15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Sarasota, FL

Downtown Sarasota, FL
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Downtown Sarasota offers a little something for everyone.

Sarasota is a beautiful city on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Downtown Sarasota is a hub of activity, with plenty of things to do and see.

From its beautiful beaches to its vibrant nightlife, the area is full of attractions.

Here are the 15 best things to do in Downtown Sarasota, FL:

Head to the Asolo Repertory Theater

Exterior of Asolo Repertory Theater
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The Asolo Repertory Theater is a 501 not-for-profit theater company in Sarasota, Florida.

Two of the most influential figures in 20th-century American theater, George Wood and Robert Whitehead, founded the theater in 1955.

The theater's name honors Asolo, the Italian city where Shakespeare spent his final years.

The Asolo Repertory Theater is one of the largest regional theaters in the United States.

Sculpture on the grounds of Asolo Repertory Theater
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It presents ten productions per year, including classics, new works, and musicals.

Likewise, the theater offers educational programs for students of all ages.

The Asolo Repertory Theater is housed in the Asolo Repertory Theatre Festival Hall, a 575-seat theater designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

It is the only Equity theater company in Florida not based in a central metropolitan area.

The Asolo Rep is well known for its annual Shakespeare Festival, one of the largest and most respected Shakespeare festivals in the United States.

Entrance of Asolo Repertory Theater
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Take a Stroll at Lido Key Beach

Aerial view of Lido Key Beach
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Lido Key Beach is a world-famous beach in Sarasota.

It's well-known for its crystal clear turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, and lush vegetation.

A person riding a bike along Lido Key Beach's shore
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The beach is also known for its excellent fishing, with many people coming to catch redfish, sea trout, tarpon, and more.

Lido Key Beach is a stunning seven-mile-long barrier island in Sarasota, Florida.

The beach is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and kayaking.

Sunset over Lido Key Beach
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Check out the Sarasota Opera House

Exterior of Sarasota Opera House
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Built in 1927, the Sarasota Opera House was initially a movie theater.

It continued to screen movies until its abandonment in the early 1970s.

In 1976, citizens got together and formed the Sarasota Opera House Foundation to restore the theater to its former glory.

Name sign of Sarasota Opera House
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After a few years of fundraising and restoration, the opera house reopened in 1984.

John and Mable Ringling built the Sarasota Opera House as a winter home for their circus.

The opera house was the most extensive and most expensive structure in Sarasota.

It has been used as a venue for opera, theatre, ballet performances, concerts, and lectures.

Catch a Show at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Exterior of Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
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The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is a beautiful performing arts center that hosts various shows, including Broadway shows.

Named after Frank Van Wezel, a local businessman and philanthropist, the hall opened in 1968.

The beautiful building of Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
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The hall is home to the Sarasota Ballet, the Sarasota Orchestra, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre.

It also hosts a variety of other performances, including concerts, stand-up comedy shows, and dance recitals.

Abstract design of Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall's exterior
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Visit the Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens
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The Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a botanical garden and wildlife preserve founded in the 1920s by Dr. Henry Nehrling.

Dr. Nehrling was a horticulturist passionate about collecting and cultivating rare tropical plants.

The gardens are home to various plants and animals, including flamingos, alligators, and bison.

Likewise, the gardens host different exhibits, including a butterfly garden, an aviary, and a replica of a Seminole village.

Tall trees at Sarasota Jungle Gardens
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The Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a great place for anyone interested in plants and animals or in learning more about Florida's history and culture.

It has a variety of animal and plant species, including crocodiles, snakes, and tropical birds.

The gardens are open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Admission is $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $8 for children ages 3-11.

A swan near the waters of Sarasota Jungle Gardens
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Learn about Marine Life at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

Sign of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
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Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a world-renowned marine research institute and a public aquarium.

Dr. Eugenie Clark founded the institute in 1955.

The aquarium is home to more than 700 species of marine life from around the world, including sharks, stingrays, dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles.

Mote Marine Laboratory is dedicated to the study and conservation of marine life.

Exterior of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
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The aquarium offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the importance of marine ecosystems and how climate change, pollution, and overfishing threaten their existence.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is an excellent place for anyone who wants to learn more about marine life.

The aquarium offers educational programs for both children and adults, and it also has a research department that conducts necessary marine biology research.

A sea turtle in Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
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Go Window Shopping at St. Armands Circle

Aerial view of St. Armands Circle
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The St. Armands Circle is a popular tourist destination in Sarasota, Florida.

It is home to many high-end shops, restaurants, and art galleries.

There are also many luxury hotels and resorts in the area.

Visitors can stroll along the Circle's pedestrian-only sidewalks, browse the shops and restaurants, or watch the street performers.

Shops along St. Armands Circle
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The Circle is also a popular place to take a walk or run, and there are several fitness studios in the area.

There are also several statues and monuments around the park.

Several events occur in the park, such as the St. Armands Circle Holiday Parade and the Taste of Sarasota food festival.

Chairs overlooking St. Armands Circle's boutiques
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Shop Till You Drop at the White Elephant Antique Mall

The White Elephant Antique Mall was established in 1985 by John's current owner.

