Planning a road trip through the west coast of Florida? Make time to explore all the best things to do in Sarasota. Located on Sarasota Bay in Southwest Florida, Sarasota is famed for its sandy beaches, nature parks, and museums. It’s is a must-visit destination for travelers roaming through the Southeast.
The top tourist attractions in Sarasota, FL, include Siesta Key Beach, The Ringling, Marie Selby Gardens, and Lido Key. This historic Spanish town also offers incredible restaurants, beach hotels, and beautiful scenery.
Not sure what to do in Sarasota? Start planning your trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Sarasota, Florida.
Best places to visit in Sarasota, FL
Myakka River State Park
Looking to explore one of Florida’s beautiful state parks? Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s oldest and largest. Based in Manatee County between Bradenton and Sarasota, the scenic river is home to alligators, ospreys, and turtles.
The city of North Port hosts almost all 58 square miles of Myakka River State Park. At the perfectly preserved wetland, you can canoe, kayak, fish, or explore by boat.
Bring your binoculars and take an hour-long boat tour of the park to experience its stunning wildlife. You can also hike through some of the paths on foot or rent a bicycle to go through them.
Siesta Key Beach
For several years in a row, Siesta Key Beach has been named the most beautiful beach in the United State. It’s also been consistently ranked as one of the best beaches in the entire world. With its turquoise water and amazing amenities, it’s one of the coolest places to go in Sarasota.
Located in Siesta Key Village, Siesta Key Beach is most famous for its quartz sand that’s directly from the Appalachian mountains. The small surrounding town is just an 8-mile long island, making everyone feel at home as soon as they arrive.
Siesta Key Beach is a perfect destination for families or couples visiting Sarasota. Don’t forget your favorite swimsuit to tan in and swim. Also, bring a comfortable pair of walking shoes to spend the evening browsing the top Siesta Key attractions, including shops and nightlife options.
The Ringling (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art)
Hearing the name Ringling might lead you to believe this is just a circus. But The Ringling (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art) has a wide variety of activities & exhibits that are among the must-see attractions in Sarasota. The main attraction at The Ringling is its art museum. The famous museum features 21 galleries based on the lives of the Ringlings, who founded the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Located on Bay Shore Road, the circus museum also charms with serene landscaping and beautiful palm trees that are part of the Bayfront Gardens. Take a self-guided tour or join a group and hear about its history from a professional guide.
The photo exhibits at the Ringling Museum of Art are constantly changing; there will be new things to see every time you visit. The museum is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It offers history, art, and beaches all in the same place.
While visiting The Ringling also save time to check out the Ca d’Zan Mansion. The eye-popping five-story home was built in 1926 in a Mediterranean Revival architectural style, serving as the winter home of John and Mable Ringling. Remiscinent of Venetian palace, it’s well worth a peek for architecture buffs.
Located off the Gulf Coast in Sarasota County, Lido Key is one of the coolest places to see in Sarasota. Take a scenic drive to this barrier island to enjoy amazing seafood and take in breathtaking sunsets. Lido Key Beach also has some of the best hotels and resorts in the area if you want to stay overnight.
Located on Benjamin Franklin Drive, South Lido Park sits on one hundred acres of coastal land. At the beautiful seaside park, you can swim in the clear Gulf waters. It’s also a great place to take the family hiking and picnicking.
Looking for a more luxurious beach vibe? Longboat Key is located just below Bradenton Beach. It’s reachable in just a few minutes from Lido Key. Visit to enjoy the golf courses, tennis clubs, fine dining, and beautiful residential houses & neighborhoods.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Searching for a nature center the whole family can enjoy? Marie Selby Botanical Gardens delivers beautiful views of the shores of Sarasota Bay. The gardens feature 15 acres of rare flowers and tropical plants.
Conveniently located on South Palm Avenue, these beautiful gardens show off some of the most diverse plant life in the United States. Make sure your children see the koi pond and jungle exhibit with its interactive plants and art.
Climb to the top of the treehouse to get a full view of the entire garden. The Butterfly Garden is also a must-see Sarasota attraction. Take it all in as hundreds of species of butterflies flutter about. Don’t forget your camera: There are tons of great photo ops for the family here.
Oscar Scherer State Park
Located on Tamiami Trail close to Interstate 75, Oscar Scherer State Park is one of the area’s best nature parks. Despite being close to so many urban spots, it’s one of the most secluded parks in Southwest Florida.
