These days, there are a lot of attractions out there that are dedicated for families. But among all of those, zoos still remain the OG destination for families as it’s not just provide a place for fun. It is also a place for learning.
Contrary to what some people think, zoos aren’t merely for entertainment, showing kids some cute animals. Zoos actually offer a lot of educational benefits and they play a role in animal conservation too. For starters, aside from offering visitors some guided tours, educating them about the kinds of animals, zoos also encourage environmental awareness. Through this, visitors would know the importance of keeping the environment so animals could have a place to live in. Zoos also help teach visitors the importance of animal care through tours, as well as hands-on activities, and other attractions. Each zoo offers different activities to educate visitors and at the same time make sure that they have a good time exploring the zoo. That said, it’s a perfect place for families to visit.
There is a lot of zoos in almost every country. But if you’re in the US, we suggest not to look further than the zoos in Florida. Yes, aside from the beautiful beaches and all-Inclusive resorts in Florida, the sunshine state also has a number of good zoos to visit where everyone in the family will enjoy and learn. In case you’re looking for a place to take your family this weekend, here are some of the best zoos in Florida that you might want to visit with your loved ones.
1Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Located along the shores of Lake Monroe, this place has something for everyone. Here, you can see more than 350 animals on exhibit and get to learn more about them. But this place isn’t only about animals. As its name suggests, it also has an assortment of gardens and plantings that will not only give you a good backdrop but will educate everyone in the family too. And we’re not just talking about two to three gardens. Apparently, the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens has six gardens throughout the area: the Butterfly Garden, Health and Wellness Garden, Browse Collection, Bromeliad Collection, Fern Collection, as well as Spines, Thorns and Prickles Garden.
- Butterfly Garden – This part of the zoo offered a magical sight as it lets you explore a wide variety of shrubs, trees, annuals, and perennials that attract butterflies. But aside from the beautiful butterflies, this garden also features a variety of nectar and host plants that helps the life cycle of butterflies.
- Health and Wellness Garden – This garden, as its name suggests, is all about health and wellness. That means this spot at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens features different plants that play a unique role in our health and wellness – from the food we eat and even up to the medicines we take. Here, you can learn more about such plants, as well as their long history. Everyone in the family can also get to learn more about the different culinary, medicinal, and aromatic herbs.
- Browse Collection – Nope, this is not the “browse” word that relates to our modern technology. Rather, we’re talking about a collection of the plant material called browse that the zoo uses to help enrich the animals’ diet. This is also the same plant material that helps stimulate the natural behaviors of the animals, such as foraging and nesting. Here, you can get a closer look at them and learn more too.
- Bromeliad Collection – Bromeliads are actually a large group of plants that belong to the Bromeliaceae family. The zoo doesn’t have an entire spot dedicated to it, though. But you can get to see a diverse group of different kinds of bromeliads – the terrestrial (the ones that grow on the ground) and the epiphytic (the ones that grow on trees).
- Fern Collection – Fens, on the other hand, are ancient plats that spores reproduce. But unlike the Bromeliad Collection, the zoo doesn’t also have a whole space dedicated to it. But you can also find a variety of different species of this plant scattered around the zoo. You can get to learn more about them if you want as the zoo’s staff welcomes queries about it too.
- Spines, Thorns, and Prickles Garden – Over the years, some plants have evolved and developed defense mechanisms. In this way, they can avoid being eaten. And in the zoo’s Porcupines of the Plant Kingdom Garden, you can learn more about the plants’ defenses.
In addition to that, the zoo also has a splash area that features sprinklers, sprays, and streams that create a cool oasis that kids and even kids at heart will love.
2Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is the only walking safari in Northeast Florida, which makes it a must-visit. Here, you can encounter wildlife through educational, as well as interactive experiences. But aside from more than 2,000 animals that you can meet in person, the zoo also has 1,000 varieties of plants that you can get to see in the zoo’s gardens. Like the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Jacksonville Zoo also has several gardens, namely Savannah Blooms, Gardens at Trout River Plaza, Riverview Gardens, Gardens at the Range of the Jaguar, Asian Bamboo garden, and Rivers of Color Garden.
- Savanna Blooms – This garden is the first of the gardens that will welcome you to the zoo. Based on a South African oasis, here, you can enjoy a good view of soft grasslands and fine-textured acacia leaves with a bold contemporary garden at its core. This garden will let you enjoy a relaxing view of nature plus fragrant flowering vines scattered throughout the pocket garden.
- Gardens at Trout River Plaza – This garden, on the other hand, features a partially-walled botanical garden plaza that provides a space for gatherings and events. This garden also gives a beautiful view of the Trout River. At its center, you can also find a fountain surrounded by pebble mosaic paving featuring a menagerie of animals of the Trout River. This garden also features Grecian style columns with flowering urns giving some classical vibes.
