11 Top Things to Do in Sarasota, Florida

Downtown Sarasota from Ringling Bridge
KarolinaBorkowski / Getty Images

Just south of Tampa, Sarasota is most famous as being the Winter Quarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus from 1927 to 1959, but there is so much more to see and experience in this Gulf Coast city today. A great getaway any time of year (although hurricane season can bring some unexpected weather), Sarasota offers beautiful white sand beaches, plenty of museums, gardens, restaurants, nightlife, and quite a few activities for the kids.

Read on for some places you’re sure to love in this sunny city.

01 of 11

Put Your Horticulture Hat on at Marine Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - Downtown Sarasota Campus

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This bayfront botanical garden actually has two locations: a 30-acre campus in Osprey and a 15-acre campus in downtown Sarasota. The latter is the only botanical garden in the world where epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads, and ferns—types of air plants that grow on the surface of other plants—are both studied and displayed. You could spend an entire day just strolling through the gardens and checking out the native Florida plants, some of which have a 5,000-year history! Pricing is different for each location, although both are free for children under the age of 4.

02 of 11

Go Back in Time as You Tour the Ca d’Zan Mansion

Venetian Mansion in Florida
Kubrak78 / Getty Images
5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243-2161, USA
Phone +1 941-359-5700

Want to be transported to the Roaring Twenties? Just visit the former home of one of America’s wealthiest couples at the time. After traveling through Europe for a quarter of a century, John and Mable Ringling sought to settle down in Sarasota and build a home inspired by Venice's Ducal Palace, Ca' d'Oro, and Grunwald Hotel. Designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum, Ca d'Zan translates to “House of John”—fitting for a 36,000-square-foot waterfront mansion reminiscent of Italy’s canalside glitz and glamor.

Today, it’s been restored and remains one of the Suncoast’s most luxurious homes. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day), Ca d’Zan offers self-guided tours of the first floor for $35; admission includes entry to the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Bayfront Gardens, and Glass Pavilion. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance.

03 of 11

Take a Walk on the Wild Side at Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary

7101 Palmer Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34240, USA
Phone +1 941-371-6377

A safe place for native and exotic wildlife in need, this nonprofit has been a Sarasota staple for 35 years. With three indoor and outdoor habitats that feature swimming pools, palm trees, and toys for the animals, Big Cat Habitat was built to stimulate the minds and bodies of all the creatures that call this place home. Visit to learn about the habitat’s conservation efforts and to experience some really fun and educational demonstrations, including a bird show, lemur yoga, and an animal teaching workshop.

General admission is $25 for adults and $10 for children, but tickets for separate events vary and need to be purchased in advance. Bonus: The cost of admission always goes to feeding and caring for the animals.

04 of 11

Spend a Day Lounging and Checking Out the Wildlife at Lido Key Beach

Lido Key Beach

FotoFloridian / Flickr

Lido Key Beach, 400 Benjamin Franklin Dr, Sarasota, FL 34236, USA
Phone +1 941-388-0400

Just west of Sarasota by car, Lido Key Beach is a super picturesque place to spend a day. This beach is known for its sunset cruises and eco-tourism, but you can also go fishing, set sail, and stay on the lookout for dolphins—you’re sure to spot some if you hang around long enough. Catch the sunset at Lido Key before heading to dinner somewhere like Drift Kitchen & Bar at the Lido Beach Resort. Or, if you're in the mood for freshly caught seafood, hit up Lido Island Grill—there's no better place for it, to be honest.

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05 of 11

Witness the Most Spectacular White Sand at Siesta Key Beach

Siesta Key beach at Sarasota, Florida, USA
Pola Damonte via Getty Images / Getty Images
948 Beach Rd, Sarasota, FL 34242, USA
Phone +1 941-861-5000

Located on the 8-mile-long barrier island of Siesta Key, this pristine beach is an approximately 16-minute drive from downtown Sarasota. Consistently named the best beach in the U.S., the sand here is made of 99 percent quartz, giving it the ultra-white color and powdery soft feel the beach is so famous for. In addition to barefoot walks along the shore, Siesta Key Beach is an excellent spot for dolphin watching. There are plenty of amenities available, including concession stands, a picnic area, volleyball courts, and beach wheelchairs.

If you want to explore outside the beach, you’ll find a lot of places to dine, shop, and stay around the island. Here with the whole family? Check out Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, where you'll find sea turtles, manatees, stingrays, and other aquatic life. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, and cost $26 for adults and $19 for children.

