When the waters off Florida’s coast start to cool in the fall and winter, West Indian manatees – the official state mammals – made their way into the sheltering waters of Tampa Bay. October through April is the perfect time to observe these animals that are rarely seen outside Florida. Children and families will love this opportunity to experience these majestic creatures in their own habitat.
Address: 1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa, FL 33604
Phone: (813) 935-8552
Hours: Daily, 9 AM – 5 PM; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
Admission: Adults – $24.95; Children 3-11 — $19.95; Seniors — $22.95
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is part of CityPass, which also provides access to Busch Gardens and four other locations in the Tampa Bay area for $99 for adults, $89 for children.
The West Indian manatee, native to Florida’s coastal waters, is a star attraction of Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. An underwater viewing area lets human visitors come nose-to-snout with these enormous, slow-moving vegetarians. The zoo’s manatee center is one of three hospitals in Florida certified to care for and rehabilitate manatees injured by boat propellers.
Address: 1710 N. Highland Ave., Tampa, FL 33602
Phone: 813-274-8615 (General Number for Tampa Parks Department)
Hours: Dawn to Dusk
A quick ride south from Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa’s newest waterfront park includes a basin where the freshwater from Ulele Spring mixes with the brackish water in the Hillsborough River, creating the perfect conditions for manatees. Two bridges provide the perfect viewing platforms to search for manatees as they move upriver in the fall seeking warmer waters and downriver in the spring. The first day the park opened, a mother manatee and her calf stopped by the basin to check things out. From the bridge, scan the river for the tell-tale sign of a big wet nose breaking the surface as the manatee comes up to breathe. The park includes picnic shelters as well as plenty of space to run and play if the manatees prove elusive.
Address: 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach, FL 33572
Phone: (813) 228-4289
Hours: Daily, 10 AM – 5 PM
Manatees love warm water, so when Florida’s coastal waters dip below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they head inland looking for cold-weather havens. For nearly 30 years, that has included Tampa Electric Co.’s Big Bend power station, about 20 minutes southeast of downtown Tampa. The canal where the power plant discharges its cooling water is now a state and federal marine sanctuary. The Manatee Viewing Center includes an education center, walking trails and an observation tower.
Visit Tampa Bay leads the effort of economic development through tourism. The mission of Visit Tampa Bay is to create vibrant economic growth for the Tampa Bay area by selling and promoting the Tampa Bay destination. The independent not-for-profit organization represents more than 700 businesses throughout the area and works to ignite interest for Visiting Tampa Bay.