When I think of Florida’s west coast, I don’t immediately think of hip restaurants with trendy rooftop bars, and arts that rivals any major city, but that is exactly what I found on a quick weekend getaway to Sarasota, FL. In fact, there are so many things to do in Sarasota, Florida, that you might just need more than a long weekend.
Read on to find out where to sit on alligators, walk through the trees, perform on a tightrope, and my two must-do activities while you’re in the area.
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COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN SARASOTA
- Best All-Around in Downtown Sarasota. From distinctive artwork and culinary experiences to live performances, tours and workshops, this boutique hotel inspires creativity. Art Ovation Hotel, Autograph Collection has an amazing rooftop pool, and Perspective Rooftop Pool Bar offers private poolside cabanas, seating, and cafe fare with a bay and city view. We have a whole write-up on this hotel at the bottom of this article.
- Best Beachfront Hotel. Situated in Sarasota, 1.6 miles from Siesta Key Public Beach, Hyatt Residence Club Sarasota, Siesta Key Beach boasts a hot tub and a private beach area.
- Best Insta-Worthy Tiny House. Tiny House Siesta offers self-catering tiny houses in Sarasota, Florida. Features include a kitchenette, TV, and free WiFi. Siesta Key is less than 0.6 miles away and Siesta Key Beach is 1 mile away.
THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA FOR FIRST-TIMERS
Whether you are a circus fan or not, you’ll definitely want to block out some serious time to visit The Ringling. Stroll through 66 acres of grounds and gardens, plus a renown museum of art, and the less-serious circus museum.
View some of the Ringling’s 28,000 works of art, including paintings from well-known Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens.
Tour the Ringling’s mansion Ca’d’zan, which means House of John. Stand on the patio overlooking the bay and pretend you are at one of the couple’s swinging parties where circus performers greeted guests.
My favorite part is still the circus museum. Test your skills as a circus performer walking the tightrope, or stuff into a clown car.
Leave plenty of time to view the 44,000-piece model of circus life by Howard C. Tibbals. Just like trying to watch three rings at once; you won’t know where to look first.
SARASOTA JUNGLE GARDENS
Have you ever wanted to feed a flamingo, sit on an alligator, or maybe have your picture taken as you hold a reptile? Sarasota Jungle Gardens will give you that chance.
Sign me up for the flamingos!
MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is 15 acres of pure beauty. The gardens are best known for orchids, and a commitment to plant preservation.
The elevated Rainforest Children’s Garden is an adventurous one-acre escape to one the wildest places on earth— the tropical rainforest — home to half the world’s known plant and animal species.
CIRCUS ARTS CONSERVATORY
John Ringling made Sarasota a circus town, but now the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is no more. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t see a show in town under the red and white big top!
In 2023, Circus Arts Conservatory celebrates 25 years!
For the adventurous, take a circus arts class at the Sailor Circus Arena. Try the trapeze, or perhaps perfect your aerial silks.
ROMANTIC THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA WITH YOUR SWEETIE
PADDLE THROUGH THE MANGROVES
Ok, so I paddled through the mangroves with a bunch of other travel writers, but it would be a fun couples outing. We kayaked through the bay first in search of manatee and as luck would have it, one swam right under my watercraft!
The best part however, was floating under the tangled branches of the mangrove tunnels. The labyrinth of paths was originally cut to help mitigate mosquitos, but now, paddling through them is a popular thing to do for locals and visitors.
Insider Tip: Take a guided tour from Kayaking SRQ. Owner Greg Gregory grew up with this water as his backyard, and it’s fun to hear his stories.
GARDEN OF THE FIVE SENSES
Sharpen your senses at Garden of the Five Senses, a unique park in North Port, just south of Venice. The serene 16-acre park is designed for visitors to slow down, relax and get in tune with their inner self.
VAN WEZEL PERFORMING ARTS HALL
Do something very Sarasota on your date, and take your sweetie to see a show at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
If nothing on the schedule is to your liking, you can always just stroll the Sarasota trail system that goes around the venue.
Snook Haven is more of a fun daytime date than a romantic evening. Head down the dirt road to this restaurant where you’ll find live music and boat tours of the Myyaka River.
