Sarasota Travel Guide

Truly a paradise on earth, visitors to the chain of Sarasota and the surrounding Gulf Beach communities arrive eager to relax on miles of cool, sugar-white quartz sands and swim in the clear, turquoise Gulf waters under waving palms. Tour the luxurious living of Longboat Key and spend the day among the glamorous at Lido Key’s famous European-style shopping center St. Armands Circle. Come see why over a million tourists come to world-famous Siesta Key, honored as one of the best beaches in the nation, or have fun shark-tooth hunting and snorkeling off the shores of Casey Key. In fact, the only Sarasota spectacle you won’t find in Florida is the breathtaking sunset of Anna Maria Island – you’ll just have to see that for yourself.

Sarasota Attractions

Sarasota activities and attractions immerse you in Sarasota’s natural splendor, whether it is kite flying on the beach, kayaking in Sarasota Bay or shooting 18 holes at one of the extraordinary golf courses. Many area parks and beaches have family-friendly amenities like concession stands, picnic shelters and restroom facilities, making for a carefree day. Home to exotic year-round birds and many migrating species you won’t see anywhere else in America, Sarasota sanctuaries display residents’ love of area wildlife. World-class museums and art galleries, awe-inspiring ballet and symphonic performances are part of Sarasota’s cultural offerings for residents and visitors alike.

Whenever you’re ready to indulge and pamper yourself a little, unwind at Sarasota’s luxurious spas and salons before hitting the shops and boutiques. Local merchants with an eye for cosmopolitan couture have scoured the globe to send you home in style! Whether you’re looking for a fun souvenir or a unique piece of shore décor, Sarasota shops stock the best selection of gifts and keepsakes. For a unique way to remember the white sand and blue waters of Sarasota, swing by a local jewelers and adorn yourself with a Sarasota charm bracelet, individually bejeweled with personality.

Sarasota Beaches

orming the western flank of the magnificent Sarasota Bay is a train of barrier islands and oceanfront beaches that trace nearly fifty miles of Florida’s gorgeous coastline. While these islands and beaches may share the pristine white sands for which the Suncoast is famous, you’ll soon discover that each region harbors a distinct personality.

Bradenton Beach

Many Sarasota visitors stay at the rustic beach cottages of Anna Maria Island, home to quaint shopping destinations as well as one of the area’s most vibrant art scenes. Crowning the island is the residential area of Anna Maria City, where you’re likely to witness Sarasota’s spectacular wildlife in its natural habitat. In the island’s center is Holmes Beach, the largest of the three communities that make up the northern key. Bradenton Beach is where you’ll find the popular City Pier and Cafe as well as incredible public parks and beaches.

Longboat Key

Across the channel you’ll discover the endless paradise of Longboat Key – twelve miles of immaculate sand and crystalline ocean invite visitors to relax and unwind. At the southern tip of the island, the mangroves and lagoons of Quick Point Nature Preserve display the inspirational results of Sarasota’s preservation efforts.

Lido Key

Located only a few minutes from the elegance of St. Armands Circle are the equally luxurious beaches of Lido Key. Untouched by development, the areas of North and South Lido are where visitors and residents anchor their boats along the shore, picnic under the pines at South Lido County Park or simply relax on the white quartz sand.

Sarasota’s Barrier Islands

Across Roberts Bay is Siesta Key, named the #1 Beach in America and the most popular of Sarasota’s barrier islands. Here visitors seek out flocks of exotic birds, swaying groves of palm trees, and the “World’s Finest Whitest Sand.” Wild parrots, majestic pelicans and Florida Sand Hill cranes are just a few of the fascinating species that draw bird-watchers from around the globe. For the best snorkeling and shell-hunting off the west coast of Florida, dive or dig among the incredible geologic formations at the Point of Rocks. Just past Heron Lagoon is Turtle Beach, the ideal spot to “kick back” away from the crowds.

