The brightest spot in Griffith Park this holiday season is most definitely the Los Angeles Zoo, which is now hosting its second L.A. Zoo Lights event through January 3, 2016. The mostly Christmas-themed event is produced in collaboration with theatrical set designer Gregg Lacy, as well as Bionic League, known within the entertainment industry for their work on large-scale events and stage productions for clients such as Daft Punk and Kanye West.
Guests will find a wide array of traditional-type holiday displays set up throughout the Los Angeles Zoo, as well as a fountain show outside of the L.A.I.R. exhibit, state-of-the-art projection mapping, live reindeer, adult and family beverages, arts and crafts, and of course, Santa Claus (on select dates).
In a place like Los Angeles, you’d think we’d have a surplus of holiday events for families to enjoy – however, that’s simply not the case. As it is with Halloween, there is a huge demand here in Southern California for themed holiday events and attractions that don’t cost an arm and leg to get into; a nice evening out that everyone can enjoy together while celebrating the season. The Los Angeles Zoo has filled some of that gap here in the Southland with its Zoo Lights event; it’s off to a solid start with a lot of room and potential for growth in the years to come.
The biggest draw at L.A. Zoo Lights are just those – the lights. And there are a lot of them. One of the most compelling components to the event is a “light tunnel” that guests walk through just past the Rainforest of The Americas exhibit – there’s something about a lot of small Christmas lights all in one place that you get to be “part” of that folks tend to find really appealing; I know I’m a sucker for it every time! There are several of these types of locations throughout the zoo; this is where you will find the most people gathered, taking photos and simply taking it all in.
Being a young event, there are some things that could – and should – be improved on at L.A. Zoo Lights. The biggest challenge the event appears to have is its overall soundscape throughout the property. To be blunt, the music selection needs a major overhaul; the current selection is pretty drab for the most part. Many of the speakers used for the music are either old or blown, which doesn’t help the issue. Guests want to hear upbeat, recognizable Christmas favorites at these types of events – I’m not sure who’s selecting or providing the soundtrack to Zoo Lights currently, but it’s our least favorite part of the production; considering how important music and classic songs are in our culture during the holidays, not having a great selection of tunes really has a negative impact on the guest experience. Our suggestion is that the creators of L.A. Zoo Lights scrap their current playlist and take note of what other Christmas events in the area are showcasing music-wise. New audio equipment is also badly needed – no one wants to hear distorted music over sub-par speakers.
Another component we’d love to see at L.A. Zoo Lights is the inclusion of animals in the event. Sure, the zoo needs to put most of its creatures away for the night when the sun goes down – but when you host a major nighttime event in a zoo – you kinda expect to see animals. Because, you know… zoo. If other zoos around the United States can have successful nighttime events with some of their animals on display, there’s no reason the L.A. Zoo can’t offer that, too. People want to see animals – and many animals at the zoo are nocturnal, so one would think it shouldn’t be a problem. If it boils down to a money issue (paying staff overtime or for extra hours during the event), that isn’t acceptable, considering John Lewis, the zoo’s Director, stated during this year’s opening ceremony that L.A. Zoo Lights brought an extra $1 million in revenue to the zoo in 2014. We’d love to see the zoo light some of the habitats for evening events, and really show off what they have to offer.
Additional entertainment programming around the zoo during the event would help with crowds – and believe me – it gets very crowded during Zoo Lights. Live bands, dance floors, characters reading holiday stories for children – multiple things happening around the property all night long would really help with circulation. One of the most popular stops of the evening is the Santa Claus meet and greet – the line gets really long, so we strongly recommend you get there at opening and make a beeline for St. Nick, or you wait until the very end of the night, once most of the kids have gone home to bed before you attempt to seek the company of the man in the red suit!
There are tasty treats and naughty drinks to be had during L.A. Zoo Lights, which we enjoyed – the spiked hot chocolate was very creamy and rich; perfect for warming us up on a chilly winter night – and the pricing is very reasonable for these types of libations. Kudos to the zoo for not having outrageous food/beverage pricing during the event – it’s definitely very affordable.
As stated, L.A. Zoo Lights is extremely well-attended; that means during peak times, it gets really crowded. Our suggestion is to hit the event early – or wait to arrive later in the night to check it out after most families have started to head home. You can easily see Zoo Lights in about 2 hours or so, making it a perfect date or night out with friends. The zoo itself is already aesthetically really cool – one of my favorite things is having Christmas lights illuminating already-neat architecture and foliage around the property. I do like that very much and think it’s one of the event’s neater features.
There are live reindeer to check out (from several feet back), which delight guests young and old. The L.A.I.R. exhibit is also open during Zoo Lights, offering visitors an up-close-and-personal look at some of the more… creepy residents. I’m not entirely sure what the reptile/bug house has to do with Christmas, except for the fact that its residents don’t seem to mind what time of day they’re on display.
All in all, L.A. Zoo Lights is a work in progress that is pretty to look at, neat to check out for a couple hours, and definitely serves the community that really wants these kinds of family-friendly events during the holidays. We look forward to the Los Angeles Zoo continuing to tweak and add to this event, and know that as long as they put a chunk of the income Zoo Lights brings back into the production each year, each season will bring bigger and brighter things for guests of all ages.
For hours, tickets, and everything else Zoo Lights-related, click over to the Los Angeles Zoo’s website.
– Rick West
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