Sarasota is a city bordering the Gulf of Mexico, just about 60 miles (95 km) south of Tampa. Before Sarasota became one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Sunshine State, it was home to Native tribes, including the Calusa, Tocobaga, and Timucuan. The name “Sarasota” comes from a 1700s Spanish map, which named the area “Zara Zota,” or “a place of dancing.” Throughout history, Sarasota has gained other nicknames, including “Circus City,” as a nod to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circuses, which used the city as their winter headquarters.
In 1886, a real estate developer, John Hamilton Gillespie, helped the Ormiston Colony clear land to build Sarasota’s first roads and railroad service. Gillespie created 40 acres (16 ha) of farmland and a wharf on Sarasota Bay to help establish the city’s commercial fishing scene. In 1902, Sarasota became an incorporated town and voted J.H. Gillespie as the first mayor and “Father of Sarasota.”
Sarasota has many fun activities, whether you want to spend a day relaxing on the beach, diving into the area’s rich history, or kicking back and indulging in local delicacies. Here are the must-see things to do in Sarasota, whether you’re a local or a visitor.
- Sarasota, Florida
- 20 Things To Do in Sarasota
- 1- Take A Tour Of The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art
- 2- See A Shark Feeding Session At Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
- 3- Catch Some Rays At Lido Key Beach
- 4- Travel Through A Variety Of Ecosystems At Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
- 5- Eat Fresh Seafood Like A Local At Owen’s Fish Camp
- 6- Feed Lions, Tigers And Bears (Oh My!)
- 7- Check Out Florida’s Oldest Attraction At The Sarasota Jungle Garden
- 8- Watch An Orioles Spring Training Game At Ed Smith Stadium
- 9- Shop The Local Vendors At Central Sarasota Farmers Market
- 10- Walk The Tree-Top Canopy Bridge At Myakka River State Park
- 11- Bike The Legacy Trail
- 12- Look For Sea Turtles On Longboat Key
- 13- Hug A Puppy At Southeastern Guide Dogs
- 14- Enjoy The Eclectic Art At Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy
- 15- Appreciate Florida’s Coast At Florida Maritime Museum
- 16- Take Your Automobile Fanatic To Sarasota Classic Car Museum
- 17- Tour Mixon Fruit Farms
- 18- Sip a Frozen Cocktail While You Taking In Views Of The Bay
- 19- Wander Through Ca’ d’Zan Mansion
- 20- Trolley Through The City of Sarasota
- 21- Explore Amish Culture
20 Things To Do in Sarasota
1- Take A Tour Of The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art (1927) was named after the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus co-founder.
It’s a 66-acre (27 ha) complex home to the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan mansion and lovely Bayfront Gardens.
The circus used Sarasota as its winter headquarters and gave the city its nickname, Circus City.
The museum offers classical architecture and art in 21 galleries dating back to Greek and Roman times.
The museum is open every day (10 am to 5 pm), with admissions starting at $25 per adult.
John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art is at 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243. You may also like to learn the secrets of the circus on this tour.
2- See A Shark Feeding Session At Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is truly a special place.
The laboratory section in the Sarasota location specialises in research of an estuary and marine nature, while the aquarium is open for visitors to meet and learn about the residents, which includes manatees, sharks, sea turtles and otters.
Sharks are one of the most popular exhibits.
You can view the narrated feeding times and see one of the world’s greatest predators enjoy its meals.
Other activities at the aquarium include special lectures, seasonal exhibits and educational programs.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is at 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236.
3- Catch Some Rays At Lido Key Beach
Lido Key Beach is a top spot to go to enjoy the beautiful coastlines that Florida has to offer.
The stunning white sand beaches stretch across 15 acres (6 ha) and meet the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s known for being less generally crowded than neighbouring Siesta Beach (try this electric bike sunset tour) or Longboat Key.
Lido Key Beach is a 12-minute drive from Downtown Sarasota, making it an easy trip.
Lido Key Beach is at 400 Benjamin Franklin Dr, Sarasota, FL 34236. Looking for a tour of Lido Key? Try the Sarasota Guided Mangrove Tunnel Kayak Tour or if you’d rather paddle on your own, rent kayaks and paddleboard here.
4- Travel Through A Variety Of Ecosystems At Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ mission is to “provide bayfront sanctuaries connecting people with air plants of the world, native nature, and our regional history.”
The sanctuary spans over 15 acres (6 ha) and offers 6,000 different species of plants living across 20 habitats in the gardens.
The Downtown Campus is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns, and other tropical plants.
