Florida holds the right to be called as one of the top states in the U.S. in terms of its ability to attract tourists. There’s Disneyland in Orlando and then there are the beaches in Miami. Regardless of what kind of traveler you are, you are sure to find some place to enjoy life to the fullest in this state from the coast. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourselves to Orlando and Miami as there are countless other cities you could fully enjoy and visit. One of the places you should definitely check out is Sarasota, located right at the heart of Sarasota County. If you are looking for a slice of Florida all in one place, then this is definitely the place to be.
As a city, Sarasota is known for its cultural and environmental features which include beaches, resorts, and more. It lies at the southern end of the Tampa Bay area and it is just north of Fort Myers and Punta Gorda. Not only is it one of the top tourist spots in the U.S., it is also one of the fastest growing economies as well.
Sarasota’s geography is actually quite interesting and is a marvel to behold. There are islands that separate the Sarasota Bay from the gulf near the city and these are called the keys. The two keys are the Lido Key and Siesta Key, both of which are renowned for their sandy beaches and resorts. These are just some of the top places that people visit in the county. The largest key in the area by far is the Longboat Key. Not only is it the largest, it also separates the bay from the gulf area.
The keys serve as a great appetizer for the entirety of Sarasota County, and by extension, the city. During our travels in Sarasota city, we’ve found that it is a place that’s best explored for a few days or so as it is just so grand. We’re sure you’re very excited to see what makes us love this place so much but before you pack your bags and other essentials, here are some things you should know first.
- 1 How to Get to Sarasota
- 2 Getting Around Sarasota
- 3 Best Time to Visit Sarasota
- 4 Things to Do in Sarasota for Families
- 4.1 Explore the Ringling Museum
- 4.2 Stroll around Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
- 4.3 Explore the South Florida Museum
- 4.4 Immerse in Nature at Myakka River State Park
- 4.5 Experience Amish and Mennonite culture
- 4.6 Kayak through Mangrove Tunnels
- 4.7 Travel back in time at the Manatee Village Historical Park
- 4.8 See wild animals at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
- 4.9 Visit the Classic Car Museum
- 4.10 Ride a Segway by the sea
- 4.11 Learn more about life under the sea at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
How to Get to Sarasota
Like with most tourist destinations in Florida, getting to Sarasota is very easy and while it is on a separate island, it is easily accessible still. The closest airport to the city of Sarasota and the beaches in the Lido and Siesta Key’s is the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Other airports nearby include St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, Tampa International Airport and Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.
The Sarasota-Bradenton International is a major airline in Florida and it accommodates passenger flights from well-known providers such as Air Canada Rouge, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Elite Airways, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Sun Country Airlines, and United Airlines. Aside from its accessibility, we also prefer this airport for its top notch service and features.
If you are planning on driving to Sarasota, then you’re in luck as it is particularly easy as well. The easiest route you can take to get to the city is along Interstate 75. This main road connects Sarasota, Venice, and North Port. What’s great about this road is that it isn’t as congested as most would think. Alternatively, you can also take U.S. Highway 41 instead.
Getting Around Sarasota
Since this is a huge city we are talking about, it’s hard to argue against the fact that the best way to get around has to be via car rentals. Not only is this option way cheaper, it will also allow you to travel at your own leisure. From the airport, you have access to an assortment of rental companies which include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Avis Car Rental, and Practical Rent-A-Car. While you can rent a car upon arrival, we suggest booking for one ahead of the trip just in case the availability is limited.
Alternatively, you can also do public commuting through the bus routes in Sarasota. The easiest and cheapest ways to get around is what’s known locally as the SCAT or the Sarasota County Area Transit service. A single ticket will cost $1.25. You can also try the luxurious Express Route 100x which travels between the airport and downtown Sarasota and costs $2.50 per ride.
For ticketing, you can pay cash directly on board the bus. However, you can aso purchase one-day, seven-day and 30-day bus passes which cost somewhere between $4 and $60 each. You can easily buy the tickets at the Downtown Transfer Station, the SCAT Transit Administration or even through Goodwill branches.
Taking public transit has its benefits. For instance, the routes are made to make stops near famous attractions such as the Lido Key Beach and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The downside is that you’ll have to run on a schedule. Most buses are not operational on Sunday and they even offer limited rides. On the other days, most of the buses start at 5:30AM and end at around 7PM.
