sea lion kissing a girl in sarasota florida
Sarasota Sea Lion Preserve offers one of the most interactive animal encounters

Must-See Attractions for Animal Lovers

Are you amazed by animals? Then Sarasota County is a great place to be! We’ve got lots of local attractions where visitors can get up-close and personal with all kinds of critters, from tiny seahorses to fierce-looking lions.

Mote Aquarium

You’ll find more than 100 species of marine life at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, including a creepy-looking moray eel, mesmerizing jellyfish, and their beloved resident manatees Hugh and Buffett. This Sarasota staple is a laboratory, so visitors can  observe  ocean research as it is happening, including the life-saving (and adorable!) work being done at Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

Little ones love spending time at the stingray touch pool, and the playful Otters & Their Waters exhibit can make anyone smile. Special presentations offer more information on Mote’s animal residents. Check out the daily sea turtle talks at 3 p.m. or the narrated training sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m. in the 135,000-gallon shark habitat.

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $24 adults, $18 children ages 3 to 12

Save Our Seabirds

Located just across the way from Mote is Save Our Seabirds. This non-profit rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick and injured wild birds found in the area. Its Wild Bird Learning Center is home to more than 120 animals that were injured and treated, but unable to return to the wild.

Stroll the three-acre site’s “birdwalk” to meet pelicans, owls, vultures, herons, and other once-wild birds. Some have visible life-altering injuries, like the sandhill cranes that have been fitted with prosthetic legs and the various birds with wing injuries. You’ll enjoy a steady soundtrack of squawks, caws, and chirps as you learn about the traits and characteristics of each species, as well as what you can do to help protect them from harm in the wild.

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $12 adults, $8 ages 4 to 12 (get half-off admission when you show a same-day ticket from Mote Aquarium)

Sarasota Jungle Gardens

A popular Sarasota attraction since the 1930s, Sarasota Jungle Gardens offers 10 acres of “Old Florida” fun. More than 200 native and exotic animals—many of them rescued—can be found here, including lemurs, iguanas, snakes, and tortoises.

If you’ve ever wanted to hand-feed a flamingo, you can (and should) do it here. Kids of all ages can also get their photo taken with a tropical bird perched on their arm or while holding one of the site’s reptile residents. Daily presentations educate and entertain visitors. Don’t miss the roller-skating and bike-riding birds during the noon Jungle Bird Show, or all the scaly critters that take part in the interactive Reptile Encounter at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. As the name suggests, Sarasota Jungle Gardens also has some pretty cool plant life to admire, including towering royal palms and Ponderosa lemon trees that produce football-sized fruit.

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $18 adults, $17 seniors, $13 ages 4 to 16

Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary

For a truly wild time, head to this Sarasota sanctuary where some 150 exotic animals that were born in captivity have found a forever home. Visitors can observe creatures like bears, primates, and, of course, lions and tigers. These massive predators roam three indoor/outdoor housing complexes complete with exercise habitats and swimming pools. Plop the little ones in the petting zoo to meet more mild animals like goats, llamas, and chickens.

Two demonstration shows take place each day. They’re subject to change but generally feature the sanctuary’s parrots at 1 p.m. and its big cats at 2 p.m. During the shows, visitors learn about the animals’ characteristics and watch training sessions in action, all with the goal of strengthening the human-animal connection.

Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; $18 adults, $8 ages 3 to 12

Bishop Museum of Science and Nature

This science museum – formerly known as The South Florida Museum – is in nearby Bradenton boasting a planetarium and exhibits featuring fossils, Florida’s ancient past and current-day environment, and local maritime history. It’s also the site of the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat, which serves as a second-stage rehabilitation facility for injured manatees that have already received treatment but aren’t quite ready to be released back into the wild.

You can stop by and see which manatees are currently getting cozy in the habitat. To learn more about the aquatic mammals and the work being done to help return them to the wild, attend one of the 15-minute Manatee Presentations offered several times each day. (Pick up a museum schedule when you pay for admission.)

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m.; $19 adults, $17 seniors, $14 ages 12 to 17, $10 ages 5 to 11

Mixon Fruit Farms

This Bradenton citrus grower offers all kinds of experiences for visitors on its property. Munch some tasty citrus creations in their cafe, run wild through the children’s play place, and book a tram tour to traverse the working citrus grove. The animals can be found on the portion of the property dedicated to Wildlife, Inc. - a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization that takes in more than 3,000 injured and orphaned animals each year.

A rotating array of birds, reptiles, and other critters can be found at any point living among the orange trees. Visitors can learn all about the different creatures and how they’re being cared for, rehabilitated and hopefully released back into the wild one day.

Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (May through October), Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (November through April); play place admission $3, tram tours $10 for adults, $5 ages 3 to 12

Sarasota Sea Lion Preserve

sea lion from sarasota sea lion preserve
Sarasota Sea Lion Preserve lets you stand right next to critters like this

This recently opened Myakka City attraction is home to 13 rescued and oh-so-cute California and South American sea lions. Guided, behind-the-scenes tours are offered on Wednesdays through Sundays at 3 p.m., where visitors can learn about the sea lions’ daily care, enrichment and various conservation efforts to protect the marine mammals in the wild.

Want to get more hands-on? Book an interactive experience, with options for land and water encounters. Participants receive photos of their visit with the sea lions, plus a painting created by one of the animal residents as a souvenir to take home!

Closed for the summer season, with afternoon tours Wednesday through Sunday resuming in September; facility tours $25 per person (under five free), interactive encounters start at $95 per person