14 Best Things to Do in Sarasota (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Set between St. Petersburg and Cape Coral in the Tampa Bay Area, Sarasota is a lively coastal city, full of natural, historical, and cultural attractions.

For me, Sarasota means perfect white sandy beaches, dazzling entertainment, diverse shopping, and tons of family-oriented fun.

The city is also close to other popular destination cities like Punta Gorda, Fort Myers, and Tampa, so there are a variety of day-trip options for those who don’t mind spending a few hours in the car.

Below are my 14 things to do in and around Sarasota, Florida that shouldn’t be passed up when you’re in the area.

1. Sarasota Farmers Market

Sarasota Farmers MarketSource: Stephen B. Goodwin / shutterstock
Sarasota Farmers Market

Here’s the skinny on the Sarasota Farmers Market. It’s been around since 1979. It’s open year-round rain or shine, and it takes place every Saturday from 7 AM until 1 PM.

Though the market is probably best-known for its fantastic variety of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, it’s full of other great products too, many of which you won’t find elsewhere.

I love the atmosphere at the market, with vendors and customers chatting, lots of friendly dogs to meet, and live music to enjoy every week.

Arts and crafts, health and body products, fresh baked goods, and prepared food items like honey, pasta sauce and salsa are available in abundance. You won’t want to pass up a Vitamin C-packed cup of fresh-squeezed Florida OJ.

2. The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art

John & Mable Ringling Museum of ArtSource: mariakray / shutterstock
John & Mable Ringling Museum Of Art

Located on Bay Shore Road in Sarasota, the sprawling grounds of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are full of amazing original and reproduction art and architecture from the classical Greek, Roman, and Renaissance eras.

I’m only exaggerating a little to say I felt like I was transported to a different time and place here.

This is Florida’s official state art museum, famed for an awesome collection of European art, with works by luminaries like Velázquez, Rubens, Poussin, Gainsborough and Boudin.

Named after the co-founder of the once famous and now-defunct Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, the museum is a one-of-a-kind treasure that’s worth a few hours of your time; it’s appropriate for children, too.

Consider taking advantage of the free tours that last about 45 minutes.

3. Baltimore Orioles Spring Training Site

Orioles Spring TrainingSource: John Kershner / shutterstock
Ed Smith Stadium

Though Sarasota and Baltimore couldn’t be more different if they tried, the Florida city has been hosting the Baltimore Orioles’ spring training for years, and Ed Smith Stadium is where they play their home games when they’re in town.

The stadium is conveniently located just a few miles off Interstate 75 not far from downtown Sarasota. The time to see the Orioles in action is March when the Grapefruit League is in full swing. There are roughly 15 games at the Ed Smith Stadium at this time of year.

For me, it’s a great way to enjoy a relaxing afternoon or evening without spending an arm and a leg like you would at a big league stadium during the regular season.

Check out their website for game schedules and ticket options.

4. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

Mote Marine Laboratory and AquariumSource: LimpingFrog Productions / Flickr
Mote Marine Laboratory And Aquarium

Located on Ken Thompson Parkway, the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium features an array of exhibits that include fascinating marine animals like turtles, eels, and otters. There’s even a dedicated shark tank that contains more than 100,000 gallons of water.

Though the cost of admission is relatively steep, most guests find that it’s good value, considering all there is to see and do. On my visit, it was a privilege to get so close to a manatee, standing a matter of inches from this placid Floridian icon.

The facility hosts a yearly reptile exhibit that features American alligators and crocodiles and is a favorite with adults and kids alike.

Free onsite parking is available, and it’s possible to get within a short walk by utilizing the public transportation system.

5. Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State ParkSource: Rui Serra Maia / shutterstock
Myakka River State Park

Comprising an assortment of unique habitats like prairies, lakes, river frontage, and wetlands, Myakka River State Park is spread over nearly 60 square miles. It offers visitors an array of activity options that’ll get them up close and personal with the natural world.

Here that means alligators, and I mean a lot of alligators. If you want a guaranteed sighting, this is the place for you. In fact, you will see hundreds, in every body of water in the park.

Hiking, biking, fishing, and kayaking are among the most popular activities, but the choice is huge, whether you’re on land or water.

What inspires me most about Myakka River State Park is that these habitats look exactly as they did when they were home to Native Americans or navigated by early Spanish explorers.

Amenities include miles of trails, gift shops, a visitor center, and a restaurant.

6. Lido Key/St. Armands Circle

Lido BeachSource: Suncoast Aerials / shutterstock
Lido Beach

For blissful beach-time, my go-to is Lido Beach, less than 10 minutes from downtown Sarasota. Think long walks on soft white sand, golden sunsets, and some of the most productive beach combing you’ve ever done.

The commercial hub of Lido Key is St. Armands Circle, full of gorgeous Mid-Century Modern architecture in the Sarasota School style.

Head to this European-style district for some outdoor shopping and al fresco dining, making time to appreciate the tropical gardens at the center of the circle.

There’s natural splendor at the nearby South Lido County Park, with mangroves, another stunning beach, and regular dolphin sightings.

7. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Selby Gardens, SarasotaSource: jeep2499 / shutterstock
Selby Gardens, Sarasota

Located on South Palm Avenue, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens were opened to the public more than four decades ago and include thousands of species of plants and flowers in several distinct cultivated gardens and greenhouses.

I visited with little ones, and the Butterfly and Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest gardens were a huge success. There are even caves, rope bridges, and amazing oriental-themed goldfish ponds that are all worth exploring.

I just wish I had a bit more time to see the orchids in the greenhouses. There are close to 5,000 varieties growing in these carefully managed environments.

