Top 10 Orlando Zoos and More Places to See Animals

Giraffes in Orlando? You bet.
Giraffes in Orlando? You bet.

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve visiting the zoo and gazing in awe at the variety of animals I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to see. The Orlando area is home to many zoos and attractions that offer opportunities to get up close and personal with native and exotic animals, reptiles, and more. Here then are the top places to see animals, outside of theme parks, within an hour's drive of Orlando.

Want to enjoy wildlife from the comfort of your own car? Check out these local wildlife drives.

Be sure to also bookmark our Florida Family Travel Guide for more ideas for summer fun around the state.

Top Zoos and Animal Encounters Near Orlando

Catch up with the friendly rays at the Brevard Zoo. Photo courtesy of Florida's Space Coast Office of Tourism

Brevard Zoo — Melbourne

See more than 900 animals from all over the world at the Brevard Zoo. This 75-acre zoo is divided into five areas. The Expedition Africa area includes giraffes, cheetahs, zebras, rhinos, and the oh-so-cute family of meerkats. In the Lands of Change area, walk alongside red kangaroos and wallabies and venture through a free-flight bird aviary. The Wild Florida area houses native animals such as American alligators and crocodiles, bobcats, black bears, otters, deer, and foxes. The Rainforest area features a variety of exotic animals, including snakes, many species of birds, monkeys, flamingos, and jaguars. And lastly, a favorite among the littles, the Paws On area includes a petting zoo, aquarium, touch tank, tortoise-themed playground, and a shallow water play lagoon.

Central Florida Zoo — Sanford

Home to more than 350 animals, this nonprofit zoo and botanical garden covers 116 acres just north of Orlando. Meet and feed giraffes, watch the endangered Indian rhinoceros play in his pool area, and catch a glimpse of the sibling black bear antics at the new bear house exhibit. Other animals that call the Central Florida Zoo home include otters, eagles, cheetahs, spider monkeys, lemurs, and more. Kids are sure to love the Barnyard Buddies petting zoo, children’s garden, playground, and tropical splash ground.

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It's monkey see, monkey do at the Central Florida Zoo. Photo courtesy of the zoo

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey — Maitland

Since opening its doors more than 40 years ago, the Audubon Center has treated more than 20,000 injured or orphaned birds of prey, including hawks, owls, kites, falcons, and eagles. The facility focuses on rescue, treatment, rehab, and release of Florida’s native raptors. Visitors can tour the center and learn about conservation and protection, and the role these raptors play in our local environment.

Back to Nature Wildlife Refuge — Orlando

Take a walk through this wildlife rehabilitation center, whose goal is to rescue, raise, rehab, and release injured and orphaned species native to Florida, and provide a home to those animals that are not releasable. Resident animals include bobcats, lemurs, goats, turtles, squirrels, birds, and more. There is a picnic pavilion on-site as well, so pack a lunch to enjoy after visiting with the animals.

The CARE Foundation — Apopka

The CARE Foundation is a nonprofit exotic animal rescue center and wildlife educational facility, providing permanent homes to more than 200 non-releasable animals, including bears, monkeys, big cats, crocodilians, reptiles, and more. Visitors can book experiences such as CAREtaker for the Day or a King of the Jungle Tour.

RELATED: Fun Things to Do with Toddlers in Orlando 

It's not just gators at Gatorland. Photo by Mommy Poppins

Gatorland — Orlando

Known as the Alligator Capital of the World, Gatorland is home to more than 2,000 American alligators, including a white gator swamp with rare leucistic and albino alligators. But that’s not all: Visitors can also spot crocodiles, wild cats, birds, and snakes, too. Be sure to visit the Baby Gator Marsh, with more than 60 of the youngest hatchlings, and catch one of the park’s famous gator shows. Guests looking for a thrill can zip line over gators and crocs at speeds of almost 30 mph. Young visitors can splash around at the Gator Gully Splash Pad, feed goats at the newly renovated Allie’s Barnyard, and sightsee on the Gatorland Express Train.

Jungle Adventures — Christmas

You can’t miss this roadside attraction, with a massive 200-foot-long alligator sculpture leading guests to the park entrance. Jungle Adventures features encounters with “real Florida” animals such as a Florida panther, black bears, gray wolves, white-tailed deer, and hundreds of alligators. Guests can take a Jungle Swamp cruise and watch a gator feeding show. There is also an Old Florida Indian village replica with live guided tours.

Reptile World Serpentarium — St. Cloud

Reptile World houses more than 80 species of snakes from all over the world, as well as a Nile crocodile, alligators, birds, and iguanas. A must-see is the Venom Extraction show, occurring twice daily, where visitors can watch in amazement while venom is taken from several species of venomous snakes, including coral snakes, cobras, and rattlesnakes. This venom is used for both research purposes and in the production of anti-venom. Guests can hold non-venomous snakes and baby alligators, feed turtles, and watch snake feedings as well.

Showcase of Citrus — Clermont

Spot zebra, water buffalo, alligators, snakes, and more on a giant monster truck tour of this 2,500-acre working citrus and cattle ranch. After touring the ranch, visit with other resident animals, including chickens, goats, pigs, a kangaroo, donkey, a miniature horse, and more. Showcase of Citrus also offers u-pick fruits, gem mining, an old-fashioned country store, catch-and-release fishing, and a playground.

Wild Florida — Kenansville

Located in the headwaters of the Florida Everglades, this Central Florida attraction boasts several wild experiences, including airboat rides, an alligator park, animal encounters and a drive-thru safari. Inside the alligator park, families will discover more than just alligators. It houses more than 200 native and exotic animals, including the lovable two-toed sloth, lemurs, bobcats, porcupines, and a Florida panther. Gator shows and exotic animal shows take place throughout the day, there is a covered playground for kids to burn some energy, and families will enjoy exploring the Hawk Swamp boardwalk as well.

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