Zoos in Washington DC and Everything You Need to Know

Washington DC Zoos

When it comes to zoos in Washington, D.C., I will admit they are pretty limited. BUT! The Zoos in Washington, DC, have changed my perspective on zoos from here forward. 

Nothing compares to the Washington DC Zoo, like NOTHING. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo was like being in a museum and the animals were each their own exhibit.

There was no glass or large fences (except for a few animals) that obscure your view. It gives a very natural habitat feel and makes it feel like you are fully immersed in the Zoo.

If you are searching for zoos in Washington, DC, you have a few options:

  • Smithsonian National Zoological Park
  • National Aquarium
  • Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

The Conservation and Biology Institute isn’t something you can tour or walk around although this is something you might find while you are searching for zoos in Washington DC. This is the corporation that is in charge of the conservation and research center, so that isn’t something for the public.

While the National Aquarium isn’t a zoo, it is the closest thing you will find nearby to zoos in Washington, DC.

Now that we have narrowed down the zoos in Washington, DC, to the official Smithsonian National Zoo, let’s explore some important things to know when booking a trip and planning your day at the world’s oldest zoo. 

Hours

Tickets

Parking and Transportation

Animals Exhibits 

Dining Options in The DC Zoo

Stores and Additional Information 

Things to do Near The Washington DC Zoos

Ostrich at the Washington DC Zoo

Washington DC Zoos Location 

The Washington D.C. Zoo is located at 3001 Connecticut Ave. 

Hours and Days

The Washington DC Zoo opens at 8:00 am. On a warm day, this is not an issue, but during winter and early Spring, this is a little early for walking around outside.

The Exhibits inside the Washington DC Zoo open at 9:00 am. As we mentioned, 8:00 am is really early, and an hour is more than enough time to walk around the zoo outside and check out all the animals they have. 

We found ourselves cold and wanted to dip inside a building to warm up. Once the Exhibits open at 9:00 a.m., you are about to walk inside them. Shortly, we will discuss parking and transportation, and this will help you figure out what time you should show up at the Zoo, depending on your transportation. 

The last entry into the entire zoo is at 5:00 p.m., and the exhibit buildings are open until 6:00 p.m. (summer) and 4:00 p.m. (winter), with the last entry 30 minutes before closing. 

The Zoo is open every day, except for Dec 25th. 

Winter Hours

Begin September 15 from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Last admission at 3:00 pm

Summer Hours

Begin March 15 from 8:00 am – 6:00 pm 

Last admission at 5:00 pm

Tickets and Passes

Admission to the zoo is free, and reserving passes is required.

Zoo Reservations – Free Admission 

Parking at the Washington DC Zoo

Parking and Transportation

There are a few ways to get to the Zoo.

Car, Walking (depending on where you stay or get dropped off), and Public Transportation.

The zoo opens at 8:00 am and parking opens around that time as well. 


If you are driving in and parking, we suggest showing up before 8:00 a.m. on a warm day and entering at 8:00 a.m. when they open. You will most likely get parking lot A and be right next to one of the zoo’s entrances. 

Most of the Zoo entrances are off Connecticut Avenue. 


Car and Parking

During our most recent trip, we decided to take the car because we had rented one for the entire trip. With a child and stroller, a car was significantly easier for our group. 

For parking at the zoo you will need to purchase a pass ahead of time. The zoo’s parking is a flat rate of $30, and spaces are extremely limited. We were able to purchase ours the day before, but when you are booking your admission passes and you know you are driving, add your parking pass at the same time for ease. 


Purchase Parking Pass Here

Washington DC Zoo Parking Lots

There are multiple parking lots at the zoo. Each parking lot has its own entrance to the zoo, where you will go through security and start your day. If you want to start at the entrance of the zoo, you will want to shoot for Parking lot A. But if you have no preference where you begin your zoo journey any of the parking lots work. 

Uber/Lyft Drop-off

Any of the Ride-share companies will drop you off on the street outside the main entrance of the zoo off Connecticut Ave. 

As a pedestrian, you can enter from both 3001 Connecticut Ave NW and the Harvard Street Bridge side. 

Walking

As for walking, the best way to get into the Washington DC Zoo is to enter from the Connecticut Ave entrance since you will see the Zoo sign and have the full entrance experience. 

Avoid the Rock Creek Park Bike Path as an option into the Zoo as there is no admission into the Zoo from this path.

Public Transportation 

When it comes to using public transportation, you have two options: the Metro Rail or the Metro Bus. The Washington DC Zoo has two stops within walking distance. You will want to use the main entrance, located at 3001 Connecticut Ave., NW. 

