Sarasota Attractions Perfect For Your Next Trip To Florida
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Once a hidden gem in the Sunshine State, Sarasota has quickly become a booming popular place for a leisurely vacation. Since Logan was young his family has visited Sarasota around the winter holidays to visit his grandparents and celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Once we started dating, I happily booked a flight there each year for part of my holiday break in college.
While we don’t have the luxury of having those month-long breaks anymore, (darn, adulting!) we still visited every other year for Christmas and other vacations too – we even lived there for a summer while Logan was doing a rotation for Optometry School (YES, that’s how much we love it!). Then in April 2021, Logan was offered a job in Sarasota so we packed up and moved here!
Despite being a smaller city, Sarasota boasts a number of unique things to do, shopping areas, a large art influence, beautiful beaches, and amazing restaurants. Regardless of what kind of traveler you are, these Sarasota attractions are bound to interest you on your next trip to Florida!
Where is Sarasota?
Sarasota is located one hour south of Tampa, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. It is widely popular for its pristine beaches, artistic neighborhoods, and shops, and the Ringling Museum which goes into the history of the Ringling Brothers Circus and their part in helping build Sarasota to what it is today.
How to Get to Sarasota
There are a number of different ways to get to these Sarasota attractions. We’ll break down each option from the easiest and time-friendly to the most economical.
Traveling to Sarasota by Plane
The easiest and most time-efficient way to get to Sarasota is by plane. You can choose to fly into Tampa International Airport and rent a car to drive to Sarasota (approximately an hour) or Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and rent a car to get to your accommodations. If you fly into Tampa keep in mind to have some cash for the toll booth on the way to Sarasota or activate the Sunshine Pass on your rental car.
Traveling to Sarasota by Car
The most cost-friendly way, especially if traveling as a family is by driving your personal vehicle. We’ve driven a number of times from Missouri and Arkansas to Florida and while the drive is long, you can also make some stops along the way depending on your route.
When is The Best Time to Visit Sarasota?
Because of Sarasota’s location on the Gulf of Mexico, the weather is beautiful year-round. On average the temperature is 72 degrees F. June through September are the hottest and most humid months, but still tolerable with the sea breeze. Keep in mind that the summer months are typically the rainy season so expect showers for a short while at some point each day.
Hurricane season is also during this time, starting June 1 and lasting until November 30 so if you don’t want to gamble with the rain or hurricane season we suggest visiting Sarasota another time frame, our favorite is December or January. During the winter, the weather is milder with temperatures usually in the 70s during the day and 50s at night. It is also the time that you can see manatees in the bay! However, the downfall of this time of year is that it’s the most popular time to visit. If you want nice weather with fewer crowds I recommend Late April-May or early November!
Where to Stay in Sarasota
Sunset view at Sun N Fun RV Resort
There are a number of hotels in Sarasota that you can choose to stay at. One of our favorite family-friendly places to stay in Sarasota is Sun N Fun RV Resort where you can rent a park model or bring your RV. Sun N Fun offers great amenities like an Olympic-sized swimming pool, state-of-the-art fitness club, mini-golf, shuffleboard, laundry facilities, and more to all of its guests.
Another option is the Courtyard by Marriott Sarasota University Park. This location is within walking distance from the huge shopping and dining area at UTC Mall and is close to many of these Sarasota attractions and beaches. I love that the rooms here are spacious which is nice if you are planning a longer trip. Our king room had a nice kitchenette area perfect for those wanting to have some drinks, snacks, or store leftovers at the hotel.
For the budget traveler consider the Regency Inn & Suites which is located just north of Downtown Sarasota but still in a great location for visiting many Sarasota attractions and beaches. The rooms have been recently remodeled and there are rooms with kitchenettes making your stay more comfortable.