Riding down the river makes you feel like you are heading on a real-life jungle cruise ride.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA WITH KIDS
BIG CAT HABITAT AND GULF COAST SANCTUARY
Not just for exotic animals, the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary is a haven for all types of rescued animals including lions, tigers, bears, primates, and tortoises. There is also a petting zoo with llamas and goats.
MOTE MARINE LABORATORY AND AQUARIUM
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is the best place in Sarasota to see sharks. You’ll find lots of them in the aquarium’s 135,000-gallon tank.
No touching here, but you can feel the stingrays, sea cucumbers, and other, less toothy sea life.
SMUGGLERS COVER ADVENTURE GOLF
It wouldn’t be the beach without miniature golf! Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf has a pirate-themed course that has your usual hazards, and then some very unusual hazards – live alligators!
SPEND THE DAY IN SARASOTA BAY
Pretty much anything a person can think of doing – from the casual, do-nothing day to the adventurous night – is in Sarasota Bay.
Not a place where coordinating schedules and driving directions are needed; nay, this delightful place has it all within walking distance. The Children’s Fountain is open April-October and is a free enclosed water fountain play space for kids.
FREE THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA FOR BUDGET FRIENDLY FUN
One of the coolest free things to do in Sarasota is to hang out on the beach at sunset. To make that event even more special, come a little early for a drum circle!
The most popular is on Sundays in Siesta Key between lifeguard stands 3 and 4. The second, also on Sunday is on Englewood Beach at 2100 North Beach Rd. The third is on Nokomis Beach at 207 Casey Key Rd. where they gather on Saturday and Wednesday.
Read More: 19 THINGS TO DO IN SIESTA KEY
WALK THE RINGLING BRIDGE
Any time of day or evening, you’ll see people, walking, running and biking this Sarasota landmark.
When you are done, head to the park underneath the Ringling Bridge. You’ll find a playground for the kids and a pier for fishing.
FIND SEA TURTLES
Longboat Key Turtle Watch hosts morning walks each Saturday in July where you can stroll the beach and look for turtles.
Florida’s sea turtles nest between May and October, coming ashore in the dark of the night to bury their eggs in the white sandy beaches.
SARASOTA SCAVENGER HUNT
A sailor kissing a nurse. A turtle’s egg. A colorful lifeguard stand. These are just a few things that are on the totally free Sarasota Scavenger Hunt. If you are Instagramming, be sure to tag your photos with #mysarasota
FUN AFTER DARK: THINGS TO DO AT NIGHT
ART OVATION HOTEL
Art Ovation is a great hotel in the heart of downtown. Relax by day around the pool, then pump it up at night on the rooftop. Your views are accompanied by thumping music, colored lights, and even an artist painting while you watch.
The crowd is diverse, from trendy 20-somethings to hip retirees.
Stay Here: Art Ovation Hotel
Sage Rooftop is located downtown in a historic building that once housed the local newspaper. Put your name in for the restaurant before heading up to the rooftop bar.
The rooftop offers 360 degree views of Downtown Sarasota. You’ll find a full bar, a fire pit, and multiple seats for lounging.
THINGS TO DO IN DOWNTOWN SARASOTA
SEE A SHOW
Sarasota is called Florida’s Culture Coast for a reason. There is the Sarasota Opera, The Symphony, the ballet, several community theatres, clubs with live music or comedy, and the quirky named Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall where you can see traveling Broadway shows.
The best part about Sarasota’s theatre scene is that many of these facilities, like the Florida Studio Theatre where we took in a show, are right downtown, within walking distance of great restaurants and hotels (or a short drive away).
SARASOTA FARMERS MARKET
The Sarasota Farmers Market is held year-round on Saturdays in downtown Sarasota.
You’ll find lots of local vendors here, kid’s activities and a bizarrely cool Antique’s Roadshow performance with a local antique dealer. So grab yourself some fresh produce, and get grandma’s clock appraised all at the same time.
ART UPTOWN GALLERY
Take a break from shopping in Downtown Sarasota with a visit to one of the art galleries, especially the Art Uptown Gallery on Main Street.
