–13, 16–20, 26–31, 2020 from 3:00pm – 9:00pm. On these days, the zoo will not open to any guests until 3:00pm. If you can, try to grab a ticket for dusk. Hopefully you’ll see a few animals or easily spot gnomes, and then soak up the excitement of all the lights at Holiday Magic.

Attractions Not Running at Holiday Magic This Year

In alignment with safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, Brookfield Zoo has made modifications to their Holiday Magic plans. These parts are not running in 2020, but keep them in mind as you check to see what’s in store next year in 2021.

  • Entertainment Pavilion
  • Visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus
  • Cookie Decorating
  • Holiday Lights Tours
  • Holiday Magic Zoo Chats
  • Santa’s Toy Shop Model Railroad
  • Glice Skating Rink

Want to see more lights? Check out our list of Best Christmas Lights in the Western Suburbs while you are in the area!

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About the Author

Katie Mayle
Katie is a mother of three children, ages 7, 5, and 2. A Joliet native, she and her husband moved back to his hometown of Naperville after the birth of their second daughter. Her three kids keep her family very active, and she is grateful for the countless indoor and outdoor opportunities available to families in the western suburbs. She looks forward to sharing family-friendly fun with the parents of young children.

1 Comment on "An Insider’s Guide to Holiday Magic 2020 at the Brookfield Zoo"

  1. I live in Brookfield and have a few tips: If the weather is nice come early as in before dark. This past weekend the line to get in the zoo parking at about 2:30 was almost non-existent, by 4:00 it was blocks long and after 5:00 it was backed up a mile in every direction. There are several hundred community Christmas trees decorated and they are better viewed in the daylight to see all the cute ornaments. The zoo does not close and reopen for Holiday Magic so once you are there you can stay as late as you want once it gets dark you can enjoy the lights and be on your way home beating the traffic leaving the zoo as well. Please Please do not park in the neighborhood! The streets are old and narrow and can not accommodate that much parking. The streets nearest to the zoo are zoned parking and you need parking sticker for that zone. Brookfield is dark with not a lot of streetlights so the sides that indicate this are not easily read as their usually one small sign at one end of the street. You will come out to a $35 ticket. The lightbulb necklaces can also be found at Five Below stores.

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