Sarasota also has a number of mid-range luxury hotels located downtown like the Art Ovation Hotel, Hotel Indigo, Hyatt Regency Sarasota, and The Westin Sarasota. All four of these spectacular properties are located within walking distance of many Downtown Sarasota attractions and restaurants and are just minutes from some of the most popular Sarasota beaches.
If you are wanting to stay in a luxury property for your Sarasota vacation then I highly recommend The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. This astonishing hotel allows access to their own private beach, onsite spa, golf course, and very spacious suites with epic views. There are also four onsite restaurants featuring fresh, local cuisine and waterfront dining. One other amazing feature at The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is they also have a number of pet-friendly rooms making it the only luxury hotel in the area with this option.
SARASOTA ATTRACTIONS: THE BEST BEACHES IN SARASOTA
I can’t talk about Sarasota without having a whole section on the beaches in Sarasota and nearby. After visiting many places across the United States and the world, I have to say that I still think Sarasota has some of the finest beaches around.
Siesta Key Beach
With its baby powder white sand (which is 99% pure quartz) it’s easy to see why Siesta Key Beach has been rated the #1 beach in the United States for many years. This is definitely one of our favorite beaches to visit but it can get crowded during the holidays and spring break season. Make sure you grab a spot on the beach early and enjoy the sunrise – you can take a nap on the beach later!
If you prefer to visit Siesta Key Beach later in the day, consider going on a Sunday for the drum circle. It starts approximately one hour prior to sunset.
Lido Key Beach
Close to the popular St. Armand’s Circle, Lido Key is another fun beach spot for locals and tourists. Though the beach is smaller and has more shelly sand than powdery sand, Lido Key is also our favorite beach to watch the gorgeous Florida sunsets.
Coquina Beach is our personal favorite in the Sarasota area. It’s a popular spot among locals that isn’t nearly as busy as other nearby beaches. Although I have to say, it seems to be gaining more and more popularity over the years. This beach is perfect for those who love Siesta Key but want less traffic because it has beautiful white sand as well. It is also a popular nesting spot for sea turtles and if you’re lucky you might see them! Just remember to keep a good distance from them and never disturb a turtle or a turtle nest.
Nokomis is known to be Sarasota’s oldest beach. It’s less busy than Siesta Key and is also the perfect spot for a picnic or fishing. If you happen to be at Nokomis Beach we recommend spending the day here then stop by Venice Beach to look for sharks teeth that have washed up towards the shore!
While Venice Beach isn’t the BEST beach for laying out on your beach towel, you can spend a nice amount of time here hunting for shells and shark’s teeth that have washed up on the shore or fishing from the pier. If you are a diver, this is also a terrific spot to explore the reef when the waves are calm. Just be careful with the big drop-off from the beach to the water!
Turtle Beach is a family-friendly beach perfect for a relaxing day. There is a terrific beachside playground as well as horseshoe and volleyball courts. It also has a boat ramp nearby that allows easy access to the bay. While it doesn’t have the baby powder sand that Siesta Key does, it’s a much quieter place to relax.
Anna Maria Island Beach
Anna Maria Island is further north of Sarasota, but it’s well worth a day trip to enjoy this more secluded beach. There is also a beautiful pier and is very close to The Donut Experiment, a yummy place to create your own hot, cake donut (see more about Sarasota dining in this post).
We’ve visited Manatee Beach a few times while visiting Sarasota. Since Anna Maria Island can get crowded at certain times of the year, this is another option if you are wanting to stay close to the Anna Maria Island area but enjoy a less crowded, clean, and beautiful beach.
Want to visit them all? No problem, check out this map!
READ MORE: 12 Simple Beach Checklist Tips
SARASOTA ATTRACTIONS: PLACES TO VISIT IN SARASOTA
Explore The Ringling Museum & Ca’ d’Zan
The Ringling Museum is one of the most expansive and unique museums that Sarasota, Florida has to offer. With multiple exhibits, including collections of art, circus paraphernalia, beautiful gardens facing the bay, and their own 56 room mansion, the Ca’ d’Zan.
