We arrived to the zoo later than we had anticipated; went on a wild goose hunt for parking; and forgot to pack lunches. Below are a few lessons learned.
1) Get There Early
Our Experience: We arrived at the outskirts of National Zoo shortly after 10 a.m. and were disappointed to learn that all of the Zoo parking lots were already full.
We thought about ditching the Zoo for another Smithsonian museum that had more parking options, but decided to wind are way through the crowded and busy streets lined with embassies in the search for street parking.
Although our search for a place to park the car was a frustrating and heated treasure hunt, we found street parking only a short distance from the Zoo on 32nd Street, Northwest. Of course, we weren't completely certain if the parking spot we found was legal, given that the signs have zone requirements and various exceptions. Luckily, our car was still there when we returned!
Tip: Don't monkey around. Head to the National Zoo at the crack of dawn. I'm serious. If you are driving and want Zoo parking, you need to arrive very early.
Over the summer months, the Zoo grounds open at 6 a.m. Parking opens at 8 a.m. and the exhibit buildings open at 10 a.m.
My advice is to get to the Zoo by 9 a.m. with the hope of obtaining Zoo parking. Once you park, you can cruise through the outdoor exhibits and visit the exhibit buildings when they open later in the morning.
You may see some of these animals outside:
2) Bring Your Own Lunch
Our Experience: We thought we packed everything we would need for a trip to the National Zoo.
We stuffed the diaper bag full of bananas, granola bars, and baby formula. Although we had ample snacks on-hand, we didn't have enough substance to make it through the day.
We thought we would be able to buy a quick meal at the National Zoo, but many of the food kiosks were closed. And, the few vendors who were open were surrounded by long lines of hungry children and adults.
Tip: Pack a lunch, including snacks and drinks.
3) Decide How to Handle Your Baby Stroller
Tip: I'm not going to suggest that you break the Zoo rules and recommendations. Make your own decision about how to handle your baby stroller.
4) Join a Membership Program
My Experience: We are members of Smithsonian Associates and Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ). These memberships provide us with access to special events at the Zoo. For example, we always enjoy the annual Breakfast at the Zoo, which typically takes place in late September. The event allows attendees to enter the Zoo and take in the sights before it is open to the public. It's also early enough to catch many of the animals outdoors and eating.
Tip: If you really enjoy going to the Zoo and don't necessarily want to go with everyone and their brother, check our the various membership programs that are available through Smithsonian Associates and FONZ.
Our FONZ Premier membership status ($80) includes many benefits, such as:
- Free parking during regular daytime hours (Note: Since Zoo parking is $22, you only have to go to the Zoo four times to basically pay for your FONZ Premier membership.)
- A 10 percent discount in National Zoo stores;
- Exclusive access to special events;
- Two free carousel ride coupons;
- Two free fountain drink coupons; and
- Two discount coupons for food purchase (10 percent).