You can plan your trip with the Washington Trip Planner 

Metro Trip Planner

Metro Bus

The zoo’s main entrance has two bus stops nearby. The stops are L1 and L2 and those are both in front of the Connecticut Ave entrance. 

Metro Rail

For the Metro Rail, you have two options for stops, both on the Red Line. Insider tip: the walk is uphill from the Woodley Park stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop; they are about the same distance to the Zoo’s entrance. 

Animal Exhibits at the Washington DC Zoo

Animals and Exhibits

Now, to the fun stuff! What is at the zoo, and what will you see?

The Zoo in Washington DC sans 163 acres and utilizes the space in such a wonderful way.

I’m sure you remember my comment from the first paragraph that my perception of zoos has and will forever be changed after going to the Zoo in Washington, D.C. Every trip we go on includes a visit to the Zoo or an Aquarium as part of our itinerary, and DC was no different.

Animals at the Washington DC Zoo

The zoo is home to more than 2,200 animals representing 400 different species. Its main focus is veterinary and reproductive research, which aims to save some of the world’s most endangered animals.

On the Meet the Animals of the Washington DC Zoos page, you can scroll through the 300+ pages of animals at the zoo.

Exhibits at the Washington DC Zoo

African Trial

The Africa Trail is home to the Cheetah conservation station, ostriches, zebras, and the critically endangered addax.

Amazonia

Get up close to the animals of the Amazon, including many different turtles, a touch tank with sting rays, arapaima, and roseate spoonbills. Or, see cutting-edge Zoo science at Amphibian Alert and the Coral Lab.

This was my absolute favorite spot in the entire zoo. This area has a section where you are walking alongside animals within the exhibit. We were less than 2 feet from a Roseate Spoonbill and overlooked the tank with sting rays. 

American Bison

Bison inspired the founding of the Zoo and helped spark the conservation movement.

This exhibit is the most beautiful thing I’ve seen. Walking up to this section, there is no tall glass or fences surrounding it. You get the most unobstructed view of the American Bison. 

American Trail Washington DC Zoo

American Trail 

American Trail is the place where Zoo visitors can get their feet wet while learning about gray seals, sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, gray wolves, brown pelicans, and beavers.

Asia Trail

Asia Trail is home to some of the largest continent’s most unique species: sloth bears, red pandas, Asian small-clawed otters, clouded leopards, and fishing cats.

You would normally be able to see the Giant Pandas in this area, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian specifically. But during our visit, there were no. 

Bird House

The Bird House exhibit invites Zoo visitors to soar into the fascinating world of North American shorebirds, waterfowl, and songbirds. The bird house has around 80 species of birds. While there has been a massive renovation to the birdhouse, it keeps its original charm with the original mosaic archway. 

Check the Washington DC Zoos website for animal demonstrations with birds.

Bird House Washington DC Zoo

Claws & Paws Pathway

Meet binturongs, bobcats, Pallas’ cats, and porcupines along Claws & Paws Pathway.

Elephant Trails

Elephant Trails is more than an exhibit; it is also an extensive conservation program built on decades of science. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s rich history of caring for and studying Asian elephants spans more than a century.


I will mention the website says the elephant exhibit opens at 8:00 am. But on colder days they will delay the opening for the elephants. We didn’t see the elephants until later in the afternoon, around 11:00 or so. 

The special thing about the Elephant trail is that you can walk along the bridge on your way to the Bird House and overlook the elephants from above. 

There is an Elephant Community Center where Keeper Demos are held at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm. 

Big Cats At the Washington DC Zoo
Big Cats at the Washington DC Zoo

Great Cats

Some of the planet’s top predators, including African lions and Sumatran tigers, live at the Great Big Cats exhibit.

The male Lions and the Female African Lions are in separate cages next to each other. 

Farm Animal Exhibit at the Washington DC Zoo
Farm Animal Exhibit with Cow at the Washington DC Zoo

Kids’ Farm

At Kids’ Farm, visitors can see cows, alpacas, hogs, donkeys, goats, chickens and fish.

We live in an area with a small farm that has most of these animals and I still found this area to be absolutely adorable and spent a good amount of time wandering around this area. 

In addition to the farm animals, there is also a small playground in this area. It was really cold on the day we were there, and we quickly took a slide after a restroom break. If it had been a better day, we would have hung out an extra half hour for our daughter to hang out and play in this area. 

Our Voices in Saving Species

This gallery of photos and stories highlights the Smithsonian’s efforts to save wildlife species from extinction protection with endangered species and to train future generations of conservation scientists.

This exhibit does not have animals in it. It is just an informational area that will help you understand the Washington DC Zoo’s goal and how they are looking to future development for science and conservation efforts. 

