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12 top activities to do in Sarasota, Florida

Sarasota, a sunny town on Florida’s west coast just 2 hours from Orlando, is a paradise for sea, art and nature lovers.

Known for its pristine beaches, rich cultural heritage and natural parks, it’s a destination that’s constantly reinventing itself.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, art lover or simply looking to relax in the Florida sunshine, Sarasota awaits you with its hidden treasures and unique experiences.

Here are 12 activities and places to visit in Sarasota, as well as our best addresses.

Outdoor activities and leisure

1. Siesta Key and the magnificent beaches of Saratosa

Siesta Key Beach - Sarasota

The beaches around Sarasota are famous for their white sands and crystal-clear waters. What makes them so unique is the composition of their sand, 99% pure quartz.

Siesta Key Beach is the most popular and was ranked number one in the United States by TripAdvisor in 2020. It’s the perfect place to relax, swim and collect shells.

White beach at Siesta Key - Sarasota Florida

The proximity of Siesta Key Village with its stores and dining options also makes it a convenient option for a day at the beach.

On the other hand, a short drive will take you to a succession of beautiful beaches, sometimes more secluded or, on the contrary, with all the services:

  • Lido Beach;
  • Turtle Beach;
  • Crescent Beach;
  • Venice Beach to hunt for shells and shark teeth.

2. Explore mangrove tunnels by kayak

Buck Key Mangrove Tour via Adventure Sea Kayak & SUP
Visit Florida

Sarasota’s mangrove tunnels offer an unforgettable kayaking experience. Glide through these winding waterways and discover a unique ecosystem where wildlife is king.

A variety of birds, such as ospreys, blue herons and sometimes even eagles, can be seen in their natural habitat. Several companies offer kayak tours that can be booked online.

3. Explore Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park

Popular for wildlife viewing (alligators, birds, turtles, vultures, deer, etc.), Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s largest and oldest parks.

A multitude of activities are offered on site. You can take a hydrofoil tour, explore the park by bike, kayak, canoe or even camp.

Canopy trail at Myakka River Trail State park

There are also several hiking trails, not to mention the Canopy Walkway, a suspension bridge in the air that leads to a panoramic tower and allows you to admire the forest from another angle.

4. Cycling the Legacy Trail

The Legacy Trail is one of Sarasota’s best bike trails. It stretches for 18.5 miles, connecting Sarasota to Venice. Ideal for cyclists and hikers, this trail offers a paved route through magnificent landscapes and bridges, enriched by panels telling the local story.

Discover the flora and fauna

Do you love animals and nature? You’re sure to find what you’re looking for in Saratosa with all these activities and places to visit.

5. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Garden

A haven of peace and beauty, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are a must for nature lovers.

Marie Selby lived on the property for 50 years and on her death in 1971, the area was transformed into a botanical garden in accordance with her last wishes.

It’s the only place in the world that studies and researches epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants without harming or damaging them.

These botanical gardens are also home to the world’s largest collection of bromeliads, a true feast for the eyes.

Marie Selby Botanical Garden Greenhouse

Don’t miss the rainforest garden and the butterfly garden, not to mention the greenhouse and its floral arrangements.

6. Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary

The Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary is a haven for big cats and other exotic species. This sanctuary offers a unique experience, allowing close encounters with felines such as lions, tigers and ligers (a hybrid between a lion and a tiger). There are also bears, monkeys and a variety of birds.

The site serves as a permanent refuge for animals that cannot survive in the wild, while educating visitors about the importance of conservation. It’s both an educational and moving experience, highlighting Sarasota’s commitment to wildlife protection.

7. Admire the pink flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Sarasota Jungle Gardens offers a unique experience, combining botanical garden and animal sanctuary. Built on a former banana orchard, this garden is a paradise for families and nature lovers.

Visitors can stroll along paths surrounded by lush vegetation and take part in encounters with animals such as flamingos, alligators and parrots.

8. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium offers incredible encounters with marine life, interactive educational programs and even kayak and eco-boat tours. During your visit, you can admire manatees, sharks and sea turtles up close.

