The 12 best places to see manatees in Florida
One of the best things to do in Florida is to view the gentle giants (what we call manatees) in their natural habitat. So, where are the best places to see manatees in Florida? The short answer is anywhere they can find warm water!
Manatees are very sensitive to the cold and migrate to certain areas, particularly in winter, seeking warmer water. You can find manatees anywhere, but you’re more likely to see them in these locations, particularly from November through March.
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Whenever I need to rent a car, I use Discount USA Car Rental; you can use it at all major Florida airports (and even most of the smaller ones!) and rent from large companies such as Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, etc. at discounted prices.
Where to see manatees in Florida
Here are some of the best places to see manatees in Florida, in no particular order. However, the first one is my favorite!
*Remember that manatees are wild animals; seeing them is not guaranteed. Also, remember that this is their home, and please be respectful and follow all laws, rules, and guidelines. Manatees are endangered animals and need our protection!
If you love animals, make sure to also check out the 10 best places to see sea turtles in Florida.
1. Three Sisters Spring, Crystal River Florida
One of the best places in Florida to see manatees – and one of our personal favorites – is Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River. You can take a boat tour, rent some kayaks, and head towards the spring. You’ll see manatees all along the way in the winter!
Keep in mind that it can be chilly during the winter but the best boat tours that allow swimming offer wet suits! I recommend Gulf Coast Expeditions for this.
If you are in the area to see the manatees, check out 16 things to do in Crystal River with kids for even more things to do.
2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on the east coast of Florida, known as the “Space Coast.” The Refuge is owned by NASA and is home to many other animals, including alligators, birds, dolphins, and bobcats.
If you’re visiting Florida outside the winter months, this is one of the best places to see manatees. Bairs Cove Boat Ramp and Haulover Canal are two of the best places to spot them.
3. Manatee Springs State Park
Manatee Springs State Park is located in Chiefland, FL, and is open from 8:00 AM to sundown every day of the year. Entry is only $6 per vehicle and gives you access to 8.5 miles of trails along with an 800-foot boardwalk through the Cypress Forest.
Manatees are found here during the cooler months, so if you’re visiting during the summer, you might want to check out Weeki Wachee Springs State Park or Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where they’re more likely to be found year-round.
4. Lee County Manatee Park
Located in Fort Myers, Lee County Manatee Park is one of the best places to see manatees in SW Florida. This non-captive warm water refuge for manatees is open daily from 8:00 AM to sunset.
We also talk about this in the post 30 things to do in Fort Myers FL.
Parking is $2 per hour or $5 per day. In addition to a boardwalk to view the manatees, you can also find hiking trails, pavilions, and an area to launch kayaks.
This is a Florida Travel with Kids throwback! Look at how little they were at Lee County Manatee Park in 2017!
5. Lovers Key State Park
Located near Fort Myers, this hidden gem, Lovers Key State Park, is a popular spot for destination weddings. Due to its seclusion, it’s also a great place to see the wildlife of all kinds, including manatees, dolphins, and osprey.
We also mention Lovers Key State Park in the 20 Best Shelling Beaches in Florida, so there are many reasons to visit if you’re close to SW Florida.
6. Manatee Observation and Educational Center
Located in Fort Pierce, the Manatee Observation and Educational Center has hours that change based on the season, so check out current hours before you plan your trip. The Manatee Observation and Education Center’s primary purpose is to promote understanding and responsible actions for the fragile ecosystems of the Treasure Coast and their inhabitants.
Admission is only $2 per person, although donations are excepted (this is a non-profit), and memberships are available. This is a great place to take children; there are hands-on exhibits and displays where they can learn about manatees and other Florida wildlife.
7. Manatee Lagoon, West Palm Beach
Manatee Lagoon in West Palm Beach offers free admission and is open every day from 9:00 AM -4:00 PM during the “manatee season.” For the rest of the year, they are closed on Mondays. Manatee Season here is considered November 15 through March 31.
Like anywhere else where you’ll find manatees in the wild, there is no guarantee that you’ll see the gentle giants. However, this 16,000-square-foot facility features engaging, hands-on exhibits for visitors to learn about the unique creatures and the natural wonders of the surrounding Lake Worth Lagoon.
