Sarasota on Florida’s Gulf Coast has many attractions: stunning beaches, world-class cultural amenities and white buildings surrounded by azure waters full of sailboats. The Ringling Museum of Art is a world-famous attraction. There are also excellent performing arts companies, and a community of artists and craftpeople who create unique works.
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Sarasota is a great place to go for a vacation . You can find beaches just minutes from the city center. There are also prestigious golf courses and nature preserves where you could kayak, fish, or go on family trips. You can also enjoy the lush tropical vegetation, wetlands and wildlife of primeval Florida within minutes of the town. Bradenton is nearby and has many great attractions.
If you want to discover the true essence of Sarasota at its end, turn west. This is where you will see the fiery sun disappearing into a watery horizon that never ends. It will take your breath away.
Table of Contents
The Circus at the Ringling Museum
People, please come one and all! You will see the world’s greatest circus museum, as well as a great Asian art museum and art museum. John Ringling was one five-brother team that created “The Greatest Show On Earth”, as they called their circus.
John and Mable, a couple from the early 1900s decided to build an Italian palace in Sarasota on twenty acres. It was named Ca d’Zan and today it is one of Florida’s most important cultural treasures.
The Circus Museum is a must-see. It houses the largest collection of circus memorabilia, art and other memorabilia. The museum spans two buildings and is full of colorful displays as well as a large model of the circus during its glory days. It’s a fantasy that everyone can enjoy, no matter their age. It’s especially fascinating to see the backgrounds and photos of freak show performers.
After touring the Circus Museum, it’s strange to walk into the Museum of Art. You may not like the art displayed and you might find yourself moving quickly through the galleries if you don’t appreciate works from the 16th century. A few highlights include Meeting with Abraham and Melchizedek in gallery 2, Rest at the Flight into Egypt in gallery 6, and the cast of Michelangelo’s David in the middle courtyard.
The former home to the Ringlings should be seen as well. The 36,000-square-foot home was designed to look like a Venice canal-side home. It is covered in glazed tiles that reflect the heat of the Florida sun. Walk around the front of this home to see the expansive waterfront patio. Here you can enjoy the best views and photos. You can purchase self-guided tours of first floor at an additional cost by entering the front gate.
You should spend as much time as possible exploring the gardens and grounds. They are just as beautiful as the art within. Mabel Ringling’s passion for nature is evident in the towering banyan trees and large Rose Garden.
The Sarasota Museum of Art is a great place to visit if you love art. The museum is part of the Ringling College of Art + Design and focuses on contemporary art from around the world.
Address: 5401 Bay Shore Road Sarasota (Florida)
Official site: www.ringling.org
Enjoy the Beaches of Siesta Key
It would be remiss to not visit one of the stunning beaches on Siesta Key when you plan a vacation to Sarasota. Siesta Key Public Beach is the largest and most accessible. This beach is the best because it has the most soft sand you will ever see. Unlike other beaches that are coral, the sand here is quartz. It is also very cool to touch, especially when you walk on it.
This beach is ideal for families because it has shallow areas that are far from the shore. There are tennis courts and beach volleyball, but if you are looking to get active, you can also use the tennis courts and picnic tables. If you are looking to relax with your family, you will find playgrounds and picnic tables. Beach Road offers ample free parking.
You’ll find Turtle Beach if you drive a little further south. This stunning beach has black, white, salt, and pepper sand. Explore Jim Neville Marine Preserve and Palmer Point Park by kayak
Sarasota Beach is a secret beach with a natural feel. The beach is backed with sea oats, cabbage palms, and the condos and homes are set a very far back, giving it a park-like feeling.
You can watch the sunset over Siesta Key from Sunset Beach if you’re on Siesta Key at night.
Stroll around the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which overlook Sarasota Bay is a lovely spot for a peaceful stroll, even if your not a keen gardener, is a great place to relax. The grounds are 15 acres in size and offer plenty of sitting areas for you to relax and take in the views. A wooden boardwalk that runs through mangrove forests offers beautiful views of the bay.
One of the most impressive displays and collections of orchids and bromeliads are among the botanical highlights. Bamboo, ferns and cycads are just a few of the other impressive specimens.
The koi pond, butterfly garden, and elevated children’s rainforest gardens are a favorite spot for kids. Hanging bridges, a waterfall and an Amazon village are just a few of the attractions in this popular area. There is also an adventure trail that offers treetop views of tropical plants. You can also shop at the gift shop on-site for souvenirs after admiring the beautiful botanical displays.
