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Where To See Manatees In Sarasota – 2024 Guide

Welcome to Sarasota where the warm waters are home to some of the most gentle and fascinating creatures on earth – manatees!

I recently visited Sarasota for the first time and heard from a friend that you can see manatees there. As a manatee enthusiast, I had to check it out.

From my own experience, the best place to see manatees in Sarasota is at Lido Key which has a large population of manatees.

The easiest way to see the manatees at Lido Key is to join a guided kayaking tour as your expert guide will show you where to find manatees without fail!

In the rest of this article, I’ll be revealing the exact locations in Sarasota where you can meet manatees in the flesh.

Best Places To See Manatees In Sarasota

Map of Sarasota showing where to see manatees.

Manatees are super commonly spotted around Sarasota in the shallower waters of the beach or in the canals and creeks. 

I often saw them poking their heads out of the water in several spots across Sarasota.

Below I’ve summarized the best spots in Sarasota where you’ll have a high chance of seeing a manatee. 

1. Lido Key

Based on my own firsthand experience, I found that the best place in Sarasota to see manatees was at Lido Key.

Lido Key is a beautiful barrier island that is home to one of Florida’s most scenic and pristine beaches. 

To explore Lido Key and see the manatees up close, you’ll need to join a kayaking tour. This will drastically increase your chances of spotting both manatees and dolphins.

I joined one of these tours and was lucky enough to spot about 8 manatees!! It was pretty cool.

Manatees in Sarasota

Kayaking is the most ideal way to see manatees as it’s non-motorized so it won’t scare away the manatees (unlike boats & jet skis).

If you choose to join a kayaking tour, your guide will take you around Lido Key and into the mangrove forests. As well as manatees, you’ll see dolphins, birds, rays, crabs, fish and more.

💡 Pro Tip: I’d recommend booking in advance as it often sells out especially in the summer.

Alternatively, you could try a stand-up paddleboarding tour around Lido Key. This is a super popular and fun way to explore the area.

I found Lido Key to be incredibly scenic. Whilst paddling around with the manatees, you’ll get a backdrop of white powdery beaches and bright turquoise waters.

Look how close you can get to the manatees in Lido Key whilst on a kayak in the video below:

Did you know you can also see manatees in Fort Lauderdale?

2. Siesta Key

Siesta Key is another scenic barrier island, located just off the coast of Sarasota. There are plenty of spacious, pristine beaches, coral reefs and more in the area.

The best way to explore Siesta Key is by joining a kayak tour. You’ll struggle to see manatees unless you get out onto the water itself.

I found that the best spot in Siesta Key to see manatees was at the Jim Neville Marine Preserve. This area is home to manatees, dolphins, birds and even sometimes sea turtles. 

You’ll have the chance to get super up close and personal with the manatees if you’re in a kayak or on a paddleboard. You literally can’t get any closer!

I saw a huge group of manatees whilst kayaking here, a couple of dolphins and a few turtles.

Manatees in Sarasota

If you’re not keen on getting wet then you can also join a private boat tour where your personal guide will take you out into the water and show you the area. 

Expect to see manatees coming up for air, dolphins playing in the bay and tons of other wildlife like fish, herons, osprey and more.

You’ll get a great view of the marine life from the boat but you won’t be able to get as close to the manatees as you would if you joined a kayak tour

This is because the boat can harm the manatees if it gets too close so it has to maintain some distance.

Look how close you can get to the manatees in Siesta Key in the video below:

Did you know you can also see manatees in Marco Island?

3. Longboat Key

Longboat Key is another barrier island that lies just off the coast of Sarasota. This island features 12 miles of white sandy beaches and tons of luxury resorts.

The best way to explore Longboat Key and spot manatees is by renting a glass bottom kayak.

These are super fun and, as the bottom is transparent, you get a great view of the water and animals around you!

Kayaking is a super popular activity in Sarasota so I’d suggest booking in advance to ensure they still have availability.

