Traveling to Florida usually includes touring the big theme parks or toting your sunscreen and surfboard to your favorite beaches. If you’re a local, many of your weekend day trips are probably similar. However, you might want to break out of that routine and try something different. If that’s the case, consider stopping by one of the best zoos in Florida. You’ll find something for all ages and enjoy an educational experience. What’s more, your ticket price will go toward helping wildlife conservation, all while you’re having fun.
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
With many of the world’s most famous attractions bringing thousands of tourists to the area each year, many visitors are surprised to find that there’s no centrally located zoo in Orlando, Florida. However, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is located just a short drive north of the city, making it a fantastic day trip for both locals and visitors.
This zoo in Central Florida is home to representatives of over a hundred different animal species, including everything from enormous giraffes to tiny scorpions. Guests have the chance to learn about endangered animals from around the world, such as the Indian rhinoceros, and visit Florida natives like alligators and black bears. For visitors looking to see cute and fuzzy critters, the zoo’s assortment of mammals includes several big cats, lemurs, and even goats and donkeys. If you’re more interested in some of the stranger sides of Mother Nature’s many creatures, animals such as tarantulas, poison dart frogs, and both venomous and nonvenomous snakes also populate the zoo’s animal ambassador team.
Alongside the zoo’s impressive collection of resident animals, the facility is home to a stunning botanical garden with a collection of carefully curated native plants. Visitors get to see the flowers, shrubs, and trees that are important to maintaining Florida’s ecosystems and learn about landscaping and gardening with plants that support native pollinators. A butterfly garden and a fountain-filled water play area round out the family-friendly activities, and for the more adventurous guests, a zip line will have you soaring over the park for a unique bird’s-eye view.
Both the oldest and the biggest zoo in Florida, Zoo Miami was established under another name in 1948 in part to house lions, elephants, and a rhinoceros that had lost their homes when the circus they belonged to went out of business. Since then, the zoo has continually improved and expanded, and now houses more than 3,000 animals and over 1,000 unique plant species.
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, this zoo in Miami, Florida, has passed a rigorous inspection process to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its resident animals. Zoo Miami also participates in around 30 different conservation programs, in the hope that the many forms of life we know on Earth today will still be here for generations to come. This means that Zoo Miami is not only the largest and longest-standing in the state, it’s also an ideal stop for visitors who want their admission fee to go to a good cause.
In terms of things to do within the zoo campus, visitors can view the many resident animals, such as otters, warthogs, and giant anteaters that thrive in the warm and sunny South Florida climate. If you’d like to take a break from walking around, consider riding the carousel, river ride, or pedal boats, or stop by the Nourish305 indoor restaurant to take a break from the sun.
Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
Another excellent zoo in Southern Florida, the Naples Zoo has nearly a mile of paved paths that wind through a carefully crafted set of exhibits. The zoo is also set within Caribbean Gardens, a historic tropical garden originally planted in 1919. Home to many resident birds, reptiles, and mammals, the zoo is an excellent place for guests of all ages to enjoy a wide variety of plants and animals.
One of the zoo’s popular attractions is the range of shows in the Safari Canyon. The Seated Safari is a fun educational show in which guests can learn about, and come face-to-face with, many of the animals in the park. Early arrivals to the show seating also have the chance to enjoy a combination of good-to-know facts about conservation and interesting animal trivia on pre-show viewing screens. There is also a reptile encounter hosted, along with informal Q&A sessions for many different species. Some of the shows’ participants are also animals whose housing or care needs require that their habitats not be on display to guests. The Safari Canyon programs give the animal care staff the chance to bring them out to give them enrichment and to allow visitors the chance to learn about even more animals.
The Naples Zoo also has some great deals for locals, making it an awesome place to visit if you’re in the area visiting family. Residents of Collier County can purchase Family Memberships and Grandparent Memberships for half price, meaning that visiting the zoo when traveling to see Grandma and Grandpa is a well-known joy for many kids. Collier County residents also receive free admission on the first Saturday of every month. It’s the zoo’s way of giving back to the community that has supported its mission of conservation and education for many years.
