Step outside into Mother Nature’s playground in southwestern Florida for an amazing time! There are tons of things to do and the natural settings are gorgeous. Water activities, hiking adventures, animal experiences, beautiful gardens and more are just waiting to be explored. Take some time to visit all of it—from the beachside splendor of the outer keys to the wild interior of the mainland. There are several chances to learn about the things that make Florida’s natural side so unique and interesting. For those who wish to connect with nature while also enjoying modern living, this is the place to be! Find your wild side outdoors with the help of Sunny Day Guide.
Tour Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to see the immense beauty contained within. The tranquil gardens are a must-see in the Sarasota area. Enter the conservatory where 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 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.
Acres of Nature
In Bradenton, more than 480 acres of 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 steps of a 53-foot tower for a great view of the entire preserve. Explore the area on the preserve’s hiking or biking trails. Nearby is the Palma Sola Botanical Garden for some more time “getting in touch with nature.” And don’t forget to bring all members of the family… Leashed dogs are welcome to explore the preserve with their owners.
One of Florida’s oldest state parks can be found just a short drive east of Sarasota. Myakka River State Park consists of a network of paths for hikers and nature lovers. Many different species live in this park and you’re likely to see a number of them on your journey. For instance, eagle-eyed hikers can see birds like the roseate spoonbill and blue heron, and animals including alligators, raccoons, and many other species. Just be sure to keep a safe distance. Myakka has 40 miles of paths and it is truly a wild place. If you would rather see the park from another viewpoint, the canopy tour is a fantastic experience. From the tree line, view eagle nests and vultures or peer down on the gorgeous scenery below.
As you paddle through the waters of the Sarasota region, you’ll come across tangled branches of mangroves. These trees that root in the water are the ultimate plant survivor. They tolerate salty waters at tide levels, extreme heat, marshy conditions and exposed roots—but yet they flourish! Not only that, but mangroves are essential to supporting life in this environment. Fish, amphibians, birds, and even animals make their home in the trees and their roots. At many of the parks and reserves, you can see the native black, red, and white species. The red ones are usually closer to the water and are situated on “prop-roots.” The black and white mangroves occupy space a little higher up on the land.
Wet Water Adventures
While you’re in the great outdoors and under the Florida sun, you may feel the urge to get out on the water. Book a seat with Myakka River Tours to go on a boat tour and see the park from the water. They’ll take you through the waters surrounding Sarasota on an exhilarating journey. While aboard the boat, the tour operator will discuss the plant and animal life that exists along local waterways and shores and you can see alligators safely from your seat. You’ll venture into remote areas and get to see Florida at its most natural.
Boat tours to see dolphins and manatees are popular activities in the area. The clearer waters of the Gulf make it the ideal destination to see these gentle sea creatures. Some of these tours take a more hands-on approach to discovering sea life and you can even get wet while discovering various species in the sea. For example, participants on some of these tours might 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, they are returned safely to their watery home.
On land there are a few places where you can get up-close-and-personal with a variety of animals. At Sarasota Jungle Gardens, you’re guaranteed to see a multitude of animals while strolling the grounds. In addition to their famous flamingos that kids can hand-feed, there are snakes, owls, monkeys and even prairie dogs—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!
Great horned owls, green herons, bald eagles, belted kingfishers and so many others can be seen at the Venice Area Audubon Rookery. Bring binoculars, a camera and even a picnic lunch for a wonderful day among the birds. The best times to see our feathered friends 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 animal predators.