SARASOTA ART MUSEUM
Sarasota Art Museum has 15,000 square feet of dedicated exhibition gallery space spread across three floors along with the popular Bistro and Shop for visitors to spread out and enjoy all the Museum has to offer.
Take in our outdoor sculpture and site-responsive installations in the Museum’s Marcy & Michael Klein Plaza and the Great Lawn. Free Second Sundays at SAM are the Second Sunday of every month.
RAINY DAY OPTIONS IN SARASOTA
SARASOTA CLASSIC CAR MUSEUM
You don’t have to be a car aficionado to enjoy the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, with more than 100 vintage cars from 1885 to the present.
Antique, exotic, European and one-of-a-kind classics are featured here 7 days a week!
ST. ARMANDS CIRCLE
The shops may be what draws most people to St. Armands Circle, but for me, it is the ice cream. Six ice cream stores serving up everything from snowballs, and soft serve to hard packed and gelato. I’m gonna need a big tasting spoon.
UNIQUE THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA
MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK
Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest and most scenic parks.
Take a stroll through the foliage on the treetop canopy walk for a different perspective of this 37,000-acre park. Top off the day with an airboat ride on the Myakka River.
MARIETTA’S MUSEUM OF WHIMSY
Perhaps it was the name “Marietta” in Marietta’s Museum of Whimsy that struck me, but this funky museum right off the road on your way to Venice caught my eye.
The giant neon flamingos flag you down, then inside the gates, you’ll find an outdoor sculpture garden. Time it right here, the museum is only open Thursday through Saturday from 1 to 4 pm.
Sarasota has some amazing mid-century architecture and a fun way to see it is via a self-driving tour. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation has put together a free driving tour that takes about two hours.
ATLANTA BRAVES BASEBALL
There are seven United States major league teams that play spring training games near Sarasota County, Florida. The latest to move is the Atlanta Braves, who played their first spring training game in the brand new CoolToday Park in 2019, and I was lucky enough to be there for the game.
The stadium is intimate. Although you may have a seat, you don’t need to stay in it for long. Take a walk around the field, grab a beer at the Tomahawk Tiki Bar, watch kids roll down the grassy hill at Coca-Cola Corner. Stroll further and see the pitchers practicing literally below you. When you do take a seat, you’ll have a great view of the field, no matter where you sit.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES BASEBALL
I grew up near Baltimore, so before I was a Braves fan, I was an Baltimore Orioles fan. The Braves may have just arrived in Sarasota for spring training, but the Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota has been known as Birdland South since 1989.
LEGACY BIKE TRAIL
Take a break at the park and walk out to see the two eagle’s nests. They are HUGE. And who knows, you just might see a few of the majestic birds too.
WHICH SARASOTA BEACHES ARE RIGHT FOR YOUR VISIT?
FOR THE HISTORY BUFF: LIDO KEY BEACH
Once upon a time, Lido Key Beach was for whites only. In fact, at one time less than two miles of Florida’s beaches (not Sarasota’s, but ALL of Florida) were open to African Americans.
In the 50’s and 60’s residents of Newtown, a community in Sarasota, decided to stage wade-ins at Lido Beach, similar to lunch counter sit-ins, to protest the injustice.
The Newtown African American Heritage Trail was recently added to the U.S. Civil Right Trail. Take a tour from Newtown Alive! to hear the whole story. You’ll most likely hear that story from one of the residents who actually lived it!
FOR FAMILIES: SIESTA KEY BEACH
With sugar white sand beaches and lots of condos for rent of various sizes, Siesta Key is a perfect choice for the family getaway.
Build sandcastles on the beach, and play in a giant one off the beach at the Siesta Key playground. This fun beach-themed playground has a giant sandcastle that you can climb inside and it is located just off the beach at the southern tip of Beach Road at the public beach access.
FOR TREASURE HUNTERS: VENICE BEACH
Called the shark’s tooth capital of the world, Venice Beach is a collector’s dream. According to The Fossil Guy, the morning, during low tide, after a storm is a trifecta for fossil hunting.
You don’t need any equipment to sift through the sand, but if you want to make it easier, you can rent a sand sifter from Papa’s Bait and Snack Shop on the Venice Fishing pier.
