Located between St. Petersburg and Cape Coral on the central portion of the state’s west coast along the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota is known for its natural, historical, and cultural attractions. It’s is conveniently situated just off Interstate 75, one of Florida’s major north-south running highways.
Near other popular destination cities like Punta Gorda, Fort Myers, and Tampa, there are a variety of day-trip options as well, for those who don’t mind spending a few hours in the car.
Below are 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
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 most well-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.
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
Located on Bay Shore Road in Sarasota, the sprawling grounds that are home to 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 that make many visitors feel like they’ve been transported to a different time and place.
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
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. In 2019, the O’s played 17 of their 33 Grapefruit League games here.
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
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.
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
Comprised of an assortment of unique habitats like prairies, lakes, rivers, 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.
Hiking, biking, fishing, and kayaking are among the most popular, and guided tours by land and airboat are available too.
For those who’ve never experienced the exhilaration of an airboat, it’s a great way to get a shot of adrenaline and see the amazing environment from a different perspective.
Amenities include miles of trails, gift shops, a visitor’s center, and a restaurant.
6. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
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.
For those traveling with little ones, the Butterfly and Rainforest gardens are perennial favorites. There are even caves, rope bridges, and amazing oriental-themed goldfish ponds that are all worth exploring.
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.
7. Mad Moe’s
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 televisions.
8. Florida Maritime Museum
With more coastline than nearly every other state, it’s not surprising that Florida has such a rich Maritime history.
Located on four acres in the historic town of Cortez, the Florida Maritime Museum is housed in an old schoolhouse that was originally built more than 100 years ago.
The museum’s exhibits and memorabilia focus mainly on commercial fishing and maritime transportation and include an interesting mix of ship’s logs, photographs, first-hand accounts, and a variety of nautical equipment as well.
The museum also includes a research library that’s one of the largest of its kind. Most guests dedicate between one and two hours to the facility.
9. 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.
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.
10. De Soto National Memorial
Almost 500 years ago, Hernando De Soto landed on Florida’s shores near Bradenton looking for lost cities of gold and the mythical Fountain of Youth.
Though he didn’t find either, the De Soto National Memorial is worth a visit for history-minded travelers. It is set on nearly 30 scenic acres of coastline overlooking the Manatee River and Tampa Bay.
In addition to its historical significance and natural beauty, many visitors choose to engage in outdoor recreation like kayaking, fishing, hiking, and picnicking. The area is popular with bird watchers as well, so don’t forget your camera and comfy walking shoes.
11. Lake Manatee State Park
Lake Manatee State Park is located about 20 minutes east of Bradenton and is comprised of more than 500 acres of mixed landscapes that offer guests a variety of recreation options, like freshwater fishing, boating, sunbathing, and swimming.
Formed in the ’60s when the Manatee River was dammed, since then, the lake has grown into a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers of all stripes.
Walkers who explore the park’s trails are likely to see a variety of animals, and for those who work up a sweat or just want to wash off the lake water after a swim, there are plenty of showers near the beach.
12. 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.
Instructional and educational workshops are offered by park staff as well; many of them are suitable for children. Check out the calendar of events on their website so you don’t miss out.
The park is open year-round, every day except major holidays.
13. Bradenton Riverwalk
The Manatee River is one of Bradenton’s main recreation attractions. In addition to its stunning views, the Bradenton Riverwalk offers guests a unique mix of cultural, epicurean, and calorie-burning activities all in one location.
The Riverwalk runs nearly two miles and is wheelchair accessible. As well as plenty of wide open spaces, it also features a skate park, beach volleyball courts, and an outdoor amphitheater that can hold up to 400.
During the summer months, it’s known for its outdoor festivals and live entertainment. There’s even a splash pad, fishing pier, and playground, so it’s great for families traveling with little ones.
14. Bobby Jones Golf Complex
Comprised of 45 holes, the Bobby Jones Golf Complex is a municipal facility that has been open to the public for just shy of a century.
The only golf facility located inside Sarasota city limits, it sits on more than 300 sprawling acres that include a variety of natural elements.
With a variety of distinct courses to choose from, there’s an appropriate option for those of nearly every skill level. Most guests appreciate the nearly total lack of development on all but one of the facility’s holes.
Located on Circus Boulevard in Sarasota, it’s wise to book your tee time well in advance of your trip.