When is the best time to visit Sarasota?

Since Florida is a warm-weather destination, there’s really no bad time to visit Sarasota. Although there’s been little activity in recent years, hurricane season runs from June to November. If you decide to go during that time, just be prepared and pay attention to weather reports. The peak season for the northern half of the state tends to be the hot summer, while the southern part of Florida sees most of its tourists in the winter. If you travel to the state during the fall, you’ll avoid the horrific heat and most of the tourists have gone home by then.

  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    Where is the best shopping in Sarasota?

    You’ll be tempted to shop ’til you drop during your visit to Sarasota, a city that has a variety of boutiques, unique gifts and treasures at every turn.

    St. Armands Circle is widely regarded as Sarasota’s primary high-end shopping district. Located within walking distance of North Lido beach, St. Armands is designed for balmy, sea-breezy strolls around the Circle, where chic boutiques feature the latest trends in leisure fashion and footwear; galleries showcase unique art, gifts and home décor; spas and salons offer luxury pampering treatments; and outdoor sidewalk cafes tempt the appetite with a cornucopia of casual and fine dining options. The numerous ice cream shops and gourmet confectionary establishments throughout St. Armands provide sweet-toothed window-shoppers with delectable distractions as they explore the coconut-palm-lined sidewalks around the Circle.

    Whereas the boutiques and shops on St. Armands are polished and posh, Sarasota Architectural Salvage in downtown Sarasota features a rough-around-the-edges, shabby-chic aesthetic that appeals to treasure hunters. The 10,000-foot warehouse space is home to a variety of unique antiques and functional art for the home crafted from historic architectural and industrial salvage. From elaborate stained-glass windows to nautical artifacts, vintage circus relics, bizarre antique farm tools and high-end furniture crafted from discarded materials from historic buildings like the John Ringling Hotel, Sarasota Architectural Salvage is recognized among design authorities and tastemakers around the world as home to some of the coolest and most unique “junk” in the United States.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

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

    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.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

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

    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.”
  • On August 7, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    Which restaurants have the best seafood in the Tampa Bay area?

    There’s no shortage of delicious fresh seafood in Florida and the Tampa Bay area is no exception. The Lobster Pot, the Maritana Grille, Michael’s on East and Rusty Pelican offer especially tasty fish. Here are the restaurants with the best seafood in the Tampa Bay area:

    1. Lobster Pot: If you couldn’t tell from its name, the Lobster Pot is known for its succulent lobster. Lobster tails, whole lobster and lobster bisque are all the rage here. Whether or not you order an entrée with the crustacean, every dinner comes with a free cocktail or glass of wine.

    2. Maritana Grille: The Maritana Grille is a favorite among seafood lovers. The ocean-plucked goodies get top billing: Pan-seared scallops come with creamy lobster risotto and osetra caviar; and the orange habanero barbecue grouper with papaya-banana ravioli.

    3. Michael’s on East: Fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients create tasty dishes at the contemporary restaurant, Michael’s on East. Try the local Atlantic swordfish, the espresso-crusted yellow fin tuna or the pan- roasted bluefin crab cakes. Then stop by the piano bar for a tune and drink.

    4. Rusty Pelican: Head to Rusty Pelican for fresh seafood, such as blackened swordfish, grouper, seared sesame ahi or lobster tail.
  • On November 12, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best theme parks in Florida?

    For the uninitiated, Florida is known for its theme parks — the weather and the sheer amount of travelers make it an ideal location. Here are some of our favorites:

    1. Islands of Adventure: You’ll find countless rides at Islands of Adventure, but the hottest attraction is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park, dedicated to the bespectacled boy-wizard, brings the magic with rides like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which sends you through Hogwarts and then soaring above the castle grounds.

    2. Universal Studios: You might catch some big-name stars shooting a flick at Universal Studios, the largest working film and TV studio outside of Hollywood. Even if you don’t, you’ll be too busy on blockbuster-themed rides like Back to the Future and Jaws to notice.

    3. Wet ’N Wild: Be prepared to get soaked and have your adrenalin pumping at the country’s top water park, Wet ’N Wild. Shoot down a slide with a 250-foot vertical drop in Der Stuka or battle the cyclone-like ride, the Storm. Kids even have their own park with mini-sized versions of the adult rides.
  • On November 12, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    When is the best time to visit Sarasota?