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in West Palm Beach, McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is structured a little differently than an average zoo. Reservations are required prior to your visit, and you’ll be led on a tour through the sanctuary by a knowledgeable member of the McCarthy’s team. The number of people allowed in each tour is limited, so planning ahead and speaking with a service representative are necessary to ensure you’ll have a good experience.
However, visiting the sanctuary is absolutely worth the preparation. Many guests visit for the opportunity to see the several species of big cats that reside at the facility, including lions, tigers, and leopards. There are also many native Florida species, such as hawks and alligators, that come to the sanctuary until they can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Visitors may get the chance to watch the animals play with each other or with enrichment items. For example, big cats like cardboard boxes just as much as their domestic house cat counterparts, and the McCarthy’s website features photos of one of their resident tigers enjoying a large soda box.
Daily animal care, including feeding the animals, veterinary and husbandry work, and general habitat maintenance, goes on rain or shine, and guests could happen across sanctuary work being done at any point during the tour. A truly immersive and organic experience, the McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary tour gives visitors a look at exactly what goes into wildlife conservation and rehabilitation.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
The city of Jacksonville was named after Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. For many years, the city was a staple location of the paper-making industry, and today those paper mills have been replaced with coffee-roasting businesses that fill the city with a delicious aroma. While the city is industry-based, visitors can find museums, parks, and more to spend their time at. However, if you’re looking for a zoo in Jacksonville, Florida, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is the best in the area.
Many people don’t realize that there is more than one species of flamingo, but at the Jacksonville zoo, visitors can see both greater flamingos and Caribbean flamingos, and learn the differences between the two species and where they can be found in the wild. The flamingos aren’t the only creatures with wings and feathers in the zoo, as the facility is home to more than 40 bird species in total. There are also many mammals that most visitors will recognize immediately, such as the lions and elephants, and some you may be unfamiliar with, like the Atlantic guitarfish and the yellow-backed duiker.
This campus is also unique because it includes an expansive botanical garden alongside the zoo. For those who want more to discover than what a standard zoo experience provides, the garden’s River of Color walkway is lined with seasonal blossoms that paint the ground with a rainbow display. Other gardens include the Asian Bamboo Garden, the Riverview Gardens, and the Gardens at Range of the Jaguar. Scattered throughout the campus, these gardens can be enjoyed on their own or as an introduction to the kind of environment the nearby animals would call home in the wild.
Gulf Breeze Zoo
While many visitors to the Florida Panhandle are looking for the Emerald Coast experience of sun, sand, salt water, and lots of seafood, there’s more to the area than beaches and fishing boats. One popular attraction for both locals and visitors is the Gulf Breeze Zoo.
The zoo covers 50 acres of land and is home to over 800 animals. One of the newest additions to the park is a pair of maned wolves. Though they look a bit like wolves or foxes, maned wolves are a distinct species and the only members of the genus Chrysocyon. The species has been classified as near-threatened, and conservation efforts are important if we want to preserve these beautiful creatures. The two new residents at the Gulf Breeze Zoo are a sibling pair named Stella and Cieza, and the zoo looks forward to their future contributions to research, education, and the preservation of their unique species.
Other animals you might see at the Gulf Breeze Zoo are hippos, giraffes, and bears. A family of farm animals lives at the zoo, too, and guests can participate in feeding the highland cows. For an unforgettable experience, you can enter the budgie habitat, where hundreds of the brightly colored birds flit and flutter around and may even land on you.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Those who grew up on Florida’s east coast often have fond memories of field trips to ZooTampa at Lowry Park. An expansive campus with tons of things to see and do, ZooTampa is a fantastic place for kids and adults alike to learn and discover.
Chats hosted by animal care team members allow guests to ask questions and learn about care, training, and conservation efforts for animals such as orangutans, penguins, and shoebills. You can also upgrade your zoo experience by booking a Signature Encounter, during which you can meet one of the resident animals at the zoo and help feed a rhinoceros or take photos with a koala.
