In 1975, when the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens moved into its current location in Sanford adjacent to Lake Monroe, it was home to just 38 animals.

Four-and-a-half decades later, this Seminole County institution houses more than 400 animals, runs industry-leading conservation and education programs and hosts an ongoing series of exciting special events. The 26-acre complex draws more than 250,000 guests a year — and we strongly recommend that you be one of them.

The wildlife exhibits are interspersed with lush, colorful grounds filled with native flora and fauna and ample green space. That means you won’t just see and learn about all sorts of animals. You’ll experience a lovely walk, as well!

Along the way, you’ll encounter rare one-horn Indian rhinos, cougars, cheetahs, leopards, wide-eyed lemurs, so-ugly-they’re-cute warthogs, and other mammals. Don’t forget to take a moment to feed the giraffes, while you’re there. Among the reptiles are snakes, Gila monsters, geckos, skinks and, of course, gators (or the American Alligator, if you prefer). The zoo is also home to the American crocodile and the endangered Orinoco crocodile, native to South America. There’s also the Insect Zoo (that includes a lot of non-native species); an assemblage of exotic and colorful birds; and a flotilla of amphibians that includes frogs, salamanders and more.

Zoo staff members give daily scheduled presentations, including a crocodile feeding. Zoo docents roam the grounds with animals in tow, allowing guests to get up close to various species. Be sure to say hello to the serval cats on leashes. These 30-pound cats are native to Africa and can jump as high as eight feet to snatch a bird out of the air. (Fortunately, that’s not part of the show.) Kids love to mingle with goats, llamas, and alpacas in the Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo.

Viewing and interacting with animals always makes for an unforgettable day, but there’s way more to do at the Central Florida Zoo. If you want a fun way to escape the Florida heat, cool off at the Tropical Splash Ground. You’ll get a proper soaking from faux hippos and alligators spraying water, palm trees raining, and jets that shoot up from the floor. Parents who prefer to stay dry can lounge in one of the Adirondack chairs that surround the splash ground.

Enjoy a mile-long ride on the zoo’s red-and-yellow mini-train, built-in 1951, which takes you through the surrounding woods, wetlands and a 110-foot tunnel. Experience the Bungee Bounce, which launches you above the treetops and back down.

For a different perspective, try the Snooze at the Zoo — an unforgettable sleepover in the wild! You’ll spend the night in the air-conditioned Wayne M. Densch Discovery Center, embark on a flashlight tour of the zoo to see nocturnal inhabitants in action, then retire to your own sleeping bag. Animal sounds will be your alarm clock, after which you can indulge in a delicious continental breakfast with your group. (Snooze at the Zoo groups are minimum 20, maximum 75; children must be 5 or older to join the fun.)

Whether it’s the middle of the night or mid-afternoon, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is one of Orlando North, Seminole County’s go-to destinations for all-day fun.