Best Things To Do in Sarasota
Though many of Sarasota's top attractions – such as The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Ca' d'Zan – have ties to the Ringling Bros. Circus, the bulk of the city's best things to do are linked to nature. For a relaxing day outside, visitors can tee off at one of the area's golf courses, lounge on Lido Beach's sands, hike Myakka River State Park's trails, pay their respects at Sarasota National Cemetery or stroll through Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Or, head to Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium for an up-close encounter with wildlife.
Updated January 3, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in SarasotaHiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Considered one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks, Myakka River State Park stretches across 58 square miles of wetlands, hammocks, pinelands and prairies. The area also features a river and two lakes, making it a prime place to enjoy water activities like canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Or, visitors can tour the lakes via one of the attraction's airboats, which are the largest in the world. Land-based tours are offered seasonally as well.
Though some travelers caution that finding the park's entrance and parking near the lake's main activities can be a bit of a challenge, many agree that this scenic spot is a must-visit for nature lovers. All sorts of animals – including alligators, roseate spoonbills and armadillos – are known to frequent the area. What's more, the park offers nearly 40 miles of hiking trails – including one walkway suspended 25 feet above the ground – and several biking paths.
- #2View all Photos#2 in SarasotaMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which features thousands of Medieval, Renaissance, Greek, Roman and Cypriot antiquities and works of art, is the main attraction on The Ringling museum campus. Numerous galleries showcase pieces from Ringling Bros. Circus co-founder John Ringling's personal collection, including paintings by Velázquez, Rubens and Veronese. And in the museum's courtyard, 20th-century bronze and stone casts of iconic works like Michelangelo's "David" are on display.
According to recent visitors, everyone from art enthusiasts to architecture and nature buffs will love exploring this museum. The attraction's art collection offers all sorts of masterpieces to ogle, while the pink building's unique U-shaped design impresses with its Renaissance-inspired facade. Additionally, travelers rave about the property's courtyard and gardens, which feature fountains, statues, various flowers and picturesque views of Sarasota Bay. Although photography is not permitted in the museum's special exhibits, visitors are more than welcome to snap some photos of permanent collection pieces and the property's gardens and exterior, so be sure to bring your camera.
- #3View all Photos#3 in SarasotaHistoric Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Though not as stately as the adjacent John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Ca' d'Zan woos visitors with its Venetian Gothic-style architecture and elegant interior. The property – which was once the home of Ringling Bros. Circus co-founder John Ringling and his wife, Mable – sits five stories tall and features details like a roof made of 16th-century Spanish tiles, a marble terrace overlooking Sarasota Bay, servants' quarters, a game room and an 82-foot-high tower with a domed ceiling. Many of John and Mable Ringling's personal belongings, plus unique furnishings, such as an Aeolian organ and a crystal chandelier that once hung in the original Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, are also on display in the building.
Visitors praise this historic attraction's lavish design and breathtaking views of Sarasota Bay. Though some past travelers lamented the extra charges incurred to explore the entire property, others highly recommend purchasing an upgraded ticket with access to all floors. However, visitors with mobility issues may want to pass on tours of the upper floors due to the home's lack of a working elevator.
- #4View all PhotosfreeLido Beach#4 in SarasotaBeaches, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Though visitors have access to several beaches in Sarasota County, one of the easiest to reach from downtown is Lido Beach. Situated less than 5 miles southwest of the city center, Lido Beach on Lido Key offers more than 3,000 feet of white sand. Several recreation areas, with amenities like picnic tables and a pool (which can be enjoyed for a fee), are also available.
If you like hunting for seashells, visitors say you'll love Lido Beach. (But if you want to swim, plan on wearing shoes; the shells will likely hurt exposed feet.) Additionally, families will appreciate this beach's calm water and ample space. What's more, Lido Beach sits within walking distance of St. Armands Circle, where various shops and eateries reside.
- #5View all Photos#5 in SarasotaParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDParks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Once the home and grounds of amateur gardener Marie Selby, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens opened to the public in 1975 after the death of its namesake. The garden, which specializes in epiphytes (or plants that grow on other plant species) features thousands of varieties in its outdoor gardens and more than 20,000 plants spread throughout its eight greenhouses. Flora found on-site include ferns, bamboo, banyan trees and orchids.
Most travelers appreciated the tranquil atmosphere and scenic views of Sarasota Bay, though a few prior visitors said the attraction's grounds were beautiful but left something to be desired. If you're traveling with children, check out the property's kid-friendly areas like the Butterfly Garden and the Children's Rainforest Garden, where plants sit alongside swinging rope bridges, a field research station and caves. Other noteworthy spots include the Epiphyte Garden (which has a koi pond), the Banyan Grove and the mangrove-lined boardwalk.
- #6View all Photos#6 in SarasotaMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMonuments and Memorials, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Designed to highlight Sarasota's background as a military post for flight training, the 295-acre Sarasota National Cemetery has served as the final resting place for thousands of fallen veterans since it opened to the public in 2009. Funerals are still regularly held at the facility, but visitors are more than welcome to pay their respects.
Though this burial site isn't as well-known as Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., it does regularly wow travelers with its beautiful grounds and knowledgeable staff. Plus, this free cemetery offers a convenient locale near other top attractions like Myakka River State Park and the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, which are both less than 10 miles away. To make the most of your visit, reviewers suggest joining one of the complimentary guided tours of the on-site amphitheater (Patriot Plaza), which features artwork honoring veterans. Tours last an hour and are available at 10 a.m. every Tuesday.
- #7View all Photos#7 in SarasotaGolfTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDGolfTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
To many travelers, Sarasota may not be the first Florida destination to come to mind when thinking of a golf getaway. But golfers regularly seek out this city's championship courses. In fact, Sarasota is regularly referred to as "The Cradle of Golf" because of its abundance of top-notch courses. Noteworthy public clubs include Tatum Ridge Golf Links and Bobby Jones Golf Club, an 18-hole course that was originally designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1927. Or, pay for a membership to hone your skills at private clubs like Sara Bay Country Club, The Founders Golf Club and TPC Prestancia.
Visitors praise Sarasota's golf courses, though some did cite a few maintenance issues and wished courses like the ones at Bobby Jones Golf Club were a bit more challenging. Others lamented the amount of time required to get through some of the city's greens. Nevertheless, many reviewers rave about the courses' dining venues.
- #8View all Photos#8 in SarasotaZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Part-research center, part-aquarium, Mote Laboratory & Aquarium features nine exhibits, including two interactive areas and a 135,000-gallon shark tank. In total, the property houses more than 100 species of marine animals, such as sea turtles, otters and manatees. A 10th exhibit with American crocodiles, alligators and caimans will open in late February.
Recent visitors thoroughly enjoyed this aquarium, citing the array of animals and easy-to-navigate layout as highlights. But some caution that the area gets quite congested in the winter, so consider arriving early. Others warn that the property's entrance fees are high given its small size. Nevertheless, animal lovers and travelers with kids will likely enjoy exploring this facility.
- #9View all Photos#9 in SarasotaZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDZoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Animal lovers and families will likely enjoy Sarasota's Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary. This attraction has cared for exotic animals like lions, tigers, bears and chimpanzees since 1987. In addition to housing various animals, the facility hosts bird and big cat shows with educational talks and demonstrations.
Many past visitors appreciated the Big Cat Habitat's commitment to the wellbeing of its animals, although some were disappointed by the property's use of animals in shows. For those with young ones, check out the petting zoo, where kids can feed goats and llamas. Prior travelers also recommend feeding the lions, tigers and bears, which costs an extra dollar per animal.
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