Something else that makes ZooTampa special is their excellent children’s zoo, which is also a great place to go if you’re looking for a good petting zoo in Florida. Kids will have the chance to learn about koalas, bats, and wallabies. There are kid-sized rides for thrills and fun, and a walk-through barn has beautiful Haflinger ponies on display. Make sure all your belongings are tucked safely in your pockets before visiting the goat habitat, because these playful farm animals will be just as curious as you!
Palm Beach Zoo
From llamas to lemurs, panthers to peacocks, the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society has lots of animals for guests to learn about and enjoy. The zoo is rated as Palm Beach County’s top zoological experience and is home to 190 unique species.
Be sure to check out this zoo if you like all things that float and fly, as the zoo is home to several species of birds including the rhinoceros hornbill and the Southern ground hornbill. The zoo is also home to giant anteaters, and playful squirrel monkeys, both native to South America. Big cat lovers will enjoy the zoo’s many feline residents including the Florida panther, jaguars, servals and the majestic Malayan tigers.
If you’re visiting with kids, check out the Activities page on the Palm Beach Zoo website before your visit. Here, you’ll find a downloadable kids’ field guide to supplement your zoo experience. It’s designed to be filled out while touring through the zoo campus, and you can do so on a phone or tablet, or by printing it out and bringing a pencil. The guide will have your group hunting for an animal taller than you, an animal native to Florida, an animal with claws, and more as you make your way from habitat to habitat.
Daytona Beach has plenty of coastline fun and is known for both sun and sand and for NASCAR thrills at Daytona International Speedway. But if you’re looking for a zoo near Daytona Beach, your very best choice will be Brevard Zoo. Located only about an hour’s drive away from the city center, Brevard Zoo makes for a perfect day trip.
One of the programs that makes Brevard Zoo special is the Exceptional Nature Space. Created for children with a range of different needs and exceptionalities, the space provides a safe and stimulating place for children to learn about nature through hands-on activities and socialize with others. It’s flexible and easily reset, making it customizable to the needs of current visitors and therefore perfect for children with sensory processing or learning differences.
The zoo, like most zoos, is home to animals from around the world. However, Brevard Zoo also offers a unique way to tour the campus and view the many resident animals. Visitors can sign up to participate in a kayaking tour through the zoo, where they’ll pass by the habitats for giraffes, white rhinos, Grévy’s zebras, and more, getting the opportunity to enjoy nature and view the animals exhibiting natural behaviors. And for guests who would prefer a more relaxing ride, the zoo train tours past animals such as dromedary camels, marabou storks, and long-horned Ankole-Watusi cattle.
Everglades Safari Park
While not quite the same as a traditional zoo, there’s lots to see and do at safari parks in Florida, too. The best and most popular of these is the Everglades Safari Park, where animal representatives of Florida’s native wildlife are the stars of the show and visitors can learn all about the many animals that make Florida’s swamps and scrublands a vibrant ecological system.
Located within the Everglades National Park, this safari park has tours and shows to enjoy while learning about Florida wetlands. Guests can take a walking tour along the Jungle Trail, where it’s advised you have your camera ready to go so you don’t miss the perfect opportunity to snap a photo of one of Florida’s birds, fish, or reptiles. If you’re looking for more adventure, check out their airboat tours as well. These can be booked with other park visitors, or as a private tour, through the depths of the swamp.
Wildlife shows are another program offered at the safari park. This interactive experience involves multiple species of native Florida wildlife, and the dedicated animal care team will demonstrate working with the animals, and they’ll talk about the many adaptations that allow these animals to survive in the wild. And when you’re ready to sit down and take a break, the Safari Café has both inside and outside dining to let you soak up some sun or relax out of the heat.
Whether you’re looking for a location that offers lots of activities and rides, rehabilitates and celebrates native Florida wildlife, or houses many species from around the world, one of the locations on this list is sure to be the best Florida zoo for you and your party to visit.