Sarasota is a beach town on Florida’s Gulf Coast about an hour south of Tampa. Today, it’s known for its culture, museums, and proximity to beautiful resorts and beaches. But some might say it was placed on the map when it became the winter home for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Visitors to the area can find great food, interesting activities, and beautiful places to stay. Here’s your must do list for visiting Sarasota!
What to Do in Sarasota
Tour The Ringling Museum
In 1911, John Ringling and his wife, Mable purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota, Florida. Today, that investment welcomes visitors from around the globe with fine art, a historic mansion, two circus museums and a jewel-box of a theater.
Whether you care about circus history or not, The Ringling is a must stop with an impressive mansion, art gallery, and gorgeous grounds with water views — there is something here for everyone. I’ve been back multiple times and still enjoy it.
TIP: The grounds are actually free to tour without a pass, and if you have kids you can even go to The David F. Bolger Playspacewithout dropping a penny. However, if you have time the art museum and circus museums are beautiful and interesting. My boys actually went to the Circus Museum and enjoyed the toy train inside too. Great way to cool off.
Spend Saturday at Sarasota Farmers Market
Year round, every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Sarasota Farmer’s Market is pet-friendly and great for families or for a stroll on the downtown streets. Established in 1979, and located smack-dab in the heart of downtown Sarasota, it offers products and services of local farmers, businesses and artisans. A true foodie paradise, with over 5,000 square feet of produce, plants and a market that includes over 70 vendors, this hip farmers market has a fresh and friendly vibe that just shouts Sarasota.
Visit the MOTE Aquarium
Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is open every day. Explore the secrets of the sea through touch pools, viewable-working labs and high-tech interactive exhibits that showcase the world-renowned research of Mote Marine Laboratory. See sharks, manatees and sea turtles, along with more than 100 other species of marine life. Great for kids and adults.
Enjoy the Day at Siesta Key Beach
Siesta Key has been voted the No. 1 beach in America, as ranked by both TripAdvisor reviewers and Dr. Beach. The free public beach (free parking too) recently finished a $21 million renovation adding more parking, concessions, picnic shelters, a playground and many more amenities for the whole family. Its sugary white sand is so fine you won’t mind it on your toes when you leave.
View the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
A living museum located on the shores of Sarasota Bay. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is the only botanical garden dedicated to the study and conservation of epiphytes – or air plants – like orchids, bromeliads and gesneriads. Activities include a children’s rainforest garden, tropical glass house conservatory and 15 acres of lush grounds with two historic homes, including the Museum of Botany & the Arts. On-site dining, a plant shop and year-round special events offer numerous reasons to return frequently.
Shop Local at the Bazaar on Apricot and Lime
The colorful and eclectic indoor bazaar is filled with unique, one-of-a-kind local vendors. From art, antiques, collectibles, clothing, to baked goods, and live music, there is something for everyone. Open three days a week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., year-round.
Where to Eat in Sarasota
Salute! – High-end eatery providing traditional Italian dishes and outdoor seating. Romantic and picturesque.
Siesta Key Oyster Bar – (or as the locals call it “SKOB”) is the Hot Spot in Siesta Key Village for great seafood, fresh oysters, cold beer, live music, and tons of fun!
Yoder’s Amish Village Restaurant – In the heart of Sarasota’s Amish community, Pinecraft, celebrates over 40 years of pies and made-from-scratch home cooking like fried chicken and Amish noodles. There is usually a line out the door to dine inside, but it moves pretty fast. There is also a to-go window, a farmer’s market and gift shop worth visiting too. TIP: Closed Sunday’s.
Blue Rooster Gospel Brunch – Featuring live gospel on Sunday’s plus traditional and contemporary spirituals along with Southern-inspired brunch items. Basically, it’s brunch with a show. Doors open at 11:15 a.m.
Tsunami Hibachi and Sushi – A Japanese restaurant featuring a menu of sushi, hot entrees, sake and cocktails in a stylish space. I’m still dreaming about the DOUBLE “J” roll. There was also a wonderful guitar player strumming while we dined, which was beautiful.
Where to Stay in Sarasota
Embassy Suites Sarasota – this 19-floor, all-suite hotel by Hilton is within walking distance of Downtown Main Street in Sarasota, including Tsunami Sushi above. There is also a rooftop pool and restaurant offering panoramic views of the city. A complimentary happy hour is offered for guests each night at the Bridges Restaurant and bar on the 8th floor and includes wine and well drinks from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Free breakfast is also served in the mornings with an omelet station and again the views!
Hotel Indigo – This boutique hotel from IHG group is an unexpected find with free parking. The hotel provides pretty beach cruiser bicycles with baskets for rent for an easy ride to local attractions like riding to the downtown farmer’s market on Saturdays. However, breakfast isn’t included. Watch a Video Tour Here
Have you visited Sarasota? We’d love to hear what’s on your must do list for Sarasota!
A mom of twin preschool boys, Tara often travels with her family utilizing local advice and insider tips along the way. From popular hot spots & secret entrances, to off-the-beaten-path restaurants & sights, Tara likes to be “in the know” when she travels. You can read more about her adventures over on her lifestyle and parenting blog, When Tara Met Blog and follow along at @TaraMetBlog.