Located south of Florida’s Tampa Bay Area, Sarasota in Sarasota County is a global destination known for its beaches and wildlife immersion.
It’s surrounded by several keys along the Gulf of Mexico, small islands characterized by lush corals visible in its shallow waters
Sarasota isn’t only known for its natural wonders, however.
The city is renowned for its cultural diversity and architectural marvels.
For one, it is the birthplace of the Sarasota School of Architecture.
With a wide array of things to offer, here are the 16 best things to do in Sarasota, Florida, to help you get started on your itinerary.
Have a Blast at Siesta Key Beach
Siesta Key Beach is arguably one of the top beaches not only in Florida but also in the United States.
The most unique thing about Siesta Key Beach is its sandy shores made of quartz mineral.
Upon setting foot, you’ll immediately notice the difference between ordinary sand and the beach’s soft mineral sand that feels like powder.
There are many activities to do at this public beach.
There are resorts, restaurants, and plenty of amenities and fun ocean activities.
The waves here are also gentle and full of marine life that poses no danger.
Siesta Key Beach is a great place to stay and a must in any Florida itinerary.
You can access the beach at 948 Beach Road.
Relax at Lido Key Beach
If you want to have a more isolated beach experience, Lido Key Beach is a great alternative to Siesta Key Beach.
While the sand at Lido Key Beach isn’t as fine, it still has amazing quartz sand that’s just as picturesque.
Its waters have a deep blue and green color that’s full of marine life as well.
There’s a lot of beautiful shells along its shoreline, so it’s a fun destination for kids to explore.
There are restaurants and several amenities at this beach, too.
It even has a swimming pool if you prefer to swim without dealing with saltwater.
Lido Key Beach is located at 400 Benjamin Franklin Drive, close to Siesta Key Beach.
Immerse Yourself with Marine Life at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Run by a nonprofit research organization, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is one of the best destinations to learn about marine life in Florida.
It’s packed full of interesting wildlife that’ll make your trip to Sarasota memorable.
Sharks, stingrays, sea turtles, manatees, and various fish are all present here.
Many of the animals here are wildlife rescues.
The aquariums are large, and some are even outdoors.
There are also plenty of exhibits where you can touch and immerse yourself with several marine animals.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium does a fantastic job of delivering a full educational experience.
You can visit them along Ken Thompson Parkway, just a few miles from Lido Key Beach.
Appreciate Art and Circus History at The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art is one of Sarasota’s cultural landmarks, dating back to 1927.
It’s named after John Ringling and his wife, Mable Ringling.
John Ringling is known for establishing the circus icon The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
This massive museum is one of Florida’s finest, boasting 21 galleries featuring many contemporary art pieces and Cypriot antiquities.
Its collection has around 10,000 objects that range from ancient to modern.
One of the highlights of this museum is its Circus Museum.
Here, you can see the rich culture of American circus history.
Besides its overwhelming number of exhibits and galleries, the architecture of the museum is also noteworthy.
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art is located along Bay Shore Road.
Marvel at the Majestic Ca’ d’Zan Mansion
Ca’ d’Zan Mansion is a part of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
However, this place deserves its own recognition.
Circus owner John Ringling purchased the Ca’ d’Zan estate during the early 1900s to create an architectural marvel inspired by Venice’s masterpieces, such as Ducal Palace and Grunwald Hotel.
Eventually, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion was erected and became the home of John and Mable Ringling.
Going around this 36,000-square-foot waterfront house is truly a sight to behold.
You’ll feel like you suddenly set foot in Italy when visiting Ca’ d’Zan Mansion.
The interiors are even more flamboyant, boasting a royal Venetian look. Ca’ d’Zan Mansion and its breathtaking architecture is one place you wouldn’t want to miss.
See Exotic Rescue Animals at Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary is another must-visit in Sarasota if you’re a nature lover.
A sanctuary for many rescued animals, such as felines, bears, primates, and birds, the place is a haven for animal lovers and a great itinerary inclusion for kids.
Here, you’ll see large sanctuaries that mimic natural habitats. Tigers, lions, and zebras are some of the exotic wildlife you’ll see here.
A petting zoo also lets you interact with their adorable and friendly animals, such as goats, emus, and llamas.
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary is found along Palmer Boulevard.
Enjoy a Concert at the Sarasota Opera House
The estate of the Ringlings isn’t the only architectural marvel in the city.
Sarasota Opera House is a beautifully restored theater that dates back to 1926.
Sarasota Opera House was designed to be a Mediterranean Revival style opera house.
After several turbulent challenges, including hurricanes and closures, the theater was fully restored in 2007.
Now considered one of the finest opera houses in the United States, Sarasota Opera House features wonderful interiors, such as a three-story atrium, lounges, and sprawling amenities.
The opera house also has tours that provide in-depth knowledge of its history.
Of course, the best experience here is still to watch a live performance.
You can visit the opera house at 16 North Pineapple Avenue.
Be in Tune with Nature at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a great getaway to appreciate the flora of Sarasota, Florida.
The botanical garden spans 45 acres and is located in the beautiful bayfront area of Sarasota.
It’s filled with lush sanctuaries full of vegetation, flowers, and high-arching trees.
The place is full of varying kinds of orchids and bromeliads.
It also has several art exhibits along with a butterfly house.
You’ll have a splendid time being one with nature as you walk across its many scenic pathways.
