When most people think of Florida, their minds automatically fill with visions of powder white sands and crystal blue waters; cocktails on the beach and delicious seafood restaurants; condos and beachfront cottages. All of those are definitely found in abundance in my great state, but did you know that Florida is also home to a great many educational locations? I've compiled a list of some of the best educational attractions, so you can get some learning in between trips to the beach!
Zoos and Aquariums:
From the Florida panhandle, all the way down to the tip of the Keys, there are dozens of fantastic places where you can get up close and personal with our abundant natural wildlife. Tampa is home to the Lowery Zoo, which is known for providing up close encounters with many different animal species in special exhibits which mimic the animals' home environment. Tampa is also home to the Florida Aquarium, which has an amazing re-created swamp and fun sea life tours!
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has a strong emphasis on manatee conservation, and it's the place to go to experience the once-in-a-lifetime underwater manatee observatory. Kids and adults alike will delight in seeing these peaceful "sea cows" graze on the lush underwater vegetation.
And if you like to add a little bit of fun and excitement in with your educational experience, head over to Busch Gardens - home to some of Florida's best roller coasters! When you get too dizzy riding the rides, you can take a nice leisurely stroll through the African Safari themed zoo and observe the beautiful animals in all their glory.
Nature Centers and State Parks:
If you prefer to get out there and see Florida's indigenous species in their natural habitat, there are acres and acres of beautiful nature centers and state parks to enjoy. If you're in the Naples area, make sure to stop in to the Naples Nature Center. Not only will you get to learn fantastic information about the conservation efforts of this non-profit organization, you'll get to sneak a peek into the avian nursery, where the staff of animal lovers helps to ensure the safety and continued life of many of our native bird species. When you're done oohing and aahing over the sweet little chickies, you're free to explore the 21 acre nature preserve, which is full of boardwalks and picnic areas. Bring your binoculars and your hi resolution cameras!
Honestly, no matter where you are in the state, you're likely not more than an hour or 2 drive from one of our plentiful state parks. There are simply too many to list here, but nearly every park has it's own unique and fascinating experiences to enjoy; from airboat rides to alligator sightings to manatee gathering places, so you really can't go wrong. We even have mermaids that cavort alongside the manatees at Weeki Wachee Springs! Trust me when I say, that is a sight not to be missed!
For the Kiddies:
Besides some of the great local attractions like Wonder Works and Ripley's Believe It or Not, Florida has a couple of absolutely fantastic children's museums, designed to make learning fun and exciting for the whole family.
The Glazer Children's Museum in Tampa is simply amazing, with something to delight children of all ages. They have nearly 200 interactive exhibits which change frequently, so every trip is like the first time. The main focus of this facility is learning through play, so kids and their families are encouraged to touch everything! This isn't your old fashioned red velvet rope museum, so make sure you come in play clothes and are prepared to carry sleeping kids out when you're done at the end of the day!
Tampa is also home to the Museum of Science & Industry, which focuses more on the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) side of learning. The younger kids have the ability to play in their own interactive area, and the older kids or adults are also fascinated by the human body exhibit. The whole family will love the amazing planetarium, and there's even an educational IMAX movie included with the price of admission!
I truly consider myself lucky to live in such a fantastic state, where work, play, fun, and learning are all able to be nurtured equally!