Sarasota is a popular destination in southwest Florida, welcoming over 925,000 visitors each year. With its combination of beautiful sandy beaches, upscale shopping, cultural festivals, watersports, golf, and top dining, there’s something for everyone.
Sarasota beaches are among the best in the U.S. and that’s official, as Siesta Beach was ranked #1 by Dr. Beach in 2014 and again in 2017. The pure white quartz sand in this area is powder-soft and contrasts beautifully with the blue Gulf waters. Most beaches lie on the barrier islands of Longboat Key, Siesta Key, and Lido Key, creating sheltered waters for boats and wildlife within Sarasota Bay.
Take your pick from the 10 miles of sandy beaches on Longboat Key, including Greer Island Park (Beer Can Island) on the northern tip, which can be reached via Longboat Pass bridge.
Lido Key has a public beach with good parking and full amenities including snacks, picnic tables, and a playground. North Lido Beach is equally beautiful and less populated, while South Lido County Park has nature trails through established pines, a canoe launch, and a volleyball court.
Siesta Key includes Crescent Beach and the award-winning Siesta Beach, which is popular with families thanks to the gentle waves and year-round lifeguard service. Despite its generous size, it is busy on weekends and in the winter season. Play volleyball, build sandcastles, swim, search for sand dollars, play tennis, or fly a kite on this superb beach. You may even spot dolphins, manatees, pelicans, and a variety of coastal birds. Siesta Beach is a great place to see a vivid sunset steaking the sky, heralded by the Drum Circle which plays near the pavilion on Sunday evenings.
Further south is Turtle Beach where loggerhead turtles come ashore to nest. Walkovers connect parking with the beach, which is popular for shelling, kayaking and swimming in slightly deeper water.
Shopping and Dining in Sarasota
Downtown Sarasota is a mecca for boutiques, art galleries, and shops. This area hosts local festivals and special events including the Sarasota Film Festival, the Suncoast Superboat Grand Prix, Fourth of July fireworks, and numerous Fine Art and Craft Festivals.
St. Armand’s Circle is an outstanding venue for upscale shopping and dining. Dining choices range from casual dining at Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar to the elegant ambience of Café L’Europe.
Sarasota Museums and Culture
The outstanding John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art packs in many different things to do. Tour the beautiful Venetian-style Ca’d’Zan, the Ringlings’ historic bayfront home, explore the gardens, visit the colorful Circus Museums, admire the historic Asolo Theater, and enjoy world-class artworks in the purpose-built Museum of Art.
More culture is available at the Sarasota Opera House, the Sarasota Art Center, and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. You can even attend a baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium, the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles.
Nature and Wildlife Attractions in Sarasota
Other Sarasota activities include golf, guided kayaking tours, parasailing, charter fishing, and guided nature tours. Myakka State Park is a haven for Florida wildlife including alligators. Tour this eco-friendly park on an informative pontoon boat tour or take a tram tour in search of native flora and fauna.
Learn about Florida’s native history at Crowley Museum and Nature Park or the South Florida Museum in nearby Bradenton. Historic Spanish Point is another historic place to visit in Sarasota with pioneer-era buildings, historic gardens, and archaeological exhibits including a prehistoric shell midden.
Garden lovers will fall in love with the established Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in a peaceful waterfront setting while families may prefer the educational animal shows and zoo at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. The Big Cat Habitat also offers guided tours of its local animal sanctuary. Additional family attractions include the Mote Marine Laboratory Aquarium and Mixon’s Fruit Farms, where you can see some of Florida’s famous orange groves.
We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the things to do in Sarasota, but rest assured there is absolutely no chance that any visitor will ever be bored.