We had the incredible opportunity of returning to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to enjoy their “Zoo Lights” event. Being a huge fan of Christmas lights …and zoos… I was beside myself with excitement! Luckily my husband Ryan, our two young boys and my in-laws all felt the same way too, because I brought them along with me.
The zoo transformation was immediately obvious from the front gate. A giant inflatable Santa greeted guests as they purchased their Zoo Lights tickets. Overhead, hanging butterfly lights blinked in sequence as Christmas carols were broadcast over the intercom system.
Because we had arrived before nightfall, dinner was the obvious first step. At the “Safari Cafe” we found several acceptable options for everyone. The prices were surprisingly reasonable, especially considering the impressively high quality of the food. Angus burgers? Tomato squash soup? Local fruit salad? At THE ZOO?! Yes please!
Ryan was a little disappointed that there were only two servings of the “Santa Maria Tri Tip Sandwich” left (which we let my in-laws enjoy). Obviously it’s a popular option during the earlier zoo hours! We both ordered the “Grilled Chicken Club With Avocado” basket instead thought and it was delicious! From bun and produce to chicken breast and cheese, everything was individually tasty. Together, it was incredibly good. And filling too!
My only complaint at the cafe is the limited options for children. Kids meals only come with either a corndog or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Unfortunately JD is so young that he can’t have peanut butter yet (for fear of an allergic reaction) and hot dogs are a notorious choking hazard for young children. I chose the lesser evil and ordered corndogs but cut JD’s up into little pieces. Problem solved!
After dinner we back-tracked to the front gate, where we had seen a booth selling something called “Holospex Glasses”. The glasses came in four different “patterns”: Snowflake, Star, Reindeer and Snowmen. They cost only $2 each so we all grabbed a pair.
Ryan and Charlie chose “Snowman” glasses. I picked “Star” and the in-laws got “Reindeer”. When you wear them, each individual Christmas light appears to glow in a colorful halo of light that’s shaped like…well, in my case, a little “Northern Star”. It was very cool!
Bushes covered in twinkling Christmas lights suddenly became 3D light gardens loaded with little glittery star flowers. Beautiful!! And the tunnel of lights? Well I’ve never used LSD, but I can only imagine…
When darkness fell over the zoo, so too did the chilly temperatures. At one point Charlie actually said
“BRRRRRRRRR!… I could use a Starbucks!!!!”
We all laughed because a three-year-old obviously doesn’t drink coffee, but we knew he meant he wanted some hot chocolate (the only thing he gets at Starbucks!). Luckily for us, the nice people at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo provided free cookies and hot chocolate to their Zoo Lights guests.
The cookies were a yummy store-bought variety (mine was a sugar cookie, I think!) but the real highlight was the hot chocolate. It was super hot and extra chocolatey. We even let little JD have a sip! It really hit the spot. We were warmed up despite the chilly night, ready to check out some more Christmas lights.
The light displays were very impressive. Some were gigantic and all in great shape. I was told that the electricians at the zoo had been hard at work refurbishing the displays with fresh wiring and brand new bulbs. I can only imagine how tedious and back-breaking that task would be, especially on the larger displays like the image of “King Triton” outside Sea Lion Cove.
If you hang a left inside the front gate, you’ll come across a faux orchard of lit, decorated Christmas trees. Charlie was relieved to see the cobweb-covered tombstones from “Zoo Boo” gone:
“Oh yay!!!! No more spiders!”
Both of the boys were excited to see all the pretty trees though. Nothing says “Christmas” like a Christmas tree, let alone a small forest of them.
A trip to the zoo is never complete without snacks! We found a little stand labeled “Santa’s Snacks” that looked very inviting.
The prices were right up our alley too: Cotton Candy for $2.50…Pink popcorn for $1.99…Bavarian Cream-filled churros for $3…WAIT! WHAT?! Yep, that’s right: BAVARIAN CREAM-FILLED CHURROS!! And yes, they taste EXACTLY as good as they sound!
After a long walk through a winter wonderland, we weren’t looking forward to the chilly stroll to our freezing cold car. The gift shop, located near the exit, had such a warm, welcoming glow that we decided to stop for a little break first.
Not only was it warm and cozy inside, but also festively decorated and the boys were thrilled to see the same Fresno Chaffee Zoo stuffed giraffes and books that they had received as Christmas gifts. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of items available too! From trinkets and postcards to beautiful home decor items. I could’ve perused the shelves all night if it weren’t for two tired little boys who needed to get home to bed.
In closing, “Zoo Lights” was a definite “Do again”! The entire family (from the grandparents to the kids) enjoyed it, which says a lot in our family! At most holiday-themed events, either the children or the adults are suffering from boredom but “Zoo Lights” was fun for all. And as always, I was extremely impressed with the cleanliness, amenities and customer service at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. We’re already excited for next year!
Attraction: Fresno Chaffee Zoo, “Zoo Lights” Event
Breakdown of Costs:
$5.00 – Parking
$24.00 – Four adult admissions @ $6.00 each
$4.00 – One child admission (JD, like all children under two-years-old, was free)
$53.28 – Dinner for four adults and two children (Two Santa Maria Tri Tip Sandwich baskets @ $8.29 each, Two Grilled Chicken Clubs with Avocado @ $6.29 each, Two Corn Dog Kids Meals @ $6.79 each, Two Farm Fresh Milks @ $1.09 each, Two Fresh brewed coffees at $1.79 each and Two Regular Sodas @ $2.39 each)
$3.00 – Bavarian cream filled churro to share
$10.00 – Holospex Glasses (Five pairs @ $2 each)
Total cost of a Zoo Lights visit for four adults and two children (including dinner):$99.28
Special thanks to Pam, Jennifer, Jessica, Mark, Amber and the rest of the staff at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo for making our visit so magical!