You can still be amazed by the beauty of more botanical specimens at Osprey’s Historic Spanish Point Campus.
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has big plans. Three-phase, 92 million-dollar plan at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is in its infancy. It will include a new research centre, archives facilities, a restaurant and restoration of the original mansion. There will also be a new parking garage, greenhouse, and pedestrian promenade.
Address: 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota (Florida)
Official site: http://selby.org/
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium – Learn more about the Life Under the Sea
The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s primary focus is not on caring for injured marine life or nursing them back to health, but on applying what scientists have learned to human needs. This facility is truly a research center, with a team of top scientists who are constantly pushing the boundaries.
This research includes citizens of the ocean such as manatees and dolphins, sea turtles and sharks, as well coral reefs and other ecosystems. Some of the research may have potential implications for curing diseases.
The exhibits include rays that you can touch, as well as sharks swimming and delicate seahorses.
Address: 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway Sarasota Florida
Official site: www.mote.org
Save our Seabirds (SOS), provides information about the birds.
You’ve probably seen the many birds that are found in Florida. Visit the Save our Seabirds facility to learn more about these amazing avian creatures. This non-profit organization is dedicated to rehabilitating birds so they can be released back into the wild. It can easily be combined with a visit to the Mote Aquarium located across the parking lot.
Some birds, however, are not able to be released due to their severe injuries. They have become residents of the facility. It is fascinating to learn about these birds up close and it makes for a great family activity.
Address: 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway Sarasota Florida
Official site: https://www.saveourseabirds.org/
Saint Armands Circle – Shop and dine
Saint Armands Circle is a must-see for shoppers and gourmands. This shoppers’ paradise is located on a small island, just across Sarasota Bay. It contains a large collection of luxury shops and fine dining establishments that are waiting to be discovered. You can relax and take in the view from any of the restaurants located in this pedestrian-friendly neighborhood.
John Ringling envisioned Saint Armands Circle and it was built in 1926. It was damaged by the Depression and eventually died. Then it came back to life in the 1950s. The area is home to towering palm trees and 33 statues from John Ringling, the Circus Ring of Fame. There are also wide sidewalks and colorful tropical plants.
Official site: https://starmandscircleassoc.com/
Enjoy the Big Cat Habitat’s Wild Side and the Gulf Coast Sanctuary’s Wild Side
The Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary are home to a variety of domestic animals, including sheep and goats. There are also lions.
There are also large tortoises and birds of many beautiful feathers flocking together. They are all kept in naturalistic settings and many of them have been rescued and brought back to health.
There are many rare and exotic species that you can see here. The daily shows “Parrots In Paradise”, and “Big Cat Encounter” are the two. All admission fees go towards the care and housing of the animals.
Lemur Yoga is a class for yoga devotees. Two ruffed lemurs will join you on the mat to help you in your yoga practice. You can also take interactive yoga classes with silver foxes or tigers. The tigers will still be in their cages, but don’t worry!
Another animal experience is at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. This 10-acre tropical setting offers the opportunity to hand-feed flamingos.
Address: 7101 Palmer Boulevard, Sarasota, Florida
Official site: www.bigcathabitat.org
Kayak through Mangrove Tunnels
Mangroves are small, subtropical trees that only grow in marshy, subtropical areas. This is a spot in Sarasota that these tiny islands form green tunnels. Kayaking tours are a great way to explore this area.
You’ll be able to enjoy the tranquility and peace of these quiet, peaceful waterways on a guided kayak trip through mangrove tunnels. You can sometimes spot wildlife, even though it is constantly watching you. There will be many birds to see, including ospreys, little blue herons and pelicans. Wood storks are also common, as well as bald eagles. There will also be a range of smaller swamp-inhabiting animals (but not alligators).
You will also be taken out to Sarasota Bay where manatees as well as dolphins can be seen. These tours will transport you to a place you have never seen before but that you’ll cherish forever.
Address: 100 Taft Drive Sarasota Florida
Official site: www.kayakfl.com
Manatee Village Historical Park – Travel back in time
Manatee Village Historical Park is a step back in time. You’ll pass a 1913 locomotive that locals affectionately call “Old Cabbage head”.
