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You don’t need to go far to have an exotic animal encounter in Florida. To see endangered species up close and personal, come face to face with ferocious predators in open-air settings, and discover a range of educational and conservation programs, Florida’s zoos allow animal lovers to see a breathtaking variety of wildlife in their natural habitats. Perfect for a family-friendly afternoon of exploring local wildlife, here are the best zoos in Florida to visit this summer.
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The #1 paid attraction in Northeast Florida, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a walking safari that covers 93 acres. Featuring more than 2,000 animals and 1,000 exotic plant species, there is plenty to see at this zoo. You can roam through the Land of the Tiger, become a zookeeper for a day, or go on a behind-the-scenes tour with a zoo expert. The most exciting feature of this zoo is the range of animal encounters you can choose from. Children of all ages are welcome to brush the adorable pygmy goats in the Animal Care Yard or touch the Southern and Atlantic Stingrays at Stingray Bay, while adventurous animal lovers can feed giraffes at the Giraffe Overlook or hold a cup of nectar for the Rainbow Lorikeets at the Australian Adventure area.
Home to more than 1,300 animals, ZooTampa at Lowry Park is an expansive park spanning 60 acres. It’s here that you can see an array of exotic animals, from manatees to tigers, monkeys, and rhinos to African elephants, koalas, and orangutans. The zoo’s most popular feature for kids and adults alike is the chance to feed giraffes treats from a feeding plateau or touch a giant tortoise, while an exciting jungle safari ride takes visitors through some of the animal exhibits. Perfect for young visitors, there is a splash pad to cool off in, an area to feed playful goats, and plenty of engaging educational shows that will keep them entertained.
Consistently rated one of the best family-friendly attractions in Miami, Zoo Miami is the largest tropical zoo in the continental United States. Housing more than 2,000 wild animals that replicate natural habitats, visitors are given a chance to feel like they are going on a real-life safari. From lions to zebras, giraffes, and elephants, this cage-free zoo uses moats to separate animals from visitors. Meander through the 340-acre zoo, and you might catch a glimpse of an exotic animal, such as a Komodo dragon, ring-tailed lemur or tree kangaroo. For a unique birds-eye view of the park, visitors can delight in a ride on the monorail, or if it’s a hot summer day, you can cool off in the splash zone.
Located in Melbourne, the Brevard Zoo brings visitors up close and personal with the 880 animals that represent 182 species from Florida, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Offering some of the most unique experiences you can have at a zoo, you can kayak through Africa or get a birds-eye view of wild animals by zip-lining through South America. Kids will delight in the memorable experiences to be had here, from colorful lories resting on their arms to touching a baby gator, stroking a rhino, and feeding a giraffe. The park’s shaded boardwalks are surrounded by lush foliage and wetlands, while a 20,000-gallon aquarium offers a peek at the diverse underwater marine life and a touch tank play area for kids.
A tropical world of lush foliage, the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford features over 400 animals and 23 acres of native gardens. Domestic animals can be found at the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo, while those who are fascinated by fierce creatures can see the Southeast’s largest collection of venomous snakes and non-venomous reptiles in the Herpetarium. Make sure to take a look at the fossa, an animal that is closely related to the mongoose and civet and is the largest native predator on the island of Madagascar. An entertaining attraction for the entire family, here you can even take an aerial adventure course at the ZOOm Air Adventure Park or don your favorite swimsuit and beat the heat at the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground.
Housing animals from North, Central, and South America, as well as Asia, Africa, and Australia, Palm Beach Zoo in West Palm Beach sits on 23 acres of lush tropical habitat. You can get closer to animals than you can at other zoos, offering various animal exhibits and unique interactive experiences. Sign up for a “Sleepy Sloth” experience to touch a two-toed sloth, get a behind-the-scenes look at the giant Aldabra tortoises, and meet the world’s largest rodents in the “Happy Capy” experience, or get up close and personal with anteaters, Australian koalas, and Chilean flamingos. There is also an interactive play fountain, colorful carousel, and safari train ride to keep the little ones happy.
Just 30 minutes outside of West Palm Beach, Lion Country Safari is one of the best attractions in South Florida. The only drive-through safari in the state, it’s here that you’ll find more than 900 animals roaming through the property. Take a peek at large herds of waterbuck and rhinos in the animal exhibits, or take a 5-mile drive through the park to see lion prides, chimps and giraffes casually meandering through the grassy expanse freely. The walkthrough portion is called Safari World, where kids of all ages will delight in the colorful displays of birds and fish. Take home souvenirs at the Lion’s Den Gift Shop or rent a paddleboat to float along Lake Shannalee, while the kids will want to explore the Safari Splash Sprayground with water features and slides.
A nationally accredited zoo, Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is one of the most popular family-friendly attractions in Naples. A 44-acre park that got its start as a botanical garden in 1919, visitors can now come to observe lions, tigers, bears, leopards, and gazelles. It’s here that you can feed giraffes, ride aboard camels or see a honey badger up close. Lively animal shows and multimedia exhibits keep the entire family entertained, while boat cruises sail past the primate island where you’re given a chance to see monkeys and lemurs. Make sure to see the Black Bear Hammock exhibit, catch a captivating “Snakes Live” show, or plan a visit to the 19-foot reticulated python.
Located less than 15 minutes from Pensacola, the Gulf Breeze Zoo is a 50-acre facility that is home to animals from around the world. The area’s largest animal attraction, visitors can explore the zoo’s range of 850 animals covering over 137 species of mammal, bird, and reptile, including monkeys, kangaroos, birds, cats, and tortoises. The kids will love the Safari Line Train, where you can ride past hippos, gorillas, and antelope roaming free on the 30-acre preserve while you relax on a classic CP Huntington style locomotive. Visit the free-flight aviary to see hundreds of colorful parakeets flying around as they perch on your hand, or take a walk along the elevated boardwalk for a bird’s eye view of the roaming herds of deer, zebra, and rhinos.
A family-owned and operated attraction in Sarasota, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a small 10-acre tropical oasis that has been delighting its visitors since 1939. Designed to captivate visitors of all ages, here you’ll find interactive animal shows and over 200 animals throughout the property, including snakes, lizards, and alligators. See the one-eyed Screech Owl, watch ring-tailed lemurs at play, hold an alligator, or take a stroll along the winding jungle trails that wrap along the tropical landscaping and gardens. A real highlight of the attraction is the long-legged, pink-hued flamingos that greet guests when they arrive. You can hand-feed them or watch them splash, flap, and strut around, while egrets, ducks, swans and pelicans wander nearby.