I still consider myself new to Sarasota even though I’ve visited a number of times over the last decade. My wife grew up a few miles south, in Venice, so it’s not uncommon for us to make a quick trip up to the city to shop, eat, or enjoy the Gulf breeze. Still, it seems like this place is always growing: when we go, we always find something new to explore.
Sarasota boasts all the hallmarks of a major Florida city without the drawbacks of some of its neighbors. There are tons of cultural and upscale attractions, but it’s nowhere near as congested as Orlando, for instance, or as pricey as Palm Beach. Here’s how to explore the compact yet exciting town of Sarasota on your first trip.
Expect sunshine with some cloud cover throughout the year.
If you only have time for one thing, make it sun worshiping on Siesta Key’s white sand.
Start with a sightseeing tour that will show you enough of the city to give you the lay of the land. You’ll cruise around the bustling St. Armands Circle, ride through historic neighborhoods, and pass by attractions like the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the Sarasota Opera House. Once you’re done, you can spend the afternoon exploring the spots that looked the most exciting.
In the evening, explore another part of the city with a sunset electric-bicycle tour of Siesta Key. This stunning beach is one of the most popular places in the county for sunset viewing.
You’ve seen the sunny side of Sarasota; now it’s time to see the silly side. Head to the Ringling Museum and spend a few hours under the “big top” learning about the city’s history and how the circus helped shape Sarasota’s quirky arts and culture scene.
If you’re feeling inspired by the tales of acrobats and high-flyers, take a quick drive north to the TreeUmph Adventure Course in Bradenton, where you can head into the treetops to swing, zipline, and hang out 60 feet (18 meters) above the ground.
Sarasota is bathed in sunshine, so start your last day soaking it up just off the coast. Take a private half-day charter with a local captain and you can enjoy swimming, shelling, and spotting wildlife—the area is home to dolphins, manatees, fish, and birds.
If you’ve still got time to relax after the sun sets, enjoy another watery adventure—a glass-bottom kayak tour. The boats are illuminated with LED lights, so your group will be bathed in a green glow as you paddle through mangrove tunnels and snap stunning photos of the Sarasota skyline.