Following the winding Casey Key Road, you’ll drive by the more extravagant neighborhoods of Sarasota before arriving at the public beach located at the southern end.

Venice Beach

Across the jetty lies the natural splendor of Venice Beach. For some serious shark’s tooth hunting, grab a bucket and go. Or head to the nearby seclusion of Caspersen Beach to dig up some prehistoric souvenirs!

Wherever you find yourself along the barrier islands, you’ll undoubtedly be able to enjoy the incredible hues of the Sarasota sunset. The dazzling shades of reds, yellows and blues fill the sky as the sun descends beyond the Gulf Coast. Occasionally, the optical phenomenon known as a “green flash” can be experienced from Sarasota’s beaches as the sun finally dips below the horizon.

Whatever your ideal vacation experience, the Florida Suncoast is certain to fulfill all your getaway wishes. From dolphin-watching in Anna Maria Island, to lazing in the “sugar-white” sands of Siesta Key, to collecting sharks’ teeth in Venice Beach, incredible memories are waiting for you on Sarasota’s beaches.

Mote Aquarium and Marine Laboratory

Take a closer look at our wondrous oceans by visiting Mote Aquarium – home to more than 100 marine species and to interactive exhibits featuring the lab’s world-class marine research of Mote Marine Laboratory. Located on Sarasota’s City Island just north of St. Armands Circle, Mote Aquarium offers plenty to “sea” for locals and visitors alike.

Mote Aquarium
Photo by Mote Aquarium

Discover manatees, sea turtles, a pantropical spotted dolphin, and many fascinating fish including large sharks and tarpon in Mote’s 135,000-gallon shark habitat. Watch sharks swim to special targets for their food – a behavior that helps Mote aquarists take good care of them – during narrated training sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

See wondrous seahorses, cuttlefish that change color in a blink, and other fish and invertebrates that Mote raises and displays to raise public awareness about our oceans. At the exhibit “Sea Turtles: Ancient Survivors,” guests can meet real sea turtles, learn about the threats they face in the wild, and follow the oceangoing journeys of turtles tagged by Mote scientists.

The Aquarium is a unique Informal Science Education Center that brings the research of Mote Marine Laboratory to life. Guests can peek into working labs and enjoy exhibits about real Mote science. In addition to visiting The Aquarium, people of all ages can sign up for education programs for an even closer look at marine research and ocean ecosystems.

The Aquarium is open from 10am-5pm 365 days per year. Behind-the-scenes tours and venue rentals are available. To learn more, call 941-388-4441, email [email protected], or visit

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens invites you to explore the world’s most spectacular display of rare orchids and bromeliads in this tropical oasis on Sarasota Bay. Discover an open-air and under-glass museum of more than 20,000 colorful plants – including a living collection of more than 6,000 orchids– many collected in the wild by the gardens’ research and conservation scientists on more than 200 scientific expeditions to tropical rain forests.

Marie Selby Botanical GardensBegin your tour in the Tropical Display House, where you’ll encounter the most concentrated display of tropical plants in the United States.

Then, wander along the gardens’ pathways that take you past the butterfly garden, bamboo garden, banyan grove and other delightful botanical surprises.

The Garden Shop and the unique Banyan Treasures Store are brimming with unique collectibles, unusual plants and gifts. The gardens hosts cafés in the historic Selby House and the mansion.

The historic mansion is host to ever-changing botanical art and photography exhibits.

Selby Gardens is located in downtown Sarasota. Call 941-366-5731 for more information or visit us at

St. Armands Circle

In the early 1900s, the key was just a mangrove island too far from the small fishing village of Sarasota to attract much attention. Today, amidst lush tropical plantings, the fresh salt air and warming sun, St. Armands is an elegant circle of fine shops, from trinkets to treasures and gourmet cuisine from award-winning restaurants.

