15 Best Things to Do in Sarasota, Florida

Located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota enthralls visitors with its delightful blend of sun-kissed beaches, vibrant arts scene, and myriad outdoor activities.

Whether you’re a beach bum, a culture enthusiast, or an adventure seeker, there’s something for everyone in this charming coastal city.

As you stroll through Sarasota, be sure to explore its lively downtown, brimming with restaurants, shops, and galleries.

If you’re more of a nature lover, don’t miss the chance to visit beautiful parks, nature reserves, and Sarasota area beaches like Siesta Key Beach, known for its soft white sands.

Here are the most enjoyable activities in Sarasota, Florida. From family-friendly attractions to romantic date ideas, there’s something for everyone.

Sarasota Florida Downtown Bayfront Park Marina Jacks Golden Gate

Top Attractions in Sarasota, Florida

The banyan trees at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are a sight to behold!

1. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Explore the beautiful, lush Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The colorful plants, serene koi ponds, and tropical foliage will enchant you.

One of its highlights is the exotic orchid collection, a breathtaking display of color and form that is sure to captivate flower enthusiasts.

Equally impressive are the massive banyan trees with sprawling branches that create a leafy green canopy, providing natural shade and a peaceful spot for contemplation.

The Gardens are also home to a diverse array of bromeliads, a family of plants known for their vibrant coloration and intricate patterns. The hibiscus bushes scattered throughout the gardens add a tropical flair with their large, vivid flowers.

From ferns and epiphytes to cycads and succulents, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens holds a world of botanical diversity waiting to be explored.

It’s a must-visit attraction for any plant lover or anyone looking to bask in the tranquil beauty of nature. This is the perfect outing for relaxation and reconnecting with nature.

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Stick your toes into the sand at Siesta Key Beach!

2. Siesta Key Beach

Discover paradise at Siesta Key Beach, where you can sink your toes into the finest white sand beaches in the country. Swim, collect seashells, or relax under the sun—it’s up to you!

Siesta Key Beach is famous for its stunning quartz-white sand, which stays cool even under the scorching midday sun—a truly unique feature that beachgoers absolutely love!

With its expansive shoreline, you’ll have plenty of space to set up your beach umbrella, chairs, and even play some fun beach games.

The tranquil azure waters are a dream for swimmers and offer endless opportunities for paddleboarding and kayaking.

If you’re after relaxation, there’s nothing quite like lounging on the beach and witnessing those breathtaking sunsets. Plus, the shallow water near the shoreline makes it a safe and enjoyable spot for kids.

Tourists seeking adventure paddle kayaks on the river at Myakka River State Park, Florida near Sarasota
Tourists seeking adventure paddle kayaks on the river at Myakka River State Park

3. Myakka River State Park

Sprawling over 58 square miles, Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. This haven of nature and wildlife offers an authentic taste of Florida’s beautiful and diverse ecological landscape.

You’ll never run out of things to do here with excellent hiking and biking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and stunning landscapes!

At its heart is the wild and scenic Myakka River, a waterway teeming with an abundance of native fauna. Alligators can often be spotted sunning on the riverbanks or gliding stealthily through the water.

For a truly immersive experience, hop on one of the park’s boat tours. As you glide along the river, you’ll get up close with the park’s diverse wildlife, which, along with the alligators, includes wild pigs and wild turkeys. These boat tours provide a unique opportunity to observe these animals in their natural habitat, offering an unmatched window into Florida’s wilderness.

Wild pigs roam freely in the park, contributing to the raw and untamed feel of the place. Wild turkeys, too, are a common sight, often spotted foraging on the forest floor.

These amazing creatures contribute to the vibrant tapestry of wildlife that makes a visit to Myakka River State Park such a captivating and delightful experience!

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Summertime on Lido Beach in Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida

4. Lido Key Beach

Unwind on the pristine shores of Lido Key Beach, a beautiful and lesser-known gem just a short drive from Sarasota. You’ll undoubtedly appreciate the laid-back atmosphere and crystalline waters.

