Saying Bye to Bao Bao: Your Zoo Visit Survival Guide

Planning to visit the National Zoo's 3-year-old giant panda before she makes her grand farewell? Monday's your last chance! Read on for our tips on making the most of your visit.

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Smithsonian's National Zoo
Are you planning to visit the National Zoo's 3-year-old giant panda before she makes her grand farewell Tuesday to move to China? You won't be alone! Read on for our tips on making the most of your visit.
Skip Brown and Kyra Zemanick, Smithsonian's National Zoo
First, a little background: According to a deal between China and the U.S., all giant pandas originally from China are only on loan to foreign zoos, and any cubs they produce must move to China eventually. Pandas born in the U.S. generally move to China by age 4. Bao Bao's only 3 and a half, but she's leaving early because keepers say it's more comfortable for pandas to travel during cool weather.
Smithsonian's National Zoo
First off: How are you planning to get there? If you're going to take Metro, here's an old-school pro tip: Take the Metro to the Cleveland Park station -- the zoo will be a downhill walk! When you're leaving the zoo, take the Woodley Park-Zoo station -- it also will be a downhill walk! Although the Woodley Park-Zoo stop actually has "zoo" in its title, the two stations are nearly the same distances from the zoo. (Photo: Here's Bao Bao in September 2013, a few weeks after her birth).
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If you're planning to drive, note that the Beach Drive vehicle entrance to the zoo is closed due to the Beach Drive rehabilitation project (although the bike path is still open). Visitors are encouraged to avoid Rock Creek Parkway and use the entrances at Harvard Street NW or Connecticut Avenue NW instead.
Abby Wood; Smithsonian's National Zoo
Parking at the zoo costs $22, although it's free with some FONZ memberships. The zoo warns that parking is "extremely limited" at the zoo and street parking can be tough to find. However, you can reserved parking at or near the zoo through the website and parking app (we kid you not) ParkingPanda. (Photo: Bao Bao back in October 2013.)
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The grounds are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.). Most exhibit buildings are open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dining facilities and stores are open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Your last chance to see Bao Bao is Monday -- the zoo will be closed Tuesday morning to get Bao Bao ready for her big departure. (Photo: Bao Bao shortly before her public debut in January 2014.)
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The zoo is located at 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW; admission is free.
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So when's the best time of day to see the pandas? Well, the pandas generally have the choice to be outside or inside, although that can vary depending on the time of day and the weather. The pandas typically have outdoor access between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., the zoo says on its website. (Photo: Bao Bao in January 2014, shortly before she made her public debut.)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
The panda habitat is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Visitors are encouraged to go early to avoid crowds and long lines. (Photo: Bao Bao in November 2013.)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Be emotionally prepared just in case you don't get to see Bao Bao, though. The zoo says that long lines require earlier cut-off times to make sure those in line can enter the indoor viewing area before it closes for the day. In addition, all the animals at the zoo may spend time away from the crowds if they choose. (Photo: Bao Bao in March 2014)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Bao Bao received yummy treats throughout her last weekend in D.C., and will be getting more on Monday. Time your visit right for the chance to watch her enjoy goodies like ice "cake" and peach treats. (Photo: Bao Bao in July 2014)
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Monday's treat schedule is 10-10:20 a.m. and 1:30-1:50 p.m. Her morning treat will be a pagoda-shaped "cake;" her afternoon treat will be a "suitcase" with symbols of her hometown and a symbol of her future home in China. (You can see the zoo's daily event schedule for other animals as well -- it's online here.)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Bao Bao's Sunday snack of peach treats was meaningful, too: For her first birthday, the National Zoo held a traditional Chinese ceremony to predict her future. Three posters painted with symbols were hung with treats under each. The symbols were peaches (longevity), bamboo (good health), and pomegranates (fertility). Bao Bao chose the peaches first, which, according to the ceremony, means she will live a long life. (Photo: Bao Bao on her 1st birthday.)
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Where to eat while you're visiting the zoo? Panda Overlook and the Panda Grill are close to the Asia Trail, near the giant panda habitat. Panda Overlook serves paninis, made-to-order salads, all-natural hot dogs, funnel cakes and espresso drinks. At the Panda Grill, you can choose from options such as pizza, po' boys and all-natural chicken tenders. You can check out all zoo dining options here. (Photo: Bao Bao in January 2014, shortly before her public debut.)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
So where is the panda habitat? It's on the Asia Trail, closer to the Connecticut Avenue end of the zoo than the Beach Drive end. The closest parking lots are A and B; the farthest is D. See a map here. (Photo: Bao Bao in April 2015.)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
Wheelchair rentals at the zoo are free; strollers are also available for a $9-$12 rental fee. (Photo: Bao Bao enjoyed some outdoor time right before the blizzard of 2016.)
Smithsonian's National Zoo
If your kiddos are getting tired by the end of the day, hop on the zoo's shuttle bus. It runs on a continuous loop from the bus parking lot (close to the Asia Trail) to the lower entrance of the zoo and back. (Note that it doesn't stop at Parking Lot C.) The shuttle runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Photo: Bao Bao after the Blizzard of 2016.)
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The zoo will be closed Tuesday morning during Bao Bao's departure, but you'll be able to watch it live on the National Zoo's Facebook page. (Photo: In 2010, visitors said goodbye to Tai Shan, Bao Bao's older brother, shortly before he was sent to the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center in China.)
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