- Riverview Gardens – This garden is located just beyond the Gardens at Trout River Plaza. Like the other gardens, this one is also filled with plants but what makes it different is that it houses more plants that support pollinators, as well as other wildlife.
- Gardens at Range of the Jaguar – This one is set at the edge of the neotropical rainforest. What makes it different among the other gardens is that it houses exotic plants from around the world. Plus, it offers a shaded tropical setting.
- Asian Bamboo Garden – serving as an introduction to the Asian animal exhibits, this garden has features that represent different Asian cultures. Here, you can see a moon gate, a lotus pool, yin-yang terraces, and even a weeping tree bridge. The garden also has huge panda sculptures.
- Rivers of Color Garden – As its name suggests, this garden has a colorful theme. But what makes it unique is that the colors that make this garden vibrant are all-natural. This means the garden is made up of trees, shrubs, as well as perennials that create color with flowers, stems, and berries. And every season, the portions of the garden are changed in order to maintain color and interest all through the year.
And like the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the Jacksonville also has a splash ground. In addition to that, the zoo has a playground that will make the kids’ visit all the more fun.
3Palm Beach Zoo
If you’re going south of Florida, you can also visit the Palm Beach Zoo. Like other zoos, Palm Beach Zoo also houses wild animals such as big cats, bears, and birds. Here, you can also get to see monkeys, spoonbills, alligators, lemurs, capybaras, otters, and Patagonian cavy, to name a few.
But aside from that, this zoo is also loved by many locals and tourists because of its other attractions. One of them is the Nature Play Pavilion. For starters, it’s just like a playground. But what makes it unique is that it features a hands-on interactive natural play space. Here, kids can have an opportunity to explore and engage in imaginative creative outdoor play. They can balance like a monkey, crawl like a tortoise, climb like a cat, and whatnot.
Apart from that, the Palm Beach Zoo also has a Kid Zone where kids, as well as the kids at heart, can enjoy a carousel ride that features colorful sculptures of different animals. Yes, you read that right. This Palm Beach Zoo carousel doesn’t just have sculptures of horses. It also features hummingbirds, jaguars, manatees, and even a sea dragon.
Everyone in the family will certainly enjoy a safari train ride too. Here, you can explore a bit of the zoo’s area while on the train. So if you get tired from exploring the Palm Beach Zoo, you can just ride the Safari Train while still making sure that the kids are having fun.
And like the aforementioned zoos, the Palm Beach Zoo also has a splash ground where kids can also cool down. Called the Play Fountain, this spot will surely be loved by kids as they take delight in refreshing water jets.
And if you get tired from all the exploring and fun, the zoo also has a café on site. Here, you can fuel up with delicious snacks and drinks.
Aside from the Palm Beach Zoo, another menagerie that you should see in the southern part of Florida is the Zoo Miami. Also known as The Miami-Dade Zoological Park and gardens, this place is known as the oldest and the largest zoological garden in Florida. On top of that, it’s the only sub-tropical zoo in the United States. This means it’s easier for them to house a broad mix of animal species from Australia, Asia, and Africa, unlike the other zoos in the country. And the best part of it is that the animals are on open-air exhibits, replicating the animals’ natural habitats. Hence, you can get closer to them.
But what makes this zoo unique is that it offers different rides, such as the Lostman’s River Ride Monorail, Safari Tram Tours, Wildlife carousel, and Pedal Boats, for people of all ages. In case you’re curious about the rides, here’s a summary of what awaits you:
- The Lostman’s River Ride – A ride that will allow you to float through the heart of Everglades on a slow-moving boat.
- Monorail – It is actually both a fun ride and a means of transportation. Here, you can get an aerial view of the zoo’s beautiful canopy. It will also help you get around the zoo as it has four convenient stops throughout the site.
- Safari Tram Tours – A narrated tour of the zoo’s Africa and Asia exhibit.
- Pedal Boats – A pleasant swan or duck pedal ride on the zoo’s Amazon and Beyond Lake. But do note that you have to be at least 21 years old to rent and operate the pedal boat.
5Lion Country Safari
Also located in the southern part of Florida is the Lion Country Safari, another zoo that offers a unique experience. Basically, this zoo houses more than 900 animals and you will not just get to see them, you can also get to some animals. And when we say close, we mean that kind of distance where you can even feed and pet them.
