Sarasota sits on Florida's Cultural Coast — here's how to plan the perfect visit.
With more than 35 miles of coastline, ample outdoor activities, and a variety of historical attractions, Sarasota is ideal for the traveler who wants both culture and white-sand beaches. Those who visit the city on Florida’s Gulf Coast will enjoy world-class aquariums, botanical gardens, and even a museum dedicated to acrobatics. No wonder it's one of the best place to retire in the U.S.
Erin Duggan, CEO and president of Visit Sarasota County, explains, “I love the year-round arts and culture scene. There's always a performance, festival, special exhibition, or new museum or gallery to explore. Beyond that, I love walking around the various districts and shopping, stopping for a bite, and enjoying the weather and lovely people.”
Tammy Hauser, founder and CEO of Discover Sarasota Tours, adds, “We have a remarkable number of professional theaters, dance companies, music organizations, performing arts halls, museums, circuses, and even an opera company. Recently, I learned there are more professional arts offerings per capita here in Sarasota than there are in NYC.”
Book a room at Art Ovation Hotel and enjoy live music and an art gallery in the lobby, plus a lively rooftop pool. Don’t miss the complimentary shuttle service to the beach, complete with lounge chairs and a portable cooler.
Spend an afternoon at The Ringling and see everything from a Venetian-inspired mansion to a miniature reproduction of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
Pick a spot along the coast to enjoy an afternoon in the sand and sea, or rent a kayak to explore the shoreline.
Order some cold stone crab claws at Walt’s Fish Market, a Sarasota institution that has been operating since 1918.
Catch a show at the art deco style Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. This Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation landmark is set directly on Sarasota Bay and hosts everything from traveling Broadway shows to ballet.
Best Hotels and Resorts
Art Ovation Hotel
Art Ovation Hotel is a boutique property in the heart of downtown Sarasota. Flaunting an extensive art gallery, live music, and a rooftop pool, it sits steps away from attractions like the Sarasota Opera. The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle to nearby Lido Key Beach, which includes a set of chairs and a portable cooler. The rooms even come with a sketchbook and ukulele for guests who want to channel their inner artist during their stay.
The Sarasota Modern
Located in the Rosemary District, The Sarasota Modern is an architectural stunner. “The hotel pays homage to Paul Rudolph, a pioneer of the Sarasota School of Architecture during the years he lived in Sarasota in the 1950s,” says Hauser. Less than four miles from Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, the hotel comes with complimentary bicycles, a plunge pool, a hot tub, and a pool.
The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
For visitors seeking luxury, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota offers access to an on-site spa, a championship-level golf course, and the exclusive Beach Club on nearby Lido Key. The oceanfront property is not situated directly on the sand, but it does feature a complimentary shuttle that transports guests the three miles to the shore.
Best Things to Do
There’s a reason why Travel + Leisure readers ranked Longboat Key as one of their favorite islands in the U.S. this year. Lido Beach and Siesta Key are also fantastic options, boasting fine white sand and stunning views.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
Located on City Island, the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is a world-class indoor/outdoor facility that houses manatees, sharks, sea turtles, otters, and more than 100 other marine species. The space offers touch pools and viewable labs that allow guests to peer into the working world of the researchers on site.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The 45-acre Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has two campuses. The downtown Sarasota campus features 15 acres along Sarasota Bay, including a bayfront mangrove walkway. This space will also soon be home to the world’s first net positive rooftop restaurant, featuring an edible garden and plantings that will showcase some of the plants researchers at the Selby study.
The Ringling is an expansive 66-acre estate made up of several museums and attractions. Guests can wander the property and visit the Ca’ d’zan, a Venetian-inspired waterfront mansion that was once the home of John and Mable Ringling. The Circus Museum features the world’s largest collection of miniatures — more than 42,000 pieces that give guests a peek into the history and early days of The Ringling circus. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art consists of the original 21 galleries that opened to the public in 1932, a James Turrell installation, and other traveling and resident exhibitions.