06 of 11

Catch a Game at Ed Smith Stadium

2700 12th St, Sarasota, FL 34237, USA
Phone +1 941-893-6300

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, there’s nothing like spending a few hours dancing in the stands while enjoying a classic hot dog and an ice-cold beer. Home to the Baltimore Orioles spring training camp, Ed Smith Stadium was built in 1989 and has seen teams like the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds training here over the decades. Spring training practices are free to watch and open to the public beginning mid-February, with the games kicking off in March. Whether you stay for five innings or nine, it’ll surely be a good time.

07 of 11

Experience a Show at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Van Wezel Auditorium - Sarasota, FL
Flickr Vision / Getty Images
777 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236-4047, USA
Phone +1 941-263-6799

This Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation performing arts hall is a Sarasota staple, thanks in large part to its visually stunning aesthetic. At the 1,736-seat theater, you can see comedians like Daniel Tosh, musical groups such as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and Broadway shows including "Chicago." To get the full experience, make a reservation at the on-site Mattison's for a pre-show dinner and cocktail.

If you are local, consider booking a season package (Broadway, dance series, and subscriber specials are available). Note that the Van Wezel is family-friendly for those who want to bring the kids along; it is also wheelchair accessible.

08 of 11

Get Dressed Up for a Night Out at the Sarasota Opera House

61 N Pineapple Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236-5723, USA
Phone +1 941-328-1300

A historic theater erected in the 1920s, Sarasota Opera House was the brainchild of Sarasota’s first mayor, A.B. Edwards. The recently renovated 1,100-seat theater has been home to the Sarasota Orchestra since 1949, making it the oldest continuing orchestra in the state of Florida. You’ll find everything from holiday concerts to wind quintets, violin concertos, and even pop performances featuring hits from the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John.

Given its name, the theater is also well-known for its operas, with productions like Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Don Giovanni" having been performed here.

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09 of 11

See a Circus Under the Big Top at Circus Arts Conservatory

2075 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota, FL 34239, USA
Phone +1 941-355-9805

There are many things you should do while visiting Sarasota, but if you only do one thing from this list, let it be a trip to the Circus Arts Conservatory. Home to Ringling, Sarasota is considered the “circus capital of the world," so why wouldn’t you run to see a live show by incredibly talented, acrobatic performers? The two-hour show is uninterrupted and runs from February through March every year.

Located near Siesta Key Beach, the Ringling Museum, and other fun attractions, the Conservatory offers circus arts classes for both children and adults, plus a summer camp that concludes with a costumed recital.

10 of 11

Visit the Sarasota Classic Car Museum

5500 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243-2112, USA
Phone +1 941-355-6228

What’s cool about the Sarasota Classic Car Museum is that it’s the second-oldest continuously operating antique car museum in the country. The 60,000-square-foot museum is home to 100-plus vintage, exotic, and European vehicles, including some celebrity cars—like a Rolls Royce collection that once belonged to John and Mable Ringling. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday, except on Christmas. Admission is $18 for adults and $11 for children between 6 and 12; kids 5 and under can visit for free.

11 of 11

Hang Out With the Flamingoes at Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Jim Mullhaupt / Flickr

3701 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34234, USA
Phone +1 941-355-5305

Florida loves its outdoor adventures and Sarasota Jungle Gardens is no exception. Since 1939, this 10-acre botanical garden has attracted visitors with its jungle bird and reptile shows, free-roaming flamingoes, petting zoo, and alligator feeding pool. Exciting and educational, animal shows here typically run for 20 minutes and almost always include audience participation. Tickets range from $15 for children to $22 for adults, with shows included in the cost of admission. Sarasota Jungle Gardens is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is Sarasota best known for?

    Sarasota is best known for its wildlife and outdoor attractions—particularly Siesta Key Beach, which is frequently ranked the best beach in the U.S. The city also has a fantastic arts and culture scene, which includes multiple theaters and the Sarasota Orchestra, Florida's oldest continuing orchestra.

  • Does Sarasota have a nightlife?

    Yes! From bar hopping and live music to comedy shows and sunset cruises, there are plenty of things to do in Sarasota at night. Bars typically close around 2 a.m.

  • What is the best month to visit Sarasota, Florida?

    You can visit anytime, but March to May and September to November are milder climate-wise. There are also fewer tourists during those months. Remember that hurricane season runs from June to November, so if you do book a trip during that time, make sure to get cancellation insurance.

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11 Top Things to Do in Sarasota, Florida