Orangutans Crossing Trail at Washington DC Zoo
Orangutans at Washington DC Zoo

Primates

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is home to over a dozen species of primates.  The homestead for the Zoo’s gorillas and orangutans is the Great Ape House. 

I will admit this was my least favorite area. It was really stinky inside, and I always find myself watching a larger gorilla get angry with a younger gorilla. I just don’t love it and hate having to explain what is going on to our daughter. I know, I know, it’s wildlife, and this stuff happens. 

While some people may enjoy this, we will skip these areas from now on if they are indoors. 

The Orangutans have an indoor-outdoor area with a really cool Orangutans crossing bridge. While they did climb to the top of the tower, we didn’t see them use the crossing. I think this would be REALLY cool to watch and might make it part of my plan next time to sit and hang out for a while to see if they use it. 

Giant Turtles at the Washington DC Zoo
Snapping Turtle

Reptile Discovery Center

The Reptile Discovery Center celebrates the diversity, beauty, and unique adaptations of more than 70 reptiles and amphibians.

There are lizards, turtles, tortoises, alligators, crocodiles, snakes, frogs, geckos, komodo dragons, and so many more. 

There are multiple indoor viewing areas in the Reptile Discovery Center and you can meet a reptile or amphibian at 11:00 am or 2:00 pm.

Meerkats in the small mammal house
Meerkats in the small mammal house 2

Small Mammal House

Scurry into the Small Mammal House and get up close with animals such as sand cats, golden lion tamarins, and naked mole-rats.

This area was super cute, with all the animals in the exhibit. Our favorite was how close you could get to the meerkats and watching them play with each other. The naked mole-rat was not cute. There were around 15 of them, and they walked through tubes to get to the feeding areas. While it is comical to watch, they are just not cute, lol. 

Animals Recap 

Remember to check out the daily demonstrations, animal training, and programs at each of the exhibits. 

The Smithsonian institutions focus on different species of animals depending on their conservation status. While a lot of the animals stay the same, there are a few that will transition out during your visit. 

There are times that you will see individual animals and others where they get swapped out or they are no longer part of the Smithsonian institution exhibits. For example the Scimitar-Horned Oryx is no longer on exhibit at the zoo and was once in the extinct in the wild conservation status. This rare species is still a part of wildlife research. 

Vintage Views Beer Cart at Washington DC Zoo

Dining Options in The DC Zoo

When it comes to food you have endless options around the zoo and within the zoo. 

For most, you will find yourself at the Mane Cafe, where you can grab sandwiches, vegetarian and vegan burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, fries, and more. 

The other option is Sbarro Pizza outside Panda Plaza, where you can get pizza, calzones, fries, chicken, and more. 

There are a few Zoo Market & Cafes around that serve coffee, and an adult drink cart offers beer and a few craft cocktails. 

The food trucks around the park have ice cream, snacks, popcorn, coffee, BBQ, cocktails, beer, and more.

The Zoo Market & Cafe has a digital ordering board. It is slow and does not provide a receipt, but it’s easy to use and very quick to grab a bite to eat or some hot coffee. 

Spirit Jersey and Merch at the Washington DC Zoo
Red Panda Wild One Spirit Jersey

Zoo Stores, Visitor Centers, and Additional Information

The Washington DC Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, opening in 1889, and we can thank Frederick Law Olmsted for this wonderful work with the zoo and many spots around the United States. 

There are multiple spots to shop and take home a piece of the Washington DC Zoo with you. We are a spirit jersey family and the DC Zoo had a few to pick from. You can take home something little like a sticker or anything from the large selection of clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, books, and toys. 

The Smithsonian Institutes offers birthday parties, education programs, special events, and free programs for kids within the zoo. 

If these are something you can add to your visit, they are well worth it. The dates and times can be found on their website in the education tab under the educational calendar. 

mural at Washington DC Zoo

Things to do Near The Washington DC Zoos

There is so much to do in Washington, DC. Depending on your group size and the ages of the people in your group will dictate what is a great place or give you an idea of how to break up your day. 

Family Fun in Washington DC

National Mall

Visit the many Museums and Smithsonian Institutes many museums

  • Natural History Museum
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History Museum
  • National Air and Space Museum
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • National Museum of African American History and Culture
  • International Spy Musuem
  • National Gallery of Art
  • National Postal Museum 
  • National Museum of the American Indian
  • Museum of the Bible

Embassy Row

Ford’s Theater and The Peterson House

National Botanical Gardens

George Washington’s Mount Vernon Gardens and Grounds

National Archives

Explore National Harbour

Explore Old Alexandria

Beaver
Small Mammals Area at Washington DC Zoo
Frogs at Washington DC Zoo
Reptiles at the Washington DC Zoo
Tiny Monkeys at Washington DC
Washington DC Zoo Mammals

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