Special garden events include Lights in Bloom, The Orchid Ball or the Fourth of July All-American Cookout.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is at 1534 Mound St, Sarasota, FL 34236.
5- Eat Fresh Seafood Like A Local At Owen’s Fish Camp
Owen’s Fish Camp is a testament to true Florida living. Kickback in this casual atmosphere and enjoy the fresh seafood that The Bay has to offer, including lobster tails, crab dip or seared sea scallops.
The Fish Camp also has delicious southern classics and a great beer and wine collection.
This place is popular among locals and visitors, so be sure to get there early or wait for a table.
While you wait, let the kids ride the tire swing out back.
Owen’s Fish Camp is at 516 Burns Lane, Sarasota, FL 34236.
6- Feed Lions, Tigers And Bears (Oh My!)
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Sanctuary is a nonprofit founded in 1987 that is the permanent home to dozens of exotic animals.
The sanctuary strives to provide rehabilitation and education about these animals to the public.
Visitors can see animals such as lions, tigers, ligers, monkeys, bears and parrots.
There are fun activities such as Lemur and Fox Yoga, a Bird Show and the Variety Animal Demonstration.
The campus is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm.
Tickets are $25 for an adult day pass, or yearly memberships can be purchased.
The attraction is at 7101 Palmer Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34240.
7- Check Out Florida’s Oldest Attraction At The Sarasota Jungle Garden
Sarasota Jungle Garden has been open since 1939, making it Florida’s oldest tourist attraction.
This family-owned and operated attraction has over 200 native and exotic animals, such as macaws, birds of prey and different species of parrots.
There are primates, small mammals, snakes, lizards, iguanas, alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles.
You’ll find flamingos strutting their stuff around the park, looking to make new friends.
Sarasota Jungle Garden is open from 10 am to 4 pm with tickets starting at $21.99 at 3701 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34234.
8- Watch An Orioles Spring Training Game At Ed Smith Stadium
Ed Smith Stadium was first built as a Minor League Baseball stadium but now serves as the home to Spring Training for the Baltimore Orioles.
The Stadium seats 7,429 and was renovated in 2011.
If you’re in town during the Spring, get tickets and watch some of your favourite players practice their craft.
Ed Smith Stadium is at 2700 12th St, Sarasota, FL 34237.
9- Shop The Local Vendors At Central Sarasota Farmers Market
Shopping at a Farmer’s Market is a great way to get in touch with the local buzz.
At the Central Sarasota Farmers Market, patrons can purchase locally grown produce, baked goods, body products, crafts, and art from vendors in the Sarasota area.
This market has been lighting up Saturday mornings since 1979.
Central Sarasota Farmers Market runs from 7 am to 1 pm (rain or shine) at N Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236.
10- Walk The Tree-Top Canopy Bridge At Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s largest and oldest parks, offering a unique landscape and experience.
A scenic river flows through unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands, making it perfect for any outdoor activity such as boating, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, biking or hiking. If those sound to energetic, how about joining an e-bike safari?
The unique part of this beautiful state park is The Myakka Canopy Walkway, North America’s first public treetop trail.
Here, visitors can climb to the top of a 74-foot (22 m) tower to observe wildlife or walk across the 100-foot (30 m) walkway that suspends 25 feet (7 m) in the air.
You’re likely to find eagles, hawks, and vultures among the tops of the trees.
Myakka River State Park is at 13208 State Rd 72, Sarasota, FL 34241.
11- Bike The Legacy Trail
Legacy Trail is a great way to take in the scenery of Sarasota.
The paved path is perfect for a stroll, rollerblading, or a bike ride.
It spans over 10 miles (16 km) and connects with many other trails within Oscar Scherer State Park, Nokomis, Dona Bay, and the Venetian Waterway Park.
The trail is open for use from 6 am to sunset each day.
Legacy Trail is at Central Sarasota Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34238.
12- Look For Sea Turtles On Longboat Key
Thousands of loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs yearly on southwest Florida beaches.
Longboat Key is a great place to find those nests.
The turtles lay their eggs all year round but the best time to visit is from July to September.
Upon finding turtle tracks, volunteers mark the activity with flags, so you can tell when a turtle has created its nest.
If you’re looking for a true Florida experience, this is one for the books.
Longboat Key Public Beach Accesses are located at:
- 2825, 3495 and 4001 Gulf of Mexico Dr, Longboat Key.
- 6399 Gulfside Rd, Longboat Key.
- 7001 Seabreeze Ave, Longboat Key.
13- Hug A Puppy At Southeastern Guide Dogs
Southeastern Guide Dogs is an amazing group that breeds, raises, and trains elite guide dogs and service dogs.
