Too old (or cool) for the zoo? Never! We proved this a few weeks ago when our family — yes, even the two teens — went to the National Zoo. It started off as Sasha and I deciding what to do on a nice day. She didn’t have soccer or other plans with friends, so I snagged the opportunity while I could. I suggested a hike, but she said, “Nah.” So, I asked somewhat randomly, “How about the zoo?” thinking I’d probably get a thumbs down and a response that it’s for little kids. But she instead surprised me with an enthusiastic, “Okay!”
When we mentioned our plan to Owen and Levi, they unexpectedly wanted to join, too. Though looking back, it was silly of me to assume they wouldn’t want to go. The zoo isn’t just for young children… I mean, Levi and I used to go before we even had kids.
The National Zoo is a great place for anyone to enjoy a day out. Besides just visiting the residents — and there are so many different species! — you can catch animal demos, like elephant feedings and reptile meetings. When the kids were younger, they’d enjoy spins on the carousel. It’s also really nice to just stroll the grounds and even enjoy a picnic (BYO or buy food from concession stands there).
It had been since pre-Covid that most of us had been to the Zoo. (Owen had been on a photography field trip with school, but that was it.) Some things are a bit different now, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share current logistics, upcoming events, and a few tips for visiting.
And, by the way, we saw loads of people there without young children, from couples of all ages to adult friends on an outing… and even groups of teens.
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Timed-entry passes have been required for entry to the National Zoo since it reopened after Covid. They can be reserved in advance online. And don’t fret if you like to pop in to places if you’re in the area… passes don’t seem to sell out, and there are signs with QR code displays at the entrances, so you can get online with your phone and register for passes right there (but you can’t just walk in without passes). And admission to the Zoo is still free.
While admission to the Zoo is free, parking in the lot on site is $30 per car. Parking passes can be purchased in advance online. Note that cars can no longer access the parking lot from Beach Drive. The only vehicle entrance is at 3100 Connecticut Ave. NW.
KFDC Tip: If you don’t need to park that close and want to save the $30, you can look for street parking nearby. We found a spot on Adams Mill Road NW and walked to the back entrance at Harvard Street Bridge just off Beach Drive. Of course, you can avoid parking altogether by taking Metro (Woodley Park is the closest stop) and walking a few blocks down Connecticut to the Zoo.
The Zoo is open daily, with the exception of Christmas Day, though hours vary by time of year. Summer hours (July 1 – September 30) are 8am – 6pm with last admittance at 5pm. Winter hours (October 1 – June 30) are 8am – 4pm with last admittance at 3pm.
KFDC Tip: Go early during warmer months if you can for more animals sightings, as some retreat to their indoor areas on hot days.
The National Zoo hosts several annual events that are fun to attend. It’s worth keeping an eye on their Events page to see what’s coming up.
* Boo at the Zoo, the annual Halloween fest, is back in person this year on October 28, 29, and 30 — and it’s super fun for young kids (we went several time when the kids were little).
* ZooLights is the annual animal-themed holiday light display. It’s free and always very popular.
* Easter Monday always takes place the day after Easter welcoming the public for an egg hunt, live entertainment, and special activities (2023 info TBA).
* Adult events like Brew at the Zoo are occasionally hosted at the zoo.
* Events to celebrate animal birthdays, zoo anniversaries, and more come up throughout the year and are always fun times to visit.
The Zoo is a big place, and it can take a long time to walk the whole thing, especially if you like to spend a decent amount of time watching the animals and/or you’re with little ones with little legs. It’s not a bad idea to look at the map before you go and strategize on animal visits based on location. Also check the Daily Animal Demos schedule so you can factor that in to your timing.
For lunch or snacks, concession stands and a few food trucks are located throughout the Zoo selling burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, pizza, pretzels, popcorn, etc. plus sweet treats. As mentioned above, you can also BYO — there are tables where you can sit down to eat as well as some grassy spots.
More to know
* Paved paths are very stroller friendly.
* Some fun beyond the animals: Speedwell Conservation Carousel ($4), Me and the Bee Playground, The Good of the Hive Mural, and the Squirt Zone (in summer).
* There is a limit on the number of people allowed inside the animal houses, so there could be a short wait to go in.
* The Visitor Center near the Connecticut Ave entrance usually has an exhibit on display and a gift shop with lots of cute items.
* There are two more gift shops near the pandas and lions, plus a few kiosks around the park.
* If you’re so inclined, the Vintage Views food (drink) truck offers cocktails and beer along with coffee and lemonade.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Where: Woodley Park, DC
When: Daily, except for December 25
Admission: Free with timed-entry passes