Sarasota Vacation Guide

2021 Sarasota Visitors Guide

Sarasota may be the ultimate beach town, with its sun-kissed location on the Gulf of Mexico, more than 200 sunny days a year and an average year-round temperature of 71°F. Yet there are plenty of other reasons why we named it the best small city. The county — which includes Venice, Northport, Longboat and Siesta Keys — has its own symphony, ballet, and opera companies. The 1,800-seat Van Wezel Performing Arts Center lures productions like the Broadway road company of Chicago. The Ringling Museum of Art — established by circus baron John Ringling, who settled in the area in the 1920s — has an extensive collection of American and European art. Like sports? Just an hour away there’s the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers and arena football’s Storm.

sarasota travel guide
Sarasota Travel Guide

Enjoy canoeing and kayaking, board your boat and head out to the bay for fishing, skiing or to enjoy the waterways. Several islands dot the bay waters creating a sanctuary for many bird varieties. Walk along the Gulf on world-famous beaches. The waters abound with many varieties of fish including tarpon, snook and mangrove snapper. See the dolphins & manatees feed & frolic. Walk along the spectacular beach, just minutes from your door. Living in Sarasota is like being on vacation every day with blue skies, sunny days, miles of the best beaches, the gulf coast breeze. Let us help you find your Sarasota real estate with a new home or condo in “Best Small City” in the U.S.

South Lido Beach

South Lido Beach is a tropical paradise away from the constantly active Lido and North Lido Beaches. By far the best part about South Lido Beach is the four bodies of water surrounding this smaller beach located at the very southern tip of Lido Key near St. Armands Key. The Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Sarasota Bay, or Brushy Bayou offer an excellent selection of waters for dipping your toes into or taking a nice afternoon swim to cool off from the heat of the day. This park also offers lots of shade with the beautiful Australian pines towering over much of the park and creating a perfect place for a romantic picnic or an afternoon escape in the shade.

sarasota lido key
South Lido Beach, Lido Key, Sarasota, Florida

At the very southern end of South Lido Beach, you can enjoy a picturesque skyline view of the city of Sarasota, while still remaining far away in your tropical paradise. You can also continue to escape the city life of Sarasota by drifting off into the nature trails or peeking into nature through the observation deck and even a canoe trail if you are feeling the need to beat the heat in the water. South Lido Beach is well known by local residents as a great place for a jog or brisk walk through the nature trails, so this is a great place to stay in shape during your vacation in Venice.

Once you get tired of relaxing at South Lido Beach you can head over to St. Armands Circle for shopping or a late afternoon lunch. To reach the invigorating South Lido Beach from Venice, take Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) to SR 780 W to St. Armands Key. Travel over the Ringling Causeway and Sarasota Bay. Take a left in the center of town and follow the signs out past North Lido Beach and you will come to the end of the island and the beautiful South Lido Beach.

Top Things to Do in Sarasota

1. Historic Spanish Point

Visit Historic Spanish Point and experience the past 5,000 years of history in Southwest Florida. Open to the general public from Monday through Saturday, 9 – 5 and Sunday from noon to 5 there are exhibits ranging from learning about the Florida Environment, Southwest Florida’s Maritime Heritage, Pioneer Homesteaders, Archaeology and the Bertha Palmer time period of growth in Southwest Florida. The 30-acre area of land used as Historic Spanish Point was once the winter estate of Mrs. Palmer. The cost to visit for the day is Adults $7, Children 6-12 $3, and children under 6 are free. To get there from Venice, take N. Tamiami Trail (US-41) all the way into the center of Sarasota. The parking area and entrance are located at 337 N. Tamiami Trail.

Historic Spanish Point
Historic Spanish Point

2. St. Armands Circle

Removed from the intensity of downtown Sarasota, St. Armands Circle has an unbelievable selection of original shops, galleries, and restaurants. Designed in a charming circular pattern amongst a flourishing landscape, this makes for a breathtaking shopping or afternoon strolling experience. Take Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41) to SR 780 W to St. Armands Key.
Travel over the Ringling Causeway and Sarasota Bay and you will run right into St. Armands Circle.

St. Armands Circle
St. Armands Circle

3. Ed Smith Stadium

East of downtown Sarasota at 2700 12th Street, you will find the spring training home of the Cincinnati Reds. If you are in the Venice area between February and March, catch a preseason game for between $5 and $12. From April to August the Class A minor-league affiliate team of the Boston Red Sox, the Sarasota Red Sox play and tickets are only $5, so bring the entire family for an evening of baseball.

4. South Florida Museum and Parker Manatee Aquarium

Open Jan-Apr and July Mon-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun noon-5pm. Rest of the year Tues-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun noon-5pm. Home of the oldest born manatee in captivity and other wonderful aquatic animals and also includes a Native American collection and a Spanish courtyard containing replicas of 16th-century buildings. Located right on the Manatee Riverfront in nearby Bradenton, this is a great place to spend the day with the entire family. From U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) take Manatee Ave. west to 10th St. W. and turn right. Admission is $9.50 adults, $7.50 seniors, $6 students with ID, $5 children 5-12, free for children 4 and under.

