Tourism: National Zoo


Pandamania! by flickr user needlessspaces

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘Mei Xiang’
courtesy of ‘brianmka’

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!

Photo courtesy of
‘Meet Kibibi, the National Zoo’s baby gorilla’
courtesy of ‘Smithsonian’s National Zoo’

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.

Elephant Keepers

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.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘ann-dabney’

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…

Photo courtesy of
‘On the O-Line 1’
courtesy of ‘Kevin H.’

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.

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘brianmka’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘National Zoo – Hungry Hungry Hippo – 9-1-08’
courtesy of ‘mosley.brian’

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.

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

5 thoughts on “Tourism: National Zoo

  1. Oh my gosh, I had no idea there was a Metro for orangutans! That is so cool! I am making immediate plans to check out the O Line this weekend.

  2. Every time I have taken visitors from overseas to see the zoo, they inevitably ask, “where are the animals?”. the dc zoo, for its location and its funding, is pathetic. Best zoo in US: San Diego – hands down.

  3. @Radman, Yeah, I’ve heard that. We got lucky the day we went and all the animals were basically out and about, the pandas were even frisky. I think it’s very hit or miss, and there’s probably a debate to be held about animal’s right to privacy vs. quality of zoo visit.

  4. I’ve NEVER had the experience of not being able to see animals at the zoo(see: Sure there are some that are extremely shy (the Mexican wolves come to mind), but the new Asian trail always has some of the animals out, and the bird house has a huge amount of critters running around. And the seals are always out and swimming around. And that’s just some quick examples.

    You just can’t go in the middle of the day and expect the animals to be on the same timetable as you. Also, if you’re aiming for a specific animal to see (like the Pandas), you’re hobbling yourself from the beginning.

  5. Your friendly zoo intern checking in :)

    If you ask any staff their least favourite animal at the zoo, they’ll tell you, straight up, they like the pandas the least. They’re super picky eaters and they’re generally always cranky. Kibibi looks much better now than she did about a month ago. She actually has hair now, which is a vast improvement. The two orangs seen above are Kyle and Bonnie. Bonnie’s kind of famous around these parts as she is a super-whiz on the computer and she can whistle, a trick she picked up from her keepers. If you’re particularly attached to hippos, I advise you to visit soon, as Happy, our resident hippo, has outgrown his enclosure and will be moving to a new, larger home this year.

    Best time to visit? Try overcast, cooler days when fewer people visit. Alternately, weekdays during the school year tend to be emptier. The animals can get skittish around too many people – and I can’t blame them!