National Zoo

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!”
– The Wizard of Oz

My boyfriend and I were looking for something different to do.  After a brief conversation, we decided to go to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, to walk around and get some exercise while looking at the animals.

Although I grew up in Maryland and had been to the Zoo many, many times before, I thought it would be a lot of fun. This time, I’d be experiencing it through the eyes of an adult…AND the lens of my Canon Eos S1 DSLR camera.

A gorgeous peacock explores the Zoo grounds


There are many ways to get to the Zoo.  We don’t live too far away (about 30 minutes), but we still considered all the options.

  • Take the Metro (what DC area residents call our subway) 
  • Drive
  • Take Uber, Lyft, taxi, etc.


If the cost will factor into how you decide to get there, here are the expenses to consider.

Metro Train Costs

  • Roundtrip Metro Fare: 
  • Parking at the Metro Station 
    • Short-Term Metered Parking: $1 per hour (Quarters and $1 coins only)
    • Weekends & Federal Holidays: Parking at the Metro station is FREE
    • Go to for more information
panda bear
An adorable panda bear snacks on bamboo

Driving Costs (Offers the most flexibility)

  • Gas & Mileage 
  • Tolls (if you opt to take a route with tolls)
  • Parking at the Zoo (in one of their lots; space is limited) – $22* per car (flat rate)

 Rideshare (Uber, Lyft) or Taxi

  • Fare (you can get an estimate online at Uber and Lyft; you may have to call the cab company for a fare estimate)
    • You will need to download the Uber or Lyft app to arrange for a ride
  • Tip for the driver (if you opt to tip, which in my opinion, you should)


Zoo Parking Lots

There are parking lots at the Zoo near the Connecticut Avenue entrance and near the Beach Drive/Rock Creek Parkway entrance.  There are a limited number of parking spaces and lots fill up fast, especially when the weather is hot.  

♦ PRO TIP:  If you decide to drive to the Zoo, park near the Beach Drive/Rock Creek Parkway entrance. That way, the first part of your walk around the zoo will be uphill.  Then when you (and your kids, if any will be with you) are tired and ready to leave, your walk back to your car will be all downhill.  (Trust me, this makes a BIG difference!)

Alternative Parking Option

The National Zoo has partnered with Parking Panda to offer additional parking options to Zoo visitors.  Parking Panda allows you to find, reserve, and pay in advance for a parking space.  This will offer you some peace of mind and the cost of parking will probably be less.


Admission to the zoo is free (yippee!) so you can just walk right in when you get there.     

It’s pretty big, so navigating it can be a challenge if you are unprepared Although there are signs posted throughout the zoo, I think it’s easier t.o find your way around using another option.

national zoo map
Smithsonian National Zoo Map


There are quite a few animals and exhibits to see. You may want to look at the map to find the location of the exhibits you’re interested in before you get started.  

PRO TIP:  Many animals retire to their cages, caves, etc. in the late afternoon or early evening (especially when it’s really hot out), so keep this in mind when planning your visit. If you go too late in the day, you may not see as many animals as you’d like.


Food is available throughout the Zoo at various restaurants, food carts,  and kiosks. Options are available for those with special dietary needs such as kid-friendly, gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian.

If you’d prefer to save money and bring your own food and/or drinks, that is fine.  The National Zoo allows outside food and non-alcoholic beverages.  There are plenty of places to sit down and eat throughout the Zoo grounds.


Suggested Clothing & Shoes

  • Dress appropriately for the season. 
    • In hot months, dress in loose, light-colored clothing to reflect the sun and keep you cooler since there aren’t many shady spots at the Zoo.
    • In months where the weather fluctuates, wear layers.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.  The Zoo is quite large and you will do a lot of walking.

Hot Weather Essentials

  • Lots of water so you can stay hydrated and avoid fainting and/or heatstroke 
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Optional Items: Hats, umbrellas


  • The only outside animals that are allowed in the Zoo are service animals.


  • Public restrooms are available throughout the Zoo


  • You can get cash at the ATM at either the Visitor Center or the Mane Restaurant.



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