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GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

By Carolinearnoldtravel @CarolineSArnold

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

Glofari at the Oakland Zoo displays realistically detailed larger-than-life animal lanterns.


Giant animal lanterns glow in the dark like creatures in a fantastical dream at Glofari, the magical night tour at the Oakland Zoo in California. I have been to the Oakland Zoo many times during the day, but Glofari provided a completely new experience. Lanterns and light displays line the paths, are tucked into the landscape, and sit atop the ridge at the end of the gondola ride. 

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

A giant praying mantis in the World of Bugs.

Each section of Glofari has a theme: Savannah Watering Hole, Winter Wonderland, Forests of Asia, Desertscapes and the World of Bugs. The real zoo animals are safely inside their indoor areas, keeping warm in the chilly night.
In late December, when our family was visiting for the holidays, we dressed in our warm jackets and made Glofari a family outing. (I had reserved tickets a month earlier.) It was the perfect Covid activity—all outdoors and masks required. Entrance is by advance ticket only and visitors come in at a scheduled time to limit crowding.

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns
Lighted flamingos greeted us at the entry area and from there we followed the path down the hill through a colorful corridor, each arch decorated with the giant animal head. 
GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns
At the bottom of the hill elephants, giraffes, zebras and other animals spread across a field as they might be in real life at an African waterhole. Visitors can wander among them to admire them close-up.

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

At the Safari Watering Hole. The drama of the lights is enhanced by the blackness of the background—ideal for photographing the lanterns, but not for taking pictures of people, who appear as silhouettes against the colorful objects.


GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

An animated peacock entertains visitors to the Savanna.

While the animal lanterns are fascinating simply for their artistry (painted cloth over wire armatures with lights inside) informative signs link them to facts about the real animals they represent. Many of the lanterns are animated. The peacock’s tail not only raises and spreads into a colorful fan, but blinking lights change color as the “feathers” move.

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

Plump pandas wander through a bamboo forest.


After spending time at the watering hole, we circled back up the hill past pandas, bighorn sheep, and other creatures of the desert before arriving at the gondola station for a ride to the upper section of the zoo. 

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

A condor flaps its wings along the path through the desert area.

Each enclosed gondola car accommodates eight people, perfect for our group. As we rode to the top we looked down at the lighted displays and the city beyond before arriving at the upper station and the Landing Café. There another amazing tour of amazing lighted lanterns awaited us—the world of bugs.

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

From the gondola station we emerged through the queen ant tunnel to a walkway through the World of Bugs.

Giant caterpillars, butterflies, spiders, and more sparkled beside the path leading to an overlook of the city above the bison enclosure--where one lone bison, snug in its furry coat, looked up at us from below as we admired the city of Oakland and lights of San Francisco across the Bay. It was truly spectacular!

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

At the overlook above the bison enclosure.


In addition to the animal lanterns, Glofari features lighted displays of flowers and other creations. Among my favorites was a tree hung with giant colored globes.

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

Colored lights become glowing sculptures.

Altogether we spent about two hours at the zoo. As we exited Glofari we stopped briefly at the amusement area next to the zoo, where children (and adults) can buy tickets to ride a train around the zoo or for other kid-sized amusement rides. Just for the fun of it, our three teen-age grandchildren rode the merry-go-round, just like old times when they were little. It was a fitting end to a special night at the zoo. Then we all went home for cups of hot cocoa. 

Due to the popularity of Glofari, originally scheduled to the end of January, tickets have been extended to February 6. 

For more information about visiting the Oakland Zoo, go to the Oakland Zoo website;

GLOFARI AT THE OAKLAND ZOO, CA: Spectacular Larger-Than-Life Animal Lanterns

A giant crocodile at the Savanna Watering Hole.

Note: Glofari brought back memories of our visit to Philadelphia in 2016 when we went to the Chinese Lantern Festival at Franklin Square (near Chinatown) and saw dragons, giant lotuses, and other spectacular lanterns created from the same technique as the animals at the Oakland Zoo. 


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