Zoolights: A Family Tradition for Every Generation

Tacoma's Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium lights up for the holidays during their annual Zoolights display. Photo courtesy: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.


By Douglas Scott

Shimmering displays illuminate the night at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's Zoolights. ZooLights. Photo Credit Amy Anderson.
Shimmering displays illuminate the night at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s Zoolights. Photo Credit Amy Anderson.

For more than a quarter century, visitors of all ages have been flocking to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s annual Zoolights extravaganza, making it a family ritual passed down from generation-to-generation. What started out as a way to bolster low attendance during the cold, windy and rainy season has evolved into a tradition that keeps growing, bringing more light and joy to the region.

In 1987, Zoolights was nothing more than 30 figurines and five miles of lights, drawing in nearly 21,000 visitors. By 2013, that number had grown exponentially, with 129,667 attending the local attraction, making 2013 the second highest attended Zoolights in its history, and just 6,240 people away from the record set in 2011. In 2014, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium is hoping to shatter the previous record by stepping-up their game.

For 2014, the park has reached its milestone of using 100-percent LED lights, meaning that the 575,000 lights spread out around the zoo are not just beautiful to look at, but also environmentally friendly. Those who help with Zoolights are so excited about this year’s event that they have put together a Top 10 List of fun things to see and do at Zoolights. Whether you most enjoy the 3-D light displays, watching Santa swim with the sharks, taking a ride on the classic holiday carousel, or any of the other activities, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium staff are excitedly inviting you to attend this year’s event.

“We’re pleased to bring another edition of Zoolights to the residents of Tacoma and visitors who come from across Puget Sound and around the state,” Zoo Deputy Director John Houck said about this year’s event. “We know a visit to Zoolights is a family tradition for many, a treat for young couples and a delight for visitors of all ages. Our zoo family welcomes everyone for another ‘zoo-mazing’ year.”

Brandon, Amy and Sawyer are excited to visit Zoolights together as a family this year. Photo Credit Brandon Anderson.
Brandon, Amy and Sawyer are excited to visit Zoolights together as a family this year. Photo Credit Brandon Anderson.

Making Zoolights a family tradition is something Amy and Brandon Anderson of Olympia are excited to do. While dating and for their first year of marriage, Brandon and Amy attended Zoolights, but this year, it will be extra special; their baby son Sawyer will be making his first trip.

This year, the Anderson family is excited to bring a new generation into the tradition of attending Zoolights. Their son, Sawyer, is less than a year old, but they are already getting him ready for the amazing decorations on hand at this year’s Zoolights.

“I am looking forward to bringing our new son Sawyer,” says Amy about introducing their young son to the event. “He is fascinated by lights and I know he will love to look at all of them.”

In addition to viewing the lights as a family, Brandon is excited to experience other attractions of the event with his family. When asked what he was most excited for, Brandon replied, “I heard Santa is going to swim with the sharks. That sounds pretty cool! I would also love to ride the carousel with the family. I don’t think Amy and I have done that together yet.”

Zoolights has been something most of us that grew up in the region look forward to each year. Once the crisp air returns and Thanksgiving has ended, many of us buy our tickets and go to Point Defiance. Amy and Brandon are no different.

point defiance zoolights
A favorite Zoolights attraction is watching Santa swim with the sharks.

“I grew up in Tacoma, so as a young child I would come to Zoolights with my family. It really brings me back,” Brandon explained when asked about his Zoolights tradition. “We’d get loaded up on hot chocolate and elephant ears at the zoo cafeteria and then head outside to wander through the spectacular light exhibit. As a kid, it was one of my favorite holiday traditions.”

For Amy, Zoolights also serves as a trip down memory lane. “I first went when I was probably 10-years-old with my whole family. We went a lot when I was a kid,” she explains. “It is something that all ages can enjoy. I have enjoyed it since I was a kid and now as an adult it is just as fun. Zoolights really helps me get in the holiday spirit. I like that I can take my time and enjoy the Christmas lights with hot cocoa in hand.”

When asked what would you tell to others with young children about attending, Amy would like everyone to know that, “It is a laid back holiday activity. There isn’t a rush to get through and there is something for everyone to enjoy and look at. Even babies!”

Brandon chimed in, agreeing with his wife, “I would tell them to start the tradition now. It is a holiday activity that kids young and old, along with the adults, can enjoy as a family.” The only improvement to the annual event Brandon could think of was if the zoo offered a reduced-admission night for low-income families. “Ticket prices are very reasonable, but there are still families in our community that can’t afford to enjoy such a wonderful holiday tradition. I think that is something others could really get behind.”

Start a family tradition that can be passed on for generations to come at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium's annual Zoolights event. Taking place now through January 4.
Start a family tradition that can be passed on for generations to come at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s annual Zoolights event. Taking place now through January 4.

Families like the Andersons are what makes Zoolights a community tradition. Bringing in the newest generations to experience the beauty and uniqueness proves that Zoolights is here to stay, serving as one of the best family-friendly holiday traditions in the great Pacific Northwest.

Zoolights tickets can be purchased online, at Tacoma-area Fred Meyers and at the Zoo and Aquarium’s Front Gate. Costs vary, depending on where you purchase your tickets and whether or not you visit the zoo before hand. More information can be found online at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium Zoolight’s website. The event runs from now through January 4, from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Zoolights will only be closed on Dec. 24, and will be open on Christmas and New Year’s Day.


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