Located on the southwestern coast of Florida on the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota is a family friendly, culturally active community. The area was initially called Zara Zote by the Spanish, possibly meaning “a place of dancing” or originating from the Indian word sara-se-cota, meaning “a landfall easily observed.” The residents adjusted the name to Sarasota in the late 19th Century. An influx of Spanish and Scottish settlers during the mid-to-late 19th Century created a unique juxtaposition of vibrant building colors with the soothing tones of the beach. Sarasota has since made a name for itself in the modern world for its artistic culture, educational opportunities for marine research, and reputation for being fun for the whole family.
Some come to Sarasota for a tropical paradise, some come for the famed fishing, but many come for the beaches, shopping, dining, and nightlife. Renowned for its plays, golf tournaments, boat races, street fairs, circus connections, and cultural activities, Sarasota is also known as Paradise City. The contrasting colors of the Gulf of Mexico, the white beaches, and Sarasota Bay are a testament to the vibrant city life, day and night. Whether you prefer to relax on the sands, shop til’ you drop, dance the night away, learn something new, take in some culture at the museum, or experience lush tropical landscaping, there is something for everyone.
Activities for the Whole Family
Keep your “aye” on the ball as you navigate 18 holes of mini golf through caves, pirate ships, and live alligators at Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf in Sarasota, just minutes from Siesta Key. Adding extra excitement to golfing is the opportunity to interact with live American alligators. Here it’s okay to feed the animals- as long as you feed them from old fashioned bamboo fishing poles.
Things to do in Sarasota wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Children’s Fountain at Bayfront Park. It is a great way for the little ones to cool their toes as they wade through a splash water fountain before they play at the park or settle down for a picnic. Bayfront Park is also a good place for a brisk morning walk or jog while taking in Sarasota’s beautiful scenery. At the northern edge of the park, along the marina side, you’ll come upon the Dolphin Fountain where you can watch the boaters pass by on their way into and out of the Sarasota City Marina. Situated in Sarasota Bay, the park boasts views of the sparkling Sarasota downtown skyline, boats anchored in the bay at Golden Point, and the John Ringling Causeway Bridge. This park is one of the many jewels of the city.
Who wants to go to the circus? Visit the Ca’ d’Zan, or “House of John,” the winter home designed for John Ringling, the circus magnate, and his wife. Want to learn more about the circus? You will definitely want to take a trip to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. John Ringling, one of the wealthiest men in America in the early 20th century, and his brothers decided to permanently base their circus act in Sarasota; “The Greatest Show on Earth” established its home base on the gulf coast of Florida. Is it any wonder Sarasota is also known as the Circus City? This summer is their 10th Anniversary Circus Spectacular.
After a relaxing day at the beach, put on your dancing shoes and head over to one of the many local restaurants for a bite to eat and listen to some inspired musical talents. Start the weekend off right, on a Thursday, and experience Sarasota after Dark, a weekly after-hours event put on by The Ringling. From piano bars to wine bars, jazz clubs to comedy clubs, pubs to hip hop clubs, there is something for everyone’s taste in Sarasota.
The McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre offers both local and national comedy acts; it is considered one of the best venues for a night out on the town. Take a step back in time and hang with the locals at the Crescent Club, a local tavern and haunt of Cape Fear author, John D. McDonald’s. Drinks only, no food and no kids, the Crescent Club has kept its vibe as a local swamp dive with mostly local patrons.
The Ivory Lounge boasts electronic dance music, bottle service, and a contemporary interior. It’s five o’clock somewhere and has been since 1955 at the Five O’Clock Club, which bills itself as “the neighborhood club with a national sound” featuring live jazz, blues, and funk. Good service, reasonably priced drinks, and it’s a wonderful place to dance and hear great live music.
Don’t want to leave the beach? Hang out at the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar for a frozen daiquiris or at Marina Jack, which offers delicious seafood and sweeping bay views. Marina Jack is the epitome of fine dining with its second floor Dining Room and Deep Six Lounge & Piano Bar. Its fine cuisine, wine pairings, and spectacular views are just one way to experience Marina Jacks; they also offer sunset dinner cruises and dining al fresco at the family friendly Blue Sunshine Patio Bar & Grill. The original, and world famous, Daiquiri Deck is a casual restaurant in Siesta Village that offers great food, a relaxed atmosphere, tasty treats, and frozen drinks. It’s a great place to hang out with friends or the whole family.
In a city of restaurants, Eat Here is a delightful escape from the loud, overcrowded eateries in the “beach bistro” area of Sarasota. Offering wonderful service, fine wine, and gourmet dishes at reasonable prices, Eat Here is fine dining done right.
Solarzona’s Late Night Pizzeria is one of several authentic Solarzona pizza chains throughout Sarasota. Open until 3:30 a.m. or later, this pizzeria has been owned by the same family for three generations. The Solarzona name is synonymous with mouth-watering Italian food and pizza, so whether you’re looking for a sit-down dinner or a late night pizza craving fix, this is the place to go.
If you’re looking for more of a beach theme, check out the The Oyster Bar. It offers great food, good drinks, and a fun, laid back atmosphere.
