DC Zoo Tips – Smithsonian’s National Zoo

The DC Zoo, also known as the Smithsonian National Zoo, is much more than your average zoo! It is a beautiful park on 163 acres with incredible animals (including the famous pandas!) and also a live-action science research institute with the motto, “We Save Species.”

National Zoo Tips

DC National Zoo Tips – Protocols

  1. Check the new map on their website ahead of time to see all the spots that are closed to avoid disappointed kids. I printed out the map and had kids circle what they wanted to see. (All red sections are closed)
  2. ⁣In the summer, find the spray stations to stay cool and check out the indoor exhibits like the Primates which have AC!⁣
  3. Zoo members can reserve Panda Passes ahead of time OR if you are not a member, you can scan one of the Panda Statues to look for tickets. New tickets are made available every hour on the hour from 8:30 AM to 2:30 PM. ⁣
National Zoo Tips Summer

DC Zoo Logistic Details

  • 💲🅿️- Free but timed tickets are required. Get at si.edu/visit. 2 Options for tickets: Option 1: wake up no parking free or Option 2: with Parking $30 per car and admission for all in car. Check both options to see if one is more available. ⁣More info below on Getting There options.
  • ⏰ – Open 8 AM to 4PM (last admittance is 3PM)⁣
  • 🚻 – Lots of clean restrooms throughout the Zoo.⁣
  • 😷 – Vaccinated visitors can remove masks outside. Lots of social distancing protocols like one ways in the Kids Farm and Lion Path.⁣
  • ♿️ – All paved so wheelchair and stroller friendly BUT if you haven’t gone before, know that the Zoo is on a very large hill so consider parking at the bottom in Lot E so you can stroll downhill at the end of your visit.⁣ Wheelchair Rental: Currently manual wheelchairs are free to rent and Electronic Convenience Vehicle: $25 for members, $30 for non-members. More info on Accessibility here.
  • Specific Zoo Rules: No pets except service dogs. No balloons, scooters or bicycles are permitted although there are bike racks to lock up your bike at the entrances.
Keeping cool at the Zoo

Babies and Toddlers Tips for National Zoo DC

It is nearly impossible to narrow down the best places for babies and toddlers at the National Zoo because it is all so wonderful for this age! However after countless visits with my own kids and plenty of playdates with other children this age, below are my Top 3 Recommendations:

Kids’ Farm: Located at the bottom of the hill near Parking Lot D, the Kid’s Farm is tons of fun for this age! There are tons of friendly animals including cows, hogs, chickens, the goofiest alpacas, and the funniest goats. There are also tons of hands-on activities/little games to play along the wooden pathway and also high fences to keep the running toddler along the path.

(Currently closed, June 2021) Right after the Farm, make sure you check out one of the newest additions to the National Zoo, the Me and the Bee Playground! Located near the Farm and Conservation Pavilion, it’s a 5,000 square feet outdoor playground with rubber surfacing which is great for babies who might be learning to walk. Kids can crawl inside hollow trees and climb on honeycombs and slides.

(Currently closed, June 2021) Finally, make sure you venture into the Tide Pool on the American Trail near the Sea Lions. From June to October, the Tide Pool releases water for a fun surprise to cool off!

DC Zoo Travel Tips for Babies:

  1. The entire zoo is on a hill so strollers are a great idea!
  2. Nursing: Lots of shady benches for nursing outside. Also the Amazonia Exhibit is darker with benches for nursing indoors.
  3. Check maps for bathrooms because sometimes they can be a 10 minute walk away! Best new bathrooms are in the lower part of the Zoo near the Farm.
Kids Farm at the Nation

Elementary & Teens Age Can’t Miss Spots at the National Zoo, DC

  1. The Giant Pandas at the National Zoo are really the main attraction and for good reason! They are a leader in giant panda conservation and currently there are 3 pandas at the Zoo. You can view them in their indoor home at the Panda House on the Asia Trail or outside in their beautiful habitat. The Red Panda nearby is also adorable and has been known to be very mischievous, even escaping into DC once!
  2. The Great Ape House is my personal favorite place at the Zoo. You can watch gorillas and orangutans in their indoor and outdoor habitats on floor to ceiling viewing panes. There is also an interesting exhibit called Think Tank on animal brains. Finally, make sure you look UP outside because you might be lucky to see an orangutan travel along the O-Line (50 foot high suspended cable track) that they can walk along!
  3. The Reptile Discovery Center is really an incredible building filled with rare reptiles including a 100 year old tortoise, Panamanian golden frog which is extinct in the wild and a Komodo dragon named Murphy.
  4. (Currently closed, June 2021) A memorable alternative to the gift shops is a ride on the Conservation Carousel…even for teens! Located halfway on the Zoo’s hill, the carousel highlights beautiful animals (and some funny ones…naked mole rat!) and is a hit of kids and adults of all ages! Cost is $3.50 per ticket and a perfect Selfie Spot!
  5. There are TONS of Daily programs that change based on the weather and animal availability so make sure to check at the Info Kiosk or online at for your particular day. Our kids loved watching the Zookeepers brushing Jetty the seal’s teeth! 

Couple Programs to highlight below: (pre-C)

  • 9:45 AM Highlights Tour
  • 11 AM Red Panda or Giant Panda Keeper Talk 
  • 1 PM Gorilla Keeper Talk 
  • 2 PM Indoor Panda Feeding 
  • 3 PM Meet a Reptile or Amphibian

Getting To The Zoo

  • METRO: The Zoo is equal distance from the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park Metro stops. I recommend Cleveland Park because you have to walk uphill from the Woodley Park Station. See www.wmata.com for schedules, maps and trip planner.
  • BUS: The L1 and L2 Buses stop in front of the Zoo’s main entrance on Connecticut Ave.
  • PARKING: Available at the Zoo for a flat fee of $30 per vehicle or free with your Zoo Membership. You can also look for street parking around the Zoo and reserved at Park Whiz or Spot Hero.

Food Options at the Zoo – National Zoo Tips

  • My #1 recommendation for food at the Zoo is to bring your own! There are tons of picnic tables and benches to have a nice picnic and you will save money and probably eat better food. Some of our family’s favorite picnic spots:
    • Elephant Outpost off the the main Olmstead Walk (you can watch the elephants and a restroom nearby!)
    • The benches under the Orangutan Line (Look up!) – Along the beautiful Asia Trail.
  • If you buy food at the Zoo, be aware that the cost is high. However at the Mane Grill, Elevation Burger has some pretty good burgers (tried in May of 2021) Vegan Shakes and even Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
  • Lots of snack and dessert stands throughout the zoo like Dippin’ Dots, cotton candy and gelato stands.
  • Another alternative if you are near the main entrance on Connecticut Ave are the many shops including Starbucks and 7-11.
Mane Cafe National Zoo

Tons more to do and see in Washington DC with Kids including Best Playgrounds, more Smithsonians and DC Family Friendly Restaurants!

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