Visiting Sarasota - What to See and Do
(Sarasota Bradenton International Airport SRQ, USA)
Sarasota lies just far enough from Tampa Bay that it can have its own identity and lively urban scene. The city is one of Florida's cultural centers and enjoys a truly stellar location along the scenic Gulf Coast. Sarasota is a very popular destination for retired folks, but that doesn't mean the city is dull and lifeless - there is certainly more than a handful of appealing tourist attractions to enjoy.
There are two good performing arts centers in Sarasota that maintain a steady schedule of dance, music and theater. The downtown district has a grid of streets filled with top-notch restaurants, slick little cafés, boutiques and watering holes. There are also five-star resorts in town for those who want to indulge themselves.
As a bonus, Sarasota sits on the doorstep of some 40 miles / 64 km of pretty barrier islands, offering dozens of beach escapes where the sand is soft as sugar and crowds few and far between. These islands are known as keys, and each little islet has a personality of its own. From the funky vibe of the Siesta Key to the swanky Longboat Key, you can find just the scene you are in search of, all within minutes of the city.
Ten things you must do in Sarasota
- The cultural highlight of the city is the FSU Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts. The 66-acre / 27-hectare complex is home to the private art collection of circus master John Ringling, his mansion and a few other goodies. The Museum of Art boasts Florida's top collection of art, spanning some 500 years and many genres. Don't miss the tour of Ringling's 56-room bayfront mansion.
- The jewel in Sarasota's ecological crown is the Robinson Preserve, a 487-acre / 197-hectare protected coastal biosphere. It is a fantastic eco-tourism spot, with some 2.5 miles / 4 km of canoeing or kayaking waterways and 10 miles / 16 km of coastal walking trails. There is wildlife galore in this preserve, and a great way to experience it all is on an hour-long open-air wagon tour with a naturalist.
- The Siesta Key Public Beach is the top sandy spot around Sarasota. It is also considered one of America's prettiest beaches in annual rankings. Another attraction worth a visit on the Siesta Key is Turtle Beach, a quieter more secluded spot at the southern end of the island. For your amenities, just drop into Siesta Village, a little hamlet of artists, writers and drifters.
- There is a fantastic aquarium in Sarasota that never fails to delight kids and adults alike. The Mote Aquarium offers the full package, from touching manta rays to watching sharks swim around. It has educational exhibits and attractions, as well as modern aquarium facilities. If you can, take the two-hour boat cruise with Sarasota Bay Explorers to a deserted island, where they will show you the native sea life in its own environment.
- The tropical climate of Florida is ideal for flowering plants and trees. Any serious gardener or plant lover will want to spend a few hours touring the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. It is a beautiful spot with more than 20,000 species of plants to check out, as well as a bamboo garden, butterfly garden, more than 6,000 orchids and much more.
- If you want to experience a traditional Florida plantation, then the Gamble Plantation is the place. This antebellum plantation home was built in the 1840s and is the oldest of its kind in Southern Florida. The state of Florida maintains the property and offers guided tours of the intriguing interior. You can wander the outside grounds on your own, and for free.
- Sarasota is Florida's west coast cultural hub. The winter months see this city kick into high gear with nightly performances at the Asolo Repertory Theater, the FSU Center for Performing Arts and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. The Asolo Repertory is one of America's leading actor troupes, and its home theater serves as a tribute to classic Italian court playhouses from the 19th century.
- With such amazing night-time weather, bar hopping in Sarasota is a real joy. Just head down to St. Armands Circle and begin your explorations. There are countless watering holes, from quirky local dives to swish wine bars and live music joints. Between the students, the locals and the winter tourists, there is always a lively scene in the downtown district.
- Spend an evening in Southside Village, where locals and visitors flock every evening to stroll around its quaint town square, mixing shopping with drinking and dining. This is the city's trendiest corner, so expect expensive (but impressive) restaurants and bars.
- Catch a polo match during the winter months at the Sarasota Polo Club in the Lakewood Ranch. Anyone can enter the polo grounds for the Saturday afternoon matches that are quite the fun social event between December and April. Kids under 12 get in free, and adult tickets are very reasonably priced.