We are lucky to live near the Smithsonian’s National Zoo! A trip to the Zoo can go south fast if you aren’t prepared. Our Zoo adventures have taught me some essentials:
Get a Membership!
Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) help support the Zoo’s commitment to animal conservation and wildlife research. Being a FONZ member (general premier membership and above) allows you free parking and admission to specials events at the Zoo. If you plan on going to the Zoo 4 times a year its cheaper than paying for parking.
Parking at the Zoo alone is enough to deter some families from ever going. During peak Zoo times (spring through summer) the parking lots can fill up by 9 am on weekends and 11-12 on weekdays. Zoo parking helps cut down on unnecessary walking so make sure you get there early and use Parking Panda to reserve parking, if you are not a member. If you have very wee ones parking in Lot B, by the pandas, you can go up or down from there for a shorter trip. If your kids can handle a bit more walking, parking at the bottom and going up Olmsted walk and back down to the Elephant Outpost along the American Trail, Amazonia, and the Kid’s Farm is a good route. No matter your route, if you have kids who will ride in a stroller, bring one (or rent one)! The houses have so many amazing exhibits, but as a former Volunteer Reptile Keeper at the Zoo I know how crazy these houses get when its summer, so we usually save them for colder weather trips. There are exhibits behind the Small Mammal, Great Apes, and Reptile Houses we prefer during busy times. Avoiding the houses means avoiding the stroller checks! Because who wants to spend their time at the Zoo arguing with a toddler to get back into the stroller? For all you stroller free families, I envy you, you can more easily brave the houses during summer.
Break for children!
Don’t just stop in front of the animal enclosures! Your little animals need breaks too! The Panda Overlook cafe is usually less crowded for eating breaks. We always bring food to save time and money and ask for free cold water refills for water bottles at any cafe along the way. The Bathrooms down by the police station are always our first and last stop when we park at the bottom. There is a herd (family) bathroom at the Elephant Outpost and the sea lion tank has an underwater viewing area that is cool and dark with benches. It is always my favorite place to stop when the baby needs to nurse, the wee ones want a snack or we need a rest.
Do the Extras!
There are always things going on at the Zoo! There are animal demos, animal feedings, keeper talks and special events (like the upcoming Brew at the Zoo). Check the website (or download the Smithsonian app) for dates and times so you don’t miss out. I like to check the app and plan our route so we hit the houses and exhibits as the demos, feedings and talks are happening. The Prairie Dog Tunnels are always open and a great place for young ones to explore and play.The Conservation Carousel is always a big hit with our little ones and for only $3.50 it wont break the bank. The Tide Pool, by the seals, is a great way to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Be warned, the Tide Pool drenches! A swimsuit or change of clothes makes the day easier for everyone in my experience.
Enjoy your Zoo Adventures!