The Frenchman, Charles St. Amand (misspelled “St. Armand” on the deed), became the first resident of the key by purchasing the 132-acre tract for $21.71. Circus magnate John Ringling purchased St. Armands Key in 1917 with the vision of a circle lined with shops and a residential area. Canals were dredged, seawalls built, streets and sidewalks were laid, and in 1925, a wooden bridge to Sarasota was completed.

Sales of property boomed, but soon faded as the Depression hit hard in Florida. Unable to maintain the property, Ringling gave St. Armands to Sarasota as a gift. The dream seemed lost.

For more than twenty years, St. Armands stood still. Wood rotted and vegetation grew and covered the streets and sidewalks. The bandstand sagged, then collapsed. The dream was lost. However, in the mid-1950s, the circle slowly came alive.

Today, the shopping circle looks very much as John Ringling envisioned it, with palm-lined streets, tropical plantings, courtyards and patios and Italian statuary from his personal collection about the circle. The promise of greatness, the cosmopolitan shopping area and residential surroundings envisioned by John Ringling have indeed become a reality.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Sarasota’s Favorite Family Attraction

Family-owned and operated, Sarasota Jungle Gardens features 10 acres of beautiful, tropical vegetation and winding jungle trails. Established in 1939, Sarasota Jungle Gardens is one of the oldest continuously operating attractions in Florida. It provides a much needed home to more than 200 native and exotic animals including free-roaming flamingos, parrots, macaws, birds of prey, primates, small mammals, crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles.

The daily shows entitled “Reptile Encounter,” “Jungle Bird” and “Wildlife Wonder” give guests the opportunity to see parrots ride roller skates, pet a skunk, and learn the difference between a crocodile and an alligator, plus much more!

Visitors will enjoy being entertained and educated through numerous learning experiences available at the park. This includes one-on-one interaction with animals of all kinds as well as the opportunity to ask questions and get behind-the-scenes information from the caring zookeepers.

A flock of free-roaming flamingos on-site is another great feature. When meandering through the Gardens, these gentle creatures can often be found nibbling food out of guests’ hands. There is also the opportunity to hand-feed goats, chickens and a miniature cow at the petting zoo, providing an engaging experience for all ages. From the beloved wooden train to the children’s playground, gift shop and café, there is something for everyone at Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

Popular annual events include the “Jungle Trails and Bunny Tails” Easter event held on Good Friday, the Summer Zoo Camp program held during June through August, and the “Holiday Lights Spectacular” held on select nights during the month of December.
The Sarasota Jungle Gardens friendly and knowledgeable staff has received rave reviews from all over the world. Animal lovers, vacationing families, photographers and horticulture aficionados all agree that a visit to Sarasota would not be complete without spending time at Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

For more information on business hours, summer camp, educational shows, group discounts and special events, call 941-355-5305, visit the website or check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Historic Spanish Point

See evidence of Prehistoric Life from over 5,000 years ago when early Floridians fished and hunted, made tools from shell, bone and wood, mended their fishing nets, cooked their food and buried their dead.

Experience the lives of early Pioneers seeking to escape the harsh winters of New York. John and Eliza Webb and their 5 children traveled to Florida in 1867 in search of the ideal location for a homestead. Because of the elevated land extending into the bay, the Webbs settled here.

Stroll through the Gracious Palmer Era where Bertha Matilde Honore Palmer was a visionary. In 1910, she recognized the subtropical paradise of Sarasota as one of the world’s choicest locations, and designed elaborate gardens while also preserving the pioneer dwellings and remains of prehistoric life.

Explore the Natural Environment by stepping into a quiet oasis bordered by mangroves along Little Sarasota Bay on its western rim and pine flatlands to the east. The rich native plant life and beautiful butterfly garden create an impression of serenity.

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Historic Spanish Point is open to the general public Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday from 12-5pm. For prices call 941-966-5214 or visit their web site at

Shelling in Sarasota

The entire west coast of Florida abounds with molluskan sea life, especially offshore along the vast extent of the shallow continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico.

