Have a Dino-mite Summer at the National Zoo

T-Rex and friend at DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE. Photo by C. Waits

They roar. They spit. They may even playfully try to bite off your child’s head. No, I’m not talking about older siblings. Dinosaurs have invaded the National Zoo for the summer!

The Smithsonian National Zoo is celebrating a Dino Summer with animatronic dinosaurs around the park, a live theater show, and even the chance to meet a “baby dinosaur.” If you have a dinosaur fan in your midst, you’ve got to check this out. (Also be sure to visit the real fossils at the newly-reopened dinosaur hall at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Check our guide here.) 

Here’s the run-down of the National Zoo’s “Dino Summer” fun …

Roar into the Dinosaur Theater Show 

What:   The “Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live” is a 30-minute stage performance with sophisticated, larger-than-life dinosaur puppets. The production is interactive and features 19 dinosaurs, including fan-favorites Triceratops and T. rex.  The realistic-looking puppets are impressively brought to life by professional puppeteers.

My whole family loved this show! The production quality is really good — we honestly felt like we could have been at Disney World.  It’s fun, entertaining, and educational. (Note: I attended a nearly sold-out performance on the weekend and it was very hard to hear over the roar of the children in the audience. So if you want to hear the dinosaur facts, I recommend sitting in the front.)

Fear factor: The narrator/guide introduces the show by reminding the audience that the dinosaurs are puppets. You can see the puppeteers operating them. And yet, they still look so real! So they might be scary for babies and small children (there were a few crying at our show). My 5-year-old was a little nervous at the beginning, but he was never scared during the show. My 8-year-old loved it from beginning to end.

When:  June 1 to Aug. 31,  Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Where: Smithsonian National Zoo’s Visitor Center Theater. It is at the top of the hill, near the panda and cheetah exhibits. 

Tickets:  $10 for adults and $8 for children. Discounts are available for Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) members.

Bonus: Dino Photo Opportunity 

At the end of the show, you can “meet” one of the dinosaurs up close with a “Dino Zoo Live” photo experience. Tickets are $10. You take the photo with your own camera or phone. 

DinoRoars animatronic dinosaurs have taken a summer residence at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Photo: Billings Productions Inc

Take a Walk on the Dino-Wild Side 

What: The dinosaur fun carries on throughout the zoo with “DinoRoars,” a free dinosaur safari. Large animatronic dinosaurs inhabit fern-covered habitats along Olmstead Walk, the main pathway of the National Zoo. You can see them as you walk through the zoo (most are o the middle section of Olmstead Walk and towards the bottom of the hill). The dinosaurs range in size from babies hatching out of eggs to a 39-foot T. rex. The dinosaurs blink, roar, move their heads, and one even spits water. My kids were delighted to run from dinosaur to dinosaur, noticing different details on each one. 

Fear factor: Many of the dinosaurs make sounds, but you can’t really hear them until you are right next to them. So if you have a kid who is afraid, it would be easy to just walk right past the offending dinosaur and not see or hear from it again. Bye, boy.

When: June 1 – August 31 during regular zoo hours, 8 am to 7 pm.

Where: Throughout the National Zoo.

panda movie
The zoo is airing a panda documentary this summer. The film is a great way to get out of the heat and enjoy the cute pandas.

But What About the Pandas?

OK, so they are not dinosaurs. Not even a very close relative. But they are adorable. And they have a special, air-conditioned summer feature this summer. Pandas are usually the star of the show at the National Zoo, and this summer they are the stars of a special movie.  

What: The zoo is screening a documentary “Pandas,” narrated by Kristen Bell.  It was released as an IMAX movie in 2018, but in this case you watch it on a regular-sized movie screen. The 43-minute movie is delightful. It includes great footage of pandas rolling around, eating bamboo, giving hugs, and generally being adorable. Plus baby pandas. Lots of baby pandas.

Fear factor: Little to none. This is not a scary movie. There is one slightly tense part about 35 minutes in, but it resolves fairly quickly and peacefully.

Where: The visitor center theater at the National Zoo. It’s a great chance to get your family out of the sun and sit in an air-conditioned room for an hour. 

When: June 1 to Aug. 31,  Tuesday through Sunday, 11:45 a.m., 2:45 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Tickets $9 for adults (ages 13+); $8 for members of the military and seniors (ages 60+); $7.50 for children (ages 2-12); and children under 2 are free.

Have you seen the Dinosaurs or PANDA Movie at the Zoo yet? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Ali came to DC “for the summer” in 2000 and has been here ever since. She worked for more than a decade as an environment and energy reporter on Capitol Hill. After her second son was born, she took some time off to chase her children instead of lawmakers. She's now juggling both as a freelance reporter and mom of 2 active sons. Ali lives in NW DC with her husband, sons, and a rotating menagerie of foster animals from the Humane Rescue Alliance. She loves reveling in the awe and wonder of the ordinary with young children as a guide for a Montessori-inspired class at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom. She also loves to explore DC on the family cargo bike. Likes: Long runs, pour-over coffee, theatre, nature, seasonable weather, and DC’s amazing array of free museums. Dislikes: Mosquitoes, mayonnaise, and change.


  1. Glad to have read this post before going to check it out with my toddler! Appreciate the insight!

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