While Disney’s Animal Kingdom may seem mostly like a theme park with tons of animal-watching opportunities, it’s a legitimate zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. This means it not only meets all sorts of ethical and animal welfare standards, but it also contributes to conservation and scientific advancement.
According to Insider Monkey (via Yahoo), Animal Kingdom also happens to be the best zoo to visit in the whole country. Criteria for making that determination included the number of animals and the range of species in the park, as well as visitor stats and reviews. So a zoo could still rank high even if it doesn’t house some 12,000 creatures—like the Saint Louis Zoo, in seventh place, does. Animal Kingdom only has about 2000. That said, it also attracts millions of guests who may not only be going to see animals.
Avid zoo-goers who don’t want to spring for Disney tickets might consider heading to the Midwest instead. Eight of the top 20 zoos are located in the region, from Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in second place to the Detroit Zoo in 17th. Ohio boasts two: the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. New York City landed two on the list, too—the Bronx Zoo took third place, outperforming Manhattan’s smaller Central Park Zoo by a good 15 spots.
The main takeaway is that no matter where you are in the continental U.S., there’s probably a pretty fun zoo somewhere within road-tripping distance. The Pacific Northwest has Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, the Southwest has the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, and so on. See the full list below to find one close to you, and check out Insider Monkey’s breakdown here.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park // Bay Lake, Florida
- Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium // Omaha, Nebraska
- Bronx Zoo // The Bronx, New York
- San Diego Zoo // San Diego, California
- Zoo Miami // Miami, Florida
- Columbus Zoo and Aquarium // Powell, Ohio
- Saint Louis Zoo // St. Louis, Missouri
- Fort Worth Zoo // Fort Worth, Texas
- Denver Zoo // Denver, Colorado
- Indianapolis Zoo // Indianapolis, Indiana
- Smithsonian's National Zoo // Washington, D.C.
- Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden // Cincinnati, Ohio
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park // Escondido, California
- Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium // Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Sedgwick County Zoo // Wichita, Kansas
- Brookfield Zoo // Brookfield, Illinois
- Detroit Zoo // Royal Oak, Michigan
- Central Park Zoo // New York, New York
- The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens // Palm Desert, California
- Woodland Park Zoo // Seattle, Washington