Manatees are some of the most beloved animals in Florida! They are super cute, and are always fun to see. Luckily, Florida is one of the best places to see manatees.
Tips for Seeing Manatees in Florida
Manatees usually spend their time in predictable places, for a variety of reasons.
Manatees tend to be loyal to specific locations. They learn the locations of warm water sources as juveniles, and return to the same places throughout their lives.
When foraging for food, manatees tend to stay near healthy sources of seagrass, which is their primary food source.
What to Watch For
Manatees usually give tell-tale signs that they are in the area. You might any of these signs that a manatee is near you:
- You may see a manatee snout sticking up out of the water
- You may hear a long exhale, or a sudden blast of air from a manatee’s nostrils
- Manatees’ bodies are sometimes visible if they are resting at the water’s surface
- You may see a “manatee footprint, a circular slick, or a “flat spot” on the water
- You may see a series of smaller footprints, slicks, or “flat spots” on the water, which are created by the manatees’ tail flapping underwater
The best way to see manatees is to use a good pair of polarized sunglasses.
Polarized lenses helps you see through the sun’s glare on the water, and see down into the water more clearly.
When to see manatees in Florida
The best places to see manatees in Florida depend on the season, especially the water temperature.
In the summer, and during warm months in the spring and fall, manatees can be found all over Florida. But, when the water is warm, they are generally spread out and don’t tend to congregate in large numbers. This can make it more difficult and less reliable to find manatees.
The best time to see manatees in Florida is in the late fall, winter and early spring. Manatee season usually starts in early to mid November, and lasts until mid April.
In these winter months manatees tend to be easier to see because they gather in large groups, typically in predictable locations, and especially at sources of warm water, like springs, rivers and power plants.
Manatees are the most likely to gather at warm water sources during cold weather, especially during and after cold fronts.
Important! Cold weather is dangerous for manatees!
If you disturb a manatee from its warm water refuge, or interrupt its rest, you may cause the manatee to die from cold water exposure.Read more about manatee viewing guidelines from the U.S. FWS
If you want to see manatees in Florida, please be sure to do so responsibly, and in a way which will not endanger the long-term survival of manatees.
Manatees need warm water to survive. They need to feel safe and secure; their lives literally depend on it.
Please know the guidelines, and don’t break them! There are serious legal consequences, and the rules are there to protect manatees’ survival. Here are some basics:
- Don’t harass manatees in any way
- Do not touch manatees, even if you think they “like it”
- Don’t chase manatees
- Don’t disturb manatees while they’re resting
- Don’t behave in any way which might scare manatees from their warm-water sanctuaries
Basically, don’t interact with manatees in a way which could alter their wild behavior, or condition them to approach humans or boats.
If you see anyone breaking laws or guidelines, please report them!
The Best Places to See Manatees in Florida
The following is a list of the best places to see manatees in Florida.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
There are several ways to see manatees in Homosassa Springs State Park. They can be seen:
- In the on-site manatee rehabilitation center
- In the Homosassa River
- In the Homosassa Spring headwaters
- In the Homosassa Spring run
There is an underwater viewing area which allows guests to view manatees in the spring basin.
The manatee rehabilitation center offers educational programs, presented by state park staff and volunteers.
Some manatees live in the area year-round, and others come to the warm spring waters during the winter.
Cost: Admission entrance fee
Wakulla River and St. Marks River
Two of the best places to see manatees in the Florida panhandle are in the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers.
Unlike the other places to see manatees in this guide, these spots are actually best for seeing manatees during the summer, when some manatees migrate into the waters of north Florida to forage for food. In the winter manatees must head further south in search of warm water.
The Manatee Lagoon Eco-Discovery Center is one of the best places to see manatees in Florida!
Manatees are attracted to water which is discharged from the nearby Florida Power and Light power plant. The setup feels very similar to the TECO manatee viewing center in Tampa.
The Manatee Lagoon is free to visit and has a great set of educational exhibits inside, including skeleton displays.
The Manatee Lagoon building is beautiful and has nice water views of the Lake Worth Lagoon. There is a small on-site cafe, a cute gift store and a picnic area.
The viewing area offers an elevated, covered observation deck to see the manatees from a high elevation. Large fish can often be seen in the water, too.
There is also a webcam to see the manatees!
Contact: (561) 626-2833
Cost: Parking and admission are both free!
Tampa Manatee Viewing Center
The manatee viewing center is one of the best places to see manatees near Tampa! It is technically located in Apollo Beach, which is a suburb near Tampa.
Every winter hundreds of manatees gather around the warm waters of the Tampa Electric Company (TECO) power plant, also known as the Big Bend Power Station.
Many other species of marine life can also be seen there, as well, including thrashing sharks, jumping spotted eagle rays, giant fish, exotic bird species, and many other forms of wildlife.
The manatee viewing center offers a touch-tank with rays, crabs and other wildlife, a butterfly garden, a large mangrove boardwalk, a visitor center and more. There is also an on-site cafe, a gift shop filled with cute manatee gifts, and more.