Cultural and historical attractions

9. Ca D’Zan Mansion and the Ringling Museum

Ca' d'Zan - Ringling Museum
Ringling Museum

The circus is part of Sarasota’s DNA, and a good number of its residents are linked, in one way or another, to this universe. The fact that the Ringling and Barnum circus made Sarasota its winter home is certainly no coincidence.

The Ringling Museum is a combination art museum, circus museum and historic mansion. In short, there’s something for everyone.

You can decide to make a short visit or spend the whole day there. It’s very impressive and definitely not to be missed.

The Ca D’Zan Mansion

The Ca D’Zan Mansion, former winter residence of the co-founder of the Ringling Brothers circus, is an architectural masterpiece reflecting John Ringling’s love of Venice.

Ca' d' Zan - Ringling Museum
Ringling Museum

With its influences from iconic Venetian landmarks such as the Doge’s Palace and Hotel Grunwald, the house evokes a Venetian Gothic aesthetic.

The interior, just as opulent as the exterior, houses treasures such as a crystal chandelier from the former Waldorf-Astoria hotel. A visit to Ca D’Zan is a must for lovers of architecture and history.

To give you an idea of its splendor, construction was completed in 1926 at a cost of $1.5 million, or roughly $20.9 million today.

The gardens

Ringling Museum
There are 66 acres of gardens and grounds, featuring many exotic trees and statues.

After the tour, discover John and Mabel’s secret garden, where they are buried, as well as Mabel’s garden, Florida’s oldest rose garden.

The circus museum

Another attraction not to be missed on the site is the circus museum.

Established in 1948, the Circus Museum is the first museum in the United States to document the origin and history of the circus, with a special focus on the Ringling family.

The highlight of the visit is the miniature reconstruction of a circus of the era. It’s gigantic, and everything is meticulously reproduced: the city, the camps for feeding and housing the thousands of circus workers, the menageries, the entertainment booths, and so on.

In May 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey gave its final performance. A page of cultural history is being turned, but fortunately this will not affect the Ringling Museum.

10. Sarasota Classic Car Museum

For car enthusiasts, the Sarasota Classic Car Museum is a must-see destination. With a collection spanning the history of the automobile, this museum displays classic cars and restored relics, recounting the fascinating evolution of this mechanical art.

For a little shopping

11. Saint Armands Circle

Saint Armands Circle is the ideal place for a shopping spree in Saratosa or to grab a bite to eat.

Located on a small island just off Sarasota Bay, it boasts over 130 luxury boutiques and high-end restaurants.

With its towering palm trees, statues from the John Ringling collection, pedestrian zone and colorful tropical plants, Saint Armands Circle is a place rich in history and culture.

In the Saratosa area

12. Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island

As soon as you cross the bridge to Anna Maria Island, you feel as if you’ve arrived on a small tropical island.

After driving past the private clubs, resorts and golf courses of Longboat Key, it’s time to enter another world with the low, colorful houses of Anna Maria and its sandy streets.

It’s a thing of beauty. Even if you already were, you feel like you’re on vacation.

After a stroll around the island and the Anna Maria City Pier as well as a good fish meal, it’s time for a quick trip to the beach.

Anna Maria Island

There are pelicans everywhere, sea turtles and two dolphins swimming just a few meters from us.

Did I mention it looks a lot like heaven?

Practical info

Some good places to eat

Sarasota is a coastal town, and fish and seafood steal the show on menus.

Oysters, rock crabs, scallops, alligator bites, ceviche, fresh-caught fish of the day simply grilled over charcoal…. we had a wonderful time during our stay.

Walt’s Fish Market

Among the addresses we tried, one in particular caught my eye: Walt’s Fish Market.

Both a fish market and a restaurant, it’s also worth visiting the Tiki bar. It’s very lively and friendly, and the atmosphere is guaranteed. Ask the waiters about the day’s catch, what’s in season and what’s not.

For more information, visit the restaurant’s website.

Sarasota Farmer’s Market

Open year-round, it’s the place to go for locals and tourists alike to sample fresh local produce and discover unique products. Website.

Where to stay in Sarasota?

Discover the best hotels on Booking.com

Thanks to the Ringling Museum and the Marie Selby Botanical Garden for hosting us.

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