[DC Tour] Smithsonian National Zoo

Make sure to stop by the Smithsonian National Zoo, right in the District!

One of the best parts of DC is the number of free activities available, both indoor and outdoor year round. The Smithsonian has 17 different institutions in DC, including the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. All of them are accessible by public transit except the Udvar-Hazy Center. The Smithsonian is mostly museums, but one of my (Marissa's) favorites in the National Zoo. The Zoo is in the Woodley Park neighborhood of northwest DC.

Getting to the zoo is easy as there are three Metro stops within walking distance. The Red line stops, Woodley Park-Zoo and Cleveland Park get you to the front of the zoo. The Yellow line stop, Columbia Heights, is closer to the parking lots and the back entrance of the zoo. Pro-tip: use the red line and, on your way to the zoo, get off at Cleveland Park, so you walk downhill to the zoo entrance and, when you leave, walk downhill again to the Woodley Park stop. The DC circulator also goes from Woodley Park, through Adams Morgan, to downtown DC.

The Zoo, like all Smithsonians, is free and is open every day of the year except December 25. The zoo grounds are open from 8-5 from October through March 15, with the visitor center and exhibit buildings open from 9-4 and shops open from 10-4. From March 15 through September, the grounds stay open until 7pm, the visitor center and exhibit buildings until 6pm, and the shops until 5pm. Additionally, from November 29 through January 1, the zoo puts on ZooLights which is a animal-themed light show. Before you go, check their website for specifics, including sessional and weather-related changes.

I've been to the zoo a number of times in all different weather, including for ZooLights. The best time to go is between September and March on a weekday. In the summer, many people visit the zoo and DC can get extremely hot and sunny. The weather forces many of the animals inside and the zoo lacks overhead coverage so sunburn is a real possibility. As I mentioned, the zoo is on a hill. My tip here, is to start by walking all the way to the bottom and working your way back up. You might have to backtrack a little, but, as I've never followed this advice, I can assure you that walking up the hill all at once at the end of your visit is not ideal.

The zoo has many different animals to see and has split them up regionally, so it is also worth taking a look at a map to make sure you see all your favorite animals. I always have to remember to see the cheetahs because they are far away from the red pandas (my favorite) and are also far away from the tigers and lions. Also, if you don't like free-flying birds, you might want to skip Amazonia. If you're visiting with kids, or are young-at-heart, there is a kids too.

If you are lucky, or plan ahead well, you can get some great pictures!

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