Contact: (813) 228-4289
Cost: Admission and parking are free
Lowry Park Zoo
One of the best places to see manatees near Tampa is at the Lowry Park Zoo, which has a manatee rehabilitation center.
Contact: (813) 935-8552
Cost: There is an entrance fee.
Mote Marine Lab
The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is one of the best places to see manatees near Sarasota. There are two manatees “in-residence” at Mote Marine Lab, named Hugh and Buffett.
The Mote Marine Lab also performs research into manatee behavior, health and many other subjects. They also perform research on the causes of red tide, which severely threatens the health of Florida’s manatee population.
During the summer manatees can often be seen swimming in waterways around Sarasota, and even off of the beaches.
The Tampa Manatee Viewing Center is also relatively near Sarasota as well, and is a good option to see manatees in the wild.
Contact: (941) 388-4441
Cost: Admission fee
The best place to see manatees in Florida is in Crystal River.
The small town of Crystal River is home to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The Crystal River Wildlife Refuge includes several areas which are all popular hangouts for manatees, especially the area around Three Sisters Springs.
The area fills with many hundreds of manatees every winter, usually beginning in November when the water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico begins to drop. Some manatees hang out around Crystal River year-round.
There are many options for seeing manatees near Crystal River, including seeing them from a dry-land boardwalk, kayaking with them, or seeing them from a tour boat.
Visitors can even swim with manatees in Crystal River, although it is controversial and strict rules must be followed.
City: Crystal River
Contact: (352) 563-2088
Cost: There are admission fees for Three Sisters Spring. Tours also have their own fees.
Blue Springs State Park
Blue Springs State Park is one of the best places to see manatees near Orlando!
Manatees come to the Blue Springs headspring in the winter in search of warm water. They are usually seen in the spring run, as well, which flows into the St. Johns River.
Manatees can be seen from a long, elevated boardwalk area, which gives a great view down into the clear waters of the spring and spring run. Visitors can also see manatees from floating docks which extend over the water.
Guests can also rent canoes and kayaks, and a local outfitter offers eco-tours on the St. Johns River.
Blue Springs State Park is also one of the most popular places to tube in Florida during the summer, but water access is closed in the winter when manatees arrive.
City: Orange City
Contact: (386) 775-3663
Cost: State park admission fee
The Chassahowitzka River is one of the best places to see manatees in Florida, but it is one of the lesser-known places when compared to others.
The best way to see manatees in the Chassahowitzka River is via a canoe, kayak or paddle board. They can also be seen from a dock, although it can be difficult to see them from afar due to glare on the water’s surface.
It is possible to swim with manatees in the Chassahowitzka River, but strict rules must be followed and swimmers must be extremely careful because there is a lot of boat traffic on the river.
Note: Alligators and snakes are also present in the Chassahowitzka River. A diver-down flag must be used.
Contact: (352) 382-2200
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park
Wakulla Springs State Park is one of the most famous and best places to see manatees in Florida.
Wakulla Springs was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions, and remains one of the most popular destinations in Florida, partly because it is the largest and deepest natural spring in Florida, and the world.
Manatees can be seen in the Wakulla spring basin and headwaters, and also in the spring run and river. Visitors can see manatees from tour boats or from designated viewing areas.
Wakulla Springs State Park is located in the Florida Panhandle, approximately 15 miles south of Tallahassee.
City: Wakulla Springs
Contact: (850) 561-7276
Cost: State park admission fee
Fanning Springs State Park
Manatees can often be found in Fanning Springs State Park, especially in the spring basin and in the spring run which leads to the Suwannee River.
City: Fanning Springs
Contact: (352) 463-3420
Cost: State park admission fee
Manatee Springs State Park
Manatees can often be seen in Manatee Springs State Park. They are often found in the spring basin, in the spring run and on the Suwannee River, which are all connected.
The chances of seeing manatees in Manatee Springs State Park are highest in the winter, when they enter the spring run and spring basin in search of warm water.
Contact: (352) 493-6072
Cost: State park admission fee
Lee County Manatee Park
The Lee County Manatee Park is located in Fort Myers; it’s one of the best places to see manatees on the southwest Gulf coast.
Manatees come to the Lee County manatee park when the Gulf of Mexico water temperature drops to approximately 68° F (20° C), they typically aren’t found at this site when the water is warmer than that.
There are kayak rentals on-site.
City: Fort Myers
Contact: (239) 690-5030
Cost: There is a parking fee.
Everglades National Park
Manatees are one of the most exciting animals in Everglades National Park.
Manatees are often seen by kayakers and from boat tours in the Ten Thousand Islands section of the park, and also in Flamingo and Florida Bay.
Florida is one of the best places in the world to see manatees. As you can see from this list, there are tons of opportunities to see manatees in the wild.
Please be sure to be respectful when you see a manatee and follow all of the manatee viewing guidelines.