As you might have guessed based on the name, the Ringling Museum was first built by John & Mable Ringling. But despite their business in the circus industry, John and Mable Ringling were actually considered to be some of the most prolific collectors of art in the early 20th century. Together they began purchasing and collecting paintings, furniture, tapestries, pottery, and more from auction houses and art dealers. They grew to love collecting art so much that in 1925 they hired John H. Phillips, an architect, to build a museum on Ringling’s Sarasota property to house their collection.
In his will, Ringling left his museum to the people of Florida, in hopes that it would build Sarasota into a cultural and educational center with an emphasis on the arts. Today you can visit this Renaissance-style museum and admire the impressive collection of Baroque, Classical, and Renaissance fine art.
In addition to the art museum, it is only natural that there is a circus museum on the grounds of the Ringling too. After all, his start was in the circus industry. Although I do not personally endorse circuses because of their long-standing history of human and animal exploitation this museum is an interesting take on the history of the American circus.
The Ringling Museum of the American Circus was established in 1948 and was the first museum to document the history of circus entertainment. This museum became possible with the many donations of circus memorabilia and wardrobe collections gifted by former performers that had moved to the area. Many of these performers ended up in Sarasota in 1927 because John Ringling made Sarasota the Winter Quarters of the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus. Inside the Circus Museum, you’ll find a number of parade wagons, costumes, props, posters, and the Wisconsin, the railroad car that John and Mable Ringling used for travel.
Perhaps the most interesting place to visit at The Ringling is the Ca’ d’Zan, which is the Ringling’s former 56-room, 36,000 sq. ft mansion. After traveling through Europe for 25 years acquiring circus acts, collecting art, and admiring architecture, John and Mable decided that they wanted to build a home in Sarasota. They both loved the architectural styles of Venice’s Ducal Palace, Ca’ d’Oro, and the Grunwald Hotel so they decided to implement these elements in their own home on Sarasota Bay.
They hired Dwight James Baum as their architectural designer and Owen Burns to build the home however it was Mable that saw it into fruition. Using the postcards, sketches, and photos she collected from her travels she oversaw every tiny detail of the construction. In fact, her involvement in the project was so great the original architectural plans called it “The Residence of Mrs. John Ringling.” The building project began in 1924 and was soon finished in 1926. At the time it cost $1.5 million, a fortune for the time.
Tragically, three years after the completion, Mable Ringling died from complications of Addison’s Disease and diabetes. When John Ringling died in 1936 he left his estate to the people of Florida. Considering how massive the Ringling estate is, it took a lot of funding to keep it up, and over the years it was left in disrepair until it was finally restored in 2002 at a cost of $15 million.
Other than the museums and Ca’ d’Zan, you can also enjoy the bayfront views from the back of the mansion, the beautiful bayfront gardens where Mable Ringling had her rose garden, and visit the Historic Asolo Theater. The Ringling is by far one of the Sarasota attractions you simply cannot miss on your visit!
Location: 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: 10am-5pm daily
Cost: Adult Tickets: $25, Seniors 65+: $23, Students 18+ with ID: $5, Children 6-17: $5, Children under 6: FREE, Active US Military: $10 Bonus: FREE entrance on Mondays to the art museum and gardens.
READ MORE: The Best Places to Eat in Sarasota, Florida
Enjoy the Outdoors at Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest state parks that is well known for its diverse wildlife that you can find on the Myakka River which flowers through 58 miles of the park. Typically you can see alligators, turtles, and many varieties of birds wading in the water or making their homes in the large oak and palm trees.
Once you are inside the park there are many places to park a vehicle and go for a hike, bike ride, or walk. If you are interested in a guided tour Myakka State Park offers tram and boat tours that offer a unique perspective of the park and education on the park’s history. Tram and boat tours typically last anywhere from 45-60 minutes and are first come first serve.
At the Myakka Outpost, you can find a souvenir shop that sells memorabilia and camping supplies plus information on bike, kayak, and canoe rentals to explore more of the park.
