5 Tips for Making the Most of Glowfari at the Oakland Zoo

Advice for making the most of a trip to Glowfari.
kids in the megalodon tunnel at Glowfari at the Oakland Zoo.
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Now that the Oakland Zoo is open again after flooding damage closed the zoo to visitors for more than a month, its winter lights extravaganza Glowfari is back and has been extended through March 4. 

Glowfari is an “illuminated lantern festival” that changes each year. Each time though, the focus is on animals, beautifully rendered glowing sculptures that make a walk around the nighttime zoo festive.

Here are five tips to help you make the most of Glowfari:

1. Buy your tickets in advance.

Glowfari tickets are different than daytime zoo admission tickets, and they’re in demand, so you’ll need to plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance. Tickets are for timed entry, though there’s a window so you don’t have to arrive exactly at your ticket time. Tickets give you access to the duration of that evening. 

2. Bundle up. 

Yes, it’s California, but the zoo still gets chilly at night. There are a few spots to buy warm drinks, but it’s still a good idea for everyone to bundle up and bring hats and gloves. The pace is a slow meader rather than fast-paced walk (you’ll want time to admire all the detailed light sculptures), and you don’t want to need to leave early because a kid (or adult) is too cold to continue wandering. 

3. Give yourself a few hours. And maybe go early.

You won’t want to rush the experience, so plan on two to two-and-a-half hours at the zoo. The main clusters of lights are at the top of the zoo in the California Trail area and down in the Children’s Zoo section near the lower entrance to the zoo. Along the way, you’ll find plenty more to admire as well. 

If you want to take the gondola up to the newer California Trail part of the zoo (and you absolutely should, as it has some of Glowfari’s best attractions), consider getting earlier tickets (5:00 or 5:30) and heading directly to the gondola when you arrive. As the evening goes on, the line for the gondola gets a lot longer, so it’s worth prioritizing this part of the experience and then coming back down to explore the rest of the zoo. 

4. Don’t go hungry. 

Either eat before you go or plan to grab some food while you’re in the zoo. The Landing Café, Tuskers Grill, and some of the snack carts are all open and serving snacks and hot drinks. Looking for a spot near the zoo for an early dinner? Bluebird Pizza is great and low-key, Boulevard Burger requires no planning ahead and has a kid-friendly burgers-and-fries vibe, and for an unhurried but exceptional meal, Top Hatters is a great fit. 

5. Wear comfortable shoes.

There’s a lot of walking if you want to see all that there is to see at Glowfari, so this is the time to make sure everyone is wearing their most comfortable shoes. Also note that the parking lot fills up quickly, so you may need to park in one of those upper-upper lots, which adds some additional walking to the evening. 

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Christine Sarkis
A traveling parent and longtime travel writer and editor, Christine Sarkis is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of FamilyVacationist. She is the former Executive Editor for TripAdvisor travel magazine SmarterTravel.com, she has spent nearly two decades finding and sharing the best places to go with an audience of enthusiastic travelers. Her stories have appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her expert advice has been quoted in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, Here & Now, Life Kit, and California Now. Her stories have been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008, and she is working on a travel memoir. Christine and her husband first met in Paris, and travel remains a big part of their shared experience. With their two kids in tow, they have piloted a barge down canals in France, befriended llamas in Peru, tended olive trees in Italy, and gone snorkeling with sea turtles in Hawaii. The family lives in California and loves traveling around the state. Their California favorites include Yosemite National Park, Point Reyes National Seashore, and the West Shore of Lake Tahoe.