Insider’s Guide to Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo

Outdoor Places to Go

The entire Kidlist team and our families went to Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo over the weekend and had so much fun checking out the new features and annual favorites. 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! Keep reading to find out about the new Sea of Lights, 3D 16-foot-tall gingerbread house and more. We loved that so many of the indoor buildings are open this year so we could warm up and enjoy the animals!

Holiday Magic 2021 at the Brookfield Zoo

Several new features have been added to this year’s event, including the “Sea of Lights.” Featuring more than two miles of colorful, sparkling lights, the zoo’s entire West Mall has been transformed into a magical creation of waves immersing guests in the holiday spirit. Adjacent to the spectacular display, you can feel the season’s cheer while strolling through the 600-foot-long “Tunnel of Lights,” presented by Xfinity, synchronized to music.

Also new this year, is a 3D 16-foot-tall gingerbread house, presented by T-Mobile, that guests can walk through and is the perfect backdrop for a family snapshot. Additional photo opportunities await inside the ever-popular luminous 20-foot-tall orb aglow with thousands of sparkling lights too.

As you enter the zoo from the North Gate, you’re immediately drawn to the 41-foot Christmas tree decorated perfectly. Around the zoo you’ll find countless twinkling lights, delicious treats and festive photo opportunities.

We have gone on nights that were sold out in previous years, but it never seems crowded since Brookfield Zoo is so sprawling and there is plenty to see.

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

photo courtesy of Brookfield Zoo

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.

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.

Game of Gnomes is Back

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.

Indoor Buildings are Open

Several indoor and outdoor animal habitats, including Tropic World, Pachyderm House, Big Cats, Swamp, Feathers and Scales, Reptiles and Birds, Living Coast, Hamill Family Wild Encounters (reindeer and goats only), Seven Seas underwater viewing gallery, Great Bear Wilderness, Australia House (access to front section only), and Hamill Family Play Zoo, are open during Holiday Magic. All indoor animal buildings close at 8:30 p.m., with the exception of Tropic World and Hamill Family Play Zoo, which close at 8 p.m. In addition, Dolphins in Action presentations (extra fee applies) are at 4 and 6 p.m. each night of Holiday Magic®.

Ice Skating

Take a spin on the skating rink, located on the East Mall. The rink is made of synthetic plastic known as Glice®—a material composed of heat-pressed layers of polymers—so no water or electricity is required for operation. The cost for unlimited time for all skaters on the rink is $7. A limited number of skates are available to rent for a $5 fee. You are welcome to bring your own skates.

Letters to Santa

Kids can deposit their written greetings and drawings for the animals in a designated box, as well as drop off letters to Santa Claus in a giant red box, both located on the zoo’s South Mall.

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.) You can also plan ahead and buy light bulb necklaces on Amazon to make the night more festive.

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

Reservation times for Holiday Magic are available in 15-minute increments. Zoo admission and parking tickets, which must be reserved in advance at, are $24.95 for adults, $17.95 for children ages 3-11, and $19.95 for seniors 65 and over. Parking is an additional fee. All tickets are nonrefundable.

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!

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  • 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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