The beach is best known for its unspoiled beauty and powdery white sands that feel almost velvety to the touch.

You can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the shore, enjoy a refreshing dip in the sparkling waters, or simply lounge on the sand and bask in the warm Florida sunshine. The beach is especially beautiful at sunset, with the sky exploding in a riot of colors as the sun dips below the horizon.

For wildlife enthusiasts, Lido Key Beach is a great spot to catch a glimpse of dolphins frolicking in the waves.

Pink Flamingoes at Sarasota Jungle Gardens

5. Sarasota Jungle Gardens

One of Florida’s oldest attractions, this 10-acre tropical garden has been captivating visitors since 1939.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a lush, tropical environment, home to over 200 native and exotic species.

The Gardens provide a stunning backdrop of tropical flora, where you can interact with various animals. From tropical birds to primates, reptiles, and even a few surprise encounters with free-roaming flamingos, this zoological garden has no shortage of wildlife encounters.

One of the highlights of your visit will surely be the interactive animal shows. These educational and entertaining presentations offer guests the chance to learn about the resident animals and even get up close with some of them.

For the little explorers, the Gardens also offer a fun-filled jungle-themed playground and koi fish pond where children can feed the colorful koi fish.

Support local businesses at the farmers market!

6. Sarasota Farmers Market

Bask in the local flavor at the Sarasota Farmers Market, where you can shop for fresh produce, artisanal goods, and experience the essence of Sarasota’s food scene.

The Sarasota Farmers Market is a vibrant community hub that brings the city to life every Saturday. For over 40 years, it has been a staple in the Sarasota community, regularly drawing locals and tourists alike with its diverse offerings.

The market spans several city blocks, boasting over 70 vendors selling a broad range of products.

From fresh fruits and vegetables, sustainably caught seafood, and locally raised meats to a plethora of artisanal goods such as handmade soap, jewelry, and craft items.

The aromas of fresh coffee, baked goods, and sizzling street food fill the air, creating a lively and inviting atmosphere.

The market often features live music performances, cooking demonstrations, and other community activities, making it a lively, engaging destination. When you’re at the Sarasota Farmers Market, you’re not just shopping—you’re part of a community celebrating Sarasota’s rich local culture and produce.

It’s easy to spend an afternoon at St. Armands Circle because of all the shops and restaurants!

7. Shopping and Dining at St. Armands Circle

Make sure to swing by St. Armands Circle, a lush and lively shopping district teeming with restaurants, boutiques, and galleries.

This tropical paradise is a delightful blend of the old and new, featuring a mix of over 130 upscale boutiques, specialty shops, galleries, and diverse dining choices. It’s the perfect place for souvenir shopping or enjoying a leisurely stroll.

There are so many amazing restaurants and cafes to choose from, offering everything from casual bites to gourmet delights! You can explore global cuisines and satisfy your cravings.

And after shopping, treat yourself to a heavenly dessert from one of the delightful ice cream parlors or chocolate shops.

Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota

8. Asolo Repertory Theatre

Experience high-quality live performances at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, one of Sarasota’s most prominent theatrical venues. It’s the perfect outing for a night of culture and entertainment.

The Asolo Repertory Theatre is a true gem in Sarasota’s vibrant arts scene! Known for its innovative interpretations and groundbreaking productions, this theatre has been captivating audiences since 1958. It’s a place where top artists come together to showcase a diverse lineup of plays, musicals, and adapted classics.

Step into this beautifully restored 15th-century playhouse for an immersive performance. The intimate setting creates a truly exceptional experience from the moment the curtains rise. With a season that typically runs from November to June, something exciting always happens at Asolo Repertory Theatre.

But it’s not just about the shows. Asolo is also home to the esteemed FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, where aspiring actors receive rigorous training. Many of these incredibly talented actors grace the Asolo stage, delivering stunning performances.

With its commitment to nurturing talent and enriching Sarasota’s cultural landscape, the Asolo Repertory Theatre is a must-visit destination for theatre enthusiasts. Whether you’re a Shakespeare or modern drama fan, Asolo promises a theatrical experience you won’t forget. Come and be a part of the magic!

