What are the best things to see and do in Sarasota?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Jessi Smith

Sifting through Sarasota’s bounty of attractions can be tough, so we’ve compiled a list of the top activities to ensure that your trip is filled with the absolute best that this coastal city has to offer.

1. Hit the beach. With its selection of award-winning beaches, Sarasota is a prime Florida Gulf Coast destination in which to bask in the sun and dip your toes in the surf. Siesta Key, whose Siesta Beach was named the best beach in the United States by Stephen Leatherman (aka “Dr. Beach”) in 2011, is a popular destination for beachcombers from all around the world due to its powdery white sand and inviting turquoise waters. Located just minutes north of Siesta Key are the beaches of Lido Key. North Lido is situated along the Gulf Coast, and to the south, South Lido’s placid, bayside beach park is shaded by Australian pines and has all the amenities for a picnic or barbecue.

2. Explore the Ringling Museum grounds. Sarasota’s romance with the arts dates back to the arrival of circus mogul John Ringling in the 1920s. Ringling’s lavish Gilded Age Venetian-Gothic mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, is adjacent to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which is the official state art museum of Florida and houses Ringling’s exceptional collection of Baroque and Renaissance art, in addition to hosting a series of thought-provoking special exhibitions with contemporary themes. The 66-acre estate is also home to one of only three All-American Rose Selection (AARS) gardens in the state of Florida, the Mable Ringling Rose Garden. The Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center, located on the Ringling grounds, feature a family-friendly environment that brings Sarasota’s circus history to life through interactive exhibits and a 3,800-square-foot model that represents the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus during its heyday (circa 1919-1938) — a must-see for circus buffs of all ages.

3. Catch a festival. Sarasota’s temperate year-round weather provides an excellent atmosphere for a variety of festivals throughout the year. Artists from across the globe travel to Sarasota to participate in outdoor festivals like the artsy Chalk Festival and the Sarasota Blues Festival, annual events which both take place each autumn. In spring, the Sarasota Film Festival takes over the town for one week to feature more than 200 independent films, serving as a magnet for droves of cinema fanatics and celebrities alike. Savor Sarasota, a two-week June festival, celebrates Sarasota’s outstanding culinary scene with exclusive deals that slash fine-dining prices to bargain rates at dozens of restaurants throughout the city — a city which, by the way, happens to be home to the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida. Throughout the summer, the Carreño Dance Festival, the Sarasota Music Festival and the Ringling International Arts Festival bring internationally acclaimed performing artists to Sarasota, ensuring that the city serves as a year-round host to the finest art, cuisine and entertainment that the Florida Gulf Coast has to offer.

4. Have a wet and wild outdoor adventure. However tempting it may be to settle down with a rumrunner and bask on the beach for the duration of your trip, the opportunities for aquatic adventure on the ecologically diverse waterways of Sarasota are not to be overlooked. Firsthand encounters with dolphins, manatees and other marine life are a high likelihood during nature cruises on Mote Aquarium’s Sarasota Bay Explorer boats. For those who seek an active vacation, guided kayak and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) outings are engaging, interactive ways to experience wildlife native to Florida’s aquatic habitats while getting a fun workout. Adventurous anglers are also welcome in Sarasota, where more than 230 species of fish reside in the salty Gulf of Mexico and the freshwater inland flats. Several of the nation’s most experienced fishing experts live and work locally, guiding deep sea charter fishing expeditions that are sure to create quite a splash among fishing enthusiasts of all ages.

5. Go to a show. From the intimate Players Community Theatre where Montgomery Clift made his humble acting debut in 1932, to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall that showcases nationally touring musicians and performers, Sarasota is host to a smorgasbord of performing arts. Sarasota’s contemporary theater, Florida Studio Theatre, features a variety of avant-garde professional performances throughout its season, as well as an abundance of laughs courtesy of the FST Improv crew. The historic Asolo Repertory Theatre, located on the Ringling Museum campus, is the largest professional not-for-profit theater south of Atlanta, staging as many as 15 productions each season that range from classical works to provocative contemporary theater and musical performances. The Sarasota Opera House, built in the 1920s, is a downtown landmark rich in history and reputation. In a previous life, the opera house hosted popular national acts of the day, including Elvis Presley in 1956. Today, the venue stages opera performances from the classic European repertoire, as well as lesser-known American operas in its ambitious “American Classics Series.”

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