From its charming downtown, to its vibrant dining scene, to its beautiful beaches, Sarasota, Florida, has plenty to offer its visitors. This up-and-coming destination spot, located on Florida's southwestern coast, is also known as the state's Cultural Coast because of its many galleries, museums, and theaters.
Where to Stay
If you want to be within walking distance to events, restaurants, and the scenic Bayfront Park and Marina, check in to the Marriott-owned Art Ovation Hotel, an art-centric, 162-room property that's complete with on-site installations, ukuleles, and sketchbooks (rates from $165 per night). After an action-packed day of sightseeing, visit the hotel's rooftop bar and pool for a quick dip and a cocktail. In the evenings, head to the lobby to listen to live music or watch an artist paint.
Travelers with a flair for chic decor should book a room at The Sarasota Modern, a new 89-room hotel (also owned by Marriott), which features mid-century style architecture and sleek interiors (rates from $195 per night). Both Art Ovation Hotel and The Sarasota Modern provide complimentary shuttles to local beaches; however, if you’re looking for an oceanfront oasis, check out the 187-room Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key. Here, you'll find gorgeous and fully furnished poolside cabanas that'll make your day at the beach extra special (rates from $179 per night).
Where to Eat
If you’re on the hunt for massive breakfast sandwiches and crispy hash browns (paired with picturesque views of the water, of course), dine at New Pass Grill & Bait Shop (most menu items are under $10). Alternatively, if you're closer to downtown, pop into Ofkors Bakery for coffee, smoothies, quiche, crêpes, salads, and sandwiches (menu items run $3 to $10).
When you're in a hurry, you can't go wrong with a New England-style lobster roll at Lido Beach Restaurant, which makes for a fuss-free and delicious meal. If you love to fish, bring your fresh catch to Walt’s Fish Market, Restaurant & Tiki Bar, and the chef will prepare it for you (no worries if you didn't catch anything, though: you can also order from the extensive menu; main courses run $10 to $20).
Award-winning chef Christopher Covelli runs the kitchen at the upscale and recently renovated Sage, which is housed in the former Sarasota Times building. Here, try the sea bass or the Thai bouillabaisse. After dinner, enjoy a cocktail on the rooftop lounge. Another elegant eatery that's worth checking out is Mattison’s City Grille, which is one of three Sarasota-based restaurants that's owned and operated by renown chef Paul Mattison. Staple menu items here include tuna sashimi, filet mignon, and grouper piccata (lunch sandwiches average out at $15; dinner entrees average out at $25).
Baked, steamed, fried or au gratin: order your seafood any way you’d like at Phillipi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar, which has both indoor and outdoor seating. You’ll know you've arrived at the right place when you see the 1,500-pound great white shark hanging from the sign.
What to See and Do
If you love the sand and the sun, you're bound to love Sarasota. Here, travelers can choose from miles of pristine sugar-sand beaches in Longboat Key, Venice, Lido Key, Casey Key, and Siesta Key.
For a fun family-friendly activity, consider booking a guided mangrove tunnel tour with Kayaking SRQ. Those who participate in the two-hour tour will explore the mangrove tunnels, learn about the environment, and — hopefully — spot a manatee or a dolphin ($50 adults; $40 kids 12 and under).
Everyone from art enthusiasts to young children will appreciate The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The museum is named for Ringling Bros. Circus owner and operator John Ringling, and his wife, Mable, who spent their winters in Sarasota. While you're here, take some time to stroll through the lush gardens, explore the Circus Museum, catch a show at the historic Asolo Theater, and admire the beauty of the Ringlings' 56-room mansion, Ca’ d’Zan.
Love to shop? Head to St. Armands Circle, which features over 130 restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, ice cream shops, and more. Afterwards, check out the St. Armands Statue Walk and view all 33 statues — several of which were purchased by John Ringling in the 1920s. The Sarasota Farmers Market features around 80 local vendors and takes place every Saturday in downtown.
Other local attractions include the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (which features a children’s rainforest garden), and the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium (where you'll find a magnificent 135,000-gallon shark habitat). For more art and music, stop by some of Sarasota's many galleries; go to a show at one of the many theaters and performing arts venues; attend the ballet; and watch the orchestra play.