At that time, it was the only antique mall in the area.

Back then, it was the largest antique mall in the state.

It has since included over 60 dealers, covering 4,000 square feet.

The mall has undergone several changes over the years, but it continues to be a popular destination for shoppers looking for vintage and antique items.

Get Lost in a Good Book at the Selby Public Library

Exterior of Selby Public Library
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The Selby Public Library in Sarasota, Florida, is a special place because of its unique architecture and history.

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the library, one of only two buildings he designed that remained unfinished.

The library opened in 1969 but closed just a few years later due to financial difficulties.

It reopened in 2002 and has been thriving ever since.

Name sign of Selby Public Library
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The Selby Library is also notable because of its history as a community gathering place.

Wright designed the building to be open and inviting, with large windows and a spacious courtyard.

The library has always been a popular place for community events, and it continues to be today.

The Selby Library in Sarasota, Florida, is also open to anyone in the community.

Likewise, the Selby Library also offers a variety of programs and services for people of all ages, including children's storytime, computer classes, and job search assistance.

Programs at Selby Public Library
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Bring Your Family to Siesta Key Beach

Welcome sign of Siesta Key Beach
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Siesta Key Beach, located on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida, is one of the most popular beaches in the United States.

The powdery white sand and crystal clear turquoise waters have made it a favorite destination for visitors and locals alike.

What makes Siesta Key Beach so unique?

The beach is well-known for its soft sand, which is 99% pure quartz.

The sand is so soft that it feels like flour under your feet.

Daytime view of Siesta Key Beach
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Thanks to the Gulf of Mexico's moderate climate, it also doesn't get hot.

The beach is also known for its tranquil turquoise waters, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and paddleboarding.

The water is so clear that you can see straight to the bottom, even in deeper areas.

Siesta Key is just south of Sarasota and is a short drive from Tampa and Orlando.

Siesta Key Beach is a great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Florida.

It's no wonder why it's one of the most popular beaches in the country!

Sandcastle on Siesta Key Beach
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Enjoy the Scenery at Sarasota Bayfront Park

Entryway of Sarasota Bayfront Park
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The Sarasota Bayfront Park is unique because of its location on the bay, which offers stunning views of the water and the downtown skyline.

It's an excellent place for a walk or a picnic.

Aerial view of Sarasota Bayfront Park
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It offers stunning views of Sarasota Bay.

The park is also home to several memorials and monuments, including the Civil War Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

People walking along Sarasota Bayfront Park
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Spend the Day at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

A beautiful gazebo at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
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The Gardens is an oasis of natural beauty and tranquility nestled in the heart of Sarasota, Florida.

The lush landscape and tranquil waterways are home to one of the world's largest and most diverse collections of rare plants.

Marie Selby established the Gardens in 1975.

She was the first woman who received the prestigious Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Award.

A small waterfall at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
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Marie Selby was a self-taught botanist and horticulturist who dedicated her life to studying and conserving tropical plants.

The Gardens is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Admission is free for members and children under six years of age, while adult non-members need to pay $18.

Parking is free.

A koi pond at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
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Get Active at Phillippi Estate Park

Exterior of Phillippi Estate Park's main house
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Phillippi Estate Park is a beautiful park in Sarasota, FL.

It offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy.

The park is home to a nature preserve and many sports facilities, including a football stadium, track, and tennis courts.

There is also a playground and a dog park on-site.

Visitors can explore the nature preserve or participate in one of the many sports activities available.

The park is open every day from sunrise to sunset.

Admission is free.

Marvel at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Exterior of John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
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The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the largest in the state and contains a significant collection of European and American art.

The museum is also home to a circus school.

The grounds of John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
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Charles A. Platt designed the building, which opened in 1928.

It is a notable example of the Moorish Revival style in America.

The museum was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1967.

Interior of John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
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Other Things to Do Nearby

Remember the Past at the Historic Spanish Point

History marker of Historic Spanish Point
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The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a thirty-acre subtropical garden and nature preserve located in Osprey, Florida.

The Ringling family settled in the area in the 1920s, which opened to the public in 1975.

The site is home to several historic buildings and archaeological sites and is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Moreover, the garden also hosts the historic Spanish Point on the National Register of Historic Places.

Florida has also cited it as an essential cultural resource by the State of Florida.

It is a popular tourist destination and is often used as a venue for special events.

Landscape of Historic Spanish Point
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John and Mable Ringling built Casa Grande, the main house on the property, in the 1920s.

The original estate included many outbuildings, including a power plant, guest houses, and a staff village.

The property includes many archaeological sites, including a Native American mound and shell midden.

These sites are open to the public, and visitors can learn about the area's history through interpretive signage.

The preserved estate is now open to the public as a museum.

The property has been deemed historically significant due to its architecture and association with plants.

Final Thoughts

There is no shortage of things to do in Sarasota, and downtown is a great place to start.

There's something for everyone in downtown Sarasota, from enjoying the beautiful waterfront views to sampling local cuisine to shopping for unique finds.

With plenty of cultural attractions and events, this district will keep you busy for an entire trip.

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