Sarasota Opera House

9. Sarasota Opera House

Listen to the captivating sounds of the Sarasota Opera House, where you can indulge in spectacular opera performances and other musical events. This beautiful, historic venue truly takes your breath away.

The Sarasota Opera House, a true gem in the heart of downtown Sarasota, is famous for its breathtaking architecture, incredible acoustics, and world-class operatic performances.

This iconic venue first opened its doors in 1926, starting out as a spot for vaudeville acts and later transforming into a movie theater.

In the 1970s, it became the home of the Sarasota Opera Company and has since been lovingly restored to preserve its 1920s charm while also updating the facilities to meet modern standards.

The Opera House’s performance season typically runs from November to March, drawing opera enthusiasts from all across the nation with its diverse lineup of productions, ranging from beloved classics to hidden operatic treasures.

This commitment to honoring tradition while embracing innovation is what sets the Sarasota Opera House apart as a truly special cultural destination.

10. Kayaking Through Mangroves

Connect with Sarasota’s natural beauty by kayaking through mangroves. Glide through the water, spotting wildlife and enjoying the serene atmosphere of Florida’s mangrove tunnels.

Immerse yourself in Sarasota’s unique ecosystem by kayaking through its enchanting mangrove tunnels. This is not just an adventure, but an intimate dive into the rich biodiversity that Florida’s coastal areas have to offer.

As you paddle through the tranquil waterways, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the dense, green foliage of mangroves, forming a canopy that provides a refreshing shade from the Florida sun.

Be ready to spot a diverse array of wildlife in their natural habitat. From playful dolphins and graceful manatees swimming alongside your kayak, to a plethora of bird species nesting in the foliage, including the vibrant Roseate Spoonbill and the majestic Great Blue Heron.

Street scene in Bayfront Park people eating at an outdoor restaurant at the water front and palm trees
There is plenty to see and do at Bayfront Park!

11. Watch the sunset at Bayfront Park

Welcome to Bayfront Park, a vibrant, waterfront haven situated in the heart of Sarasota. This park is a veritable playground for all ages, and a must-visit spot for nature lovers, fitness enthusiasts, and families alike.

One of the key attractions of Bayfront Park is the super fun splash pad. This interactive water play area is a hit with kids, providing a respite from the Florida heat. Parents can relax, watching their little ones frolic and cool down in the refreshing water jets.

The park has a beautiful marina with various boats and yachts. It’s a sight to see, with gleaming vessels gently bobbing in clear water. The marina serves as a starting point for exciting boat tours, offering a unique perspective on Sarasota’s aquatic wildlife. Keep an eye out for playful dolphins leaping in the wake!

As the day winds down, there’s no place better to watch the sunset than Bayfront Park. The setting sun paints the sky in orange, pink, and purple hues, creating a spectacle that leaves onlookers in awe.

Beautiful old cars inside the Sarasota Classic Car Museum

12. Sarasota Classic Car Museum

Did you know that the Sarasota Classic Car Museum opened its doors in 1953 and is the second oldest continuously operating car museum in the United States?

It’s home to over 75 vintage, classic, and antique cars that will take you on a captivating journey through the fascinating history of the automobile industry.

Its incredible collection spans over a century of automotive history, featuring iconic makes and models from around the world. From spunky Mustangs and elegant Rolls-Royces to classic Mercedes and rare Ferraris, this museum is an absolute treasure trove for car enthusiasts like us!

And guess what? It’s not just about cars at this museum. They also have a fantastic collection of antique music boxes and a wide array of vintage arcade games that will surely bring back some nostalgic memories.

The best part is the museum’s knowledgeable staff who are super friendly and always ready to share fascinating tidbits about the cars, their history, and their cultural impact. It adds a personal touch to your visit and makes the whole experience even more enjoyable.

So whether you’re a die-hard petrolhead, a history buff, or simply curious about the world of classic automobiles, the Sarasota Classic Car Museum is a must-visit destination. It’s an incredible journey of exploration that celebrates the automotive world’s intricate craftsmanship, design, and technological advancement. Make sure you don’t miss out on this impressive collection when you’re in Sarasota. Trust me, it’s totally worth it!