Strap on your most comfortable hiking boots to hit Oscar Scherer State Park’s over fifteen miles of hiking trails. If visiting in the winter, be on the lookout for bald eagles. You can also swim, canoe, and kayak in the state park if you have your own equipment.
Take heed: Some parts of the hiking trail are challenging and secluded. Don’t forget your water bottle, a trail map, and your phone in case you get lost.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Want to get close to Florida’s famous pink flamingos? Sarasota Jungle Gardens gives you the chance to feed and take photos with its colorful free-roaming flamingos. There’s also a large variety of birds and parrots to spot around the gardens.
Located on Bay Shore Road, Sarasota Jungle Gardens also has alligators and lemurs that you can get your photo taken with. The numerous large trees in this beautiful garden also provide just enough shade to keep you comfortable in the hot Florida weather.
Don’t forget to check the events at the garden and make sure to grab a seat for the most popular shows: Jungle Trails and Bunny Trails. If you’re feeling hungry, you can also grab some delicious treats at the Flamingo Cafe.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Exploring Sarasota in one day? If seeing marine life is on your to-do list, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is one of the top points of interest in Sarasota. Mote Aquarium is located on Ken Thompson Parkway, close to both Lido Beach and Downtown Sarasota.
The marine animals can be seen up-close through the touch pools and hands-on exhibits. The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium also has floor-to-ceiling water tanks to let you see the full marine habitats.
Marvel at the 135,000-gallon outdoor shark tank before heading inside to see otters, manatees, and some of the world’s oldest sea turtles.
Anna Maria Island
Searching for the area’s best white-sand beaches? Anna Maria Island is another barrier island located off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Bean Point Beach is a popular sunset spot and dazzles with its stunning blue waters.
Anna Maria Island is one of the best historic Spanish cities in Sarasota County. The city pier was built in 1911 and the Anna Maria Historic Museum sits in a cottage dating back to the 1920s.
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After spending a day tanning on Anna Maria Island’s beautiful beaches and visiting historic landmarks, head to Pine Avenue. Along the strip, you can eat freshly caught seafood, buy souvenirs to take home, and visit an art gallery or two.
Looking to be active at the beach and not just suntan? Caspersen Beach in South Sarasota County is a great place to go canoeing and fishing. It’s also one of the largest shelling beaches in the area. Even shark’s teeth are often found washed up along the shore.
Caspersen Beach is close to downtown Venice. In Venice’s city center, you can grab a drink or dinner after spending the day at the beach. There are also several challenging hiking trails or serene walking nature trails for a more laid-back experience.
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
Obsessed with Tiger King? Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary lets you get up close to the tigers without all the drama that comes with Carole Baskin. Even though it’s similar in name, the habitat in Sarasota is not the same as the sanctuary located in Tampa from the popular Netflix show.
Located just off Palmer Boulevard, the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary is home to several exotic animals. In the park, you’ll encounter wild species like tigers, lions, bears, and lemurs. There’s also a petting zoo for the smaller friendly animals. Here, you and your children can hold cute animals like sloths and wallabies.
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On certain weekends, the sanctuary even has special events. (Yoga with tigers? Yep, sounds good!) The habitat is a great place to bring the whole family for interactive fun.
Ready to explore the more local parts of Sarasota? Bayfront Park on Sarasota Bay is a fun part of the city. At the park, you can learn about Florida’s history and enjoy a relaxing walk among the trees and boats.
Looking for the best food in town? O’Leary Tiki Bar & Grill is a waterfront restaurant serving tropical drinks and seafood right on the shore.
Near Bayfront Park, you’ll also be able to peruse the Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday morning. At the market, you can stock up on fresh produce and locally made souvenirs.
The park also has large murals where you can learn about the culture and history of Sarasota Bayfront Park. Throw on some comfortable walking shoes with your bathing suit to spend the day exploring and swimming.
Sarasota Art Museum
Want to escape the summer heat? Sarasota Art Museum is one of the best indoor activities in Sarasota. The museum offers over 15,000 square feet of paintings, sculptures, and pottery.
The museum’s collection of art is one of the biggest in Florida. It features rotating exhibits including art from famous people as well as local artists and students. The museum also hosts performances and educational workshops for aspiring artists.