Nothing beats being out in the water and coming face to face with a manatee. I managed to spot one within minutes of getting into the water.

I noticed that they move super slowly (their top speed is 15mph) and I often spotted their noses popping out of the water as they came up for air.

Manatees are super friendly and only eat vegetation so don’t be afraid! I have more manatee spotting tips below.

4. Phillippi Creek

This 7-mile river, that feeds into Sarasota Bay, is a prime location for spotting manatees due to it’s calm and warm waters.

The best way to explore Phillippi Creek is to rent a kayak when you get there. You can slowly paddle through the bendy river, looking out for manatees and other wildlife as you go.

As there is not much boat traffic and noise in the creek, it serves as a safe place for mothers to raise their calves as well as an ideal mating spot.

5. Mote Marine Aquarium

If you’re not keen on getting out onto the water yourself then you can also see manatees at the Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota.

This aquarium aims to educate the public on how we can protect manatees as they are an endangered species.

They put a huge emphasis on animal rehabilitation. You’ll get the chance to see manatees up close and personal here and it’s the only place you’re guaranteed to see a manatee.

At the time of writing, Mote Marine Aquarium has 2 resident manatees called Hugh and Buffett who have been at the aquarium since 1996!

I met these beauties for myself when I visited recently and boy are they lovely! They were just happily bobbing around enjoying life. It was super sweet.

You can see the manatees of Mote Marine Aquarium enjoying some lettuce (their favorite snack) in the video below:

Best Time Of Year To See Manatees

The best time to see manatees in Sarasota is between April and November.

The manatees which live in Sarasota only breed in warm waters. From April to November, the water is warm so the manatees eat, sleep, socialize and hang around in the toasty waters of Sarasota.

During the winter months it gets too cold for them in Sarasota so they migrate further south to places like Key West and Miami.

In fact, the manatees would die in water that is colder than 60 degrees so they wouldn’t survive in Sarasota during the winter.

If you want to see manatees in the winter then head over to Key West, I have a guide on the best places to see manatees in Key West.

Best Time Of Day To See Manatees

You can see manatees at any time of day in Sarasota but the best time is early in the morning.

In the morning time, manatees tend to move around in groups and are very playful. You can often see them eating and playing.

The manatees spend about half of their day eating and half sleeping. You’ll often spot them throughout the day when they’re looking for food.

Manatee Spotting Tips

Manatees are still an endangered species so it’s really important that we do all we can to protect them.

Unfortunately manatee numbers are declining due to a variety of reasons including loss of habitat, collisions with boats/jet skis, entanglement in fishing gear and climate change.

It is actually illegal to touch or feed the manatees in Florida so to make sure you are keeping them safe, follow these simple tips:

  • Don’t feed the manatees.
  • Don’t touch the manatees.
  • Try not to be too loud as this could startle them.
  • Don’t get too close. Give them enough space to move.
  • If you are in a boat or on a jet ski, stay a safe distance so the manatees do not get injured.

These simple guidelines help keep both you and the manatees safe.

Can You Swim With Manatees In Sarasota?

Unfortunately, you are not able to swim with manatees in Sarasota as it’s actually illegal in the state of Florida.

Don’t worry though, you can still take part in lots of other fun activities involving the manatees including kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and boat trips.

This is what I did and I still had an amazing time and got to see the manatees up close.

This rule is designed to protect the manatees and luckily it doesn’t stop you seeing them out in the wild.

Remember that manatees are super friendly so if you happen to bump into one whilst in Sarasota then don’t be afraid.


And that’s it!

Thanks for reading this post on where to see manatees in Sarasota. 

You should now have all the information you need to get out there and spot some manatees!

Why not use these fun Florida Instagram captions, puns & quotes for any photos you post to Instagram from your stay in Sarasota?

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Megan Jones is a travel expert and founder of Traveller's Elixir who has been travelling the world full time since 2021. Megan's travel tips been featured in numerous media outlets including Metro, Timeout, Thrillist and more.