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Hidden Gem Series: Big Cat Habitat

Big Cat Habitat
7101 Palmer Blvd 
Sarasota, FL 34240
Open Wednesday through Sunday 12:00 – 4:00pm
Adult Admission: $18
Child Admission: $8 (under 3 are free)
Time spent at the park: 2-3 hours depending on how many shows you watch.
Level of toddler satisfaction: B+

The Main Attraction:

Big Cat Habitat is a large-animal rescue sanctuary that puts you up close and personal with exotic animals like lions, tigers, bears, primates, tortoises, alligators and even a LIGER. Yep, you Napoleon Dynamite fans read that correctly. Ligers are real. They’re huge (over 900lbs!). And you can see one right here, in Sarasota. That’s him in the picture above.

I say “up close and personal” because you’ll get much more intimate with these exotic animals than you ever would at a zoo. They aren’t on a huge island surrounded by a water moat where you’re viewing them from an observation deck. In most cases, there are just two layers of caged fencing that separate you from the beasts. They’re literally an arm’s length away.

Other Activities:

Parrots in Paradise: This bird show comes free with your admission and happens each day at 1:00pm for 20 minutes. Three parrots and a cockatoo entertain with displays of intelligence and agility. They ride on roller skates, put a small basketball in a hoop and do a shape sorting activity.

Big Cat Encounter: This show is also free with your admission and happens each day at 2:00pm, lasting for an hour. Although, you can purchase VIP seating in the front row for $5.00/person. This show features performances from pound dogs, Chance the Chimpanzee, Handsome the Lion, a white tiger and a female liger. Because they’re a non-profit, they talk about how they care for and train the animals, thank their sponsors and ask for further donations as collection baskets are passed around. 

Get Your Picture with the White Tiger: Visitors have the chance to get their picture taken with the white tiger after the big cat show for $10.00. The tiger sits in a glass enclosure on wheels that families can stand in front of to get the perfect shot.

Petting Zoo: Enter the barnyard area to pet free-roaming adult and baby goats. Llamas and emu can be viewed in nearby pens. Food for the petting zoo animals can be purchased just outside the entrance for $1.00.

Bear Feeding: This is my son’s absolute favorite activity. For $1.00 you can feed a brown bear a hot dog, using a long metal stick that slides between the fence. You can often get the bear to wave at you before giving him his treat.

Know Before You Go:

  • They do sell food inside the park, but your choices are limited: Their menu includes a grilled chicken sandwich, nachos and cheese, Nathan’s hot dogs, Italian sausages, hamburgers and ice cream. Drinks, including soda and water, will cost you $2.00 each. We opted to eat lunch before we arrived and brought our own water bottles and snacks. 
  • There’s not a lot of shade in the park: Slather on the sunscreen before you enter and pack some extra in your bag. Most of the animal viewing areas are in the hot, blazing sun. The exotic bird display is inside and the path that leads to the tiger viewing is covered with tarps, but the heat can still be stifling. I’d recommend going during the fall/winter season when temperatures are cooler. The indoor animal show area is air conditioned, so the shows provide a nice break from the heat.
  • There’s no need to bring a stroller: The park isn’t very large, and the main pathway is made of shells, which can be difficult to navigate with a stroller. Plus, strollers aren’t allowed on the path that leads to the tigers, because it’s too narrow. Although they do provide a covered stroller parking area just before the entrance. I’d recommend babywearing small children instead and forgo the hassle of a stroller.

Big Cat Habitat is home to over 50 big cats, whereas most zoos only have 1 or 2. And it’s right in our backyard. So if you’ve got a kid who’s a huge fan of The Lion King or The Lion Guard, they’ll love this hidden gem.

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