    Since Florida is a warm-weather destination, there’s really no bad time to visit Sarasota. Although there’s been little activity in recent years, hurricane season runs from June to November. If you decide to go during that time, just be prepared and pay attention to weather reports. The peak season for the northern half of the state tends to be the hot summer, while the southern part of Florida sees most of its tourists in the winter. If you travel to the state during the fall, you’ll avoid the horrific heat and most of the tourists have gone home by then.
  • On November 12, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the top museums in the Tampa Bay area?

    The Tampa Bay area is chock full of things to do. Travelers come for the golf, museums, shopping and even its big theme park—but don’t get so caught up with the sun that you rule out the museums. The Ringling Museum of Art and Ringling Residence, Salvador Dali Museum and Sarasota Classic Car Museum are among the top museums in the area. Here are our favorites:

    1. Ringling museum: At the Ringing Museum of Art and Ringling Residence, you’ll find the estate of circus maestro John Ringling, as in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. Within the grounds there’s also a Circus Museum with old costumes and other big-top memorabilia. Ever since John Ringling selected Sarasota as winter quarters for his circus, the two have become synonymous. Ringling did much to develop and beautify the area and surrounding islands.

    2. Dali museum: The Salvador Dali Museum is a work of art itself, with a geodesic glass shell running along the concrete façade. Inside, you’ll find the world’s largest and most highly acclaimed collection of works by surrealist master Salvador Dali.

    3. Car museum: More than 100 antique rides are parked at Sarasota Classic Car Museum, the second-oldest continuously operating antique car museum in the U.S. It showcases antique, exotic, European and one-of-a-kind classics in rotating exhibits. Check out John Lennon’s ’56 Bentley.
  • On November 11, 2011
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the top things to do in Sarasota?

    Tourism is the main industry in Sarasota — and that has been true since the days before a single house was built, when anglers used to pitch tents on the beach. The standard Florida attractions of beaches, fishing, golf and sunbathing are available here, and the city has more than earned its claim as “the cradle of golf” since the first Florida course was laid out in 1886 by Col. J. Hamilton Gillespie. Visit Sarasota Jungle gardens, Sarasota Art Gallery and the Ringing Museum of Art and Ringling Residence. If you stay at the Four-Star Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota—and we suggest that you do—be sure to hit up their pampering spa.

    1. Jungle Gardens: At Sarasota Jungle Gardens, tropical birds frolic in a jungle paradise featuring more than 5,000 varieties of plants, wild jungle trails and even formal gardens. Flamingos, swans, peacocks and pelicans roam free. Take a break from the animal action at the Flamingo Caf´┐Ż, which serves delicious sandwiches, ice cream and snacks.

    2. Art Gallery: An Italian Renaissance-style villa houses Sarasota Art Gallery, which was created by local crafters with shiploads of columns, doorways, roof sculptures and marble collected in Italy by John Ringling. The gallery features one of the most distinguished collections of Baroque art in the Western Hemisphere. There is also contemporary art, a Rubens collection and sculpture garden in courtyard.

    3. Ringling Museum: The “Ringling” of this museum’s name is courtesy of John Ringling, the man responsible for uniting the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses into the “Greatest Show on Earth.” In the Ringling Museum of Art and Ringling Residence, you’ll find big-top memorabilia, including performers’ costumes and retro circus posters. But the 66-acre Ringling estate isn’t just a freak show. It’s a cultural complex that features the family’s elaborate Venetian Gothic mansion, an art museum filled with works from Old Masters like El Greco, a sculpture courtyard and a rose garden.

    4. Members Spa Club: The Four-Star Ritz-Carlton Members Spa Club, Sarasota, for use only by guests of the resort and members of the Ritz-Carlton Members Club, combines state-of-the-art design with European techniques. More than 100 treatments make up the comprehensive menu; but massages, masks, scrubs and body treatments are the specialties. Hand and foot treatments go beyond the basic manicure or pedicure to include citrus anti-aging manis and mineral powder pedis. Salon services include hair care and styling, as well as makeup application and lessons.