Things To Do & Places To See
The Ringling is home to one of the best art and cultural collections in the United States and is also known as the State Art Museum of Florida. As the name implies, it was originated by one of the five Ringling brothers. The circus magnate and his wife, Mable, shared a love of Sarasota, Italy, and art. In 1912, they bought some property in a small waterfront community and built a house in the Venetian style called “Ca’ d’Zan” or “House of John”. Later, as he made trips to Europe looking for new circus acts, he began to collect art, which was the foundation of the museum, and read art books, which was the foundation for his Art Library. It wasn’t until 1931, a couple years after his beloved wife’s death, that he opened the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, affectionately called The Ringling to the public. He hoped it would “promote education and art appreciation, especially among our young people” and upon his own death bequeathed it to the state of Florida.
Home to more than 150 native and exotic species, Sarasota Jungle Gardens is one of the most popular family attractions in Florida. Here, you can see birds of prey, parrots, macaws, primates, and a number of reptiles including crocodiles, alligators, and of course, pink flamingos situated among tropical landscaping and jungle trails. Though it’s the oldest continuously operated attraction in Florida, it has maintained its relevance by offering exciting sights, sounds, and experiences as you wind your way through the jungle trails in the city. Daily bird and reptile shows are both educational and entertaining, as are the one-on-one animal interactions where you get to hold exotic species and get your picture taken. For the littlest ones, there’s a playground, Koi fish to feed, and they get the chance to sound the “all aboard” signal on the wooden train.
Take a full-moon kayak tour at the Mote Marine Aquarium or experience the Immersion Cinema, where you get to use an interactive console to affect the outcome of the movie. The Mote Marine Aquarium offers additional interactive activities such as touch pools for stingrays and other sea life, as well as a turtle rehab hospital, and it is a research and conservation facility. Even if there’s not a full moon, you can still kayak Sarasota Bay with Mote. Discover the native marine animals and plants that exist in Florida’s coastal waters and learn how Mote’s scientists study this marine environment.
On Venice Beach, hunt for shark teeth at the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” It is kind of like panning for gold and a treasure hunt…in the form of teeth. A hobby for all ages, people can be found scouring the beaches and searching underwater for fossils of shark teeth. Every April, more than 100 vendors, a bounce house, and many fossil and shark’s tooth displays come together for the Annual Shark’s Tooth Festival.
Or let your “little scientists” explore the Children’s Rainforest Garden, a tropical jungle environment that features a 16-foot waterfall, swinging bridges, and field research stations where kids can discover, explore, and play.
The largest geological formation on the Florida coast, Point of Rocks is a mix of rocks and coral reefs jutting into the Gulf of Mexico. A well-planned adventure could mean snorkeling amongst the marine life, visiting the wreckage of the SS Regina, or just climbing up the rocks to find a spectacular sunset vantage point. Not too far from Siesta Beach and just off Crescent Beach, Point of Rocks is home to scenic ocean vistas, mansions, and marine life.
Enter a fairytale like setting at the Marie Selby Botanical Garden, a world-class center for education and research featuring lush gardens and a Sarasota-bay setting.
Hang out with mermaids and hop aboard LeBarge for an aquatic adventure. Embrace the tropical setting, watch dolphins, have a drink, and enjoy the sunset aboard this ferry.
Throughout the year, Sarasota is home to a number of street fairs, art festivals, and cultural experiences. For 45 years, the Sarasota Music Festival has been the place to hear emerging artists, world class musical acts, and new music. It is put on by the Sarasota Orchestra, also known as the Florida West Coast Symphony, and is held for three weeks every June.
Come for the Sarasota Chalk Festival in November. Each year has a different theme, scholarships are offered for every level of street artist, and it still holds the record for some of the most amazing street art, such as that of the Terracotta army in Legos, which went viral.
Ending the “season,” the Siesta Fiesta, is the longest running art and craft festival in Siesta Key Village in Siesta Key. This barrier island community is one of a kind and is located off the coast of Sarasota. Artists from all over the United States come to this art and craft festival to share and sell their work, as well as conduct workshops and demonstrations.
For weekly events, check out the Siesta Beach Drum Circle that happens one hour before sunset and just listen or beat to the sound of your own drum. During the summer, let the kids work out their extra energy the Siesta Beach Run, a 1-mile run every Tuesday evening. Take a drive through Sarasota and soak in the architecture or take in a play at the Historic Asolo Theater, listen to the Florida West Coast Symphony, visit the number of galleries, museums, gardens with native plants and wildlife, play a round of golf of with the kids and feed the alligators, kick back and relax with a daiquiri or eat some fresh seafood or authentic Italian at any one of the eating establishments in this city of restaurants.
Check out a list of upcoming events including festivals, music and more!
Whether you’re staying in Siesta Key or in Sarasota proper, you have a number of opportunities to get active including spectator or participant sports, restaurants, museums, state parks, and of course, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Florida Aquarium, Dali and The Ringling Museums, and Siesta Key farmers markets.
Rentals are available for anything you may need from A to Z at A to Z Baby, Beach and Bike Rentals. Keeping your family friendly vacation worry free, A to Z offers rentals of beach strollers, cribs, baby monitors, high chairs, umbrellas, chairs, and cabanas – and everything in between.
Whether you’re on a budget or the sky’s the limit, there are activities and adventures for everyone in Sarasota. If it’s just the two of you or the whole family, there are things to see and do together. There’s so much to see and do in Sarasota, it’s a wonder you’ll ever want to go home.