This is one of the best places to see manatees in Florida for families with young children!
8. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is another place where you can see manatees year-round. You can also do a clear kayak tour with Get up and Go Kayaking to spot them up close!
9. Manatee Viewing Center
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach is a great place to see manatees in Florida. Tampa Electric says, “Our Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach circulates water from Tampa Bay for cooling, then sends the water flowing clean and warm back into the bay. In the winter, the manatees leave colder waters to return to this warm and welcoming refuge.”
The Manatee Viewing Center offers free admission and free parking and is open daily from November 1 – April 15, 10 AM to 5 PM. They also provide manatee webcams so you can see if manatees are in the area.
Photo is the property of Tampa Electric.
If you are staying near Tampa, check out 30 Things to do in Clearwater with Kids and Dinosaur World Florida Review in Lakeland, Florida.
10. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is another place with a manatee webcam to see if the manatees are in the area. Hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, and admission is $13 for adults, $5 for children 5-12, and free for children under 5.
Manatees aren’t the only animal you’ll encounter at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park; you might also find alligators, red wolves, black bears, Florida panthers, and all kinds of birds. Some of the animals you’ll see are captive animals because they could not survive on their own. You can learn all of their stories when you visit!
The manatees, however, you’ll find their natural habitat in one of the most beautiful springs in Florida!
11. Tarpon Springs
The Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs is one of the best places to see manatees. Only about an hour from Tampa, this is a short drive in Tampa is your base during your Florida vacation. This is an artificial lagoon, and while you may not see as many manatees as somewhere like Crystal River or Blue Springs, it’s still worth a visit if you’ll be nearby!
12. Blue Springs State Park
Blue Springs State Park is one of Florida’s most popular places to see manatees. I saved it for last because it’s one of the best. If you’re visiting Orlando, it’s just a short drive. The park covers over 2500 acres and is a designated manatee refuge. The warm water temperature of about 72 degrees makes it an ideal place for manatees to gather year-round.
You can’t swim at Blue Springs State Park, but you can view the manatees from a boardwalk. If you’re wondering if there are manatees present, you can watch the manatee webcam to get a good idea if they’re in the area.
This is a popular place to make sure to arrive early to ensure parking availability, especially during the winter months. At Blue Springs State Park, you can also see other animals, such as Osprey and eagles. The park is open from 8:00 AM to sunset every day of the year.
Photo is property of Blue Springs State Park.
Where to swim with manatees in Florida
Most places do not allow you to swim with manatees in Florida, but a few actually do! The main place where you can swim with manatees is in Crystal River. We recommend Paddles Outdoor Rentals or Explorida.
If you decide to swim with the manatees, please be respectful of their space and do not touch or bother them.
The best places to see manatees in Florida
These are some of the best places in Florida to see manatees. Have you visited any of them? Have you ever seen a manatee from the beach? That is a fun experience too! Let me know in the comments where you’ve visited on this list or where you’d like to go.
If you’re traveling to Florida with kids (that’s probably why you’re here!), here are some fun facts about manatees:
- Manatees continually replace their teeth
- The closest living relative of sirenians (the class that manatees belong in) are elephants
- Manatees are herbivores and eat about 10% of their body weight in a day
- Female manatees have a calf every 2-5 years
- Manatees have no natural predators in the wild, but unfortunately, most deaths occur by humans (primarily due to boating accidents.)
- Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes, but they typically surface every 3 to 5 minutes to breathe
- Most manatees can live in both saltwater and freshwater. They can maintain the correct balance in their bodies through an internal regulation system that works with the kidney to ensure salt concentrations never get too high!
More Florida Travel Tips
Planning a Florida vacation? We’ve got you covered! No matter where you’re visiting, you’ll find some great tips here on the blog, including:
- The best things to do in Sanibel and Captiva
- 5 Best Small Towns in Florida
- First Timer Tips for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- The 20 Best Beaches near Orlando for Families
- 25 Free Things at Disney World
- The Ultimate List of Florida Birds
About Florida Travel With Kids
Florida Travel with Kids was started by a family who loves to travel the state of Florida with kids! This site will help you explore the fun state of Florida and all of the kid-friendly activities you’ll find here.
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