Grab a bite at the bistro when you’re done and take a walk through the sculpture courtyard before leaving.
For amateur hikers or anyone wanting a simple walk outdoors, Legacy Trail tops the list of where to go in Sarasota. The entire 12.5-mile trail is paved and runs from Sarasota to Venice. Leave your car at one of the 9 trailheads and spend the day exploring.
The most popular places to begin the journey are Palmer Ranch and Payne Park. If you don’t feel like walking the Legacy Trail, load up your bike and helmet in the car and cycle down the path.
Lake Manatee State Park
Planning a day of boating? Lake Manatee State Park offers numerous boat ramps and places to launch boats, canoes, and kayaks. You can throw in a fishing line from the boat or cast out at one of the many fishing piers.
Lake Manatee State Park is located near the dam in Bradenton. Unfortunately, you won’t see any manatees. Many other freshwater animals, however, can be seen in their natural habitats.
There’s also a swimming beach area in the south part of the park. It’s the perfect place to chill if you just want to tan or lay in the sun after canoeing or fishing.
Nathan Benderson Park
Trying to find a place to exercise while on vacation? Nathan Benderson Park is a 3.4-mile-long track where you can bring your running shoes and have a nice morning jog. The park’s canoe launches can also be used to canoe or kayak in the lake.
Nathan Benderson Park is a 600-acre community park with a 400-acre lake. The lake is often used for champion racing events. If you time your Sarasota trip right, you might even catch a race or two.
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Bring a picnic and your pets, as food and animals are welcome in the park. You’ll find many beautiful spots to eat around the lake and trails with your family or friends.
Venice Beach is just a few miles south of Siesta Key Beach and Manasota Key Beach. It’s known as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” Every year, hundreds of shark teeth wash up on the shore on the beaches around Venice, FL. Make sure to search through the sand to take one home as a souvenir.
Venice Beach also has a reef just a quarter-mile offshore. Bring snorkeling or diving equipment to explore the reef in full. Venice Beach is also one of the only beaches near Sarasota to have lifeguards. You and your family will be in good hands while swimming.
If you’re an architecture fan, make sure to hit up Downtown Venice. In Venice’s historic downtown, buildings are reminiscent of northern Italian cities. With the water, small cobblestone streets, and old architecture, you may even feel like you’re in the real Venice, Italy!
Florida Maritime Museum
Located in the historic Cortez Fishing Village, the Florida Maritime Museum explores the entire history of Florida’s maritime industry, from its native settlers to the present day. More than just a museum, the FMM is settled on a beautiful 4-acre nature preserve in a historic Old Florida schoolhouse dating back to 1912.
The permanent exhibits at the Florida Maritime Museum cover everything from maritime navigation to boat building. You’ll also get a walkthrough of the area’s fishing history, including a private collection of unique finds from local fisherman Captain Blake Banks.
The Florida Maritime Museum is open from 9 am to 4 pm from Tuesday through to Saturday. Admission to the museum is free.
Florida Studio Theatre
Looking for a unique night out in Sarasota? Opt for an evening at the Florida Studio Theatre. Opened in 1973, the performing arts venue covers five different theatres. Each venue offers an intimate setting for the theatre’s world-class performances, attracting more than 230,000 guests every year.
The performances at the Florida Studio Theatre cover everything from Broadway and Off-Broadway hits to improv comedy to cabaret. Check out their official schedule to see what’s on during your visit to Sarasota.
Best places to stay in Sarasota for sightseeing
For travelers, the best places to stay in Sarasota for sightseeing include Downtown and the Rosemary District. If you looking to soak in its seaside pleasures, Lido Key, Longboat Key, and Siesta Key are great options, too.
One of the city’s hippest hotels, the Aloft combines a perfect location with trendy design to charm the pickiest of travelers. Retire to the 8th-floor pool to cool down to dramatic panoramic views over the city.
With its bright colors and unique artwork, the Hotel Indigo is one of Sarasota’s best mid-range accommodation choices. Besides its spacious rooms, you’ll love enjoying dinner and drinks at its classy on-site restaurant, H2O Bistro and Lounge.
Located in the heart of downtown, Art Ovation Hotel is the perfect choice for art lovers. The hotel features regular exhibitions and performances from well-known personalities. Chill out in a private cabana at the rooftop pool for the full relaxation effect.