12 Up-Close Animal Encounters

The Palm Beaches are perfect for getting up close and personal with animals, both local and from around the world!

Ever fed a giraffe or a flamingo?  

The Palm Beaches feature a variety of natural areas teeming with native animals, as well as world-class zoos and wildlife parks that offer truly unique experiences. Here's a list of 12 places within an hour's drive of the beach, where you can get an up-close look at some amazing wildlife. 

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Bird watchers flock from around the world to see the selection at the National Wildlife Refuge

There’s no need to drive hours to gain a peek at untouched Everglades. Just 7 miles west of Boynton Beach is the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the last remaining section of the northern Everglades in Palm Beach County. Nearly 144,000 acres of protected lands await you with 257 species of birds, 23 types of mammals and 60 species of reptiles and amphibians. Trails, viewing blinds and observation towers are available to visitors.  Special events and guided hikes will help you unlock the secrets of this beautiful preserve.

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

Black bears can be studied at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter

The town of Jupiter is the home for Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, a beautiful, naturally-designed facility where rescued animals of all types are rehabilitated or cared for. The sanctuary educates visitors on local wildlife through a large selection of educational programs. A wide range of local animals can be observed including alligators, bald eagles, panthers, falcons and Florida black bears.

Phil Foster Park

For those seeking a little adventure, viewing marine life isn't limited to looking through a fish tank. Phil Foster Park in Rivera Beach features an 800 foot snorkeling trail in the Lake Worth Lagoon where one can dive in. The lagoon is bathed in clear oceanic water with each incoming tide, creating perfect conditions for squid, octopus, starfish and spotted rays to live and thrive. Snorkelers are invited to snap selfies with underwater sculptures, and tweet them to Discover The Palm Beaches using the hashtag #ThePalmBeaches. We often use visitor selfies on our website!

A sea turtle selfie at Phil Foster Park's Underwater Snorkel Trail by @jennayyz

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

Located in Boca Raton, The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is a fun place for families to explore nature and learn about local wildlife. Butterflies, sea turtles and marine life are the focus, with aquarium displays and butterfly gardens. The newly-renovated boardwalk crosses a preserved hardwood hammock and leads to available picnic areas.

Holey Land Wildlife Management Area

Perhaps more remote and untouched is the Holey Land Wildlife Management Area, an 80-mile drive from West Palm Beach. This area, called “Holey” because of many crater-like depressions found throughout the preserve, is made up of low-lying landscape dotted with tree islands. The levees constructed at Holey Land are great for viewing wildlife, like deer, raccoons, river otters, bobcats and the occasional black bear and Florida panther. Birds are everywhere, with wood storks, ibises, great blue herons viewable all year. The undeveloped area is a taste of "authentic, natural Florida," and the wealth of wildlife is hard to match anywhere else.

Manatee Lagoon - an FPL Eco-Discovery Center

A kid-friendly place to learn about gentle manatees -- winters are best for obeserving them in the wild

A favorite with children of all ages, the manatee is a beautiful and fragile part of the local ecosystem. Manatee Lagoon - an FPL Eco-Discovery Center was created by Florida Power & Light to educate visitors about this gentle animal. Built near the warm-water outflow from a modern power plant in West Palm Beach, the center is perfectly positioned to observe the manatees that come to enjoy the perfect temperatures. Along with observation areas, visitors will find two levels of exhibits, an education center, a picnic area and pavilion.  While the best time to observe manatees will be in the winter months, the center provides a worthwhile educational experience all year.

Lion Country Safari

Lion Country Safari brings visitors up close to many amazing animals - and you can feed a giraffe!

Not all the wildlife in The Palm Beaches started out in Florida. One well-known wildlife attraction is Florida's only safari park, Lion Country Safari, where visitors experience a drive-through zoo complete with animals from around the world. From alpacas to zebras, Lion Country Safari delivers an alphabet soup of animals living on 640 acres of wilderness. The vast size makes it one of the largest attractions of its kind in the world. The attraction includes a walk-through section called SafariWorld, where close-up animal encounters mix with rides and water fun for the kids.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Visitors can meet sea turtles face to face at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, where the injured sea turtles are nursed back to health

A short drive north of West Palm Beach is the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. Dedicated to sea turtle education, research and rehabilitation, the center contains both static displays and a state of the art hospital. Year-round education programs are available, and visitors can “adopt” a recovering turtle for a donation.

McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary

Driving well inland from West Palm Beach, visitors will find McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a place of refuge for all types of threatened animals, from birds to bobcats to tortoises. This facility, tucked into a rural spot well off the beaten path, is also home to some very exotic animals. Visitors are taken on an intimate tour of the grounds, and will get a rare and up-close view of lions, panthers, tigers and other spectacular species who were rescued, abandoned or confiscated from illegal owners. Reservations are required since tours are kept very small. 

Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society

A baby Mexican spider monkey, named Tesoro, looks on from its natural habitat at the Palm Beach Zoo

Located in West Palm Beach, the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society houses more than 550 animals and 190 species (many endangered) in several beautifully-created habitats. Visitors move freely from area to area, moving from Central American ruins to rainforests to woodlands. The zoo creates a natural atmosphere where the animals are at home and visitors get to feel what it is like to see them in their natural environments. An interactive fountain acts as a hub for the zoo and provides fun water play for the kids. 

Sandoway Discovery Center

A drive to Delray Beach takes you to the Sandoway Discovery Center, which offers visitors a glimpse into South Florida’s fragile marine and freshwater environments. Visitors of all ages can get a close up view of some Florida’s reptiles, meet sharks and explore a huge collection of seashells. 

South Florida Science Center and Aquarium

Get inches away from an ocean of fish at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium

Florida is closely tied to the water that surrounds it. The display of both fresh and marine life at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is educational and impressive. The 3,000 square foot “Aquariums of the Atlantic” display contains sharks, a giant spotted moray eel, lobsters and barracudas. Specially constructed tanks let you surround yourself with exotic fish, and you can watch live aquarium feedings daily.  

Wakodahatchee Wetlands

For those wanting to stay a little closer to town, the Wakodahatchee Wetlands are 50 acres of constructed wetlands in Delray Beach. The wetlands are used to recycle water from a local water reclamation facility. The area provides a wildlife habitat that has attracted more than 150 different species of birds as well as alligators, rabbits, turtles and many other animals that thrive in a healthy wetland ecosystem. A three-quarter mile boardwalk offers visitors an easy and safe way to access all the wonders of this mini-wetland.
The Palm Beaches is home to a very wide range of exciting and educational animal encounters.  Visitors are certain to take home memories they could not find anywhere else.  

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