Festival of Lights
at the Wild Animal Park
2009: Starting 2009, the Festival of Lights will be held at the San Diego Zoo and it is called Jungle Bells.
2008: If you have not been to the Festival of Lights at the Wild Animal Park, this is your last chance! After 20 years of family fun, the Festival of Lights will shine for the last time in Winter 2008. Fear not, the lights will be moved to the more centrally-located San Diego Zoo and will be renamed "Jungle Bells".
2007: In October 2007, the California fires had devastated 600 acres of the Wild Animal Park. Luckily, most animals (except for 2) were safe and the fire did not damage public access and exhibit areas. However, the storage facility containing the materials for the Festival of Lights was damaged: that's 100,000 lights destroyed! Park organized scrambled to work and, due to their perseverance & dedication, managed to present the Festival of Lights as planned.
2006 and prior: the Festival of Lights at the Wild Animal park is a beloved tradition for many San Diegans. The park is lit up with 100,000 lights that are strung into animal themes. But, it's more than just a festival of lights - it's an entire evening of fun for the kids. There's arts and crafts, cookie decorating, face-painting, professional caroling, shows on stage, a photo opt with Santa Claus, and a snow hill (with 20,000 pounds of fresh snow daily). Recently, more activities have been added: a light magic show, black-light puppet show, and the appearance of the Snow Princess.
Details from the Last few years
As you enter the Wild Animal Park, you will get a sneak preview as to what to expect. The front entrance is decorated with lights resembling dancing giraffes. Depending on what time you arrive, the Park organizers may have turned on the "snow". This is basically bubble suds which are blown around to give you the impression of a winter blizzard. It's pretty fun: if you don't see snow as you enter the park, you will likely see snow on your way out of the park.
Inside, be sure to take a map showing the areas of interest. A key walkway will be studded with arts and craft projects for kids. These include making a pipe-cleaner reindeer, a Christmas frog ornament, a paper plate wreath and similar projects. Volunteers are available to help the kids so you get to relax and warm yourself under a portable lamp-shade heater (it does get cold at night).
Keep following the map and you will come to gingerbread cookie decorating, a large run-through-maze, and the snow hill. The snow hill is really made of snow (not soap bubbles). The park officials will supply the plastic sheets for sledding. There is usually a long line-up to go sledding, but the facilitators are really good at keeping it safe and fair. Adults are not permitted to slide down with the child on their lap. Don't worry though, for small children, there is a smaller snow pen where the toddlers can feel the snow and try making snow balls. Be warned though: your kids will get wet so bring extra clothes or, make the snow hill your last stop for the day.
It wouldn't be a Festival of Lights if there wasn't any lights, right? Throughout the park, Christmas lights are arranged into animal patterns (jumping frogs, elephants, birds) and other more traditional symbols (Christmas tree, snowman and gingerbread men). Lights, caroling, cool evening air - this is probably as Christmas-y as you're going to get in beautiful San Diego.
At certain times of the evening, Park Officials will bring out select animals and give a small talk about their history & habitat. For example, you can see and learn about reindeers. Except for these organized talks, you will probably not see any other animals because they are sleeping. If you want to see animals, come earlier in the day and stay until the Festival of Lights begins (after 4:00 pm).
Location, Hours of Operation, Facilities
Festival of Lights
San Diego Wild Animal Park
15500 San Pasqual Valley Road
Escondido, CA 92027
Wild Animal Park is open from 9 am to 9 pm but Festival of Light activities begin after 4 pm on the following days:
December 13-23, 2008
December 26-30, 2008
January 2 and 3, 2009
Entry into the Wild Animal Park is:
Parking is available on site for $6 (members) or $9 (non members). The Wild Animal park is "in the middle of nowhere" so there is effectively no other parking other than the Park parking.
Food distributors are located through out the park, most of these sell ice cream, pop corn, hot chocolate, churros, and the like. The major food establishment is the Thorntree Terrace which serves hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, and similar.
Bathrooms are scattered throughout the park: keep a park map in hand so you can find a bathroom when you need one.