By Heather Turk
There’s more for families to enjoy in Sarasota than just its beautiful beaches. The area is home to several kid-friendly attractions, so families will have plenty of things to do together during their Florida vacation.
BIG CAT HABITAT AND GULF COAST SANCTUARY
Families can get up close to more than 100 exotic and petting zoo animals at this nonprofit sanctuary, including lions, tigers, camels and a 5-year-old, 1,100-pound liger named Brutus. Educational animal demonstrations are held in the arena each afternoon, and guests have the opportunity to feed meat and other treats to select big cats and bears during their visit. Guests can also take a “walk on the wild side” between the old and new animal enclosures for photos of the big cats lounging and playing around, or stop by the petting zoo where they can interact with emus, llamas and a variety of other animals. While you’re at the sanctuary, be sure to take your little monkey to the new Marmoset Mansion, which houses three marmosets and a spider monkey. bigcathabitat.org
SARASOTA CHILDREN’S GARDEN
A hidden gem waiting to be explored, this 2-acre garden is sure to enchant young and young-at-heart visitors. Guests can partake in a variety of art, planting and nature programs during their visit, or simply wander around the whimsical grounds. Fun themed areas include the Monster Garden, where visitors will find a giant green dragon named Snuffy, and the Fairy Garden, where little fairies and elves can play under larger-than-life-sized mushrooms. Don’t forget your camera! sarasotachildrensgarden.com
SARASOTA JUNGLE GARDENS
One of the oldest continuously operating attractions in Florida, this lushly landscaped 10-acre park has been a family favorite since 1939. Providing a much needed home to more than 200 native and exotic animals that were donated or rescued from the wild, guests will see everything from prairie dogs to a flock of free-roaming flamingos. In fact, it isn’t uncommon to see the beautiful pink birds nibbling food out of guests’ hands! Daily animal shows, where guests can pet a skunk, learn the difference between an alligator and a crocodile or see a parrot riding roller skates, are showcased as well. For those visiting during December, be sure to check out the park’s annual Holiday Lights Spectacular held on select nights, and don’t forget to stop by the petting zoo to feed the sheep, chickens and goats. sarasotajunglegardens.com