Editor’s Note: The National Zoo reopened in May 2021. Admission is free, but visitors must register for timed-entry passes here.
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. 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.
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 equal distance 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 can be reserved before your visit for $30.
Where to Eat
The Mane Grill is open and serves Elevation Burgers, vegan burgers, chicken tenders, grab and go items, and kid meals on Lion-Tiger Hill. You can grab a slice of Sbarro at Panda Plaza. Feeling the heat? Grab a cone at Carvel at Panda Overlook. Dippin' Dots, Dolci Gelati and Ben & Jerry’s is also available at various locations in the park.
Giant Panda 411
Mei Xiang, Tian Tian and Xiao Qi Ji 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.
Safety regulations: Free, pre-timed tickets are required for this exhibit. You can get yours here.
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 at the Zoo on the day of your visit.
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.
—Meghan Yudes Meyers and Guiomar Ochoa