ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Travel and Places»
  • Visiting North America»
  • United States

Highlights of The National Zoo: A Washington D.C. Family Day Trip

Updated on October 27, 2014

The National Zoo: See the Pandas for Free!

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park, commonly known as the National Zoo, is a great place to take the kids when they need a break from all the monuments, museums and historical sites in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1889, the zoo is about a 20-minute ride from the National Mall on the city's subway system, the Metro. The zoo also offers parking for a fee.

One of the most-attractive aspects to the zoo is that it is free! That's a huge plus when you realize that many other zoos are now charging quite a bit of money for admission.

We toured the zoo on a recent visit to Washington, D.C.

National Zoo Giant Panda
National Zoo Giant Panda

The Zoo's Giant Pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian

The Highlight of the Visit!

The zoo's main attraction are its two Giant Pandas, and they are well worth the trip. The pandas, named Mei Xiang (''Beautiful Fragrance'') and Tian Tian (''More and More'') were quite interesting to see, though all they did while we were there was sit and eat.

That's not all that surprising, because the animals' main food is bamboo, which doesn't have much nutrition. The zoo says pandas in captivity also get sugar cane, rice gruel, a special high-fiber biscuit, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes, but while we were there the only thing the two animals did was sit and break apart bamboo sticks to feed. For more information on Giant Pandas, see Giant Pandas.

The funny thing is that each panda sat with its back to us, as if they really didn't want to be bothered. We could see their faces on closed-circuit TV, so it wasn't a total loss.

Outside the area where the two pandas were sitting is a quite extensive exhibit about how endangered the animals are, and how little has been done to protect the animals and their habitat (which consists in the wild of only a small range in China).

National Zoo Think Tank
National Zoo Think Tank

The Think Tank

Testing How, and If, Animals Think

One very interesting part of the zoo was the building known as the Think Tank, dedicated to researching how animals think. Or don't think, as the case may be.

Flexibility is a key in the definition of thinking, the introduction to the exhibit explains. For instance, a newborn duckling will latch onto the first large moving object it sees, whether it's the bird's mother, or a dog, or even a rolling ball. That's called imprinting and isn't considered thinking.

Beavers, however, know when to plug their dams and when to unplug them to keep the water level where they want it when ice occurs. That flexibility would indicate some thinking, the exhibit says.

Researchers are doing experiments with the zoo's orangutans to see how much they actually think, and there is a long video showing some of the experiments. Not to worry, all the research is safe. The animals seem to be enjoying getting rewarded for taking part.

The exhibit is in a neat older building topped with some very nice animal statues (see photo).

The Red Panda, Caracal and Przewalski's Horse

Less-Common Animals That Can Be Seen

We have gone to many zoos across the United States, South America and Europe, so whenever we visit a new one we tend to seek out the animals we haven't seen before. The Giant Pandas were the obvious target this time, but there were a few others that the National Zoo had that we either had never seen before or only just rarely seen.

For instance, this may have been the first time we caught Przewalski's Horse. The endangered animal once ranged across central Asia, specifically China and Mongolia. Once extinct in the wild, the horses have been reintroduced in a Mongolian animal sanctuary. These big, bruising horses are unique in that they have never been domesticated. Most horses in the world that are seen as wild are actually feral, having been domesticated in the past. but not Pzerwalski's (Sheh-VAL-ski's) horse. It's always been wild.

The caracal is another animal that I don't remember, though that may be because of the name. It was alternatively known as the African Lynx (but it isn't a lynx), so I may have seen the cat under that name in a different zoo. It's a handsome cat (see photo) that seemed quite content with just relaxing on a rock during our visit.

We also saw a Red Panda, which despite its name isn't closely related to Giant Pandas at all. Instead, the animal is in its own family, and appears to be closer to a raccoon that a Giant Panda. Two things it has in common with its namesake: 1) The animal is a bamboo eater, 2) The animal also wouldn't turn around so I could see its face!

national zoo elephant
national zoo elephant

Elephants at a Distance, Bear Viewing Restricted

The Zoo is Undergoing Renovations

A fairly large section right in the middle of the zoo is under renovation now, with the sea lion and seals exhibition closed.

The elephant exhibition is undergoing a large rehab that started in 2006. The upgrade will give the zoo's Asian elephants an environment more like the wild while enabling zoo-goers to get some good close-up views of the animals. At least that's what the zoo's website says. As it was, we could only get a glimpse of one elephant, and that was at a far distance.

Because of the work being done the bears are actually cut off from the main paths of the zoo, and to see them you have to wind your way all around the park to a lonely corner. And, unfortunately, they are only out on weekends. We were there on a Saturday, but didn't make it in time. They had already gone in by the time we got there.

A Sampling of the Zoo's Animals

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Have you Toured the National Zoo?

national zoo map
national zoo map

My family and I really enjoyed our tour of the National Zoo. Have you ever visited the zoo, or do you plan to? If yes, what did you think? If no, why not?

Have you ever been to the National Zoo?

See results

Giant Pacific Octopus at the National Zoo

This short video was shot by my daughter, who also chose the accompanying music. The keeper told us the octopus is estimated to be about one year old.

Library of Congress, Ford's Theatre, and the Philips Collection!

Our Washington D.C. Tour!

We spent six days in Washington, D.C., a city that has so many great attractions that there is plenty to see for everyone in your family. Here are reviews of some of the places that we visited, and we hope to add more soon!

Ford's Theatre, Where Lincoln Was Assassinated: A Washington D.C. Family Day Trip
Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. was the scene of America's greatest tragedy. On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln, having successfully guided the c...

