Suncoast Beaches, FL - Bradenton, Longboat Key, Sarasota, Lido Key, Siesta Key & Venice - Vacation Travel Guide

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Suncoast Beaches Area Features

Do What Comes Naturally

Photo Credit: Mote Aquarium

Lovers of nature and animals will adore the Sarasota region. With miles of beautiful beaches, rivers, parks and gardens, the Florida Suncoast is certainly a place where visitors like to explore. Many facilities offer safe environments to see and sometimes interact with the unique and abundant wildlife in the region.

One of the most famous facilities is the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. Discover the wonders of the ocean and learn about the populations of wildlife that call the sea their home. The aquarium hosts thousands of fish and animals. Most visitors enjoy seeing the expansive shark exhibit and the manatees, Hugh and Buffett. Pet a stingray or watch rescued otters frolic in the water. The center is also world-renowned for its lab work and educational mission. Beginning in 1955, the Mote Marine Laboratory began researching sharks. Now, they are working to establish why sharks are generally free of cancer and how that can be applied to human health. In addition, marine biologists are studying numerous other issues including phytoplankton toxins and algal blooms, the health of coral reefs, the acidification of oceans, and other animals such as dolphins, sea turtles and whales. Mote also has a marine animal hospital that works to save the lives of stranded and helpless animals. Visiting Mote is inspirational, educational and rewarding.

On land, lions, tigers, and even ligers have a safe home at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary. Every year, the shelter takes in animals that need a caring place to live. In addition to the big cats—they have approximately 20 lions, tigers and ligers—they also protect monkeys and lemurs, birds such as the rare emerald macaw, bears, and tortoises that have been abandoned. A visit to this shelter is a great opportunity to see these majestic animals up close.

The beauty contained in the expansive and tranquil Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a sight to behold. Enter the conservatory where, inside the greenhouse, a tropical rainforest environment exists with exotic orchids and other tropical plants. Kids will have a great time in the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden. While they play on swinging bridges, in caves, and at an Amazon village, kids can learn about the horticultural and conservation principles that the Selby Gardens promote. Families can take a leisurely stroll through the various manicured gardens: some attract and conserve migrating butterfly populations; others include Banyan trees or mangroves. All are lovely backdrops to a picturesque afternoon.

In Bradenton, more than 480 acres of a natural coastal environment await outdoorsy families at Robinson Nature Preserve. Paddle around the saltwater marsh and through natural mangroves in a kayak or canoe. Both are available for rent through online reservations with Surferbus. Or, scale the 53-foot tower for a great view of the entire preserve. Explore the area on the preserve’s hiking or biking trails. And don’t forget to bring all members of the family… Leashed dogs are welcome and they too can enjoy exploring the park with  their owners.

Bird enthusiasts will have no trouble photographing a myriad of species at the Venice Area Audubon Rookery. Great horned owls, green herons, bald eagles, belted kingfishers and so many others can be seen here. Bring binoculars, a camera and even a picnic lunch for a wonderful day among the birds. The best times to see the birds are in the morning and late afternoon. Alligators can also be spotted at the rookery in the pond. They actually serve the birds well by protecting them from mammalian predators.

Myakka Wildlife Tours will take you through the fresh waters surrounding Sarasota on an exhilarating airboat ride. You can see alligators safely from your seat on the Gator Gal. While aboard this vessel, the tour operator will discuss the plant and animal life that exists in the Myakka River and on its shores.

You’re guaranteed to see a multitude of animals while walking around Sarasota Jungle Gardens. In addition to their famous flamingos that kids can hand-feed, there are snakes, owls, lemurs and skunks—just to name a few. Plus, the vegetation that lines the walking paths creates the feeling of being in the jungle. It’s a favorite family destination!

Those who prefer to get wet and take a more hands-on approach to discovering sea life can take a Nature Safari Cruise with Sarasota Bay Explorers. Participants may get the chance to see dolphins and manatees, and they can also use a net to skim the water for puffer fish, stone crabs, and seahorses. After gently handling these sea creatures and learning about them from a marine biologist, participants return them safely to their watery home. 

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