By Ruth Steinhardt
If you happen to be in Woodley Park early in the morning, you might be startled by a sound more fitting for the Serengeti than for an American city. The roar of the sunrise echoing over the treetops of Rock Creek Park comes from the Smithsonian’s lions National Zoowhose sounds can be heard up to five miles away.
The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is home to five African lions – males Luke, Shaka and Jumbe and females Shera and Amahle. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
The occasional growl doesn’t bother this quiet, shady Northwest neighborhood. Woodley Park offers nature lovers a sanctuary in the middle of the city, as well as a variety of tasty options for guests, all guarded by a giant Mural of Marilyn Monroe.
There’s a reason brunch at Woodley Park’s Open City draws long lines. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Woodley Park served as a relatively high-elevation retreat for DC’s wealthier residents during the city’s sweltering summers. It’s named for a mansion that once belonged to Philip Barton Key, a prodigal Loyalist who returned to Maryland after the American Revolution and established himself as a figure of distinction despite his enduring Anglomania. (Key’s Woodley House takes its name from another Woodley House in Britain.) Though slightly less accessible than other DC neighborhoods due to its steep hills, Woodley Park remains a popular place to stroll, dine, and commune with nature.
The National Zoo’s giant pandas have been delighting visitors with their antics since their arrival DC’s first pair of pandasLing-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, 1976. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
The National Zoo is one of the oldest and most responsible zoological parks in the country with a focus on research and education and a dedicated campus at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) where scientists care for and study endangered animal populations. More than 360 species and nearly 1,800 individual animals call the 163-acre DC Zoo home, including a number of new species and babies born at the zoo Arrived in the last two years. The zoo is proud of it generous exhibits mimicking a variety of habitats including the Amazon Basin and the Great Plains of the United States.
After hours, the zoo is home to some of DC’s most popular holiday traditions for all ages. 2022, Boo at the zoo runs October 28-30, throughout the month Zoolights runs from November 25th to December 30th.
(Harrison Jones/GW today)
The zoo’s hours have shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect vulnerable animals, and some areas are still closed, including the aviary and parts of the Asia Trail (don’t worry, the giant panda house and viewing area remain open ). A free timed entry pass is currently required for visitors. Insider tip: Subway riders can get off at Cleveland Park instead of Woodley Park-Zoo to avoid an uphill walk.
Walk through the park
The zoo is in the heart of Rock Creek Park, the green oasis that stretches across DC’s Northwest Quadrant and offers joggers, cyclists and hikers over 32 miles of trails and trails to explore. One of the park’s best kept secrets is the Rock Creek Park Horse Center (5100 Glover Rd. NW), which offers trail rides and riding lessons for both experienced and novice riders. The town’s only public equestrian facility is just north of Woodley Park proper, but still well within range of the lion’s roar — not that the horses seem to mind.
Rock Creek Park Horse Center horses take a morning walk. (NP/Rock Creek Park)
where should we eat
- open city (2331 Calvert Avenue, NW)
A destination for classic American comfort food, especially breakfast served all day. Weekend brunch queues can be overwhelming, so prioritize off-peak hours.
- Duke’s Counter (3000 Connecticut Avenue, NW)
A sister of Foggy Bottom’s own Duke’s Grocery, this highly-rated burger spot offers tasty pub fare in a relaxed atmosphere just across from the zoo’s main entrance.
- Hot N Juicy Crawfish (2651 Connecticut Avenue, NW)
Fans of seafood, spices and dirty hands shouldn’t miss Hot N Juicy. A scan of online reviews will confirm that even the locals who visit New Orleans agree.
Bring your own wet wipes. (Harrison Jones/GW today)
- Vace Italian delicatessen (3315 Connecticut Avenue, NW)
Structured with the sauce on the cheese — which some say reduces soggyness — pizza in the vac is both delicious and divisive, which could make it a perfect destination for law students and other debate fans. No food.
- Lebanese tavern (2641 Connecticut Avenue, NW)
Alongside Adams Morgan’s Mama Ayesha, this local institution was one of the first introductions to classic Lebanese cuisine in the DC area and has expanded to multiple locations.
- Dolan Uyghurs (3518 Connecticut Avenue, NW)
This family-run favorite is dedicated to preserving the unique flavors of Uyghur cuisine, which originated in northwest China and borders Afghanistan, India, Mongolia and Russia.
- Baked by Yael (3000 Connecticut Avenue, NW)
Yael Krigman, a GW grad (!), runs this tasty local bakery, which offers gluten-free options alongside cake pops, bagels, and “Duffins,” a decadent donut-muffin hybrid.
how to get there
- subway rail: From Farragut North, Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan is only two stops away on the Red Line towards Shady Grove (Cleveland Park is one stop away).
- metro bus: From the 17th and I., take the L2 north to Chevy Chase Circle to reach the National Zoo in less than 10 minutes.
From Mount Vernon
- Campus shuttles– Take the Vern Express from Mount Vernon campus to Foggy Bottom campus, then use the Metrorail or Metrobus methods above.