The National Zoo was the second major DC tourism spot that I hit after I moved here. The first was the Washington Monument. Our Zoo is great – it’s my second favorite zoo I’ve ever been to (second only to the zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. No I’m not joking, that zoo is phenomenal.) so when my parents came into town to visit, we decided to make the journey.
It sort of feels wrong, you know? Just walking right in without paying. Put aside the guilt and it’s actually a fabulous feeling. It allows people to come back and back again, and it seems like there are people who truly take advantage. As we were walking in a runner in full workout garb jogged past – what a great run! Aside from dodging all the bumbling people and strollers, you’d have incredibly entertaining scenery and quite a steep hill workout. Envious.
As you enter the zoo you’re faced with starting your zoo tour by heading down towards the pandas on the the Asia walk, or going down the entire hill and doing everything on the way back up. I don’t have an opinion either way. But I do recommend that you print out a map before you go – available on the zoo web site, you can save yourself money by printing it out on your own. Otherwise they charge for a take-with-you map. Fair, I think, since entry is free. So off you go to meet and greet all the animals.
There are highlights you have to be sure not to miss: first and foremost, the giant pandas in the Fujifilm Giant Panda Habitat. They’re the love of DC’s life, and if they’re out and active they are adorable. The picture above speaks for itself. The panda exhibit is usually crowded, but there are two, and lots of vantage points (as you can see from the picture that opened this post). I saw people with long lenses and binoculars, this is serious stuff, everyone. Pandamania!
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new baby gorilla in the Great Ape House. We were able to see her, cradled in her mother’s arms, very very cute! And a little bit like ET or an alien, but um, I digress. And insult her, my bad Kibibi. Even if you’re a bit wrinkly and foreign looking you’re still kind of adorable.
It was feeding time for the elephants when we were there, and the trainers came out with two of the female elephants and stood talking to visitors and playing with the elephants. The trainer happily answered all kinds of questions from the crowd, and the elephants seemed to like to show off all their tricks and followed commands. It was fun to see them so close-up and watch them interact with the trainer.
At 11 a.m. daily, visitors can see the orangutans as they cross the famous O Line. The O Line is like the metro for orangutans. It is a 400-foot above-ground rope structure that connects the two buildings allowing the primates to swing above visitors heads to get to their destinations. I bought my cousin’s son this book – a “ooh that’s good, no that’s bad book” (remember those?) all about DC and apparently it has something in there about the apes escaping off the O Line and now he’s scarred and is terrified to go to the Zoo when he comes to visit me. Oops. But, anyways…
You can watch them swing and crawl their way across to the different buildings and snap fantastic pictures like the one above. Also not to be missed is the the Bird House’s Indoor Flight Room where visitors can see parrots, tanagers, and other birds fly freely.
All the way down the hill are the lions and tigers at the Great Cats exhibit. I didn’t get to see the Navy seals or sea lions, and we didn’t go in the reptile house either. Next time.
So my advice? If you live here, don’t try and do it all in one trip. If you’re visiting, wear comfy shoes, and take snack money. The zoo is full of the typical snacks, like dippin dots and the smell of popcorn wafts through the zoo. But there are also healthier snacks like fruit and yogurt. The gelato stand is up the hill at the Connecticut Ave entrance, like a reward for all your walking on your way out.
The Zoo is located at 3001 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. Take the Red Line to the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan stop or the Cleveland Park stop. The Zoo entrance is halfway between these stops and a short walk from the Zoo. The pedestrian entrance is on Connecticut Avenue. There are vehicle entrances on Connecticut Avenue at the west side of the Zoo and near Rock Creek Park at the east side of the Zoo.