By Larry Elliston

As you walk through the entrance to ZooTampa, you'll likely find children playing in the iconic manatee fountain beside an aviary housing exotic birds and zookeepers introducing visitors to some of their animal friends — and you'll realize this is a place that strikes a perfect balance between fun, education and preservation. 

The animals here are from across Florida and around the world. Visit a baby elephant in the back of the park, ride a merry-go-round and a log flume ride and visit one of the most important manatee research and rescue facilities on Florida's west coast. It's often recognized as one of the nation's most family-friendly zoos, and you and your young ones won't leave disappointed.