The National Zoo's Mei Xiang and her giant panda cub, born July 9, are cuddled up inside the Panda House, visible only on camera for now, though male Tian Tian sometimes can be seen in the outdoor yard. While waiting for their public debut this fall, consider going to one of the other three U.S. big city zoos with giant pandas on display. Keep in mind that the animals are most active during cooler times of the day.
-- D'Vera Cohn
SAN DIEGO ZOO
WHAT'S THERE: San Diegois home to three pandas: male Gao Gao, female Bai Yun and their male cub, Mei Sheng, born in 2003. Bai Yun may be pregnant again (she and Gao Gao mated in April) and is off exhibit for several months, but the other two would be out. The pandas' 22,500-square-foot area includes winding, elevated viewing paths.
BESIDES THE PANDAS: This premier zoo features a recently opened three-acre Monkey Trail exhibit with 30 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and also has the largest breeding collection of koalas outside Australia. It is a short drive from downtown in Balboa Park, which also houses museums, gardens and a carousel. A free tram operates among the park's attractions.
WHERE TO STAY: Room and zoo packages include the Ramada Plaza Hotel Circle, starting at $141.50 a night for adult deluxe admission, welcome cocktails and a room (minimum two nights); and the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center, which offers a similar deal (with breakfast instead of cocktails) starting at $154.50.These and others can be booked on the zoo Web site.
DETAILS: The San Diego Zoo (2920 Zoo Dr., 619-231-1515, www.sandiegozoo.org) is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. during summer; fall and winter, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; spring, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $21 for ages 12 and over, and $14 for children ages 3 to 11. Other admission packages are available. Parking is free.
WHAT'S THERE: Female Lun Lun and male Yang Yang arrived from China in 1999. Lun Lun was taken off exhibit in mid-July because she may be pregnant (her hormone tests say so, and she has been sleeping a lot). If she has a cub, she won't be back in public for months, but her mate is on view. Their gigantic exhibit area features a trickling stream, a pond, a shady cave and a wooden climbing structure.
BESIDES THE PANDAS: Twenty-one western lowland gorillas live in a 11/2-acre naturalistic habitat that includes four outdoor areas separated by moats. The zoo is southeast of downtown in 131-acre Grant Park, which is surrounded by a historic district and is about a mile from Turner Stadium, where the Atlanta Braves play.
WHERE TO STAY: Within two miles of the zoo are more than a half-dozen hotels, including Courtyard by Marriott (from $119 on Hotels.com) and the Super 8 Motel Congress Center (from $66 on Hotels.com).
DETAILS: Zoo Atlanta (800 Cherokee Ave. SE, 404-624-5600, www.zooatlanta.org) is open weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and weekends until 5:30 p.m. Admission is $17 for adults under 55, $13 for adults over 55 and $12 for children ages 3 to 11, plus tax. Parking is free.
WHAT'S THERE: Ya Ya (she) and Le Le (he) are the most recent pandas to come to the United States from China, arriving in 2003. They reside in a China exhibit that also includes authentic architecture and gardens, as well as rare deer, gibbons, otters and birds.
BESIDES THE PANDAS: The zoo also offers a five-acre primate exhibit, a four-acre multi-level cat area and 35 species in an "animals of the night" exhibit. It is in midtown, surrounded by Overton Park, and within a few miles of the Children's Museum of Memphis and the Pink Palace Museum.
WHERE TO STAY: Several zoo and room packages are offered on the zoo's Web site, including the luxury Madison Hotel at $265 a night and the Hampton Inn at $109, plus tax, based on a two-night stay. Both include two adult and two children's zoo tickets.
DETAILS: The Memphis Zoo (2000 Galloway Ave., 901-333-6500, www.memphiszoo.org) is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (March to October) and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (November to February). Admission is $12 for ages 60 and above, $13 for ages 12 to 59 and $8 for children ages 2 to 11. Parking is $3.