Sunday Funday at the National Zoo
Spring in Washington, D.C., is the best time of year for Sunday strolls. The air is cool in the morning but warms to a comfortable temperature between the upper 60s and low 70s, and unlike D.C. summers, the humidity is held at bay. Everything is new again — flowers bloom and trees turn into green canopies of shade. On this Sunday Funday, the National Zoo provided a pleasant backdrop for a blossoming friendship, too.
Brunch in Cleveland Park
There are quite a few dining options near the zoo. We drove past Open City, which appeared to be packed with a crowd waiting outside. We checked Ardeo + Bardeo, which is on my D.C. Bucket List, but the menu posted outside the restaurant and wine bar seemed a bit limited. There were several other bars and restaurants along the same block set to open at 11 or 11:30 a.m., but it was 10:55 and I was feeling a little chilly in my pink Bermuda shorts and light cardigan. Luckily, by the time we reached the end of the block on Connecticut at Ordway St. NW, we found Dino, an Italian restaurant where a bottomless mimosa brunch started in two minutes.
When at brunch, the first order of business is to decide between bottomless mimosas or a Bloody Mary. I suppose this isn’t a difficult decision for someone, like my roommate Amanda, who doesn’t like a Bloody Mary. I love a thick, slightly spicy Bloody Mary. But, I’m also not one to turn down champagne. Decisions. Decisions.
Ultimately, I decided a Bloody Mary would pair better with my meal choice. And what a poor choice I had made. When the Bloody Mary arrived, I was excited to try this fresh tomato drink with veggies, ginger, garlic, horseradish and 21 spices. But after a sip, a second to confirm and a third to prove I wasn’t just a wuss about to waste a $6 cocktail, I knew I could not handle this drink. The waiter politely informed me that the tomato juice is fresh squeezed and there’s “nothing in a can” in the restaurant. I guess I’m just a V8-in-my-Bloody-Mary kind of girl. In all fairness, the waiter let me swap out my drink for a coffee, and all was right in my world again.
I suppose I should have realized what I was getting myself into with the Bloody Mary at a rustic Italian eatery, but my risotto primavera entirely redeemed Dino’s brunch. It was a vegetarian and gluten free rice dish made with grilled ramps and wild garlic, braised leek and artichoke, and preserved lemon. I would order this again in a heartbeat.
My fellow brunchers, Amanda and her colleague Stefanie, ordered more traditional breakfast fare. Amanda paired her $9 bottomless mimosas — a fabulous deal for bottomless brunch cocktails at a D.C. restaurant — with the San Benedetto, an eggs Benedict with prosciutto. Stefanie ordered the Nutella stuffed French toast with olive oil roasted apples, which turned out to be less of a “stuffed” French toast and more of a Nutella sandwich, but she wasn’t complaining. Later in the day, she commented on the lightness of the French toast — perfect for a day of walking about the zoo after a filling but not stuffing brunch.
On to the main attraction
After brunch, we left the car where we had parked on a side street since parking is free on Sunday, and we walked down Connecticut Avenue to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Inside the zoo, we began our stroll at the Asia Trail, where we spent more time looking at a white tail deer grazing just outside the zoo and many ducks — a male duck chasing a female who appeared to be uninterested in mating at the moment, a mama duck leading her adolescent ducklings and a family of baby ducklings — than most of the Asian animals. We saw a sloth bear bathing in the sun and a family of otters — all named after foods, expect for Kevin — on the run.
We looped through the bird exhibits, including the Bird House, where we saw colorful, long-tailed Macaws. In the outdoor exhibits, we ran across an emu, cranes and flamingos sleeping, talking, fighting and even one standing on two legs.
Asian Elephants have a new home
Besides the giant pandas, which are beyond adorable and make playing with an empty milk crate look super fun, the Asian elephants are one of the most sought-after animals to visit at the National Zoo. These 2-ton giants have a new habitat at Elephant Trails, which includes an indoor Elephant Community Center and three outdoor habitats with a wading pool, sand pit, huge tires and a shower that the elephants can operate themselves. The zoo is expecting to get another Asian elephant this summer.
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
Rounding out our day at the zoo, we saw big cats like a sleeping tiger, an apathetic-looking lioness (or “Nala,” if you, too, reference African safari animals by their Disney’s “The Lion King” names) and two lions answering nature’s call. We also visited the invertebrates exhibit, which features an octopus I wouldn’t dare tangle with.
And, one of the most exciting happenings and most unique to the National Zoo, was watching an orangutang cross the O Line, a high-above-ground set of cables that runs between the Great Ape House and the Think Tank exhibits.
A well-deserved treat
The trek back to the zoo entrance is an uphill battle. Literally, you must walk up an incline to get back to Connecticut Avenue, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel! After a day of walking, animal gazing and photo taking, you might be in desperate need of a restroom or sustenance. Well, you’ll be in luck. The visitor center near the zoo’s entrance has restrooms, and directly across the street from the zoo is a Starbucks and a self-serve frozen yogurt shop.
FroZen Yo had about a dozen flavors and a variety of fruit and candy toppings, hot fudge and caramel sauce, and whipped cream. Most often I pick a fruit flavor frozen yogurt and top my fro yo with a variety of fresh fruit. (Adding fruit is how I justify the “health benefits” of frozen yogurt to myself.) Today, I made a slight deviation from my usual fro yo selection. I opted for raspberry, which is not as common of a frozen yogurt flavor as one might think. It would have been fabulous topped with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, but none of these berries were available. Instead, I added fresh strawberries and chocolate chips and headed over the cashier to “weigh in” my creation. For $4, it was a refreshing treat after a sunny, uphill trek from the big cats exhibit.
Overall, the zoo and nearby area provided a relaxing and fun way to spend a beautiful spring day. Since the zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution, admission is free, meaning this Sunday Funday cost less than $25 total!
Wish you were here,