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

Brookfield Zoo is one of our family’s favorite places to go, and winter doesn’t stop us. Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo is a great way to see your favorite animals and experience the excitement of the holiday season! With beautiful light displays, Christmas trees decorated by local organizations, and a stop to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic festival is truly magical.

Besides your usual stops, there are quite a few additional exhibits and attractions at the zoo during Holiday Magic. Read more about them below, as well as logistics for making your family’s trip unforgettable.

Holiday Magic at the Brookfield Zoo

Entertainment at the Pavilions

The following can be found in the pavilion area between the carousel and big fountain (Roosevelt Fountain) in the center of the zoo.

Holly Jolly Theater
Enjoy various entertainment indoors, such as singing, dancing (including one of our wonderful Kidlist sponsors, Jo’s Footwork Studio, on December 14), and cultural performances. Click here for the full schedule.

Ice Carving
Watch professional ice carvers demonstrate their craft and skill at carving different shapes from huge blocks of ice at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00 pm.

Matthew Scherer entertains the crowd with his magic tricks.

Brookfield Zoo Lights

There are over 1 million LED lights around the Brookfield Zoo! The spot lights above the Roosevelt Fountain are also pretty cool.

There is also a 41-foot talking tree. Walk up to the giant lit tree by the carousel and talk to it; you just might hear a response!

Larger-Than-Life Animal Lights

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

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

Which larger-than-life light displays can you find? (There are four in all.)

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“Dancing” Trees and Light Tunnel

This light show set to music on the north pathway along the West Mall that is fun to watch. Triangular trees change colors and patterns depending on what song plays, ranging from Christmas classics to upbeat jams. Colorful arches line the walkway as you walk underneath.

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.

Glice Skating Rink

The glice skating rink is beautiful at night, with lights strung overhead. Skate rental is available for $5. Glice is a synthetic surface that’s eco friendly and doesn’t depend on outside temperatures or refrigeration. It’s a unique surface to skate on!

Holiday Model Railroad

Head to the Riverside Room to marvel Santa’s Toy Shop Model Railroad, a room full of model trains, tracks, and towns. There is lots to see and several trains and other vehicles circling the tracks.

For whatever reason, we had a difficult time finding where this was. If you are looking at BZ Red Hots (the large restaurant next to the Seven Seas), walk around the building on the right side. There is a LGB (Lehmann Gross Bahn) Model Railroad Club sign with a ramp going down to the Riverside Room door.

Santa and Mrs. Claus

You can take pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus in the Seven Seas Underwater Viewing area from 4:00 – 8:30 pm through December 22, 2019.

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Holiday Magic Zoo Chats

There are special zoo chats during Holiday Magic. Here is the schedule:

  • 5:00 pm: Crocodiles at The Swamp
  • 5:30 pm: Reptiles at the Feathers and Scales building
  • 5:30 pm: Reindeer at Hamill Family Wild Encounters
  • 6:00 pm: Bears at the Great Bear Wilderness
  • 7:00 pm: Rhinoceroses at the Pachyderms building
  • 7:30 pm: Big Cats at the Big Cats building

Free Exhibits that Normally Aren’t Free

The Hamill Family Play Zoo and Wild Encounters both usually charge a separate entrance fee, but are free during Holiday Magic. Some of the animals are outside at Wild Encounters, including the wallabies, but the parakeet aviary is closed.

Activities with a Fee

We only came across two things with an extra fee (besides souvenirs and food): there is an extra dolphin show at 6:00 pm at the Seven Seas, and there is cookie decorating at BZ Red Hots.

Light Bulb Necklaces

Many people get in the holiday spirit at Holiday Magic by wearing fun light bulb necklaces. 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 will also be handing out LED necklaces during Holiday Magic that resemble glow sticks.

How to Stay Warm During Holiday Magic

All of the restaurants and shops are open and are very warm inside! The indoor exhibits are also open until 8:00 pm during Holiday Magic.

Where to Park at Brookfield Zoo

We are a big fan of the South Gate because of the shorter distance to the entrance, but be prepared for crowds! There is overflow parking at the adjacent high school and grass area once you pay at the parking gate. We also saw people walking from the surrounding neighborhood blocks, but that is a much further walk than I would be up for with little kids.

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If the weather is warmer, expect longer lines at both parking lots. Consider taking public transportation if that’s an option.

Event Details

Saturdays and Sundays November 30, December 1, 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, and the week of December 26-31, 2019 from 4:00 – 9:00 pm. (Santa is there until December 22.)

Holiday Magic is included in general admission, which is always free for members. Not a member? Save $1 per ticket when you order online!

Adults: $21.95 ($20.95 online)
Seniors 65 and Over: $15.95 ($14.95 online)
Children 3 to 11: $15.95 ($14.95 online)

New This Year: Holiday Lights Tours

Enjoy a ride around the zoo to see all of the magnificent lights, without tiring out easily. On December 9 and 18, guests can come into the zoo after hours and see all of the light displays in the comfort of the open-air trams. Note: this does not include access to zoo exhibits, as the zoo closes at their regular 5:00 pm time both days. Holiday Lights Tours are selling fast, so I’d look into immediately if you’re interested.

Want to See More Lights?

Check out our list of Best Christmas Lights in the Western Suburbs while you are in the area!

Please note that Kidlist is an Amazon Affiliate, which means that Amazon gives us a small fee when you use our links to Amazon. Thanks for supporting Kidlist!

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 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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