Visiting Central Florida Zoo Like a Local: Top Things To Do and See With Kids

Giraffe got your tongue? Nah, it's just another fun day at the Central Florida Zoo!
Giraffe got your tongue? Nah, it's just another fun day at the Central Florida Zoo!
2/5/23 - By Charlotte B

The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens makes the perfect outing in Orlando for any family. The Central Florida Zoo is located about 20 miles north of Orlando in beautiful Sanford, Florida, on the shores of Lake Monroe. A Central Florida attraction dating back to the 1920s, this small zoo is home to over 350 animals, as well as a splash pad, ropes course, playground, and more. There is something for all ages to enjoy at this Orlando zoo!


After visiting, you'll see why the Central Florida Zoo made our list of Top Attractions in Orlando. Looking for more animal encounters? Check out the Top 10 Places to See Animals in Orlando and Wildlife Tours Near Orlando!

kids watching a monkey Visiting the Central Florida Zoo with Kids
Watch curious monkeys play with games at Central Florida Zoo. 

Central Florida Zoo: Animals & Gardens

More than 350 animals representing over 100 species reside at the Central Florida Zoo. Visit the herpetarium to see some of the most venomous snakes from around the globe and learn about native Florida snakes as well. Take a scenic walk along the boardwalk to catch a glimpse of the resident Florida black bears, one of the newer exhibits at the zoo. See spider monkeys, otters, cheetahs, and many more animals as you stroll the zoo grounds.

Barnyard Buddies petting zoo. Visiting the Central Florida Zoo with Kids
Kids of all ages can pet and feed the animals at Barnyard Buddies Children's Petting Zoo. 

Close Encounters of the Furry Kind

  • At Barnyard Buddies Children's Petting Zoo, guests can interact with and feed farm animals, including an alpaca, goats, sheep, chickens, and a llama. My kids love visiting with Cookie the goat! Feedings take place twice daily.
  • Guests can feed the resident giraffes, Rafiki or Gage, who are usually ready to greet you and eat treats right out of your hands! Feedings are open daily 10am-3pm (permitting weather and animal cooperation).
  • Guests can also book an up-close encounter with PJ, the playful resident Indian rhinoceros. This experience takes place daily and is limited to five guests.

Fantastic Foliage

  • This Orlando zoo features several gardens throughout the grounds, including a Butterfly Garden; Health and Wellness Garden; and a Spines, Thorns and Prickles Garden.
  • As families wander the Central Florida Zoo property, enjoy the gorgeous flora growing throughout the grounds and the natural pollinators, like butterflies, hummingbirds, and other garden dwellers, who make an appearance.

Seminole Aerial Adventures Visiting the Central Florida Zoo with Kids
Kids can challenge themselves on a ropes course, zipline, and more at Seminole Aerial Adventures.

Central Florida Zoo: Attractions & Events

One of the main attractions at the zoo is Seminole Aerial Adventures, located just outside of the zoo entrance. Featuring a kids course, upland course, and rainforest course, participants navigate between trees using ropes, ziplines, bridges, and other challenging elements. The kids course is designed for ages 5 and up, with a height between 36-60 inches. For both the upland and rainforest courses, participants must be at least 54 inches tall.

RELATED: 20 Great Splash Pads in Orlando Plus Sprinkler Parks and Spraygrounds, Too

Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground Visiting the Central Florida Zoo with Kids
Central Florida Zoo features the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground for kids to cool off after a busy day. 

Be sure to bring a swimsuit for your little one to cool off at the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground, located just inside the main entrance of the zoo. This tropical-themed splash pad features raining trees, a bucket dump, colorful fish, and more interactive water elements. The splash pad is open year round as long as temperatures stay above 60 degrees. There are changing rooms and restrooms near the splash pad as well.

Located near the giraffe exhibit is a small playground area with slides, climbing areas, a tire swing, and more for kids to expel some energy while parents relax in the shade.

Zoo keeper chats take place daily, where animal care specialists share fun facts about the resident animals. There is a "Keeper Chat" schedule at the zoo entrance, so check the times when entering if you’d like to attend one.

During certain times of the year, the zoo hosts free storytime events monthly, geared toward preschool-aged children, featuring animal stories and a visit from a zoo animal ambassador. Kids Night Out events are offered for children ages 5-12, which include a special flashlight tour of the zoo. Other events throughout the year include the Zoo Boo Bash, Asian Lantern Festival, Night Hikes, Family Sunsets, and more.

Central Florida Zoo: Food Options

Located near the Central Florida Zoo entrance and next to the splash ground, is Graze Kitchen. Graze offers specialty burgers, sandwiches, salads, chicken tenders, hot dogs, and more. Mobile ordering is available, and there are several outdoor picnic tables located just outside of Graze. Toward the back of the zoo, by the playground and rhino exhibit, guests can grab an ice cream or snack at Swirl. A Dippin’ Dots stand is usually open as well outside of the zoo, just before the main entrance.

While no outside food or coolers are permitted in the zoo, there are several picnic tables outside of the zoo where guests can bring a picnic lunch to enjoy before or after their zoo outing. If you are looking for a sit-down meal, downtown Sanford is just a short distance away.

kids looking at crocodiles Visiting the Central Florida Zoo with Kids
Don't miss seeing the massive crocs! 

Central Florida Zoo: Know Before You Go

  • The Central Florida Zoo is conveniently located just off of I-4 at exit 104 (Highway 17-92).
  • The zoo is open daily, 9am-4pm. The animals seem most active in the morning, so plan to visit early.
  • Save on your admission tickets when purchasing online in advance.
  • If you are local to the Central Florida area, I highly recommend purchasing an annual pass, which not only provides free admission to the Central Florida Zoo, but discounted admission at most zoos in the United States as well.
  • I would recommend allocating 3-4 hours for your visit.
  • The Central Florida Zoo is sensory inclusive. Sensory bags are available at the main entrance, and include noise cancelling headphones, cue cards, fidget tools, and more. These bags are loaned out to guests with sensory needs free of charge!
  • Wagons and double strollers are available for rent.
  • Looking for a fun birthday party option for your child? The zoo hosts a variety of "ZOOper" birthday party options.

Photos by the author

Places featured in this article:

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens