If you count number of animals as well as acreage, the Bronx Zoo is still the largest zoo in the United States, an innovative, unbeatably entertaining place to spend the day. But with over 4,000 animals and 24 exhibits, you need to strategize your time wisely so you can see what you want without meltdowns from the younger set.

When I visit with my girls, I most often make a direct path to the Congo Forest first, a remarkable exhibit of silverback gorillas that begins with a short film. Once the film is over, curtains dramatically part to reveal floor-to-ceiling windows, with cavorting gorillas galore (unlike other animals at the zoo, the gorillas are always awake if you visit in the daytime; along with the adults there always seem to be half-a-dozen baby gorillas in sight as well). From here we hop over to the nearby “bug carousel” or the butterfly exhibit (a tent with thousands of beautiful butterflies fluttering about your head), or to lunch at nearby Flamingo Park. Then we blow off steam for a bit at the children’s zoo—with all the usual farm animals, plus a spider-web jungle gym, and a prairie dog park where children crawl into tunnels and pop their heads up right next to the critters. There are dozens of other animals, a fun monorail ride, feeding shows, and more to keep you entertained.

Tip: To beat the crowds, try to visit on a weekday or on a nice winter’s day. In summer, come early in the day, before the heat of the day sends the animals back into their enclosures. Expect to spend an entire day here—you’ll need it.