What are the best things to do with kids in Sarasota?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Jessi Smith

Kids who come to Sarasota will find no shortage of entertainment, and parents can rejoice because many of the family attractions in town are geared toward education as well. (We can just keep that part our little secret, Mom and Dad — the kids will be having so much fun, they won’t even know they’re learning.)

1. GWIZ. Kids and adults alike won’t be able to keep their hands to themselves at the Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone (GWIZ), where touching the exhibits is not only allowed, but also highly encouraged. The hands-on science and technology museum features interactive exhibits including the Robotics Zone, where museum patrons can operate robots and other gadgets; the Explora-Zone, where kids can fiddle with a gigantic spirograph that creates fun designs while demonstrating principles of motion; and the Wave Zone, where laser guitars and other instruments give kids an opportunity to rock out while learning about light and sound waves.

2. Mote Aquarium. Dolphins and sharks and sea turtles, oh my! At Mote Aquarium, a leading nonprofit marine research institute, visitors receive a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with all kinds of sea critters. Hands-on exhibits give kids the opportunity to get their fingers wet (and maybe a little slimy) by touching unusual creatures like stingrays, sea urchins and starfish while a knowledgeable, kid-friendly staff leads discussions on marine life and eco-preservation. The Shark Encounter exhibit provides teens and adults with a chance to feed the sharks in Mote’s 135,000-gallon shark tank, and the aquarium’s eco-boat tours provide excellent opportunities for passengers of all ages to learn about manatees, dolphins, osprey and other wildlife in their natural habitat.

3. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. From tots to teens, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens caters to the entire family. Kids will get a kick out of feeding the fish in the koi pond, exploring the maze of branches in the banyan trees, participating in “plant hunts” and romping on the Great Lawn. The organization recently began construction on the Children’s Rainforest Garden, which upon completion will feature waterfalls, multi-level tree houses, canopy walks and rope bridges, an Amazon village model and a research station geared toward introducing field botany techniques to kids.

4. The Children’s Garden. Regarded as one of Sarasota’s best-kept secrets, the Children’s Garden is a whimsical, imaginative play-haven that appeals primarily to kids in the 10-and-under age range. It is a world of magic and make-believe, where nature-play reigns supreme. Kids have an opportunity to get their hands dirty and let their imaginations wander at the two-acre playground that features fantastical topiary creatures, fairy gardens, found-object jungle gyms and tree forts, secret mazes, a pirate ship and a dress-up room. The nonprofit garden and playground also hosts age-appropriate art classes for kids and interactive story-time sessions in which volunteer storytellers bring fairy tales to life on stage.

5. The Sailor Circus at Circus Sarasota. Ever since John Ringling made Sarasota the winter headquarters for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1920s, the circus has been an integral aspect of Sarasota culture. Circus Sarasota, Sarasota’s nonprofit hometown circus, is internationally acclaimed for its world-class artistry and entertainment under the big top and also for its unrivaled youth outreach programs. The Sailor Circus, an extension of Circus Sarasota dubbed “The Greatest Little Show on Earth,” is America’s oldest youth circus program. Sailor Circus performers, who range in age from elementary to high school students, are among the best in their class worldwide, and showcase a powerhouse of inspiring talent that delights crowds of all ages. Additionally, Circus Sarasota’s Big Top Education program gives kids a chance to participate in circus-themed activities that teach basic concepts of physical science in fun and engaging ways.

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