National Museum of American History: A Washington D.C. Family Day Trip
The National Museum of American History in the heart of Washington D.C. is one of those places that can really capture the attention of every member of the f...

Highlights of the Library of Congress: Thomas Jefferson, Bob Hope and the Gutenberg Bible!
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, photographs, maps and other items in its collection. The Thomas Jefferso...

Highlights of the National Gallery of Art: A Washington Family Day Trip
The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall in Washington D.C., and is a great change of pace from the many museums that are nearby. The pain...

Highlights of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum
The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are located in the same building, and are officially called the Donald W. Reynolds Cent...

Renoir and Highlights of the Phillips Collection: A Washington D.C. Family Day Trip
The Phillips Collection opened in 1921 as America's first museum of modern art, and it is still considered one of the premiere places to see such masterpiece...

Thomas Edison, George Washington and the Frick Collection! - Our Other Travel Lenses

Thomas Edison House Glenmont: A New Jersey Family Day Trip!
Thomas Edison, one of America's greatest inventors, lived for more than four decades in a 29-room mansion called Glenmont in the exclusive Llewellyn Park nei...

Gettysburg Battlefield Museum: A Pennsylvania Family Day Trip
The Gettysburg Visitor Center and Museum, located in the Gettysburg National Military Park, is the best place to start any visit to the Civil War battlefield...

Thomas Edison's Laboratory
The Thomas Edison laboratory in New Jersey is a great family day trip. Edison was the inventor of the first practical electric bulb, the motion picture camer...

Geppi's Entertainment Museum
Geppi's Entertainment Museum is located in Baltimore and is dedicated to all sorts of American pop culture: comic books, television, radio, movies, magazines...

Moon Baltimore Book Review: A Great Little Tourist Guide!
We used this guidebook for a long weekend in Baltimore, and never felt the need to consult any other tour books or seek out more information from the Baltimo...

George Washington
The Ford Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey, served as George Washington's Revolutionary War headquarters during the winter of 1779-1780, close enough to New ...

Visiting Fort McHenry, Birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner: Family Day Trip!
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine is a great place to visit, full of inspiring history, lovely grounds and cool views. It's also a place to ...

Things to Do in Nova Scotia: Highlights of Our Family Vacation
Nova Scotia offered our family a good mix of what we look for on when we go away on vacation. There's beautiful scenery to hike through, historical and cultu...

Top Five Travel Tips For Tourists Going to Nova Scotia
Our family recently visited Nova Scotia, which a wonderful place that has a wide variety of things to do for everyone. We wrote an online diary of the trip, ...

Highlights of the Frick Collection
The Frick Collection is an art museum in Manhattan's Upper East Side, and is world-famous for its collection of Old Master paintings. Included in the collect...

Of Family Vacations and Comic Books

All About Goldenrulecomics

For more about who we are and what we write about see here:

Of Comic Books and Family Vacations: Who is GoldenRuleComics?
Who is GoldenRuleComics? Actually, the better question is who ARE GoldenRuleComics! I am the father of a teenage daughter, and we live in New Jersey. I hand...

I hope you enjoyed this lens as much as we enjoyed visiting the National Zoo. Please share your thoughts on the zoo, pandas, this lens or anything else that's relevant.

Thanks for visiting!

What are Your Thoughts on the National Zoo?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • TerriCarr profile image

      TerriCarr 4 years ago

      It is a great place. And now there is another new panda....Bao Bao....Mei Xiang's girl cub born August 2013. Still looks very cub-like and cute.

    • blue22d profile image

      blue22d 4 years ago

      Great lens. I would love to visit - especially would like to see the pandas.

    • Raymond Eagar profile image

      Raymond Eagar 4 years ago

      The kids must enjoy it .

    • LornsA178 profile image

      LornsA178 4 years ago

      I wish we were able to visit the National Zoo during our visit at DC, it was a quick vacation. I hope to see it next time.

    • profile image

      TanoCalvenoa 5 years ago

      IF my family was to go to DC, then we would want to see this zoo for sure!

    • profile image

      ericsdorsey 5 years ago

      Love zoos. Our family has a membership and we go year round.

    • profile image

      MaryMitchell 5 years ago

      Zoos are great as long as the animals' happiness, health and welfare are the foremost concern!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Zoos are fun!

    • sunlightseer profile image

      sunlightseer 5 years ago

      Zoos are wonderful places if done right. I'd love to visit the National Zoo sometime.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 5 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I remember visiting the National Zoo many years ago, and I remember that I loved it, especially the big ape sitting with his back up against the glass, turning his head to look at me every minute or so. But I didn't recall that it was a free zoo. I hope to visit again sometime.

    • JenwithMisty profile image

      Jen withFlash 5 years ago

      Very cool lens! Love the pics!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 5 years ago from United States

      I love zoos! It has been many years since I have been to the Washington DC zoo. It looks like they have made some really great improvements. Love you photos, especially the Caracal :) Such a beautiful cat!

    • profile image

      Psychologist 6 years ago

      Not generally a big fan of zoos, but thumbs up to this one for adapting some of the enclosuers to make them a more natural environment

    • orange3 lm profile image

      orange3 lm 6 years ago

      I have been to the National Zoo and it is a wonderful break from everything else in D.C.

    • squidkai1 profile image

      squidkai1 6 years ago

      Great lens thanks for sharing!

    • Missmerfaery444 profile image

      Missmerfaery444 6 years ago

      Thank you for a great tour around the National Zoo! That's great that the zoo is free. We have a year pass for our local zoo here in England which makes it more affordable, as our toddler loves to visit. It makes such a great day out for the family.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)