dolphin in pool

6 Unforgettable Animal Encounters in Northwest Florida

March 21, 2024

From Pensacola’s beautiful beaches to Panama City Beach‘s sunkissed shores, this remarkable stretch of coastline in Northwest Florida offers more than sun and sand. Here, you can discover a mix of unique animal encounters, some native to the area and others more exotic. Whether you’re looking for a fun day at the zoo, an educational experience, or just a break from digital screens, the whole family will have a blast exploring the different animal attractions in Northwest Florida.

No matter where you decide to stay in this pristine paradise, you’re always close to an incredible animal adventure!

Learn About Wildlife

The best way to learn about wildlife is by experiencing it firsthand! Visit these spots to connect with nature and learn about local animal species in Northwest Florida.

Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida

Home to more than 50 animals, the Wildlife Sanctuary in Pensacola is a non-profit that cares for injured and orphaned indigenous wildlife. Book a group tour or explore on your own to see and learn about wildlife in their natural habitat, including various bird species such as bald eagles, owls, and hawks.

E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center

If you want to learn more about the importance of biodiversity, stop by the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, just north of Point Washington State Park near Santa Rosa Beach in Freeport. Encounter wildlife through their interactive exhibitions featuring reptiles, mammals, and birds of prey, and explore their extensive trail systems that wind through the Nokuse Plantation. The Biophilia Center is open to the public every summer, June to July, on Thursdays and Fridays. Become a member to join their summer day camps and overnight adventures and get free admission on public days.

Hit the Zoo

Taking a break from the beach? Spend a day at one of these extraordinary zoos and see and interact with animals from all over!

Gulf Breeze Zoo

Families and animal lovers will have a fun-filled day at Gulf Breeze Zoo near Navarre Beach! Showcasing everything from fascinating wildlife to your favorite barnyard friends, you can see them all strolling through the park on the elevated boardwalk or ride the 15-minute safari line train. The kids will love feeding the giraffes and camels, visiting the farm, and exploring the budgies’ adventure aviary. You won’t run out of things to do at Gulf Breeze Zoo!

Zoo World

Located in Panama City Beach, Zoo World features unique animal attractions that kids of all ages will love! Meet exotic animals from around the world and come face to face with sloths, kangaroos, giraffes, lemurs, porcupines, and many more! Swing by Pineapple Willie’s beachfront seafood restaurant afterward and share stories of the day’s adventures.

Emerald Coast Zoo

Whether you’ve been wanting to feed a giraffe, pet a sloth, or chill with penguins, you can do all that and more when you visit Emerald Coast Zoo. Although a little off the beaten path, the zoo offers hours of fun for the whole family. Located north of Destin, take in gorgeous views of the Choctawhatchee Bay on the trip there, then hit Lulu’s on your way back through for a delicious lunch while the kids play in the sand just outside!

Feed Alligators

If you want a unique experience, head over to Fudpucker’s! This family-friendly restaurant in Destin offers an award-winning kids’ menu and a unique opportunity to feed, take photos with alligators, and watch an alligator show at Gator Beach. For a more immersive experience, book a Gator Beach Discovery Tour or Gator VIP Experience and let the kids hold baby alligators!

Snorkel with Sea Turtles

Snorkeling with sea turtles should be at the top of your to-do list if you only have a few days to spend in Northwest Florida. Visit Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary in Navarre to discover abundant marine life and learn more about their conservation efforts. Visit the center to learn more about marine wildlife and ecosystems through their interactive exhibits. You’ll also meet their resident non-releasable green sea turtle, Sweet Pea. Snorkel or dive in the near-shore artificial reefs in Santa Rosa Sound and the Gulf of Mexico off Navarre Beach. You’ll be delighted to see sea turtles, different fish species, and even dolphins! 

Touch a Stingray

After exploring the beaches of Fort Walton, visit the Gulfarium for a memorable encounter with diverse marine animals and reptiles. Get up close and personal with stingrays, turtles, dolphins, penguins, and alligators. If that’s not enough, you can take it further and snorkel with stingrays, bamboo sharks, and various fish! There’s always something new happening at the Gulfarium, so be sure to check it out!

Pet a Wolf

While wolves might be the last thing you expect to see when you visit Northwest Florida, Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley (just north of 30A) offers a unique, educational experience to interact with these majestic creatures. The guided tours allow visitors to observe wolves in a controlled environment and learn about their behaviors, habitats, and conservation status, providing an enriching experience for anyone who visits!

Swim with Dolphins

If you’ve ever dreamt of swimming with dolphins, you can finally make it come true in Panama City Beach. Water Planet provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to snorkel and swim alongside dolphins and other marine animals like manatees, manta rays, spotted eagle rays, and many more. A professional team of instructors will teach you how to interact with the dolphins before you go on your adventure. Meanwhile, nearby Gulf World features interactive programs, daily shows, and swim adventures with dolphins in a contained and controlled environment. Check their website for deals before heading out for special discounts!

Hit Pier Park for shopping and dinner, then onto the beach to soak up some rays!

While planning your next vacation to Northwest Florida, choose a place that’s comfortable, secure, and close to where you need to be. Scenic Stays has the perfect retreat, no matter what you decide to do during your stay!

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