All of the kayaks at Myakka are single-occupant boats and the canoes can hold up to three adults or two adults and two children. All boats cost $20 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour. Life jackets and paddles/oars are provided to all guests. In addition, there is a $50 refundable deposit.
For biking in Myakka, I personally think that there are cheaper bike rental prices outside of the park but if you don’t have a means of transporting them to Myakka then it’s a good option. The prices are as follows.
|Single Bicycle||Tandem Bicycle|
|Two-Hours: $15||Two-Hours: $30|
|Four-Hours: $25||Four-Hours: $50|
|Four-plus Hours: $40||Four-plus Hours: $80|
If you get hungry while at Myakka State Park there is a restaurant on-site called the Pink Gator Cafe. They have menu items like seafood gumbo and alligator stew plus a variety of sandwiches, wraps, hamburgers, hot dogs, and appetizers. We have yet to eat here because we typically bring our own lunch in a cooler with us but it’s usually pretty busy every time we have gone by.
One other thing to do in Myakka State Park is to take the short hike to the two scenic walkways. The first is the Myakka Canopy Walkway which, in 2000, was the first public treetop trail in North America. The walkway is located down the Boylston Nature Trail which is an unpaved walking trail. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy. As you cross the bridge you’ll notice a taller tower located at the end of the bridge (or front depending on which way you climbed up). This tower is 74 feet tall and offers terrific views of the treetops and wetlands. Because of its height, you’re bound to see a number of birds or other fauna through the trees.
The second walkway to visit in Myakka State Park is the Birdwalk at Myakka. Because Myakka has flourishing freshwater wetlands you can easily enjoy a glimpse of this beautiful ecosystem from the Birdwalk. While a lot of people stop at the entrance bridge to view alligators and other creatures, I personally think the Birdwalk is the best place to view wildlife. If you are a bird watcher be sure to bring your binoculars!
Location: 13208 State Rd 72, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: 8am-8:30pm daily
Cost: $6/vehicle (2-8 people), camping fees: $26/night, cabin fees: $70/night
Learn About Marine Life at Mote Marine Laboratory & Museum
The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is an independent, nonprofit marine research institution with marine scientists committed to the belief that the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education. Though currently, Mote is a small aquarium they have a big passion for research and preservation of the world’s oceans and the creatures that live there. Animal tourism is a tricky thing to write about and I often veer away from promoting it unless I know it’s ethical, but Mote Marine Aquarium is one of the good ones.
When they first opened, their primary focus was on sharks but has since expanded to include studies of human cancer, the effects of human-made and natural toxic substances on humans and the environment, the health of wild fisheries, developing sustainable fishing techniques and so much more. Their research programs allow us to get a glimpse of the fragile ocean ecosystem and implore visitors to think more constructively about their impact on our world’s oceans and our planet.
Inside the aquarium, you’ll find a number of amazing exhibits where you can get up close with a number of sea creatures. There are exhibits for stingrays, reef animals, sea turtles, manatees, and more. From my discussions with one of the staff, a lot of the creatures that come to Mote are unable to live successfully in the wild. Therefore they are kept here to live the remainder of their life comfortably. However, there are also a lot of creatures that come to Mote to be rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to their natural habitat.
Another activity you can enjoy at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is the Mote Boat: Eco-tours which offers an interactive charter cruise on Sarasota Bay. On this cruise, you will learn more about the ecology, history, and even folklore of the Sarasota area while observing Florida manatees, Bottlenose dolphins, and if you’re lucky, the occasional sea turtle.
As of November 2020, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium broke ground on what will be their new location called Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) at Nathan Benderson Park near UTC Mall. The new aquarium will be 110,000 sq. ft. and allow Mote to expand their current outreach and science education. It is expected to be completed sometime in 2023!