But what makes this zoo different among the others is that it doesn’t just offer walkthrough tours; it also has a drive-through safari. Yes, you read it right, a drive-through safari where you can drive your own car and get around the zoo. For starters, the drive-through safari is divided into seven parts:
- Las Pampa – Lets you see Aldabra tortoise, Brazilian tapir, alpaca, and greater rhea.
- Ruaha National Park – Houses greater kudu, impala, and ostrich.
- Kalahari Bushueldt – Also houses ostrich but this area also lets you see Nile lechwe.
- Gir Forest – Here, you can see Asiatic water buffalo, nilgai, blackbuck, scimitar-horned oryx, and lowland nyala.
- Gorongosa Reserve – The area where African lions are kept.
- Serengeti Plains – Here, you can see wildebeest, common waterbuck, and ankole cattle-watusi, to name a few.
- Hwange National Park – Houses southern white rhinoceros, common zebra, Jackson’s hartebeest, chimpanzee, white-handed gibbon, giraffe, and greater kudu.
The Lion Country Safari, of course, also has a walk-through safari. Here, everyone in the family can enjoy animal encounters. Aside from that, you can also enjoy rides and other attractions.
One of the zoo’s newest attractions is the Safari falls. Here, kids can enjoy an interactive water play area that features slides, water sprayers, and dump buckets. It’s the perfect place to just cool down and have a splash.
In addition to that, the zoo also has a safari-themed carousel, Rio Grande train, and flying elephant rides for the kids. As for the kids at heart, don’t worry, there is also Safari Plunge, an attraction that has two twin slides. The one is 108-foot long freefall water slide and the other is 214-foot-long loop water slide that will keep your heart pumping with adrenaline. For more laid back rides, there are paddle boat rides and safari Queen rides that everyone in the family can board.
However, due to the pandemic, the zoo only allows drive-through safari trips for now, which is not bad as you can practice social distancing better. And, of course, you won’t get tired from walking a lot. There’s no word as to when the zoo will allow walk-through safari tours, though. But we’re sure that you and the kids will still get to enjoy the drive-through safari tours.
6Lowry Park Zoo
If you’re in Tampa, don’t worry, the city also has a nice zoo that you can visit – and that is the Lowry Park Zoo. This zoo boasts of 56 acres of natural habitats and a diverse collection of more than 1,500 animals. Here, you can enjoy interactive exhibits where you can come into close contact with many species of animals.
One of the well-loved attractions in this zoo is its aviary. This is because aside from the fact that you can get up close and personal with the bird species that the zoo houses, you can also get to enjoy a beautiful rainforest environment and watch birds soar overhead. The zoo’s aviary also lets you witness spectacular shows such as the daily birds of prey show, Spirits of the Sky.
Many visitors also love the Safari Africa and Ituri Forest habitat areas and you should see it too. Here, you can get to see various animals including giraffes, zebras, and elephants. In this attraction, you can also hop on a safari ride where you can get a good view of the animals behind the scenes.
Probably what makes this zoo different from the other ones we’ve mentioned is that it has an aquatic center. Here, you can get to observe manatees, as well as other fascinating sea creatures, in their own habitat. It’s like a zoo that doubles as an ocean park. Hitting two birds with one stone, aye?
Of course, the zoo also has a space or kids for when they get tired getting to know the animals it houses. Like the other zoos we’ve mentioned, Tampa Bay’s Lowry Park Zoo also has rides. But unlike the others, Lowry Park Zoo also seems to double as a mini theme park. This is because it also offers a number of rides that resembles the theme parks’, such as a carousel, Flying Bananas, and express train rides that will keep the kids’ heart jumping. The zoo also has a ride for adults who are looking for some adrenaline, the Roaring Springs, an exciting “boat ride” that drops three-story.
The Best Time to Visit Zoos
No matter what the season is, it is always best to visit the zoo. However, some zoos hold different events. Others offer seasonal attractions. And if you have a specific event or attraction that you want to experience or see, needless to say, it is highly suggested that you always keep an eye on the zoo’s calendar of events.
Also, due to the pandemic, some zoos implement different rules for everyone’s safety. Others also limit their attractions. That said, also remember to watch out for announcements posted on your targeted zoo’s website. In this way, you know how you can maximize your visit.
Florida is known for theme parks including Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios. It is also famous for its beaches. Hence, it’s easy to think of the state when talking about vacation and relaxation. But apart from these, the sunshine state also has good zoos to offer that are perfect for families who are going on a quick vacation. This is because such attractions will not just entertain but will surely educate everyone in the family – from the different species of animals, their diet, behavior, habitat, and even how the environment that they live in should be taken care of. Through this, everyone in the family will even become more aware of the environment. On top of that, it would be easier for the parents to teach the kids about the surroundings even when they’re still young. It’s definitely a state that you should consider visiting.