In a previous post, I laid out the best way to get to the National Zoo via Metro Rail. A friend of mine, Mike Showalter, suggested, in the comments, bus routes that drop off at or near the "rear" entrance to the zoo, off of Rock Creek Parkway. Intrigued by this, I checked it out the other day with my kids. As both were juiced on sugary goodies and overdue for naps, I feel it was a full and complete test.
The attraction to this is clear. The Zoo is built on a hillside, with it's main entrance at Connecticut Avenue on the highest point. Fortunately, the new Asia Trail is near this entrance, so if you are so inclined, you can hop off at Cleveland Park, see the Asia Trail with the requisite pandas (and perhaps the bird house), and continue on your merry way to the Woodley Park stop. A good hour and half to two hour visit; very concise.
But what if you want to see more? The reptile house is worth it for the architecture alone, you might want to see the orangutans on the O-line, check out the giant fish at Amazonia, and some might even desire to eat at the wretched Mane Restaurant. And for those with small kids, it's possible we just might want to visit the kids section. In perhaps the cruelest irony, this section, with farm animals and a giant pizza you can climb on, is the furthest exhibit at the zoo from the Metro. I guess the National Zoo simply assumes people with small children don't use the Metro. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it folks?
So Mike's suggestion of taking a bus route to the back entrance was worth examining in detail. I tried it the other day, and I can say that it has a lot of promise. The great part is that you start at the low end, and gradually work your way up. That way, when you're done, and exhausted from pushing strollers and carrying kids, you're at the top of the hill and the only thing left is to walk down to the Metro. I can't tell you how many times I've had a crying baby, whiny kid, tired legs, and end up staring at the damn lions. I swear they actually laugh at me and say "poor bastard, look at him. I may be stuck in this cage but he has to get those kids back up the hill."
So here's what I suggest. If you're near the H2 bus, you're in luck. There is a stop directly across Rock Creek from the entrance, right on Harvard Road. If not, don't despair, the X3, L2, 90, 92, 93, 96, and 98 buses are a fairly short, down hill walk away. Assuming you're coming from the downtown area, when the bus comes up 18th St and turns onto Calvert St, hop off at the Biltmore St stop. You will see the Calvert St Bridge ahead of you, with an Afghan restaurant, Mama Ayesha's, just to your right. Walk past the soccer field, through the small playground, down Adams Mill Road, and left on Harvard St. Keep the woods on your left and go downhill and you can't go far wrong. It's just about the same distance to the entrance as the Woodley Park or Cleveland Park stops are.
Sadly, the only help to figure out our Byzantine bus system I can give you is WMATA's Trip Planner. It's fine, I guess, if you know where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there. Which doesn't always describe me, and I live here. But, while we wait for Google Transit to ride in on a white horse and save us, I guess it's all we've got. But don't let that stop you. With a little persistence, it is possible to see something at the zoo, besides the pandas, without a car.