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. And 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. Plan a manatee sightseeing date with our top picks for the best places to see manatees around Tampa Bay.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center
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.
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.
Current hours are daily from 10 am-5 pm from November 1, 2021-April 15, 2022 with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The Center will close at 3pm on Christmas Eve.
Find out more about the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in this article on Tampa Bay Parenting.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
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.
Coming Soon: Manatee Springs at Clearwater Marine Aquarium
249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767
Clearwater Marine Aquarium assists in rescuing, releasing, and tracking wild manatees around the world. They are currently building Manatee Springs, a new onsite manatee rehabilitation center. The habitat’s purpose is to help with the influx of manatees in critical condition. Manatee Springs will take over the former Winter Zone. It will be used to rehab manatees until they can be released. Although the new habitat is still in the works, those who want to help support their rescue efforts can learn more here.
Feature Image credit: Plantation on Crystal River