Here you will find a pre-Civil War courthouse (1860), a church dating back to 1887, a schoolhouse with one room from who-knows when, a wooden house from Old Florida, and the Sugar Cane Mill & Smokehouse. Sugar cane was once the main crop in this area.
A blacksmith shop, a boat-crafting workshop from settlement days, and the Wiggins general store were all available. It’s difficult to leave the store without purchasing one of the many unique gifts, housewares or delicious treats.
Here are 14 landmarks, each offering a glimpse into the past when Florida was America’s frontier. The admission is free.
Address: 1404 Manatee Avenue East (SR 64), Bradenton, Florida
Official site: www.manateevillage.org
Pinecraft Amish Community offers a different world.
Pinecraft is an Amish community. It is what it is. Some 3,000 Mennonite and Amish residents of Pinecraft live in the same way as their ancestors, making or baking whatever they need. They make unique houseware and crafts, as well as delicious culinary delights for visitors.
Pinecraft’s charming little markets are a great place to shop for homemade goods and jams. You’ll also find hand-crafted furniture, beautiful quilts, and utilitarian crafts in the galleries and shops of local craftspeople that will last for as long as your family.
Stop by Yoder’s Amish Restaurant to get the best chocolate cake and pies around. For comfort food with a capital C, visit Der Dutchman Restaurant
The Sarasota Classic Car Museum has your old dream car!
You won’t find your dream car anywhere else if you don’t find it here. Sarasota Classic Car Museum, the nation’s second-oldest such attraction, will draw you into a sweet, nostalgic, technicolored land of gentler times, as you pass one dream machine after another.
These icons are from the early, glorious days of the automobile. It was a time when the headlights were prominent in the front, and the jump-seats in the back. There are also “futuristic” fantasies from the past that were never realized by manufacturers.
Other exhibits include muscle cars from the 50s and 70s and collections that span the entire range, including John and Mabel Ringling’s large Rolls-Royces and Paul McCartney’s beloved Mini Cooper.
There are also special revolving exhibits, as well as a gift shop that will bring back wonderful memories from your youth.
Address: 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida
Official site: www.sarasotacarmuseum.org
Segway Rides by the Sea
Anna Maria Island is just one of the many picturesque, small beach towns found here. Segways are a great way to explore the area. This will give you a close-up, intimate view of the sandy retreat, surrounding islands, as well as the blue ocean right at its doorstep.
Segway riding gives you the freedom to explore the city at your own pace, stopping whenever you want to get a better look.
Segs by the Sea offers self-balancing Segways that are state-of-the art. They offer both self-guided and guided tours and will be happy to customize a tour for you.
Anna Maria is a barrier island that measures seven miles long with many interesting properties available for rent. Pine Avenue is the center of a village that features unique eateries and novelty gift shops. There are also two piers where dolphins come to visit. The village offers incredible views of Tampa Bay.
Address: 103 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, Florida
Official site: www.segsbythesea.com
Myakka River State Park: Immerse yourself in Nature
It seems like nothing has changed at Myakka River State Park in one million years. The Myakka River flows over an area of 58 miles that will not be altered by human development.
The scenic river is just one of the many attractions. There are two lakes with excellent fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
People who prefer to walk can enjoy the rare Florida dry prairie. Those who want to relax and let someone else drive can travel on the Safari Tram Tour or two of the largest airboats in existence. The silence here is peaceful, the breathtaking natural vistas seem endless, and there’s plenty of wildlife.
You can camp anywhere, and it is highly recommended to take a tour of a park.
Address: 13208 State Road 72 Sarasota Florida
Official site: www.floridastateparks.org
Visit the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, Bradenton is similar to The Ringling in Sarasota. It offers three attractions for families. Here, you can explore the sky, the sea and the drylands for a day.
The exhibits begin in the past with the skeletons and artifacts of the frightening creatures that inhabited Florida millions of years ago. The exhibits then flow into modern times, featuring decorative arts and a glimpse at the maritime culture that has been a symbol of this area of Florida.
The Manatee Habitat offers a close look at the environment and life of the endangered “sea-cow”, the friendly, lovable manatee. These creatures can reach up to 3500 pounds. Snooty is the oldest manatee known to exist in Manatee County.
Popular also is the Planetarium’s state of the art projection experience that takes viewers on a multimillion mile journey into the heavens to get a completely different perspective.
Address: 201 10th Street West, Bradenton, Florida
Official site: https://bishopscience.org