Sarasota, Florida is my hometown and will always have a special piece of my heart despite the muggy summers, snowbird traffic in the winters, and a reputation as “God’s waiting room.” However, Sarasota is also home to gorgeous white sand beaches, delicious food, and oh so many fabulous outdoor activities that you can do year round.
Sarasota is about an hour south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The area is highly regarded for its art scene, cultural institutions, dining scene, and its gateway to beautiful beaches and epic fishing. This guide is the real deal on what to do in Sarasota, Florida, so I hope you enjoy!
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1. St. Armand’s Circle
Growing up only a mile away, I worked many a summer at the ice cream stores and beach boutiques. St. Armand’s is basically a collection of specialty shops and restaurants (arranged in a circle, duh!). I go out for a walk/dinner/drinks there any time I want to feel like I’m on vacation. There’s definitely no shortage of places to eat:
- Columbia: best Cuban food around. When you go, you HAVE to get a 1905 salad, even if it’s just on the side. Trust me on this one.
- Venezia: Pizza place with outdoor seating. Not sure how you can beat a cheesy pepperoni pizza while enjoying some 70 degree weather in the middle of January.
- Tommy Bahamas: I’m totally in love with their seafood here.
- Surf Shack: TACOS! That explain it? But really, OMG the tacos here. Just do it.
- Blue Dolphin Café: The #1 breakfast spot around. Anytime I walk by, they always have a line out the door, full of locals and tourists alike.
- Daiquiri Deck: aka my Happy Place. Try a Green Parrot or Pain in the Ass daiquiri…a perk here is Happy Hour is 2 for 1, need I say more?
This is also located in the circle but 100% deserves its own line. Full disclosure: I was a former ice cream scooper at Ben & Jerry’s, but Kilwins will always have my heart. Enjoy a delicious waffle cone of Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream, crunch on some peanut brittle, or partake in a mouthwatering piece of fudge…my mouth is literally watering just thinking of the rich chocolate. One of the unique things about Kilwins is that the ice cream chefs (is that a thing?) make the fudge on a table in front of you!
Ok, so obviously not all locals skydive, but this local did, and it’s kind of insane to see Sarasota from a different angle. I did my dive over the Gulf and landed on Lido beach, so coming in I got a bird’s eye view of St. Armand’s Circle, and when I got closer to the water…several sharks. I didn’t love that part so much.
4. Rent a Boat
And do as the locals do…motor on over to the Big Pass sandbar in Sarasota Bay. Swim, have some drinks, and make friends with your new BFFs on the island. A note of caution – there can be some serious rip currents, so please don’t drown.
5. Siesta Beach
Voted #1 beach in the country by Dr. Beach a few years back, you have to go to Siesta at least once. When people imagine white sand beaches, it’s basically a picture of Siesta in their heads. Siesta is great for swimming, playing volleyball, busting out the paddle ball set, day drinking, people watching…do you get the picture? Basically, it’s amazing for all beach activities.
6. The Village
Another plus of Siesta is its proximity to the Village in Siesta Key. The Village has a cute, beachy downtown vibe where the barefoot life is encouraged. Chow down on a cheesy omelet at the Village Café, feast on oysters at SKOB (Siesta Key Oyster Bar), or start the party with Daiquiri Deck’s killer Happy Hour (yes, there are Daiquiri Decks in both the Village and the Circle and I’m obsessed with both.)
7. Kayak through the Mangroves
One of my favorite things to do in Sarasota is to explore by water, whether that be motor boat, Sunfish, SUP, or kayak. All I know is that when I’m on the water, I’m a happy camper…possibly I was a mermaid in another life? But in any case, rent a kayak and paddle through the mangroves in Sarasota Bay. The tunnels truly are awe-inspiring (once you get over the potential for spiders dropping on your head). They form an archway to an enchanted mangrove forest where fiddler crabs scuttle across exposed mangrove roots and fish swim languidly just inches below your kayak.
Where to Stay in Sarasota:
If you’re feeling super swanky, and want to stay in downtown Sarasota, your obvious choice is the Ritz-Carlton. No fear though! Even though it’s downtown, it has its own private club on Lido Beach, and I can speak from experience when I tell you it is oh so relaxing. If you’re planning to spend all of your time on Lido, you’re going to want to stay out on the beach to avoid dealing with traffic. Check out Sandcastle Resort, which is about as close to the beach as you can get. Your other option is Siesta Key – beautiful white sandy beaches and the Village- try The Capri.
Cheap Flights: I’d recommend searching through eDreams.net. They scan tons of different travel discount sites and feature special flight deals. If you’re lucky, you might find a cheap flight into Sarasota, but otherwise, check flights to Tampa–it’s only an hour away, and possibly my all time favorite airport!
For more Florida inspiration, check out my ultimate guide to 3 days in St. Augustine.
Plus there are palm trees, white sand beaches, and ice cold drinks all year round…need I say more? This is your guide on what to do in Sarasota.