Blessed with a fantastic climate and some of the best beaches in the States, Sarasota County is popular with families and luxury lovers. In addition to its famous beaches, there are many other Sarasota attractions such as farmer’s markets, world-class museums and gourmet restaurants to enjoy.
Best Sarasota Attractions
Located on Florida’s temperate Gulf Coast, Sarasota and its neighbouring municipalities Longboat Key, North Port and Venice have much to offer the visitor.
Siesta Key Beach was voted the best beach in America in 2017 by Dr. Beach and won TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Award for Best Beach in North America in 2020.
Sarasota County has over 67,000 acres of nature to explore, from Myakka River State Park to Celery Fields, a popular bird-watching location and Oscar Scherer State Park. Whether you’re keen on fishing, kayaking, hiking or camping in the great outdoors, there’s something for everyone.
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1. Sarasota Farmer’s Markets
Sarasota County is known for its delicious fresh produce, and it has some great farmer’s markets that you should visit. Phillippi Farmhouse Market takes place every Wednesday from October to April, from 9 am to 2 pm.
Located at 5500 S. Tamiami Trail, south of Downtown Sarasota, it gathers together over 50 vendors. All the food vendors here are growers, such as Homestead Hydrophonics which produces pesticide-free food using a tenth of the water required by traditional farming. There’s live music, a tourist information stall and even a mobile dog wash!
In Downtown Sarasota on Lemon and Main Street, Sarasota Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday between 7 am and 1 pm. There’s a wide selection on display including freshly baked bread, orchids, gardening products, seafood and more.
2. Sarasota Legacy Trail
This is a scenic biking trail that links Sarasota to Venice. Built on the former rail tracks of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Sarasota Legacy Trail connects with the Venetian Waterway Park Trail.
The route is prohibited to motor vehicles and used by walkers and rollerbladers as well as cyclists.
3. Historic Spanish Point
A 30 acre outdoor museum on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey, Historic Spanish Point is one of the best museums in Florida. This unique space has one of the largest butterfly gardens on the Gulf Coast.
4. Nathan Benderson Park
This 600 acre park includes a 400 acre artificial lake. Nathan Benderson Park has previously played host to the World Rowing Masters Regatta. This popular sporting event is the only International Rowing Federation-approved course in North America.
5. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
These are the only botanical gardens in the world focused on the study and display of epiphytes. If you’re wondering what those are, they are organisms that grow on another plant, such as orchids, bromeliads and ferns.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not parasitic and derive their nutrients from the air, rain and compost rather than the tree itself. There are some superb specimens of epiphytes as well as centuries old banyan trees planted by the Selby family.
Kids will love the Children’s Rainforest Garden, whilst all ages will enjoy the bay-front setting. There are often interesting exhibition focusing on the natural world too.
6. Sarasota Beaches
The amazing beaches in Sarasota are one of the county’s biggest draws for locals and visitors alike. With 35 miles of beaches, there’s a huge choice and they’re easily accessible to all.
Beach wheelchairs are available at no cost at Lido, Manasota, Nokomis, Siesta and Venice beaches and there’s also a roll-out mat at Siesta Beach. The latter has won many awards for its quartz sand, considered by many to be the finest and softest in the world.
7. Sarasota Opera
No wonder Sarasota County is known as Florida’s Cultural Coast®! With over ten theatres, a State Art Museum and a professional ballet, opera and orchestra, there’s a wealth of choice.
Sarasota Opera organizes the only Winter opera festival in North America. This is the only place in the US in Winter apart from the Metropolitan Opera to present four different operas in one weekend.
Since forming in 1960, they’ve established themselves as a world-class company and are one of only 9 opera companies in the United States that own their performing facility.
The building was built as the A.B. Edwards Theater and since undergoing restoration its become a glamorous destination venue.
8. The Ringling Estate
One of the top Sarasota attractions, with a world-renowned Circus Museum, historic Asolo Theatre, beautiful bayfront gardens and the fascinating John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
Recent additions to this exceptional collection are the Kotler and Coville Glass Collection and the Basche Glass Collection at Ringling College of Art and Design. The Ca d’Zan mansion is one of the best historic homes in America.