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota

13. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Visit the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium to learn about Florida’s marine life. With interactive exhibits, touch pools, and shark encounters, you’ll have an exciting and educational experience.

Founded in 1955, the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is a world-renowned research institution with a public aquarium that attracts thousands of visitors each year. It’s a fantastic place where science comes to life, introducing you to the wonders of marine biodiversity and the incredible work being done to conserve our marine ecosystems.

The aquarium is home to over 100 marine species, with various exhibits that will fascinate both kids and adults. Make sure to check out the Shark Habitat, where you can come face-to-face with these misunderstood creatures, learning about their behaviors, their vital role in the ecosystem, and the conservation efforts to protect them.

But it’s not just about the sharks! From playful river otters and graceful sea turtles, to majestic manatees and colorful tropical fish, there’s a whole underwater world waiting for you. Kids will especially love the touch pools where they can get hands-on experience with sea stars, sea urchins, and even baby sharks.

What sets Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium apart is its emphasis on education and research. Take a behind-the-scenes tour to get a glimpse of the groundbreaking marine research being done right here.

The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is more than just an aquarium – it’s an engaging and enlightening experience that will leave you with a greater understanding and appreciation of our oceans and the life within them. Plan a visit, you won’t regret it!

Ca’ D’Zan is an elaborate Venetian-style villa modeled in part after the Doges Palace in Venice in Sarasota. It was built by circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable.

14. Ca’ D’Zan

Step into the luxurious world of the Ringling family at Ca’ D’Zan, a Venetian-inspired mansion filled with intricate details and opulent finishes. Admire the incredible architecture and furnishings as you take a tour through this lavish home.

Get ready to be swept off your feet by the grandeur of Ca’ D’Zan, the winter residence of John and Mable Ringling! Designed to mimic a Venetian Gothic palace with its terraces, towers, and ornate embellishments, this architectural masterpiece will leave you absolutely enthralled.

As you wander through the 56-room mansion, you can’t help but marvel at the opulent finishes. From beautiful stained glass windows and crystal chandeliers to the antique furniture and art collections, it’s truly a sight to behold. And let’s not forget about the exterior! The splendid terraces offer breathtaking views of Sarasota Bay that you won’t want to miss.

Delve into the fascinating history of the Ringling family as you explore the mansion. John Ringling, one of the famous Ringling Brothers known for their circus empire, was also a real estate tycoon and art collector. You’ll see his love for opulence evident in every corner of the mansion.

But the highlight of the mansion? It has to be the stunning ballroom, where the Ringlings entertained their guests. With its soaring ceilings, detailed frescoes, and grand piano, it truly encapsulates the lavish lifestyle of the Roaring Twenties.

Visiting Ca’ D’Zan is like stepping back in time, offering a glimpse into the extravagant life of one of America’s most influential families. So, when you’re in Sarasota, don’t miss the chance to explore this architectural gem. Trust me, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget!

15. Big Cat Habitat Gulf Coast Sanctuary

Get ready for an amazing time at the Big Cat Habitat Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota! This non-profit sanctuary for large, exotic animals is a must-visit for animal lovers of all ages. It’s home to various species, including lions, tigers, bears, and primates.

The sanctuary is dedicated to rescuing and providing a permanent home for animals that have been abandoned, abused, or retired from performing acts.

When you visit, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about these magnificent creatures in a safe, ethical setting. Each animal has its own spacious habitat that closely matches their natural environment, ensuring their comfort and well-being.

One of the highlights of your visit will be the big cat feeding sessions. You can watch as lions and tigers engage in their natural feeding behaviors – it’s truly exhilarating and demonstrates the power and grace of these big cats.

Conclusion

Sarasota County is a treasure chest, blending vibrant city life with art, culture, and history, alongside a tranquil escape to nature. Now that you know about all the best things to do in Sarasota, it’s time to plan your getaway!

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