Location: 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: 9:30am-5pm daily
Cost: $24 Ages 13 and over, $18 Children 3-12, Children 2 and under: FREE
Browse Rotating Art Exhibits at the Sarasota Art Museum
Since Sarasota as a city is heavily influenced by the arts it only makes sense that they have a terrific art museum. Sarasota Art Museum is located at the Ringling College of Art and Design within the historic former Sarasota High School. At the time of its founding, it was the region’s first museum dedicated to contemporary art and continues to offer thought-provoking, dynamic exhibits from the 20th and 21st centuries.
There are currently two floors of exhibition gallery spaces and outdoor arts and sculpture area, as well as a terrific bistro perfect for grabbing a quick bite to eat or a coffee and a gift shop that has a wide array of items available for purchase. While the Sarasota Art Museum may not have as extensive of a collection of art as the Ringling Museum but they carefully curate all of their rotating exhibits making it worth visiting anytime you come to Sarasota to see what’s new!
Location: 1001 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: Sunday 11am-5pm, Monday, Wednesday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Closed Tuesdays
Rent A Boat From CB’s Saltwater Outfitters
Not only a place to shop for outdoor goods, CB’s Saltwater Outfitters is also a place to rent a boat or jet ski to spend a half-day or full-day on Tampa Bay. In the past, we have rented pontoons from CB’s to enjoy a leisurely ride or go fishing with family but there are also center console and deck boat options. The routes from CB’s are within Tampa Bay so you have access to a variety of beaches and attractions plus dockside boat parking to well-known restaurants like Old Salty Dog, Marina Jack’s, and Casey Key Fish House.
When we rent a boat we usually bring our own cooler with drinks and items to make sandwiches as well as a bag with other snacks. And while our dog Bentley doesn’t like swimming in the water, he LOVES being on the boat so we let him tag along too.
Keep in mind that all boat renters must have boating experience and a current boating license as well as be at least 23 years of age. If you plan to go fishing, a current Florida fishing license is also required and can be purchased at the tackle shop at CB’s. If you don’t know how to drive a boat or would prefer to have a guide, CB’s also offers fishing charters and parasailing experiences.
Location: 1249 Stickney Point Rd, Siesta Key // MAP
Hours: 7am-6pm daily
Cost: Boat rentals starting at $189
Rent A Kayak and Go Through the Mangroves
One of my all-time favorite Sarasota attractions is the mangrove trees on the bay. One of the best ways to experience the mangroves is by renting a kayak or going on a kayak tour through them. If it’s your first time kayaking or your first time kayaking in mangroves I recommend doing a tour first. Not because I don’t have faith in your kayak skills, but because you can learn so much about the mangrove ecosystem and other fascinating facts about Tampa Bay.
The company I have done a few tours with is Liquid Blue. They are a reputable kayak rental company that offers guided tours through the Mangrove Trees and leads out to the bay where you can view the spectacular homes and if you’re lucky, see a few majestic manatees. Nearly every time I’ve kayaked I always spot at least one manatee. Liquid Blue has single kayaks and tandem kayaks available for rent or the tour so this is the perfect activity for all ages.
Location: 190 Taft Dr, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
Take A Distillery Tour & Enjoy A Rum Tasting at Siesta Key Rum
Siesta Key Rum is a local distillery in Sarasota that started in 2007. They offer daily tours and rum tastings for free! During our tour, we learned that while Siesta Key Rum started in 2007, it wasn’t first bottled until 2010 because Troy, the owner wanted it to be perfect. Once he felt confident in his Silver Rum he decided to enter the Miami Rum Renaissance Tasting Competition and at the end of the day, he won first place!
After that, he decided to create infusions and took the silver rum and used real baking spices like cinnamon, clove, cardamom, and honey to create a spiced rum. That same spiced rum won a Rummy Award from the Caribbean Journal 6 years in a row! After that, the Toasted Coconut Rum was created and made with real shredded coconut and a Coffee Rum infused with Colombian coffee beans. It tastes like a cold brew but with rum instead of water.