The gardens are an oasis of serenity and natural beauty in an otherwise bustling city, so consider stopping by when you’ve had your fill of the more commercial tourist attractions in the area.

8. Mad Moe’s

Mad Moe’s, OspreySource: madmoes.com
Mad Moe’s, Osprey

Located on North Tamiami Trail in nearby Osprey, Mad Moe’s is one of those places where you may see a Ferrari parked next to a decades-old family station-wagon like the one driven by Chevy Chase in the iconic movie, Vacation.

Though it’s far from upscale, Moe’s is well-known for its tasty, reasonably-priced grub and relaxed atmosphere.

From Cuban sandwiches and fish tacos to outdoor seating and a full bar, Mad Moe’s is the perfect place to stop for a quick lunch, or to while away a few afternoon hours sipping adult beverages and catching a game or two on one of their more than 20 TVs.

9. Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy

Marietta Museum of Art & WhimsySource: www.whimsymuseum.org
Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy

If I had to pick one spot in Sarasota guaranteed to put a smile on your face it would be this inimitable art museum that opened in 2010.

Inside, the gallery is a rainbow-like medley of painting, sculpture and decorative arts, with something to draw you in at every turn. 

All produced by contemporary artists since the 2000s, these works range from lighthearted and kitsch to complex and poignant. 

The magic is just as strong outside in a wonderful sculpture garden, where fanciful creations sit under a canopy of palms, bamboo and live oaks.

10. Village of the Arts

Village of the ArtsSource: psyberartist / Flickr
Village Of The Arts

Featuring more than 100 homes and an eclectic mix of galleries, eateries, studios, and workshops, Village of the Arts is one of the Sarasota area’s most unique destinations, especially for those looking to immerse themselves in an artsy and Bohemian setting for a few hours.

I adore the cozy vibe of this colorful live-work community. Most of the village’s buildings date from nearly a century ago. At almost 40 acres, it’s a sprawling site that’s perfect for an afternoon stroll, taking in some fantastic art, or relaxing with a cappuccino and a good book.

The village is located on 12th Avenue West in Bradenton and is a must-visit for those looking to jumpstart their creativity or pick-up a unique piece of locally created artwork.

11. Siesta Key Village

Siesta Key VillageSource: Chris Ferrara / shutterstock
Siesta Key Village

Partly within Sarasota’s boundaries, Siesta Key is another alluring barrier island, trimmed with beaches that almost defy belief. 

Often rated among the best in Florida, Siesta Beach is a remarkable sight, with perfect white sand that is composed of 99% quartz. 

This prevents the sand from absorbing the heat, so even when the sun is blazing the beach feels fresh underfoot.

The island is a real self-contained vacation spot, with a string of resorts on the beachfront, a free trolley service, live shows, and a cosmopolitan shopping and dining district centered on Ocean Boulevard.

12. Ca’ D’Zan

Lake Manatee State ParkSource: Florida State Parks / Facebook
Lake Manatee State Park

I’ve made extra space to talk about the Ringlings’ lavish winter home, an essential partner for the art and circus museums. 

Overlooking Sarasota Bay, this 56-room Mediterranean Revival mansion was completed in record time in 1926, and quickly became the place to be for Sarasota society in the Roaring Twenties.

What I loved most about Ca’ d’Zan is how you get to know Mable and John Ringling. They put so much of their personality into the decor, mainly to present themselves as a worldly couple.

At that time, Gilded Age splendor had gone out of fashion, so many of the decorative pieces were actually purchased at a cut price. 

You can take a self-guided tour of the first floor with museum admission, but it’s well worth opting for the full Ca d’Zan experience on a guided tour across all five floors.

13. Sarasota Opera House

Sarasota Opera HouseSource: Heidi Besen / shutterstock
Sarasota Opera House

A downtown landmark steeped in history, the Sarasota Opera House (1926) helped announce the city’s arrival as a prime cultural destination.

At that time this spot was known as the Edwards Theatre, and the programming was a blend of vaudeville and movies. 

Later, in 1951 Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth premiered here, after being filmed in and around Sarasota. Then in 1956 Elvis Presley took the stage, just as he was making it big. 

The Asolo Opera Guild took over in the late 1970s, and for more than 40 years this has been the place to go for elevated entertainment in Sarasota. 

Madama Butterfly, Carmen, La Traviata, Tosca and Rigoletto have all been performed in recent seasons. 

If you’re a bit confused by opera, there’s a fantastic classic movie series in summer, and I had a great time watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and Vertigo in this luxuriant setting.

14. Palma Sola Botanical Park

Palma Sola Botanical ParkSource: Steve Carroll / shutterstock
Palma Sola Botanical Park

Bradenton’s Palma Sola Botanical Park was established nearly 30 years ago to create an idyllic green space and preserve a variety of trees from a municipal nursery.

The park includes several distinct gardens, and the grounds are connected by trails that include picnic areas and gazebos, a playground, and three lakes with bridges.

I had a fabulous time at this park, checking out the unique assortment of rare fruit trees, most of which I’d never seen before in my life.

Instructional and educational workshops are offered by park staff as well; many of them are suitable for children. Stay up to date with the calendar of events on their website so you don’t miss out.

The park is open year-round, every day except major holidays.


14 Best Things to Do in Sarasota (FL):

  • Sarasota Farmers Market
  • The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art
  • Baltimore Orioles Spring Training Site
  • Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
  • Myakka River State Park
  • Lido Key/St. Armands Circle
  • Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
  • Mad Moe’s
  • Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy
  • Village of the Arts
  • Siesta Key Village
  • Ca' D'Zan
  • Sarasota Opera House
  • Palma Sola Botanical Park