You can get involved with the organization by donating, raising a puppy in your home or volunteering at the campus, which is probably the most popular among visitors.
The 23-acre (9 ha) campus offers “Hug-a-Puppy” sessions, which allow people to walk, groom and snuggle these puppies.
Visitors are welcome Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between 9 am and 11 am.
Southeastern Guide Dogs is at 4210 77th St E, Palmetto, FL 34221.
14- Enjoy The Eclectic Art At Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy
The Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy is just as it sounds, a cheerful and fun gallery of eclectic art selections.
The exhibit includes paintings, sculptures, stained glass, a garden featuring grand pink flamingos, a ballerina, and a stainless steel rocket ship.
The Museum is open between November and May each year on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons between 1 pm to 4 pm.
Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy is at 2121 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34234.
15- Appreciate Florida’s Coast At Florida Maritime Museum
This is the perfect place to take your nature and fishing enthusiast in the family.
The Florida Maritime Museum is situated in the Cortez Nature Preserve and is dedicated to collecting and sharing unique artifacts and personal stores specific to Florida’s fishing and maritime heritage.
Permanent exhibits include The Captains Corner, Maritime Library, and the Main Gallery featuring information on boat building and local fishing history.
The museum also offers temporary exhibits and special events.
Florida Maritime Museum is at 4415 119th St W, Cortez, FL 34215.
16- Take Your Automobile Fanatic To Sarasota Classic Car Museum
The Sarasota Classic Car Museum is the second-oldest continuously operating antique car museum in the USA.
The museum offers you the experience of travelling back in time to marvel at the automobiles of decades past.
Here, you can find all kinds of cars, including antique, exotic, European and one-of-a-kind classics.
Go on a self-guided museum tour any day (9 am to 6 pm).
Along the way, there are plenty of volunteers to answer questions and provide information about these incredible automobiles.
Sarasota Classic Car Museum is at 5500 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243.
17- Tour Mixon Fruit Farms
Mixon Fruit Farms is more than just your average orchard.
The farm is one of the most popular Sarasota attractions because it offers fun for the whole family.
Mixon Fruit Farms store offers tons of handmade treats like slushies, ice creams, candies, fresh juice, barbecue meats, and paninis while exploring the unique farms.
The farm offers a tram tour that brings you through the property, which includes a wildlife conservation area home to creatures such as raccoons, a bright yellow python, tortoises, skunks, alligators, and parrots.
Mixon Fruit Farm is in Bradenton, Florida, just 10 miles (16 km) north of Downtown Sarasota.
Mixon Fruit Farms is at 2525 27th St E, Bradenton, FL 34208.
18- Sip a Frozen Cocktail While You Taking In Views Of The Bay
After a long day of exploring Sarasota’s nature and history, O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill is the perfect place to unwind with a chilled cocktail in your hand.
Some of the most popular frozen cocktails are the flavoured daiquiris or The Elvis, made with peanut butter whiskey and banana puree.
Take your drink out to the beachy patio and let the breeze from the Gulf cool you down.
O’Leary’s is also great for local live music from 5 pm to 9 pm at 5 Bayfront Dr, Sarasota, FL 34236. If you’d prefer a culinary adventure, book this downtown walking food tour or if you’d like to meet new friends and discover cool nightspots, join this evening walking drinking tour.
19- Wander Through Ca’ d’Zan Mansion
Remember John and Mable Ringling? In addition to the Museum of Art, visitors interested in the family can also take tours of their winter home, The Ca’ d’Zan Mansion.
The home took two years to build and was completed in 1926.
The sprawling mansion is inspired by Venetian Gothic-style architecture.
Tours of the mansion are held regularly and allow guests to see the five stories, domed ceilings, and a crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Ca’ d’Zan Mansion is at 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243. Find out more about the circus on this tour.
20- Trolley Through The City of Sarasota
Touring in a trolley is a great way for visitors to see the city, especially if you have a large group.
Depending on your preference, there are different themed tours, including Valentine’s, city sightseeing trolley tours, haunted tours and even a circus-themed murder mystery tour.
On each tour, a guide will tell you entertaining stories of the interesting people, places and events that shaped Sarasota’s history.
It’s a good idea to book your tour in advance, as spots fill up quickly.
21- Explore Amish Culture
For a cultural experience, one of the most unusual communities in Sarasota is the Amish community of Pinecraft.
You’ll be surprised to find this Amish enclave on the outskirts of town.
Learn about Amish and Mennonite communities’ beliefs and customs, shop for handmade gifts and eat pie in an Amish cafe on this interesting tour.
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