If you’ve ever been in the presence of a toddler, you know they like to touch things. All things: Sticky things, gross things. pretty things, breakable things, it doesn’t matter. If it exists, they’re reaching for it. That’s why learning centers like the Barrier Island Sanctuary Center off A1A on the east coast of Florida are so spectacular. Every single thing in the center is meant to be explored with both your eyes AND your hands.
These types of learning centers are a benefit of state or county funds and foundation partner grants, and can be utilized by local residents and tourists alike. Many are located near or in state parks and have hiking trails attached to them. They are absolutely worth the trip.
The Brevard County Barrier Island Sanctuary Center is a must-do if you have young children and find yourself on Florida’s Space Coast. It has hiking trails, beach access, great hands-on learning opportunities and is a stone’s throw from Sebastian Inlet State Park.
The Barrier Island Sanctuary welcomes you through its doors with a giant colorful sea life mural painted on the building. Stop and take a moment to admire this with your family. Count the sea turtles, talk about the colors used, or just stand and look at the artwork. (Also, if like the front of the building, be sure to check out the water retention canister on the back deck—it’s beautiful!) Then, as you head inside, you’ll quickly find 10-15 exhibits that will walk you through the local wildlife present along the Florida coast.
After exploring the center’s exhibits, if you packed a lunch, go outside and enjoy the beautiful back deck while watching the waves crash against the sandy coast. The outdoor area even has a fishing boat and large-crab trap the kids can climb through and play in. Plus, the center has ample clean, public restrooms and plenty of free parking. Didn’t pack a lunch? Don’t worry, there are plenty of places to stop at on your way home!
A huge bonus to your bank account is that this treasure is entirely free. (Although I do suggest letting the kids put a few dollars in the donation bin as you’re leaving.)
I recommend looking on the center’s website before planning your excursion because it may help you decide what day or time to go depending on the features they have at that time. For instance, on the day we chose to go it was tank touch day so we got to touch local live sea species and ask experts questions about what they eat and how they live. Other times of the year you can walk the beaches with sea turtle experts looking for new sea turtle nests, participate in an organized family hike, or do sunrise yoga.
While I think this area is great for all ages, the center itself is probably best for those under the age of nine. Older kids may enjoy it, but probably only for a short break on your way to watch surfers catch the waves off of Sebastian Inlet.