- Outdoor Fun
Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island are rich in coastal wildlife. From rays and sea turtles swimming below the water’s surface to the cheery playfulness of dolphin pods, any adventure along the Emerald Coast means sharing space with the Gulf’s marine life.
Traveling with animal lovers? The Gulfarium and two zoos are perfect for excursions beyond the beach.
The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is a must-visit attraction. It’s the best place to learn more about the habits and habitats of marine animals, local conservation efforts, and meet many of the Park’s residents up close in special Animal Encounters.
General admission includes many animal shows and educational talks by Gulfarium trainers. Guests can watch exuberant bottlenose dolphins leap out of the water, or laugh along with the comic antics of sweet, puppy-eyed sea lions. Also, grab a seat early in the Otter Den to experience the Asian small clawed otters while their trainer chats about these much-loved internet sensations.
In addition to marine mammals, the Gulfarium also features shows and chats about the birds, reptiles, and fish in their care. The Penguin Preserve is the spot to hear more about these birds whose specialized bodies and slick plumage allow them to fly underwater. At Exhibition Trail, the reptile keeper gives a talk about the Gulfarium’s wide variety of snakes, turtles, and lizards including Florida alligators. Fish fans can explore the Living Sea exhibit and then venture to the Shark Moat to dive into the depths of information about these ancient predators.
The Gulfarium CARE Center actively rescues, rehabilitates, and—when possible—releases sea turtles back into the wild. Since 2015, these efforts have saved hundreds of sea turtles that live along the Gulf Coast.
CARE stands for conserve, act, rehabilitate, and educate. For this last value, the CARE Center teaches the community about respecting and protecting coastal animal habitats. For example, sea turtle nests are protected by law, and visitors should stay at least 50 yards away. Also, the Care Center teaches the importance of clearing paths on the beach, so turtle hatchlings can run freely from their nests to the water.
For Gulfarium’s marine animals from other parts of the world, CARE shares with visitors how best to support their conservation. CARE highlights organizations focused on their protection and things anyone can do to protect these wonderful creatures.
For a truly unique animal adventure, the Gulfarium offers Animal Encounters. Book your Encounter ahead of time to swim with the dolphins, snorkel with stingrays, or pet seals, sea lions, reptiles, penguins, and more. Plus, if you’re in town for a reunion, professional meeting, or special event, the Gulfarium offers packages to ensure your whole crew has an adventure to remember.
Visitors to the Gulf Breeze Zoo can explore 50 acres of zoo and wildlife preserve, home to more than 900 animal species. Some crowd favorites include giraffes, capybara, rhinos, and kangaroos, as well as big cats like lions and tigers. Plus, the South American Aviary holds many exotic birds who call, fly, and perch in a riot of sound and color.
For an interactive experience, many of the animals can be fed by visitors. Simply purchase the animals’ special food and follow the signs. The farmyard petting area includes tamer, touchable creatures like goats, sheep, llamas, and more that are happy to meet and get treats from visitors. Beyond the farmyard, visitors can even feed the giraffes!
The sprawling wildlife preserve can be enjoyed from afar via the elevated boardwalk or close up by taking a ride on the Safari Line Limited Train. Tickets for the train are on sale at both the gift shop and zoo restaurant. The train loops the 30-acre preserve for a closer look at the gorilla and lemur islands, hippo area, and roaming herds of deer, antelope, rhino, and zebras.
The Emerald Coast Zoo is another option for visitors to Destin, Fort Walton Beach, and Okaloosa Island. This zoo has fewer animals and requires less walking than bigger zoos, which makes it a good fit for families with small children and perfect for shorter visits. The generous zoo staff are constantly improving the habitats and are very helpful in ensuring guests experience the animals up close.
The Emerald Coast Zoo welcomes guests to upgrade from general admission and book special animal encounters. During these encounters, small groups can meet animals like ringtail lemurs, adorable primates from the lush landscapes of Madagascar. Another option is to pet a sloth, the often energy-conserving animals that have becomes internet video sweethearts. For a greater thrill, assist the zookeeper to train a lion. Note these special encounters have group size limits, age minimums, and need to be booked in advance.
Whether you seek a Gulf-focused marine park, large zoological park, or a more intimate zoo experience, Emerald Coast has great options for family fun.