FOR SEA SHELL COLLECTORS: MANASOTA KEY
Manasota Key features a long, natural stretch of shoreline, and is in South Sarasota County. You’ll find lots of colorful shells and gorgeous photo ops. For the best shelling, head out to the beach about an hour before low tide immediately after a storm.
Tip: Head to the less-frequented Blind Pass Beach on Manasota Key for smaller crowds.
SARASOTA GOLF COURSES
Sarasota is home to some amazing golf courses. Although we did not golf on our trip, my husband was asking me about the courses, so I thought I’d share.
- The Highlands Golf Course. Part of the Meadows Country Club, the Highlands course is a, “trip through Old Florida with solid mature oaks, pines and ponds.”
- Tatum Ridge Golf Links. According to Visit Sarasota, “the signature 13th hole is a tough par 5 dogleg over a huge lake. Cut the corner to try for your birdie, but bit off too much and your ball will get wet.”
- University Park Country Club. Although this club does have memberships, the public is also welcome. “The greens are top notch, with speed and true rolls, and the course is noted for it’s great overall condition.”
SARASOTA FESTIVALS YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS
- Shark’s Tooth Festival. Held each spring, this festival attracts a crowd that voraciously devour three days of food, fossils, arts and crafts, music and fun for the whole family.
- Sarasota Chalk Festival. This event is held twice a year, April in Sarasota and November in Venice. Come see artists transform simple sidewalks into incredible works of art.
- Crystal Classic Sand Sculpting Competition. Watch master sand sculptors from around the world vie for thousands of dollars in prize money. This event is one reason to schedule a beach trip for November.
- Super Grand Prix Boat Festival. If you have a need for speed then visit Sarasota in July for the Super Grand Prix Boat Festival to watch the powerboats zoom through the water.
ART OVATION HOTEL
ART OVATION HOTEL
Art Ovation Hotel is one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever visited. As soon as you walk into this downtown Sarasota Florida hotel, your shoulders relax with a whiff of the signature white tea and thyme scent. Feel free to pick up a candle of your own in the hotel store, which is more like a museum gift shop than hotel sundry store.
The lobby at Art Ovation doubles as an art gallery with rotating works and daily tours. Each day there is an artist discussion. I overheard a musician debating the merits of different songwriters with some teens, and got the backstory on a painters travels to Cuba. In the evenings, live music fills the atrium.
The art theme doesn’t stop after you get in the elevator, each floor has a different set of prints. Guests are encouraged to vote for their favorite via an app. In the rooms is a mandolin for late night playing, and sketchpad with colored pencils. Each bathroom has it’s own signature rubber ducky, mine was Gene Simmons from KISS. Even the Do Not Disturb sign has an artful twist. Check off your reason for needing privacy – writing my acceptance speech, or painting a masterpiece.
All this is in addition to a comfy cozy bed, and a location in the heart of Downtown Sarasota right across the street from the First Studio Theatre and within walking distance to shops and a multitude of restaurants. They even have a shuttle to the beach.
Stay Here: Art Ovation Hotel
What is Sarasota best known for?
Sarasota is best known for its gorgeous beaches. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota is home to beautiful white-sand beaches, mangrove forests, and awesome parks, making it perfect for travelers who love nature and the outdoors.
Is Sarasota worth visiting?
Yes, Sarasota is definitely worth a visit. Sarasota, Florida, is home to beautiful beaches, history museums, family-friendly adventures, and awesome shopping and restaurants.
When is the best month to visit Sarasota?
Sarasota is a year-round vacation destination, and you can’t go wrong visiting any time of year. If you’re looking to enjoy the sun on the beach, but with milder temps, then spring is the best time to visit, when highs are in the mid-70s to mid-80s.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
- YOUR FLORIDA VACATION
- CLEARWATER: 18 Awesome Things To Do In Clearwater For Sunny Fun
- ST. PETE: 23 Outstanding Things To Do In St Petersburg FL
- TAMPA: 41 Amazingly Fun Things To Do In Tampa, Florida
- VENICE: 13 Things To Do In Venice FL For Fun In The Sun
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