Visiting the Sandoway House Nature Center in Delray Beach, Florida
Looking for something to do in Delray Beach other than sit in the sand? If so, I have just the thing. Tucked away right off of route A1A in the heart of the small city, literally across the street from its beautiful sandy beaches, is the historic Sandoway House Nature Center.
Built in 1935 as the private residence of Mr. J.B. Evans, this Colonial Revival Resort style house is now home to sharks, alligators, turtles, snakes, a host of other interesting reptiles, as well as Crystal, the beautiful blue and yellow macaw. And if you didn’t find that perfect seashell on the shores of Delray Beach, the Sandoway House has one of the premier shell collections in the world. So, stop on by for a few hours, talk to the staff, walk the grounds, and educate yourself on the diverse ecological marine life that call South Florida home.
The Sandoway House is also known as the J.B. Evans House, named after the home's first owner.
The Sandoway House Nature Center is located at:
- 142 South Ocean Blvd (A1A)
- Delray Beach, FL 33483
- (561) 274-7263
- Tuesday to Saturday: 10 am - 4 pm
- Sunday: 12 pm - 4 pm
- Closed Mondays and all major holidays.
- Admission fee is $4 for everyone age 3 and above.
- Parking is available in the Sandoway House parking lot at no cost.
- Tuesday through Saturday at 10:30 am
- Sunday at 1:30 pm
- Wednesday and Saturday at 1 pm
Check out the Discovery Porch
Upon entering the Sandoway House you will be greeted by Crystal, the lively and colorful blue and yellow macaw who likes to bob and weave to her favorite tune. Crystal’s home is on the Discovery Porch of the nature center, where you will also find an assortment of turtles and tortoises native to Florida.
Hopefully, you will get a glimpse of the large gopher tortoise named Maggie, who refused to come out of her den for her photo opportunity, despite my best efforts to lure her out. Gigi, however, had no such problem and is one friendly little turtle. A tip from the staff alerted me to the fact that she likes to have her neck rubbed and I was all too happy to oblige my newfound friend. Gigi is a Florida box turtle and seems very happy here in her home.
Also on the porch is a freshwater turtle pond that is home to a Florida softshell turtle, and the colorful yellow-bellied slider turtle. The Discovery Porch is the home's original porch and provides a great introduction to the Sandoway House.
Roam the Reptile and Amphibian Room
From the porch, you can proceed into the nature center where you will pay your entry fee and then tour the first floor. Here you will find the Reptile and Amphibian Room, and the Delray Wreck and Hex Tank Exhibit.
The Reptile and Amphibian Room has a number of interesting creatures to check out. The Cuban Knight Anole pictured here lives in a tree and as the name implies is native to Cuba. They can now be found in southern Florida and can grow to twenty inches in length. There are also a few baby alligators in the room along with other lizard species, a couple of box turtles, and an interesting corn snake named Maizey.
From the Reptile Room head to the nature center’s Hexagon Aquarium that is home to a number of colorful reef fish and coral. Many of these same fish can be found just offshore of Delray Beach at the site of the SS Inchulva, which sank in 1903 during a hurricane. The nature center has an exhibit on the Inchulva called the Delray Wreck that shows visitors an artist's rendition and diagrams of the steamship.
Peruse Sandoway House's Seashell Collection
On the second floor of the Sandoway House is one of the finest shell collections that I have ever seen. And the story of how it came to be is equally amazing. Albert and Ann Becker of La Cross, Wisconsin started collecting sea shells during a vacation to Florida's Gulf Coast in 1953. They became so enamored with looking for shells that it became a life-long obsession. For over forty years the husband and wife team traveled all over the world collecting seashells. The result was a private collection of nearly 10,000 very high-quality shells.
Don’t be afraid to approach the staff. They are very friendly and eager to talk with visitors about the animals that call the Sandoway Nature Center home.
Upon their deaths the collection of sea shells was passed to the couple’s niece, Linda Becker Dean. Not knowing what to do with the shells her family started to research the best possible home for the unique collection. After much deliberation and planning they decided that the Sandoway House was the best option to show and preserve the collection.
The Sandoway House has put on display over 3,000 of the Becker shells for the public to enjoy. I have to admit that I saw shells here that I didn’t know existed. They are absolutely stunning and they appear to all be in pristine condition. This collection is touted as one of the finest private collections of sea shells anywhere in the world. I have no reason to doubt this claim.
Watch the Sharks and Alligators Get Fed
Hopefully you have timed your visit to the Sandoway House to include either the shark or the alligator feeding? I arrived at 10 am when they opened so I would have time to look around before heading to the shark pool out back.
The Sandoway House was at one time a private home with a swimming pool so the obvious thing to do with pool was to convert it to a saltwater home for sharks. Although there are other interesting fish in the pool, especially the puffer fish, the sharks are the star attractions.
The feeding of the sharks is preceded by one of the center’s naturalists who will give you the history and background on the three Nurse Sharks. These three definitely know when it’s feeding time and watching them rest their heads on the steps of the pool waiting to be fed is pretty humorous. There were two elementary school classes at the feeding and watching the amazement on the kid’s faces was priceless not to mention the interesting questions that come from a group of eight-year-olds.
Nurse Sharks are relatively slow moving bottom dwellers that are not a threat to humans. They can grow to 14 feet and can be found in the warm waters of the eastern Pacific and western Atlantic oceans.
As you head to and from the pool in the back of the house you have to pass through the Discovery Room. This is where the center holds lectures and brings the kids to talk to them about the ecological diversity of the area. Tucked away in the back corner of this room and easy to miss is a screech owl. The little guy was sitting up in the corner and I almost didn’t see him.
As you leave the Sandoway House be sure to walk through the gardens out front. There are a variety of local plants native to the area here and you get a good view of the house from the front garden.
I hope you enjoyed this tour of the Sandoway House Nature Center. It’s one of those hidden little gems that make’s a visit to Delray Beach so interesting and so much more than just a visit to the beach.
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© 2015 Bill De Giulio