It takes one visit to fall in love with the sunny, sophisticated city of Sarasota. With its beautiful beaches, historic architecture, myriad cultural attractions, and award-winning restaurants, Sarasota is a must-visit destination on Florida’s Gulf Coast!
This sun-soaked city is also packed with tons of things to see and do. Want to learn about the area’s history and architecture? Visit the Ringling Museum or take a stroll through one of the city’s beautiful historic neighborhoods.
Plus, nature lovers won’t run out of things to do in Sarasota, either. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, whether you’re kayaking through mangrove tunnels, exploring one of the nearby state parks, or simply relaxing on a picture-perfect beach.
You can spend your entire trip eating your way through Sarasota, too! The city’s restaurants serve up fresh seafood, global cuisine, and locally-sourced ingredients. Its farmers markets are also a treasure trove of fresh produce, artisanal goods, and Florida-made products.
With so many awesome things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we decided to compile our list of the absolute best things to do in Sarasota for you. Keep to these exciting, unique, and fun Sarasota bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an exceptional time exploring this wonderful seaside city!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Sarasota
1. Go Museum Hopping
Sarasota has some really interesting museums that are definitely worth a visit! The Ringling Museum of Art is one of the largest art museums in Florida and boasts an incredible collection of European paintings as well as works by American masters. To learn all about the history of the Ringling Bros. Circus, be sure to stop off at the adjacent Circus Museum Tibbals Learning Center, too.
If you’re interested in the area’s history, be sure to check out the Sarasota History Museum and the Cà d’Zan, the gorgeous mansion built by circus magnate John Ringling.
If you love cars, you should drop by the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. You won’t see the usual suspects here – the museum’s collection includes cars that are unique, rare, or have an interesting story. Or, for something really different, visit the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium to learn about the marine science research being conducted at this world-renowned facility!
2. Meet Tigers at the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
One of the coolest things to do in Sarasota is to visit the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary. This non-profit sanctuary is home to more than 70 animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, bobcats, and cougars.
And the best part is you can interact with some of the animals during their public feedings and enrichment sessions. In other words, get ready to get up close and personal with some really big cats! If you’re lucky, you can even join a feeding session and help feed the tigers.
If you want to learn more about the sanctuary and its residents, take one of the educational tours offered throughout the day. The sanctuary also offers group tour packages and private tours by appointment.
3. Explore Myakka River State Park
Myakka River State Park is brimming with some of the best Sarasota activities! This 58-square-mile park is one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. It is also home to the first state-designated Wild and Scenic River, so you know it’s something special.
The Myakka River flows through the park and is a great place for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The park also has a variety of hiking trails, biking trails, and bird-watching opportunities.
To get a closer look at the treetops and birds, hop on the Myakka Canopy Walkway. This 100-foot-long elevated walkway is set 25 feet above the ground and gives you an up-close view of the birds in the treetops and a bird’s-eye view of the wildlife down below. For even better views, head up to the 75-foot-high observation tower!
Of course, Myakka River State Park is well known for its many resident alligators. If you want to check out the alligators from a safe distance, you can book one of the many boat or tram tours. It’s also well worth getting a permit to visit the “Deep Hole,” which mysteriously attracts hundreds of alligators during mating season.
4. Sample Local Goods at the Sarasota Farmers Market
Established in 1979, the Sarasota Farmers Market is one of the oldest farmers markets in the state of Florida. It is also one of the largest, with over 60 vendors selling a variety of fresh and local products.
It’s usually open every Saturday from 7:00 am to 1:00 pm, but we recommend checking the website for updated hours and days of operation. They also host some fun events and special themes throughout the year, so be sure to check those out too!
Some of Florida’s freshest and tastiest fruits and vegetables can be found here, as well as local honey, jams, jellies, seafood, and so much more. One of the most fun things to do in Sarasota is to weave your way through the stalls, chat with the vendors, and try out all the samples. Plus, this is a great place to do your grocery shopping if you’re self-catering during your trip!
5. Catch a Live Concert at the Van Wezel
The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has been a part of Sarasota’s cultural landscape since it opened in 1970, and it’s the place to be in Sarasota when it comes to live music and performances. This 1,741-seat theater has hosted some of the biggest names in show business, from Tony Bennett and B.B. King to Dolly Parton and Diana Ross.
The theater hosts more than 200 performances every year, ranging from Broadway musicals and rock concerts to comedy shows and symphony orchestras. There’s truly something for everyone!
