Our first visit to the National Zoo


In May, the National Zoo had a special on annual memberships. If you bought a membership in May, you would get two free months free so your membership would go until July 31, 2020 instead of May 31. Admission to the National Zoo is free, so at first I questioned why a family would need to pay for a membership.

Then I read about the zoo. The zoo is located between two metro stops. But each metro stop is about a half mile walk uphill to the zoo, where you will do a lot of walking anyway. There is parking at the zoo but it costs $25 for the day. So if you leave in the DC metro area and plan to go to the zoo at least three times in the calendar year, you break even with parking alone in addition to the discounts you receive for food and gift shops inside the zoo.

Clarissa loves animals. If you meet her in person she will tell you, “I love all animals, ocean animals, and bugs infinity.” The zoo is about twenty minutes from our house so I figure, even with baby Tiffany coming, we’ll go to the zoo at least three times this year. Today was our first trip to the National Zoo.

I had read that although there are five different parking lots for the zoo, and they fill up by  10 AM, so you want to get to the zoo early. We arrived about 8:45 since it is a holiday weekend and we thought it would be crowded. The parking lot was pretty empty at that time. We parked in lot D so we were walking up hill in the morning and walking downhill at the end when we were tired.

The website says that the zoo grounds open at 8 AM and the exhibits open at 9 AM. We arrived about 8:45 so by the time we walked into the zoo and went to the bathroom it was almost 9:00. There was a worker at the entrance selling memberships and giving kids dinosaur hats. The barn animals are at that entrance as well as a bumble bee playground so there is plenty to see right there. You are allowed to touch the cows, donkeys, alpacas, and goats, but they weren’t close enough to reach on our visit. Clarissa still enjoyed seeing them.

The first building we passed was Amazonia. It was a few minutes after 9, but that building didn’t open until 10, so we kept going. We walked through the American animals and got to see sea lions, a grey wolf, and an American otter. We even got to watch them feed and talk about a harp seal.

When we got to the top of the hill, the elephants were not outside so we kept walking. At the top of another hill we saw the Elephant Community Center and went inside. We finally got to see elephants and learn some things with the interactive exhibits.

At that point, we had been outside less than an hour but had been walking up hill on a very humid day with no breeze. Clarissa was asking to go to the gift shop (she earned a treat this week) and go home. We walked to the visitor center after 10 AM only to discover that the gift shops don’t open until 11.

We walked down the hill and stopped by the small mammal house to see the Fennec Fox she was so excited about. We all really enjoyed the animals and that the building was air conditoned. I convinced Clarissa to walk by the pandas and cheetahs since it was on the way back to the car. But neither one was outside because it was too hot out. We did however find all six of the animatronic dinosaurs, so she was excited about that.

We left by 10:30 and the parking lot was almost full so I do recommend arriving early if you are planning to park. But if you want to buy anything at the gift shop, you need to stay past 11.

While the National Zoo is a great zoo, we will do things differently on our next visit in order to enjoy it better. First of all, we will wait until the fall when kids are back in school. Then it won’t be as crowded and we can probably arrive closer to 10 AM. All of the buildings and gift shops will be open if we come a little later. The lower temperatures will also mean that most of the animals should be outside so that we can actually see them.

After the zoo, we headed to Doodlehopper 4 Kids in Falls Church for Clarissa to pick out her stuffed animal. I didn’t take pictures since we were just in there for a stuffed animal. But I will say that it looks like a great toy store. There were plenty of stuffed animals, puppets, educational toys, books, and costumes. I know we will be back.

Then we headed to lunch in Fairfax at a place called Masala Wok, which was recommended by one of Tim’s friends from work. There are Indian dishes as well as other Asian noodle and rice dishes. Tim and I really enjoyed our food. Clarissa just ordered naan, but was quite content with hers as well. We even got to watch part of one of the Cricket World Series games. I don’t think I have ever watched cricket before. It was interesting.

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