Best Time to Visit Sarasota
Basing on the experience of others and ourselves, the best time to visit Sarasota are from March to May and September to November. During these two time frames, the weather is perfectly cool in Sarasota and the prices of hotels and flights are not at their cheapest, but are still light on the wallet. Most importantly, the crowds are relatively thin which means more time on attractions for you.
During March and May, the average temperature at Sarasota can range from the high 50s and well into the high 80s. The weather is pretty unpredictable so it’s best to bring a set of clothes that perfect for warm and cold. The prices during this season are fair but if you are going to visit in March, ready your wallet as this is a peak for hotel prices. While you’re at it, you should try and enjoy the Sarasota Agricultural Fair and the Suncoast Boat Show.
Autumn is not an ideal month for travelers to Florida as it is the hurricane season. However, if you plan well enough and are also lucky enough, you’ll find that this is the best time to visit Sarasota. Aside from the cool weather, you can also partake in some amazing events which include the Sarasota Medieval Fair and the Ringling International Arts Festival.
If you are wondering which worst season to visit is, it has to be the few weeks before Christmas until the end of February. This is the peak season for tourism in the state so expect higher prices at hotels and airlines. Moreover, you have to contend with a ton of people in lines as well but if you have the budget and patience, you may want to visit during the season as in it, you’ll experience the culture that the city is known for. How so? During this month are key events which include the Sarasota Antiques + Art + Design Show, the Sarasota Seafood and Music Festival, the Sarasota Highland Games and Celtic Festival, and the Downtown Sarasota Festival of the Arts.
Now that you have these essentials in check, let’s now take a look at some of the things you can do and enjoy in this city at the very core of Florida’s tourism.
Things to Do in Sarasota for Families
Florida is one of the popular travel destination that’s especially perfect for people who want to have fun under the sun in the beach. However, Florida is more than just its beaches. In Sarasota alone, you can already find countless activities and attractions that are perfect for the whole family. In case you want to find out more about them, here’s a rundown of the available things to do in Sarasota for families. We’re sure you will find a lot that you will find interesting.
1Explore the Ringling Museum
The Ringling Museum is actually one of the top attractions in Florida. In fact, many tourists who have already been here say that your Florida trip won’t be complete without visiting this place. But what’s in it?
If you’re a fan of the circus, you’ve probably heard of the Ringling brothers, known for their circus performance. It turns out that Florida houses a museum dedicated to them as well as their craft and you can find it in Sarasota. However, unlike what many would imagine, this attraction isn’t just a place filled with memorabilia of the Brothers’ past. Apparently, it also has a great art museum and an Asian art museum. Thus, you will not just get to see and learn things about the circus as well as the Ringling brothers but art from anywhere in the world too.
Visiting this place is like hitting three birds with one stone. Isn’t it worthy of that spot in your list of things to do in Sarasota for families?
2Stroll around Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Another one of the most recommended things to do in Sarasota for families is strolling round the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. As its name suggests, here, you’ll be surrounded by a lot of plants, flowers, and, of course, trees that will relax you as well as your whole family after a long day of touring the city. And if you have kids with you, they will surely love the koi pond and the butterfly garden. The place also has an elevated children’s rainforest garden that has hanging bridges, an Amazon village, a waterfall, and an adventure trail. This place will definitely give them the best treetop view of the tropical plants that the gardens has as well. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens also has a nice souvenir shop on-site where you can shop for memorabilia and gifts that you can give to your loved ones once you get back to your home town.
3Explore the South Florida Museum
Like the Ringling Museum, the South Florida Museum also has several offers for its visitors. In fact, a day of exploring this place will not just let you take a peek into the past but it will also take you deep into the ocean, and even up into the heavens. This is because the South Florida Museum has several exhibits that lets you see what’s up in the sky in its planetarium (which, by the way, boasts of its most advanced all-digital projection systems in the whole world), see a glimpse of the past with its permanent exhibition that features fossil evidence of the earliest inhabitants in Florida, and even a manatee rehabilitation center that lets you get to understand manatees as well as its habitat all the more. It’s not just a place for fun but is also a place for some learning. Hence, visiting this place is one of the most recommended things to do in Sarasota for families that you shouldn’t miss.