Now we’ve done a lot of distillery tours but this is by far one of the most informational tours I’ve been on and the rum is delicious!
Location: 2212 Industrial Blvd, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: Sunday 12pm-5pm, Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm (Be sure to book your tour in advance)
SARASOTA ATTRACTIONS: THE BEST SHOPPING IN SARASOTA
St. Armands Circle
If you are looking for a quaint and unique place to shop or dine St. Armands Circle will fit the bill. It has many local restaurants, boutiques, and specialty shops all within walking distance from Lido Key Beach.
Some of our favorite stores include:
- Garden Argosy: This store just screams tranquility and whimsy! It’s got a little bit of everything and is the perfect place to shop for a gift or yourself.
- The Met: If you want to be pampered and styled, The Met has upscale clothing and a full-service spa and salon. When we walked in we were greeted with champagne and cupcakes to enjoy while browsing the clothing. Another time I went with my mom to get pedicures. If you’re looking to treat yourself to some R & R on vacation, this is a great place to do so.
- Shore: A boutique with upscale, beach-inspired clothing.
- The Spice & Tea Exchange: There are many locations of this in the United States but it’s a great place to shop for spices, especially ones that are harder to find.
If you want to know some of our favorite restaurants on St. Armands Circle check out our Sarasota dining guide!
Location: 431 St Armands Cir, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: 10am-9pm daily, store hours vary
Siesta Key Village
Siesta Key Village is a more laid-back shopping area than St. Armands Circle. It has a variety of eccentric stores and novelty restaurants located right next to America’s #1 Beach. Keep in mind that since it is close to Siesta Key Beach, parking at Siesta Key Village can be hard to come by. In fact, we hardly even try to visit here during the busy season.
Some stores to check out at Siesta Key Village:
- Island Boutique: They have a mix of beach, every day, and special occasion clothing inspired by island living with Italian flair. In fact, many of their clothing items were made in Italy.
- Siesta Key Beach Shack: While there are a number of kitschy souvenir shops in Sarasota, if you want something a little more personalized you can craft your own piece of jewelry at the Siesta Key Beach Shack.
- Gidget’s Coastel Provisions: This store has mainly upscale beach apparel and ocean-inspired gifts but you won’t find any of those corny shot glasses here. Instead you’ll find nice jewelry, coffee mugs, and housewares.
- The Gallery: This stop is one of the most unique things to do in Siesta Key. Here you’ll find paintings, jewerly, and other art pieces most of which are provided by local artists.
Location: 5199-5155, County Rd 789 Alt, Siesta Key // MAP
Hours: Store hours vary
Ellenton Premium Outlets
If you are a bargain shopper but also love high-quality brands then head over to Ellenton Premium Outlets which is located just outside of Sarasota. Ellenton Premium Outlets has over 117 stores to shop at in an outdoor setting. Some of the popular stores to shop at are Cole Haan, Le Creuset, Levis, Columbia, Brooks Brothers, Johnson & Murphy, and more.
Location: 5461 Factory Shops Blvd, Ellenton // MAP
Hours: Sunday 10am-7pm, Monday-Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday & Saturday 10am-9pm
The Mall at University Town Center
University Town Center is another place to shop for upscale clothing, home goods, and has many great restaurants. I consider UTC t be a one-stop-shop for everything you might want to shop for. Inside the Mall at UTC you’ll find stores like Anthropologie, Lush, Arhaus, Flabletics, Free People, Urban Outfitters, an Apple Store, and more.
Besides the shopping and dining areas, UTC also has a number of events that take place throughout the year. I personally love driving through here during the winter holiday months when they have all of the pretty lights around the palm trees and holiday music playing!
Location: 257 N Cattlemen Rd, Sarasota // MAP
Hours: Sunday 11am-6pm, Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm
Are you ready to escape to the Sunshine State? Sarasota is a perfect stop for your Florida road trip!