Outdoor enthusiasts can spot manatees on a Siesta Key kayak tour and enjoy the shore along one of six islands lining Sarasota's coastline. The newly opened Bay makes the most of Sarasota's public space by transforming 53 acres of city-owned land into an expansive park with a full schedule of activities, from free kayak tours to outdoor movies under the stars.
There's no shortage of live shows to enjoy in Sarasota — the area is part of Florida's Cultural Coast, after all. Guests here can visit the Sarasota Ballet, the only professional ballet company on the Gulf Coast; the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, one of only two professional black theater companies in Florida; and the Sarasota Opera, which is located in one of the most historic venues in the city.
Discover Sarasota Tours
Discover Sarasota offers 90-minute trolley tours multiple times a day that acquaint visitors with the city’s layout, history, neighborhoods, and more than 48 places of interest.
Owen's Fish Camp
Located in a cottage built in 1923, Owen’s Fish Camp specializes in fresh seafood and Southern classics. The space includes a lush outdoor courtyard and is even home to a banyan tree that was given to the restaurant's namesake — Owen Burns, a prominent Sarasota developer — by Thomas Edison.
Walt's Fish Market
Walt’s Fish Market is a Sarasota institution that serves up conch chowder, stone crab, and a menu full of freshly caught seafood straight from the Gulf.
Located in a converted 1950s garage, Whitney’s is a delight for modern design enthusiasts. It offers an all-day menu, weekend brunch, and live music.
O'Leary's Tiki Bar & Grill
Sink your feet in the sand and enjoy a tropical drink at O’leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill. With live music daily, this low-key waterfront spot in Bayfront Park is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the sunset.
Best Time to Visit
The fall is the best time to visit Sarasota for great weather, smaller crowds, and lower humidity. While hurricane season in Florida runs from June through November, it peaks between August and September, so keep this in mind when planning a trip.
“My favorite month to be here is November. The weather is ideal, the crowds are minimal, and everything is open.” says Hauser. Duggan echoes this sentiment, saying, “I’m a big fan of fall because you still have warm days with the occasional breezy day in between.”
How to Get There
The Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, located just three miles from downtown, is the most convenient destination for quick transport to and from the city. Sarasota is under two hours south of Tampa International Airport and 2.5 hours west of Orlando International Airport — keep in mind traffic in the area fluctuates greatly throughout the day, so the closer the airport, the better.
If you’re planning to drive to Sarasota, consider finding accommodations with parking. The city can experience a good deal of traffic, and between public transportation and ride-share services, it’s often more convenient to skip driving yourself.
Neighborhoods to Visit
Downtown Sarasota is the center of the city's arts district, with a number of galleries, theaters, and museums. The area hosts a weekly farmers market, bakeries, and Bayfront Park, the best place to watch the sunset in Sarasota.
Siesta Key is a barrier island off the coast of Sarasota, best known for its award-winning beach. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy bike tours, boat rentals, snorkeling, and more.
St. Armands Circle
St. Armands Circle began as a passion project of John for Mable Ringling, who wanted to build a destination within the community where visitors and residents could shop, live, and thrive. True to the city's roots, Ringling used circus elephants to haul the timbers that were used to construct the causeway and bridge to connect St. Armands Key to the mainland.
How to Get Around
Unless you’re driving to Sarasota, consider skipping the rental car here. “Avoid parking and driving if you can — Ubers are easy to get and reduce all the stress. There's a lot of traffic in season and finding parking is a challenge.” says Hauser.
In addition to ride-share services, The Bay Runner is a complimentary open-air trolley that provides service seven days a week. It runs until midnight, with stops between Lido Key, St. Armands Circle, and downtown Sarasota.
Sarasota County also offers a bus system, SCAT. While the bus has a slightly limited schedule, routes offer stops near can’t-miss attractions, like the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Lido Beach, and the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Visitors can purchase one-way tickets in addition to one-day, seven-day, or 30-day passes.
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