Glowing, festive lights are set against the dimming evening sky, and I am happy. Today, my magical twilight rendezvous takes place at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Although I’m not a fan of animals, I can find great amusement in zoos (more here). This zoo outing, however, was not for the purpose of viewing exotic wildlife. (Check out the zoo vlog post here!)
Beginning in the late summer, the Pittsburgh Zoo hosts the “Asian Lantern Festival” on certain evenings after general admission to the zoo closes for the day. Visitors can reserve tickets in advance to experience the zoo at night and witness a spectacle of lanterns and lights decorated to look like flora and fauna.
The Pittsburgh Zoo is situated at the foot of a hill. After passing by the ticket counter, a tunnel of colorful Asian-style lanterns light up the path to the escalators. We ascend to the top of the hill (these escalators are no joke, both long and steep) and step off into an illuminated wonderland. Red Chinese lanterns decorate the entrance and magnificent lights arranged into flowers and animals line the main walking path. Although general admission to the zoo is closed, the food stand and gift shops are still open, which (beer in hand) increased my enjoyment of the festivities.
We walk past a series of cartoon-like, bobbly lanterns that feature all the Chinese New Year mascots (like the rooster, pig, ox, etc.). I overhear a woman saying that she wishes this event had gone on when she was a kid. I wholeheartedly agree. Children would easily take joy in the lights large and small. Curiously enough, there are a number of dinosaur lanterns. One is even a huge, crouching tyrannosaurus rex, where visitors can walk into the mouth and out through a bright pink, twinkling tunnel to the other side.
In addition to the parade of lights (the main attraction), one can also see many of the real-life animals that are still vegging in their pens and pastures before the descending sun obscures under the blanket of night. We saw lions, red pandas, and elephants, along with a few other animals. The Asian Lantern Festival, though, is an outdoor event, which means that we were not able to see some of the big zoo attractions like the Tropical Forest, which houses the primates, the indoor bird exhibit, or the aquarium.
Deeper into the zoo, there is an outdoor plaza with concessions and tables. Set up in front of the space is a small stage where dancing (Bollywood style, I think) is exhibited. It’s a cheerful atmosphere with an energetic emcee who is able to coax audience members (exclusively young children and senior citizens, go figure) to join him in his dances on stage in front of the crowd.
I had a beer, ice cream, and a wonderful time. Never did I think that I would take so much enjoyment from walking around a zoo at nighttime and looking at a collection of lights. I suppose it helps that everyone in my group was in good spirits and the weather was glorious.
If you are looking for fun things to do in the Pittsburgh, I would highly (highly, highly) recommend the Asian Lantern Festival to you too, which runs (in 2022) from now until the end of October.
Happy trails 😊
Pssst, guess what! I made a comedic vlog of my time at the zoo, see it here: https://youtu.be/8h8LIAEuOeQ