4Immerse in Nature at Myakka River State Park
Another one of the top recommended things to do in Sarasota for families is to immerse in nature at the Myakka River State Park. Here, you will not just get to enjoy the scenic views of nature that it has to offer with its two lakes and diverse array of wildlife but you can also get to enjoy fishing, kayaking, and canoeing that’s perfect for everyone in the family. If you prefer experiencing some foot-power, you can hike the rare Florida dry prairie that it has. And, of course, if you just want to unwind, sit back and relax, you can sign up for a Safari Tram Tour that it offers wherein you’ll hop aboard a large airboat.
5Experience Amish and Mennonite culture
Sarasota is also a nice place to experience Amish and Mennonite culture. In the little community of Pinecraft, you’ll find 3,000 Amish and Mennonite residents living the way their ancestors did. If you visit this place, you can get a glimpse of what their culture is like even just by tasting the delicious goods that they offer as well as the beautiful and unique crafts and housewares. One of the notable restaurants in the area is Yoder’s Amish Restaurant where you can taste the most delicious chocolate cake and pies in town.
6Kayak through Mangrove Tunnels
If you want to experience some quiet time as you get closer to nature more, going to the Mangrove Tunnels is one of the things to do in Sarasota for families that you need to try. Here, you can enjoy the beautiful silence that the place has to offer as you kayak through the winding waterways that it has. If you’re lucky enough, you can spot wildlife too. There is a variety of birds too including wood storks, pelicans, osprey, and little blue herons. Occasionally, you can also get to spot bald eagles. Don’t worry, though, there are no alligators in the area. There are eco tours being offered as well where you will be taken into the Sarasota Bay where dolphins and manatees are abundant. It is, for sure, going to be a memorable trip so don’t forget to bring a camera with you.
7Travel back in time at the Manatee Village Historical Park
There’s nothing more interesting, fun, and educational than seeing a glimpse of what a certain place’s past looks like. Luckily, Sarasota has such place too and it’s one of the things to do in Sarasota for families that you shouldn’t miss. Here, you can get to see a courthouse from the pre-Civil war days in 1860, an 1887 church, a one-room schoolhouse, a smokehouse, the Sugar Cane Mill, and a wooden house from the Old Florida times. There is also a blacksmith house that you can visit, the Wiggins General Store, and a boat-crafting facility. There is also a souvenir shop that sells housewares, delicious treats, and more unusual gifts. It’s definitely a site to see.
8See wild animals at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
The Big Cat Habitat and the Gulf Coast Sanctuary is also a must-add to your list of things to do in Sarasota for families. This place lets you see animals such as sheep, donkeys, lions, and goats. There are also huge tortoises, monkeys, apes, bears, camels, ligers, and different species of birds. The whole place is nice too. Visitors can get to see these animals in a naturalistic environment. The best part of it is that there are exotic species on exhibit too. Some of which are never seen before. There are two daily shoes that everyone will surely love too – the Parrots in Paradise and the Big Cat Encounter.
9Visit the Classic Car Museum
Whether you love cars or not, visiting the Classic Car Museum is still one of the best things to do in Sarasota for families. This is because it also lets you take a trip down memory lane with the classic cars that it has on display. Here, you can get to see icons from the halcyon early days of the auto mobile. There are “futuristic” car models that barely made it to the streets before its manufacturers realized that no one’s going to want them neither in the present nor in the future. There are muscle cars included on the museum’s exhibits as well where you can find collections from the 50s to 70s that also includes Paul McCartney’s little mini cooper, as well as John and Mabel Ringling’s Rolls Royces. The Classic Car Museum also has an in-house gift shop that sells cool stuff that will also remind you of your wonderful youth.
10Ride a Segway by the sea
Another way to enjoy the views that Sarasota has to offer is to ride a Segway, particularly if you are by the sea. With this, you can enjoy the view of the beach on your own pace and stop and get a closer look whenever you want. Luckily, the Anna Maria Island offers such rides plus guided tours. They can even customize a tour for you.
11Learn more about life under the sea at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
As its name suggests, it is really a laboratory where marine life is being studied. However, it is not their sole focus. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium also focuses on caring for these animals plus they help people learn more about them. Here, you can find and understand marine life (that includes dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, manatees, and even coral reefs and other ecosystems in the ocean) and their habitats. There are close encounters being offered as well wherein you can get to touch ays and even swim with sharks, seahorses, and schools of fishes.
There’s still a lot more things to do in Sarasota or families but these activities are enough to give you the most memorable experience. Have you decided which attractions will you visit first?