Where a trip to the National Zoo starts to break the bank is for food. So simple solution: pack a healthy picnic -- there are several places where you can comfortably enjoy a picnic. Don't forget drinks, because you'll get thirsty.
Although there's a fee for parking, it's reasonably nominal, and for a carload of kids, since this is the only fee, a trip to the National Zoo is still budget friendly, but taking the Metro is an even smarter choice, because finding parking can be dicey.
Once you're inside the zoo, there are different approaches you can take -- go directly to see the elephants, then head over to the big cats, and dart around willy nilly. Or you can explore more systematically, by walking along the different trails, such as the American Trail to see the otters or the Asia Trail to see the pandas. There's also the Kids Farm, where you can see farm animals, only here they seem to be freshly scrubbed and not really muddy like farm animals usually seem to be -- there are donkeys, cows, goats, and llamas, among others.
Check the website for educational activities and demonstrations going on the day of your visit.
Make it even more fun for your family by trying one of the fun activities, such as the Sun Safari, the Zoo Crew Training Manual, or the Home Sweet Habitat Scavenger Hunt listed on the National Zoo's website. (Added plus, it'll teach your kids to read maps!)
There's also a Zoo app. I haven't tried it, but you may want to check it out: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/smithsoniannationalzooapp/ (or available at the AppStore).
For more information, read the original post about the Blog's visit to the National Zoo here.
Know before you go: Parking at the Zoo is extremely limited, and thus, I recommend taking public transportation. If you do drive, know that parking lots fill up very quickly during warm-weather months, usually by 10 a.m., so plan to arrive REALLY early. Reserved parking is available within the Zoo and nearby lots. The Zoo has partnered with Parking Panda to allow for parking reservations.
Getting there: Because of parking limitations, your best bet is taking the Metro. If you plan on taking the Metro, then it's good to know that the Zoo is between the Cleveland Park and Woodley Park stops. The walk is uphill from the Woodley Park stop and flat from the Cleveland Park stop. Because of the ongoing repairs to Metro, check WMATA's website for updates, delays, or escalator outages. You can also learn more about getting to the Zoo here.
If you insist on driving, then here's the address: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Hours: The grounds are open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; the Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer.
Dogs: Dogs, no, but this is a great place for your kids!