5. Marina Jack Restaurant, Dinner Boat and Marina

Keep your feet on the land while dining at the Marina Jack Restaurant or take off for an evening around Sarasota Bay on the Marina Jack Dinner Boat. Either one offers a spectacular view of the water as you enjoy your dining experience. Located on Sarasota Bay, the restaurant offers theatre seating so that everyone can enjoy a plentiful view of the waterfront. There is also the Portside Patio Bar for light meals or a drink before dinner. If you are interested in the Dinner Boat, it is an hour and a half lunch cruise or a two-hour dinner cruise, but times vary for departure and reservations are recommended. Call (941) 365-4232 for more information. To get to Marina Jack from land take N US-41 to Bayfront Drive and you will run into Marina Plaza and Marina Jack. There are plenty of temporary marina slips available so if you are in the mood for some excellent food while you are out on the water, you can stop off for a bite to eat or just a fill-up on fuel.

Sarasota For Kids

  • Livingston’s Amusement Center
    5947 Clark Center Ave
    (941) 925-7665
  • Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf
    3815 N Tamiami Trl
    (941) 351-6620
  • AMF Gulf Gate Lanes
    7221 S Tamiami Trl
    (941) 921-4447
  • Sarasota Bmx Track
    1500 N Tuttle Ave
    (941) 957-4393
  • G Whiz Science Museum
    1001 Blvd of the Arts
    (941) 309-4949
  • Ed Smith Stadium
    2700 12th St
    (941) 954-4101

Sarasota Bradenton Airport

Approximately 28 miles and 40 minutes away from Venice is the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. If you are planning to fly into the Venice area from a commercial U.S. airline or a major international airline, the Sarasota airport is a good option. The airport houses 6 major airline carriers, including American Eagle, Continental, US Airways, Delta, Northwest, and AirFrance, as well as a few regional commuter airlines like AirTran and Florida Coastal. All of these airlines are accessible for reservations online or through their toll-free numbers. More information can be found on the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport website at www.srq-airport.com. There is also the opportunity to fly into the personal charter plane section if you plan on flying your own plane or a plane rental, as the airport houses both the Dolphin Aviation Services and Jones Aviation Services that provide fuel, pilot training, hangars and parking for planes, and rental car services for customers. To reach Dolphin Aviation Services, call 941-355-2902 or go to www.dolpinaviation.com. The Jones Aviation crew can be reached at www.jonesave.com or by calling 941-355-8100.

Sarasota History

The history of the early establishment of Sarasota is nearly identical to those resembling Sarasota’s coastal towns Venice, Englewood, and Nokomis. In the 1860s when Congress passed the Homestead Act allowing any family who would protect the land for five years and bear arms to have up to 160 acres of land, the area of Sarasota County began to prosper. Although many families gradually moved to Sarasota from the 1860s to the early 1900s, the most prominent figure in the Sarasota and outlying cities quickly became Mrs. Bertha Palmer, a widow from Chicago, who read about the beautiful Sarasota area in an advertisement in the Chicago newspaper. Mrs. Palmer’s husband had left her a considerable amount of money upon his death and she put that money to use by buying 140,000 acres between Sarasota and Charlotte County. Some historians estimate that Mrs. Palmer owned approximately 1/3 of the land in the Sarasota County area. Palmer’s legend still lives on in Sarasota and the surrounding area, as she was partially responsible for the expanse of the railroad through the area helping to create the communities that exist in the Sarasota area today.

There are several different legends about the original meaning of the name Sarasota deriving from the Calusa Indians or from the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur who was named Sara, but none of these legends are confirmed. The Calusa Indians, as well as the Seminole Indians, made their home in and around the Sarasota area long before pioneers began arriving in the late 1880s. Remnants of their lives in the area are preserved through sites like Historic Spanish Point and the South Florida Museum. Historic Spanish Point used to be the abundant 30-acre winter estate of Mrs. Palmer and Myakka River State Park was the site of Palmer’s 30,000-acre ranch called Meadowsweet Pastures.

More recent historical figures making their name in Sarasota are the Ringling Brothers, who made Sarasota the site of their winter circus practices beginning in the 1920s. This was after John and Mable Ringling built an amazing Venetian-style mansion on Sarasota Bay. The Ringlings kept their immense collections of artwork by John and Mable needed a place to house their ever-growing collection of works by Peter Paul Reubens and other artists of 17th-century Italian and Flemish art. The collection still remains today in the home as part of the Ringling Museum of Art. After moving the winter circus headquarters to Sarasota, Ringling used the circus elephants to build the first bridge from Sarasota to St. Armands Key.

Today Sarasota still thrills as a place filled with culture, art, and history as well as a luxurious place to live and work or to vacation. Sarasota has managed to preserve much of the rich history of the area while also making a name as a cultural center of Florida.