You can easily find so many amazing animal encounters in Florida. North Florida, especially, is ripe with opportunities whether you’re visiting for a while or just passing through for the day on the way to Orlando or Miami. While the area certainly known for its beaches and lots of sunshine, we also have a lot of exciting animal-related activities and spaces to visit as well. Whether you’re looking to go horseback riding or you’re interested in checking out zoos or animal sanctuaries, check out our list below!
6 Animal Encounters in Florida You’ll Love
1. Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
As the only “walking safari” in Northeast Florida, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a favorite among locals. The zoo features more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and is host to 1,000 varieties of plants. With the mission to “foster understanding of the interaction of people, wildlife, and their environment,” the Jacksonville Zoo has a lot on offer.
Different sections include South America, Australia, Asia and Africa. Animals you might see when you visit include: stingrays, jaguars, American flamingoes, komodo dragons and koalas. There are a host of educational opportunities in the zoo from hands-on activities to different feeding events.
2. Catty Shack Ranch
Catty Shack Ranch wildlife sanctuary is a nonprofit organization located in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s our top attraction on TripAdvisor, can you believe it? The overall mission at the ranch is to provide a loving forever home to endangered big cats and to educate the public about the difficulties these big cats face in the wild and in captivity. Catty Shack’s main focus is rescuing exotic cats from serious situations.
As part of the mission that started over 30 years ago, Catty Shack has a variety of events throughout the year and they do daytime tours every afternoon. During these day tours, you will be taken on a guided walking tour with the opportunity to see some of the animals at the sanctuary that include tigers, lions, leopards, lynx and more. Tours last about 45 minutes and you’re welcome to ask questions of the highly informative volunteers. It is very much an educational experience and an opportunity to see some amazing animals up close. When you go, be sure to say hi to Curt LoGuidice, the ranch’s executive director. Learn more about Catty Shack here.
3. Diamond D Ranch
Diamond D Ranch is a family-owned and operated ranch located in North Florida that has been around for 50 years. They host a variety of events ranging including weddings, birthday parties and guided trail rides. If you’d like to try horseback riding, Diamond D Ranch is a perfect place to check it out.
Depending on your comfort level and how much time you have, you can book a one-hour trail ride, a two-hour trail ride, a half-day trail ride or a 2-day pack trip, a deep ride into the forest with the opportunity to camp under the stars with the horses. These are options perfect for single visitors, friend groups or families.
4. Amelia Island Horseback Riding
If you’re looking to horseback ride on the beach at sunrise or sunset on one of the gorgeous beaches in North Florida, Amelia Island Horseback Riding might be for you. Experience started by Debbie Manser over 25 years ago, you can book a horseback ride during the day, at sunrise, or at sunset on Amelia Island and enjoy some beautiful views from the back of a horse!
Offering rides to folks aged 6-96, there’s quite a bit of flexibility to the different times available for rides. Times and ride availability does vary depending on the time of year, so checking out their site before booking is recommended!
Marineland was originally founded to “foster the preservation and protection of marine life.” They use interactive education enriched by on-site research to help build respect and value between visitors and the marine mammals that are present.
Marineland has a variety of events available to check out. From a meet and greet with dolphins, swimming with the dolphins, to different self-guided activities, there is a whole host of different things to do when you visit. Their general admission ticket includes access to animal habitats, and different daily presentations like Shark Talk, dolphin training presentations and Turtle Talk.
If learning about marine life, dolphins, and sea turtles is up your alley, Marineland might be the place to check out while you’re in North Florida.
6. St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park
The Alligator Farm started out as a small exhibition of Florida reptiles and quickly became a go-to attraction in North Florida. With a mission of education and conservation, the Alligator Farm works to bring appreciation and understanding of crocodiles and other wildlife to all of its guests. As you would expect from the name, alligators and crocodiles are certainly the biggest draw.
With areas of the park named the Land of Crocodiles, Oasis of the Nile and Native Swamp and Rookery, you’ll find a whole day of activities, shows and even an incredible ropes course over the reptiles. Other animals besides alligators and crocodiles you can encounter include lemurs, pythons and native birds.
No matter what you might be looking for in an animal encounter in North Florida, we’ve got a ton of choices for the whole family. Educational opportunities that will allow you to learn more about the wildlife, both native to Florida and not, and interactive experiences that allow you to be up close and personal are all available.