Zoolights a holiday tradition at Point Defiance Zoo

Sparkling puffins ice skating, a towering Sasquatch trotting and the shining iconic flame tree with 30,000 green and purple lights return for Point Defiance Zoolights.

Zoolights, at 5400 N Pearl St. in Tacoma, opens Friday and continues nightly to Jan. 2, from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. All Zoolights visitors, including members, will need timed online tickets. Guests are encouraged to reserve tickets early for best availability. Last year, Zoolights sold out. Zoolights is closed Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

More than 800,000 colorful LED lights will illuminate dozens of 3-D animal light displays around Point Defiance Zoo for visitors to walk through. The holiday event is in its 35th year.

Zoolights continued during COVID-19 and was able to provide a safe holiday activity for families, the zoo’s deputy director Sarah Oliver said this week.

“Now that we’re seeing that wane, we’re really excited to welcome folks back and enjoy this holiday tradition together,” she said.

Visitors can stroll by a 100-foot pink-and-orange octopus on top of the aquarium, a giant crab with moving pincers, the Seahawks 12’s tree, the 23-foot-high Mount Rainier, two Narrows bridges and an 8-foot-long sea turtle. Sledding penguins, leaping tigers, swooping eagles and swinging siamang can be found around the zoo.

Visitors will also see new displays like a cocoon to join the butterfly wings, swimming sea otters and changes to the red wolves to capitalize on the moon above.

Oliver said visitors treasure the old favorites that are a part of the zoo’s holiday tradition.

To prepare for Zoolights, staff begin dreaming up new displays in early fall and create them in November when the zoo switches to its winter schedule, closing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Zoo staff assembled the Narrows bridges in a day and hung the 30,030 lights on the flame tree, which took 40 combined man hours. It also took six people to lift the roaring tiger’s head.

On Tuesday, the zoo operations staff was putting the final touches on Zoolights ahead of its opening Friday.

Many of the zoo’s animals will be sleeping for the night, but visitors might be able to see meerkats, a tiger or a tapir in the Asian Forest Sanctuary dayroom or Kids’ Zone. Both aquariums will be closed during Zoolights, though Pacific Seas Aquarium is open during the daytime. South Aquarium is closed for restoration and repairs. Some pieces of the skylight from the renovation were repurposed into the icebergs the walrus figurine is sitting on.

The Plaza Cafe will be open during Zoolights, with dinner, drinks and snacks to-go. Other snack or drink stands might be open. Guests who are age 21 or older can visit the new beer garden with fire pits and sip on a beer, wine or cocktail. Plaza Gifts will be open.

Visitors can also take a spin on the Paul Titus Carousel. It’s $1.50 for members and $2 for non-members.

Groovy Goats also returns to Zoolights. Goats Snap, Buckle, Marion, Juniper and more will be in holiday coats. Participants can groom them, pose for photos and feed them a treat ahead of Zoolights. The private tour is before Zoolights, from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The private tour, for up to five people, is $100 for members and $200 for non-members, and for up to eight people is $150 for members and $300 for non-members. The price includes the Zoolights admission.

The timed tickets are a newer change to ensure there is adequate parking at the zoo. Visitors can stay as long as they wish. Tessa Miller, media relations & communications coordinator, said the first December weekends tickets and the earlier time slots sell out faster.

Zoolights tickets:

Monday-Thursday: $12 general admission, $6 members

Friday-Sunday: $16 general admission, $8 members

2 years old and younger are free

Parking is free

Information at www.pdza.org.