It’s officially manatee season in Florida! Throughout the cooler months of November through April, manatees congregate and seek refuge in Florida’s warmer waters. Plan a manatee sightseeing date with our top picks for the best places to see manatees around Tampa Bay.
Just in time, the TECO Manatee Viewing Center has reopened to welcome guests to walk the boardwalks and view the manatees as they seek the warm water discharge from Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. This popular Tampa Bay attraction is just one of several nearby places to see these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
Keeping reading for the best places to see manatees in Tampa Bay.
Manatee Viewing Centers
- TECO Manatee Viewing Center
- Manatee Springs at Clearwater Marine Aquarium
- Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
- Tarpon Springs
- Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park
6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach, FL 33572
On Tampa Bay’s chilliest days, you can expect to see hundreds of manatees from multiple different viewing vantage points at the center. The area is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary because it provides the warmth the manatees need to survive the coldest months of the year. On chilly days manatees gather here by the hundreds.
Admission is free, there’s no fee to park, and the center is stroller and wheelchair friendly. Multiple picnic spots provide ample space to enjoy lunch together. Besides viewing the manatees, you can also stroll along the 1-mile nature loop and climb the 50-foot observation tower for scenic views. There’s also a stingray touch tank, education center, and gift shop.
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center Info
Open daily from November 1 – April 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Trails close at 4 p.m. We are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and Easter. Have questions? Call 813-228-4289.
Find out more in this guide to TECO Manatee Viewing Center from Tampa Bay Parenting, one of our partner publications.
Manatee Ecosystem at Clearwater Marine Aquarium
249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767
Clearwater Marine Aquarium assists in rescuing, releasing, and tracking wild manatees around the world. This experience does not house live manatees however, this interactive experience allows guests to learn about manatees and their habitats and how you can help save them.
1502 SE Kings Bay Dr, Crystal River, FL 34429
Crystal River and Homosassa are the only areas in North America where you can legally swim with and passively observe manatees in their natural habitat. Reputable companies like the Adventure Center at Plantation on Crystal River guide these manatee swim adventures in which you can get up close and personal with manatees in their natural habitat.
The earlier in the morning you can book your tour and the colder the day, the better. The Adventure Center provides a towel, mask, snorkel, and a sanitized wet suit to keep you warm and buoyant.
Alternatively, multiple companies offer kayaking tours in the area that allow you to passively observe manatees. And on land, the boardwalk at Three Sisters Springs provides great viewing opportunities.
Tours depart from Tarpon Springs Yacht Club – 350 N Spring Blvd, Tarpon Springs, FL 34689
Tarpon Springs is the Sponge Capital of the World, built up by the Greek community which also means there are a ton of amazing places to eat! But besides the iconic Spongeorama Sponge Factory, Tarpon Springs is also a great spot to view manatees.
From December through March, local company Get Up and Go Kayaking Tampa Bay guides manatee tours in clear kayaks. Tours depart from the Tarpon Springs Yacht Club, exploring the Tarpon Springs Bayous in search of manatees. If you’re lucky, a manatee may emerge next to your kayak, or swim directly underneath.
1101 W Sligh Ave, Tampa, FL 33604
Ok, so it’s not exactly in the wild….but ZooTampa’s manatee viewing area is worthy of a mention! ZooTampa features an entire area dedicated to Florida wildlife, complete with a boardwalk. Spot Florida animals here including manatees, alligators, Florida panthers, and more.
Also at ZooTampa, the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center has been open since 1991. A public observation area provides a behind-the-scenes look at manatee rehabilitation efforts. Since opening, the center has treated more than 500 injured manatees.
NEW for 2024 – the manatee critical care center will be getting an expansion to help even more manatees.
4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. Homosassa, FL 34446
Most people know that winter is the best time to see manatees. But where can you see manatees in Florida, any time of year? The answer is Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.
There is so much to love about Florida’s State Parks, and Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is a shining example of what makes our state parks so special. You get a little bit of everything here — natural springs and a river view, wildlife, boardwalks, and walkways.
Discover Crystal River Florida is excited to present the “Step Into Awareness” augmented reality (AR) experience. Discover Crystal River’s new AR Experience became available in April 2023, so everyone can experience the ongoing conservation efforts to maintain “The Manatee Capital of the World’s healthy manatee habitats.
Accessible via a QR code online, the new Step Into Awareness AR experience transports viewers to an underwater world where they can see manatees and witness the incredible strides made to conserve the habitat of these gentle giants, all from their smartphone. For the best experience, stand in a well-lit area without any obstacles so they can move about freely through crystal-clear springs, waving beds of eelgrass, and schools of fish to observe manatees.
Feature Image credit: Plantation on Crystal River