For more culture, the Sarasota Opera House is another one of Sarasota’s top cultural attractions. If you’re a fan of opera, be sure to catch a performance during your visit!
6. Go Treasure Hunting at The Bazaar on Apricot & Lime
If you’re looking for one-of-a-kind souvenirs to take home, The Bazaar on Apricot & Lime is the place to go in Sarasota! This monthly market features a curated selection of vendors selling vintage and handmade goods, local artwork, funky collectibles, home décor, and so much more.
Located on Apricot Avenue, the market is open from Thursday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Again, look at their website before you go, just to be sure!
Once you’re there, take your sweet time checking out the wares. You might just discover a hidden gem or two! And if you’re feeling peckish, the on-site Hamlet’s Eatery serves up creative meat and vegan-friendly dishes.
7. Visit the Colorful Village of the Arts
Located 30 minutes north of Sarasota in Bradenton, the Village of the Arts is a must-visit when visiting Sarasota. This vibrant live-work arts community is home to dozens of galleries, studios, cafes, restaurants, and more. Each one has a unique personality, and together they create a colorful and inviting atmosphere.
The Village of the Arts has an interesting history, too. It’s located in a historic district once used for farming. In the 1990s, local artists began moving into the area and revitalizing the derelict buildings. Today, the Village of the Arts is a thriving community where Sarasota’s most talented artists display and sell their work in colorful historic buildings!
Head here on the first Friday night or Saturday afternoon of every month, and you’ll have the chance to participate in an art walk. You’ll love perusing the indie art, listening to live music, and snacking on delicious local food.
8. Get a Tan at Sarasota’s Beaches
Every Sarasota bucket list needs to include at least a beach or two. Sarasota is blessed with some of the finest beaches in Florida. From the world-famous Siesta Key Beach to the lesser-known but equally beautiful Longboat Key Beach, there’s sure to be a stretch of sand that’s perfect for you!
Siesta Key is a terrific place to people-watch, as it’s one of the busiest beaches in Sarasota. There are also tons of great restaurants and bars in the area, so you can refuel after a long day in the sun.
If you’re looking for a more relaxed atmosphere, check out Longboat Key. It’s a bit more secluded than Siesta Key, but it’s still just as beautiful. And since it’s less crowded, it’s the perfect place to find your own little slice of paradise.
Another Sarasota beach worth mentioning is Lido Key. This barrier island is home to two beaches: South Lido Beach and North Lido Beach.
South Beach is the more popular of the two and is known for its white sand and clear turquoise waters. North Beach, on the other hand, is a bit more low-key and a lovely place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Sarasota.
9. Find Peace at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of the top Sarasota attractions. Located near Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota, the gardens span 45 acres and feature a diverse collection of plants from around the world, including some really cool rare air plants.
Stepping into the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens feels like entering another world. You’ll be surrounded by the most beautiful flowers and plants, and the air will be filled with the sweet fragrance of jasmine and gardenia.
It’s an incredibly peaceful place, and it’s easy to spend hours getting lost in this plant-filled paradise. Plus, there are always cool classes being offered, including watercolor workshops and yoga sessions, so check the website to see what’s on during your visit!
10. Spot Manatees on a Lido Key Kayak Tour
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Sarasota, why not try to see a manatee in person? For the best chance, join one of the many kayak tours that take you to the mangrove tunnels of Lido Key. Manatees are gentle giants, and they’re often seen swimming in the narrow waterways or grazing on shallow grass beds in Lido Key’s “manatee zones.”
During your kayak tour, you’ll paddle through the calm waters in search of these elusive creatures. You’ll be passing by mangroves, seagrass flats, and other native plant life. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled not just for manatees but also for other wildlife, like bottlenose dolphins, turtles, and birds!
11. Go on an Outdoor Adventure at Oscar Scherer State Park
Oscar Scherer State Park plays a big role in the protection of the Florida scrub-jay, one of the state’s most threatened bird species. The park is also home to many other animals, such as gopher tortoises, bald eagles, alligators, and white-tailed deer. Better still, it’s open to the public and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation!
There are over 15 miles of hiking trails in the park, and you can also go fishing, kayaking, or bird-watching. Oscar Scherer State Park is also home to Lake Osprey, which is the only freshwater lake in Sarasota County. The lake has a large beach and is a great place to take a dip or even go snorkeling!
