12 Up-Close Animal Encounters

The Palm Beaches are perfect for getting up close and personal with animals, both natives and those from around the world.

Ever feed a giraffe or a flamingo?  Well, now's your chance.

The Palm Beaches feature a variety of natural areas teeming with native wildlife, as well as world-class zoos and animal parks that offer unforgettable 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 see-it-to-believe-it wildlife.

Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge


Bird watchers from around the world flock to the National Wildlife Refuge

There’s no need to drive hours to get 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


See black bears at the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary

The town of Jupiter is home to Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, a naturally designed facility where rescued animals of all types are rehabilitated or cared for. The sanctuary educates visitors on local wildlife through a selection of educational programs. A wide range of local animals can be seen here, 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. Dive into Phil Foster Park in Rivera Beach, which features an 800-foot snorkeling trail in the Lake Worth Lagoon. 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 Instagram them using the hashtag #ThePalmBeaches. If you're lucky, we'll feature it here on our site!


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

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

Located in Boca Raton, 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 to complement them. 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 several 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 and great blue herons viewable all year. The undeveloped area is a taste of "Old Florida," and the wealth of wildlife is hard to match.

Manatee Lagoon - an FPL Eco-Discovery Center


Winter is the best time to see manatees gathered at Manatee Lagoon

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 power plant, 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 is the winter months, the center provides a worthwhile educational experience year-round.

Lion Country Safari


Feed a giraffe at Lion Country Safari!

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

Loggerhead Marinelife Center


Come face-to-face with sea turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center

A short drive north of West Palm Beach is 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 sea 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 refuge for all types of threatened animals, from birds to bobcats to tortoises. The facility, tucked into a rural spot well off the beaten path, is also home to some exotic animals. Visitors are taken on an intimate tour of the grounds and get a rare and up-close view of lions, panthers, tigers and other spectacular species who were rescued, abandoned or confiscated from illegal owners. Tours are kept small, so reservations are required.

Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society


A baby Mexican spider monkey, named Tesoro, watches visitors at the Palm Beach Zoo

Located in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society houses more than 550 animals and 190 species (many endangered) in beautifully created habitats. Visitors move 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 freshwater 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 recycle water from a local water reclamation facility, providing 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 3/4-mile boardwalk offers visitors an easy and safe way to access all the wonders of this mini-wetland.
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