3001 Connecticut Ave. NW
HOURS: Nov.-Mar. daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.;
Apr.-Oct. daily 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
COST: Free; parking $15 for the first 3 hours, $20 over 3 hours
The National Zoological Park is one of the greatest perks of Washington DC: a park you can jog through, play in, and picnic in that is free and home to more than 2,400 animals.
The stars of the National Zoo continue to be its two giant pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, who have lived here since 2000. On loan from China, the bears are set to remain at the zoo until 2015. Their baby, Tai Shan, born in 2005, was sent to China in 2010 under a prior agreement between the United States and China regarding the couple’s offspring.
The National Zoo is full of other wonders to be discovered: two major pathways lead through the zoo, with offshoots to various exhibits and halls. Along the Olmsted Walk, visitors might see orangutans swinging overhead on their daily commute between the Ape House and the Think Tank, loads of lions (seven were born in 2010), tigers, gorillas, zebras, camels, kangaroos, and alligators.
Along the walk also are the Reptile House, the Small Mammal House, and the Great Ape House. An offshoot leads to a personal favorite, the Invertebrate House, home to cute cuttlefish, huge Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and a giant Pacific octopus.
Along the Valley Trail are exhibits showcasing bald eagles, beavers, and bears. The Asia Trail is home to clouded leopards, fishing casts, red pandas, and sloth bears.
In 2011, the elephants got a new home; the spacious facility, off the Elephant Trail, features new yards and play spaces for the institution’s pachyderms. In the far reaches of the park is a huge Bird House with dozens of colorful species like toucans, parrots, and hornbills.
The nearest Metro stop to the zoo is Woodley Park; when you leave the station, head left up the hill on Connecticut Avenue until you reach the zoo’s gates. The zoo’s education building, with park information, is just inside the entrance.
If you drive to the zoo, use Parking Lot D. It’s at the bottom of the hill, which means when you and your guests are tired toward the end of your visit, you’ll be walking downhill back to your car.