Explore 66 acres of grounds and gardens, 4,500 years of international art, the former home of the Ringling family and the world’s largest circus model at the Circus Museum.
9. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Another fascinating Sarasota museum for kids and adults is Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. This working aquarium has a strong focus on research and rehabilitation of injured marine animals.
With over 100 species, two touch tanks and a 135,000 gallon shark habitat, it’s a compelling reminder of the importance of our sea life. Manatees are frequently injured by watercraft and there are over 6,000 in Florida.
In a single day’s aerial survey, the staff at Mote sometimes see over half of them. Discarding litter inappropriately is very harmful to manatees and other marine creatures.
10. The Sarasota Classic Car Museum
This is also an interesting place to visit, with over 100 vintage cars on display. The Sarasota Classic Car Museum is spread over 60,000 square feet. It is the second oldest continually operating antique car museum in the U.S.
The Timeline Room showcases the evolution of the automobile over the years, with a range of interesting motor memorabilia.
11. Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy
This colorful museum aims to inspire and lift your spirits with a quirky collection and friendly volunteers. There’s a charming garden filled with eccentric artworks where you can sit and relax.
12. Unconditional Surrender
One of the most iconic sights in Downtown Sarasota is the Unconditional Surrender sculpture. Created by the artist Seward Johnson in 2005, it occupies a prime position on Sarasota Bayfront.
This famous Sarasota landmark is inspired by a photo by Victor Jorgensen, commemorating the end of World War II. The statue was exhibited in Florida before being moved to California.
A copy was installed in Sarasota in 2009 before being damaged by a car in 2012. The new weather-resistant bronze statue is a popular selfie spot.
13. Sarasota Restaurants
There are some fantastic dining options in the area, from seafood to steakhouses. The Amish community in Pinecraft have some great places to eat such as Yoder’s Fresh Market. Some of the best restaurants in Sarasota are to be found downtown, including Jack Dusty and Boca.
14. Sarasota County Shopping
As for shopping in Sarasota County, we particularly like the picturesque area of St. Armands Circle. It’s home to a number of independent boutiques including The Met Fashion House and Day Spa, as well as Shore boutique and restaurant.
Circus entrepreneur John Ringling purchased St Armands Key in 1917 and visitors can still admire his personal collection of Italian statues.
15. Sarasota Nightlife
There are plenty of cool things to do in Sarasota at night including watching the sunset from the Lido Key Tiki Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Residences.
Getting to Sarasota County
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport flies to a range of cities in the United States as well as Toronto, Canada. Other international cities such as London are easily reached from Tampa International Airport. It’s then a 1 and a half hour drive from Tampa to Sarasota.
Getting Around Sarasota
There’s a free eco-friendly shuttle service in Downtown Sarasota, i-Ride. Flag down one of the vehicles on the street, call 941-444-2585 or use the Gotcha Ride mobile app.
We recommend hiring a car for travelling around the county, and we rented ours from Hertz. It’s worth signing up to their complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Rewards programme as you’ll get priority pick-up and drop-off.
Where to Stay in Sarasota
There are some great hotels in Sarasota County, including the luxurious Ritz-Carlton in downtown Sarasota. Service here is second to none and the views over the bay are stunning.
The hotel has been recently renovated and the rooms are contemporary and spacious. We particularly liked the amenity of chocolates in the form of seashells and starfish. When you’re not chilling out at the pool and spa, head to Jack Dusty, their vibrant waterfront restaurant.
The Lido Beach Resort has an outstanding location overlooking a private white sand beach near Siesta Key. It’s also close to the restaurants, nightlife and shops of St. Armands Circle.
There are two heated pools, a 24 hour fitness centre and a tiki bar. The large bedrooms have kitchenettes equipped with refrigerators, microwaves and dishwashers.
Other popular hotels in Sarasota are Art Ovation, a Marriott Autograph property and The Sarasota Modern boutique hotel.
As you can see, Sarasota County has so much to offer the visitor, from white sand beaches to delicious dining and cultural attractions galore. There’s fun for all the family in this Florida hidden gem.
Check out Visit Florida for lots more information about Sarasota County and many more Sarasota attractions!
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In association with Visit Florida and Hertz.