Things to do in Sarasota (aside from visit the beach)
Sarasota boasts an interesting backstory. In the 15th Century, Spanish explorers expelled the Calusa people – leaving the place virtually empty until the Seminole Wars. While the place was once again populated – it was isolated until 1902 when the Tampa railroad was built. Sarasota then grew popular as a winter resort for the affluent, and the city’s arts institutions followed. Then circus magnate John Ringling decided to relocate his circus here, building a winter residence, art museum and college, and setting the town on course to become the artistic hub that it is today.
This all led to Sarasota rising as one of Florida’s most diverse holiday destinations – which offers a lot more than just a pretty shoreline. It is also just south of Tampa, and is easy to reach from the UK. Here’s your guide to making the most of your time in Sarasota.
Ringling Museum of Art
If you’re looking to discover the local art scene, you can’t get much better than the official museum of Florida. Established in 1927 - in memory of Mable and John Ringling – it offers twenty-one galleries of European paintings as well as Cypriot antiquities and Asian, American, and contemporary art. The museum is in total home to more than 10,000 objects, but it’s most celebrated items in the museum are 16th–20th-century European paintings, including a world-renowned collection of Peter Paul Rubens paintings.
The museum is open daily 10:00am - 5:00pm, Thursdays until 8:00pm, and can be found in north Sarasota towards Bradenton.
The Sarasota Ballet has been around since 1987, but it was in 2007 that is became a big player on the world stage. This is when the renowned English ballet dancer and choreographer, Iain Webb, was appointed director and revolutionised The Company’s catalogue, introducing 146 ballets and divertissements through the 2017 - 2018 Season.
Ballets by Sir Frederick Ashton are his personal favourite, but under his watchful eye The Sarasota Ballet has become recognised for orchestrating American premiers of international pieces, and commissioning new works (both from budding choreographers from within The Company and established choreographers from around the globe).
2019 performances include The Sarasota Ballet Gala, Transcending Movement, The Sarasota Ballet - Martha Graham Dance Company, and Giselle. You’ll find the Sarasota Ballet near Indian Beach / Sapphire Shores.
Visit the art galleries on Palm Avenue
Palm Avenue is known amongst locals for its collection of art galleries – and they are definitely worth visiting. If you’re in Sarasota on the First Friday of the month, stop by Palm Avenue between 6pm and 9pm for Palm Avenue’s First Friday Walks, when members of the Palm Avenue Arts Alliance sing, dance, and serenade the community and guests.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Since 1973, scientists from Selby Gardens have ventured into some of the world’s wildest places to identify, study, collect and learn from exotic and remarkable plants – which has led to the gardens becoming a world-leader in the study and conservation of plants, particularly epiphytes.
Some of the highlights at the gardens include Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, Tropical Conservatory, Towering Bamboo Garden, and the Koi Pond.
Shop till you drop
Sarasota also boasts some incredible shopping opportunities. To start with, there are a few outlet malls within the area. The new Mall at University Town Center, located at Interstate 75 and University Parkway, is a shopping and dining destination, with more than 125 stores and restaurants. The Mall at UTC's anchors are Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Dillard's. Westfield Southgate in south Sarasota features retailers like Talbots and Chico's, and even has a movie theatre.
But if you’re looking for something independent and distinctive, Pineapple Avenue offers a row of antiques shops. While Main Street, also downtown, is home to boutique clothing stores and other fun shops.
If you require any more convincing that Sarasota is the centre of Florida’s cultural scene – it is home to Florida’s oldest continuous orchestra. Opened in 1949, the 80-member Orchestra performs more than 100 classical, pops and family concerts each year. Upcoming shows in the 2018-2019 schedule include Legends, Perfect Pairs, Tis the Season, and La La Land in Concert.
Play a round of golf
The golf courses in Sarasota are the perfect balance between being well-known enough that keen players will be impressed that you’ve teed-off there, but not so famous that they’re overrun. University Park Country Club is a members-club that also allows members of the public to play. All three nines (all are Ron Garl designs) are top notch, with speed and true rolls, and the course is noted for its great overall condition. And with all the different sets of tees you’ll feel like you are playing a different course every visit.
Taste the local cuisine
Sarasota County is home to award-winning chefs and 21 Zagat-rated restaurants – so a trip round its local restaurants is definitely in order.
If you’re in Sarasota with your other half, Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key is known as one of America’s Top 200 Most Romantic Restaurants. While Michael’s On East is Sarasota’s only AAA Four Diamond Restaurant.
However, if it’s really important that you have a nice bottle of red with your dinner, The Crow’s Nest Restaurant & Tavern boasts 950 varieties of wine and has been awarded the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the “Best Of” Award of Excellence. While The Bijou Café claims the largest collection of South American wines in Florida.
For something a bit more unusual – how about a trip to one of Sarasota’s two Amish restaurants? Both Der Dutchman and Yoder’s restaurants are the epitome of casual, home-cooked dining and are perfect family-friendly restaurants. The Amish pies have been recognized as some of the best in the country.
There are also several food-based festivals throughout the year. Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week during the first two weeks of June offers a multi-course culinary experience at more than 60 restaurants. Let’s Eat, Englewood in the fall also celebrates dining, with multiple restaurants offering special menus. Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival, a multi-day event by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, includes food and wine seminars at various restaurants. The Whiskey Obsession Festival showcases more than 200 spirits to taste, ranging from the elegant to the sublime. Finally, the Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash in Venice brings award-winning pitmasters to Venice.
Enjoy a night out in Downtown Sarasota
Finish your holiday by letting your hair down in the centre of Sarasota nightlife scene, where you’ll find craft beer, cocktails, light bites and unique characters. Some of the most popular places include Jack Dusty at The Ritz Carlton, Selva Grill, Social Eatery & Bar, and State Street Eating House + Cocktails.
Have you ever been to Sarasota? Leave us a comment letting first-time visitors know what should be first on their list.