Plus, there are a few camping spots available if you want to take your time enjoying the park and spend a night or two under the stars.
12. Shop Till You Drop at St. Armands Circle
A visit to St. Armands Circle is one of the most fun things to do in Sarasota if you’re in the mood for some shopping, dining, and entertainment. It’s located on St. Armands Key, an island off the coast of Sarasota. You can easily get there from downtown Sarasota by crossing the John Ringling Causeway.
Home to over 130 shops and 20 restaurants, St. Armands Circle has something for everyone. You’ll find everything from high-end boutiques to casual beachwear shops. And when you get hungry, you can choose from a variety of cuisines, including Italian, French, and, of course, seafood.
Even if you’re not in the mood to buy anything, St. Armands Circle is still worth a visit. It’s a beautiful place to stroll around, people-watch, and enjoy the Florida sunshine!
13. Visit Sarasota’s Historical Sites
Sarasota is home to a number of historical sites that are worth visiting. These include the Bidwell-Wood House, Selby Library, the Sarasota Opera House, the Kress Building, and the Roth Cigar Factory.
Each of these sites has its own unique story to tell and provides insight into the rich history of the area. If you’re a history buff, these are definitely some of the best Sarasota attractions!
For instance, the Bidwell-Wood House was built in 1882 and is one of the oldest surviving structures in Sarasota. The house is now a museum that is open to the public and features a number of exhibits on local history.
The Selby Library is another important historical site in Sarasota. The library was founded in 1907 and was the first-ever library in Sarasota County.
Another must-visit historical site in Sarasota is the Roth Cigar Factory. The factory was built in 1923 and operated until 1938. It’s now been listed on the National Register of Historic Places!
14. Walk on the Wild Side at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a 10-acre tropical paradise that is home to a variety of exotic animals, from flamingos and parrots to panthers, alligators, and tortoises. This fun Sarasota attraction also features a number of shows and exhibits and is one of the top things to do in Sarasota with kids. But even if you don’t have kids, it’s still a great place to visit!
One of the most popular attractions at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens is the Bird Show. The show features a variety of birds, including parrots and flamingos, which perform tricks and stunts.
The free-roaming flamingoes are another highlight of the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. There are over 10 flamingoes that live in the gardens, and you can often see them wading in the ponds or wandering around the grounds. They’re really fun to watch and make for some great photo opportunities!
Aside from animal shows, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens also offer animal interactions. For instance, you can feed the parrots or hold a baby alligator. There’s also a petting zoo where you can interact with a variety of animals, including goats, llamas, and pigs.
15. Dine at Sarasota’s Iconic Restaurants
Sarasota is home to a number of iconic restaurants that have been serving up delicious food for years. You have lots of options, but if it’s your first time in the city, you can’t go wrong with Sarasota favorites like Bijou Café, Columbia, Euphemia Haye, Michael’s on East, and Beach Bistro.
Bijou Garden Café is one of the best restaurants in Sarasota and has been serving up fresh, French-inspired cuisine since 1986. The restaurant is located in a revamped 1920s gas station and features a charming outdoor patio that is perfect for dining al fresco. Go in the afternoon for lunch or come for dinner and enjoy the beautiful Sarasota sunset.
Columbia Restaurant is another one of Sarasota’s iconic restaurants. The restaurant has been dishing out mouth-watering Spanish and Cuban dishes since 1903! The restaurant is located in the heart of St. Armands Key, so you can easily walk here after exploring the city.
Euphemia Haye has been one of Sarasota’s most popular fine dining establishments. Established in 1975, the restaurant is known for its impeccable wine list and stunning waterfront location on Longboat Key. If you’re planning a date night on your Sarasota trip, this is one of the most romantic spots you can pick!
If you’re still hungry, make your way to Michael’s on East. This restaurant started serving Sarasota in 1987 and hasn’t looked back since. Michael’s on East is known for its elegant fine dining, making it a nice choice if you’re celebrating a special occasion or just want to treat yourself on your Sarasota getaway.
Located on Anna Maria Island, Beach Bistro is one of the most popular restaurants in Sarasota since it opened its doors in 1987. If you’re looking for fresh, local seafood, this is the spot for you.
The views aren’t too shabby either. From your table, you’ll have a front-row seat to the spectacular Gulf of Mexico. Enjoying a sunset dinner here is the perfect way to end a fun-filled day in Sarasota!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Sarasota, FL. What’s your favorite thing to do in Sarasota?
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