Over a thousand years ago, the native Calusa Indians harvested millions of large whelks for food and used the emptied shells for tools and weapons. Many of the nearby inlets and ancient village sites of these now-extinct people are built of mounds of these broken whelk shells.

Seashells have always dominated the lives and activities of most people in this semi-tropical garden. The charm and irresistible lure of shelling is embodied in the common names of the area’s best-known shells: the angel wing (a clam that burrows deeply in the mud); the banded tulip (a snail shell shaped like an unopened tulip); and the lightning whelk (lightning-like color streaks).

Seashells are a natural, vibrant part of nature. They are the outer, protective houses of soft, living animals. As the animal grows, it gradually adds liquid shell material to the edge of its shell. Special glands add color pigments just before the new layers harden.

Most gastropods (one-shelled conches, whelks and periwinkles) have separate sexes, with females laying their eggs either loosely in the water or within small chains of leathery capsules. These “rattlesnake” chains, containing hundreds of “baby” shells, are frequently cast up on the gulf-side beaches. The bivalves (two-shelled clams, oysters and scallops) may have separate sexes or possess both male and female organs in the same individual. Most bivalves shed millions of eggs and sperm freely into the ocean’s water, usually in the springtime.

There are hundreds of different shells found in the shallow waters off Sarasota and Manatee counties’ islands. Another 500 species live far out in the Gulf of Mexico in depths ranging from 80 to 2,000 feet. Each species has its preferred habitat and ecological requirements. The half-inch, colorful coquina clam lives only along a fairly narrow band of sloping sand beach, where the waves can bring them oxygen and food during high tide.

Mollusks are an important part of the web of life in the sea. They are a major source of food for bottom-feeding fish and for many aquatic birds. Some snails are effective scavengers and keep the seascape clean, while billions of clams and oysters are constantly filtering and “purifying” our local waters.

Sarasota Restaurants

Cutting-edge cuisine and comforting down-home cooking are served year-round in Sarasota’s incredible restaurants. Dine in elegance overlooking the gorgeous Gulf Coast, enjoy a frozen daiquiri or margarita with friends, or grab a picnic and head down to the beach with the family. Award-winning clam chowder and perfectly grilled strip steaks are served year-round, and succulent oyster bars are ready to give you and your entire family a uniquely Sarasota dining experience!

Otherwise known as ‘Circus-town’ (as the winter home of the Ringling Brothers), this is another Florida treasure of unique fun. Boasting such original items as the Ringling Estates ( a museum, gardens, and state-of-the-art theatre) and the Towles Court Artist Colony (full of galleries and other artistic outlets), this is where many local performers hang out.

With great shopping (check out St Armands Circle for fine clothes and book shops) and the family-friendly Mote Aquarium (a major shark and manatee research center), you won’t be short of things to do – in addition to enjoying the great beaches which spread north and south in places like Anna Maria Island and Bradenton.

Siesta Key and Surrounding Area

Whether you want to relax on the beach or rent a bike, boat, kayak or paddleboard, you’ll find it all on Siesta Key.

In the heart of Siesta Key is Siesta Key Village, only a shell’s throw away from the beach. The aptly named Siesta Key Village is so “laid back” that it could be the perfect setting for a Jimmy Buffett song. Along with beachgoing activities, you can browse the colorful jewelry, apparel and gift shops, or sample restaurants offering local delicacies (stone crab claws) and mainstream favorites (cheeseburgers).

Sunset viewing is a mandatory social event (dress: casual). Every Sunday about an hour before sunset, join the scores of people who bring drums (and other percussion instruments) to the public beach and “drum down the sun.”

Siesta Key nightlife is so much fun that the watering holes draw tourists and locals alike. Live music and frozen beverages make Siesta Key the perfect mix of relaxation and excitement.

So come and enjoy our tropical island atmosphere to make your stay on Florida’s Suncoast complete.

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