Editor’s Note: The National Zoo is temporarily closed due to COVID-19. The National Zoo has not announced a reopening date at this time. We will update this story when the zoo reopens. 

The 163-acre National Zoo has been captivating visitors since way back in 1889, when it was called the National Museum’s Department of Living Animals, and has continued to expand its offerings over the years. The latest is the launch of Dino Summer, which is at the zoo for a limited time (through the end of August). Should you go? Of course! Should you have a game plan? You better! To make things easier, here’s a cheat sheet that will help you get the most out of a day spent with furry, feathered, and spiny zoo friends.

Meet the Dinosaurs

This summer (June through August) visitors can travel back millions of years as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo presents a “Dino Summer” featuring two dinosaur experiences of prehistoric proportions — "Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live,” an experiential theater production with a larger-than-life cast of dinosaur puppets, and “DinoRoars,” an outdoor exhibit of six massive animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar.

Getting There (and Parking Tips)

The best way to get to the zoo is by public transportation. Period. Both Metro Bus and Metro Rail have stops within walking distance of the Zoo. FYI: While equidistant from both Metro stops, the walk is uphill from the Woodley Park stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop. The L1 and L2 buses stop right in front of the Zoo's main entrance on Connecticut Avenue. Parking is available at the Zoo for a flat fee of $25 or free with some FONZ membership levels. Parking is extremely limited at the Zoo and lots fill early during the spring and summer months. Street parking can be difficult to find.

NEW FOR SUMMER 2019: DC Circulator Bus Service will run on a continuous loop between the Woodley Park/Zoo Metro stop and the zoo's Bus Parking Lot. 

photo: mliu92 via flickr

Where to Eat

The Smithsonian's National Zoo is updating and renovating its dining options. The Mane Grill is open and serves burgers, chicken shawarma, BBQ pulled pork, vegan grain burgers, chicken tenders, grab and go items, and kidd meals. You can also find local food trucks, including Big Cheese and Mulan Dumpling, posted along Olmsted Walk. Looking for a pre- or post-zoo treat? Baked by Yael is located directly across the street from the National Zoo. They’re specialty is cakepops and yummy sweets but they also have bagels and soups.

photo: Mandy Jansen via flickr

Giant Panda 411

Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Bei Bei are definitely the resident headline makers at the National Zoo. In fact, they probably attract many of the park’s two million annual visitors. The National Zoo is a leader in giant panda conservation and has been working with China to study, breed and care for these black-and-white beauties since 1972 .Depending on the time and the weather, the giant pandas have a choice to be outside or inside the panda house. The pandas typically have outdoor access until early afternoon. The panda house, an indoor viewing area, is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during winter hours and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during summer hours.. Early arrival is recommended to avoid large crowds and long lines.

Daily Programs

Something is always happening at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. Daily programs include animal training, feeding demonstrations and keeper talks. Some programs change from week to week. Zoo educators and volunteers try to keep an updated schedule, but due to weather and the needs of the animals, activity times can change. Please be sure to consult a schedule at the Zoo on the day of your visit.

photo: The Austinot via flickr

Keeping Your Cool

It’s no secret…during the summer the Zoo can get rather toasty. When the heat is on, keep cool by strolling through the many mist stations sprinkled throughout the park. Even better, dip your feet in the flowing waters of the American Trail Tide Pool (May 30-Sep. 30), a shallow wave pool open for tiptoe-ing through with replica model sea stars, barnacles and mussels.

Zoo Friends (with Benefits)

With just four visits to the zoo, the family membership (“Premier” level) pays for itself! Spend more time ogling the pandas and less time searching for street parking. No arguments about riding the carousel or buying a beverage, either, because both are included. Forgot your monstrosity of a jogging stroller? Enjoy a discounted stroller rental and let your tykes rest their legs.

Family memberships starting at: $99/year 
Compare that to: Parking $25/visit, $3/ride
Biggest perk: Free parking, free rides, two free drinks, and food

—Guiomar Ochoa



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