The bayfront part of the garden is one of the best places to relax.
Conveniently located along Mound Street, add Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to your plans and have a soothing moment with nature.
Spot Wildlife at Myakka River State Park
Doing wildlife observation and boating activities at Myakka River State Park is perhaps the ultimate outdoor Florida experience.
A massive 37,000-acre park full of migratory birds, alligators, boars, and deers, Myakka River State Park is an embodiment of Florida’s rich lands—boasting wetlands, forests, rivers, and lakes.
You can begin your journey here by visiting their learning center, which features displays of animals living in the area.
Various hiking trails are available, with signs telling you what kind of wildlife you’ll see.
One of its best trails leads you to a bridge where you can do alligator observation.
River activities, such as canoeing and kayaking, are also available.
You can visit Myakka River State Park along State Road 72, southeast of Siesta Key Beach.
Shop and Dine at St. Armands Circle
Another famous key in Sarasota is St. Armands, particularly known for St. Armands Circle.
St. Armands Circle is more of a shopping district than a beach destination.
If you’re looking to shop in Sarasota, this is the place to be.
They have over 100 different shopping stores and dining establishments, all situated in this island that receives fantastic sea breeze and scenic views.
Some of the cities’ best dessert shops and souvenir stores are also located in Saint Armand’s Circle.
This island is a great stopover after going to Lido Key Beach.
Only a few minutes away, St. Armands Circle is reachable by driving along John Ringling Boulevard.
View Contemporary Art at Sarasota Art Museum
Sarasota Art Museum features a great collection of diverse art—many of which are contemporary.
Two floors high, the museum has a lot to offer art enthusiasts.
It has several rotating exhibits managed by volunteers who are highly knowledgeable about what’s on display.
There are no permanent exhibits here, making your visit all the more memorable.
Spacious and modern, its interior layout is on of the best in the country—a testament to Sarasota’s architectural pedigree.
Add this to your plans if the Ringling Museum is not enough to satisfy your art cravings.
You can visit the Sarasota Art Museum along South Tamiami Trail.
Mingle with the Local Community at Sarasota Farmers Market
At the heart of Sarasota’s main urban district lies the Sarasota Farmers Market—a prime destination to immerse yourself with the city locals.
Lots of unique businesses are present here, most of which focus on selling food, fresh produce, and plants.
You can also buy the freshest seafood at Sarasota Farmers Market.
The market’s vibrant vendors will be happy to guide you in understanding their local delicacies and produce, so do consider adding this to your itinerary.
Sarasota Farmers Market is located along North Lemon Avenue.
Watch a Concert at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
If you’re the type who loves watching performance arts, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is one of the best ones in Florida.
Located at North Tamiami Trail, Van Wezel Performing Arts is beautifully situated in a waterfront area in Sarasota.
Like many of the city’s landmarks, the theater is yet another architectural masterpiece that harmonizes beautifully with the surrounding sea.
You can see amazing sunsets in its outdoor space, where events are also held.
If you’re attending a concert or musical, their interiors are comfortable and offer a modern experience.
Van Wezel Performing Arts is known for Broadway classicals and jazz concerts, so be sure to check what’s showing when you visit.
Go Back in Time at Sarasota Classic Car Museum
Another hidden gem you may want to check out is the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.
As the name implies, this large facility houses around 100 vintage cars from different times in history.
Recognized as the second-oldest operating car museum in the country, the museum has a rich collection of 20th-century cars, including the iconic 1900s Rambler.
If vintage isn’t your thing, the Sarasota Classic Car Museum also collects recent cars from the 21st century.
It has rare cars from renowned car companies, such as Porsche and Ferrari.
The sprawling vintage cars displayed at Sarasota Classic Car Museum are eye candies for any car lover. Visit it along the North Tamiami Trail.
Interact with Florida’s Flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Unlike Big Cat Sanctuary and Myakka River State Park, Sarasota Jungle Gardens is an actual zoo catered to families.
While it houses many different animals, the best attraction here is the flamingos, which you can feed and pet!
The flamingos, in their natural habitat, offer you an authentic experience.
Other animals in Sarasota Jungle Gardens include alligators, parakeets, and snakes.
There’s also a petting zoo and a live bird show that is great for families.
This is one of the best places to get up close and personal with flamingos, so consider visiting the zoo, located along Bay Shore Road.
Cycle at the Legacy Trail
Last on the list is Sarasota’s Legacy Trail, a perfect spot to cycle in the city.
Spanning 12.5 miles worth of paved trails, Legacy Trail is the best way to enjoy Sarasota’s scenic nature if you’re planning to bring your bike.
Well maintained with plenty of signages and amenities, this trail is great for all ages and is a fun ride as it connects to several other trails in the city.
You’ll see plenty of flora along the way.
There are also tons of shading from trees, making it enjoyable despite the Florida heat.
Legacy Trail can be accessed at Central Sarasota Parkway.
Sarasota is a beautiful city teeming with all sorts of wildlife, aquaculture, and geographical wonders.
It’s one of the best places to visit in Florida, having a perfect balance of culture, nature, and urban life.
It has some of the country’s best beaches, wildlife areas, and fine architecture.
With so many things to do, it can be overwhelming.
So, be sure to plan ahead.
Use this list of the best things to do in Sarasota, Florida, and make the most out of your adventure!