Helen Hatzis
Helen Hatzis
June 27, 2017 ·  11 min read

Sarasota Guide: Feel At Ease On Florida’s Gulf Coast

Sarasota’s laid-back sophistication and charm make it easy to feel at ease in this 40 mile-long coastal community along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Sarasota and her string of eight islands are 60 miles south of Tampa and 75 north of Fort Myers.

Drenched in sunshine most of the year, being outdoors is a classic way to spend time in Sarasota. Myakka River State Park, one of the largest parks in Florida, offers bountiful opportunities to commune with nature.

The beaches are a major draw with Siesta Beach earning numerous top honors for its quartz white sand that stays cool to the touch, and Lido Beach is steps away from the shopping and dining mecca, St. Armands Circle. Farther south Caspersen Beach in Venice is known for its prolific amount of fossilized shark’s teeth that can be found at waters-edge.

Siesta Beach, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Siesta Beach, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

For indoor activity, Sarasota boast the tile, “Cultural Capital of Florida®,” thanks to its prevalence of professional arts such as the Asolo Repertory Theater, one of the most heralded professional theaters in the Southeast; The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida; the Sarasota Ballet, the only professional ballet on the west coast of Florida, the Sarasota Opera, the only company in the world to complete composer Giuseppe Verdi’s entire works; and the Sarasota Orchestra.

Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling making Sarasota his winter home and bringing the circus winter quarters here in the 1920’s, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” with many offerings designed to honor the past, present, and future of the circus.

The beaches and neighborhoods beyond in Sarasota are full of charm and character.

Siesta Key, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Siesta Key, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Siesta Key: In a nod to its namesake, Siesta Key beaches are an invitation for relaxation and rejuvenation. Enjoying the reputation as one of America’s Best Beaches, Siesta Beach is made famous by its sugar-fine, quartz-white sand.  A short jaunt from the public beach is a village of outdoor dining, coffee shops, and shopping.  Turtle Beach sits beyond the sea grapes on the Key’s southern end and is a popular site for launching kayaks.

Longboat Key: Manicured and pristine, this long, narrow key boasts exclusive homes and elite resorts.  The Resort at Longboat Key Club is recognized internationally for its tennis facilities, challenging golf courses, dining, and waterfront oasis.

Lido Key/ St. Armands:  Once home to the Lido Beach Casino, Lido Key‘s reputation for marrying cosmopolitan life with seaside oasis continues today.   Within a short radius lies St. Armands Circle, a sophisticated outdoor dining, and shopping area with a distinct European flare, iconic examples of mid-century modern architecture and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Downtown Sarasota:  Eager to welcome two new hotels in 2016 and 2017, downtown Sarasota is bursting with trendy corner cafés and artesian shops.  For years The Sarasota Opera and Florida Studio Theater have held court in the center of town, keeping arts and culture at the heart of Sarasota’s charm.  Catch an independent film at Burns Court Cinema, shop art galleries along Palm Avenue or grab a signature happy hour cocktail or a local craft beer at one of the city’s diverse watering holes and restaurants.

Venice:  Aptly named one of Coastal Living’s “Happiest Seaside Towns in America” in 2015, this island town’s charming main street offers shopping and dining and meanders through stately 1920’s homes leading straight to the Gulf of Mexico.  Venice is also known as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.”

Englewood:  Retreat to the tranquil shores of Englewood, a throw-back to Old Florida’s simple and idyllic lifestyle. Englewood surprises visitors with its antique shopping and collection of cozy restaurants in Olde Englewood Village.  Heralded for its natural abundance, fishing is a favorite pastime, and Manasota Key is home to four beaches offering miles of unspoiled vistas of the Gulf of Mexico.

Accessible by air, car or boat, Sarasota is easy to reach. Multiple airlines fly into Sarasota Bradenton International Airport and Tampa International Airport is 45 minutes north. Several marinas and yacht clubs are located throughout the area, and Interstate 75 runs north and south throughout the community.



  • Sarasota was named on Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Award for Best Food Cities in the US in 2016
  • The Sarasota region has one of the largest groups of locally-owned and independent restaurants offering everything from casual eats and craft breweries to legendary gourmet cuisine at Michaels on East
  • Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week offers multi-course menus at special prices the first two weeks of June every year.
  • Numerous farmers markets are open throughout the year
  • A regional map to beer and spirits aptly named The Gulf Toast, names the top spots to grab a brew from Bradenton to Naples.
Key Lime Pie at Savor Sarasota, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Key Lime Pie at Savor Sarasota, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Sarasota’s cuisine has long-received outstanding reviews.  Everything from French and Indian to locally caught seafood is available at neighborhood restaurants.

St. Armands Circle offers a range of choices from casual chips and salsa to escargot and filet mignon.  Café L’Europe, housed in John Ringling’s former real estate office, offers continental cuisine, Columbia’s generous portions of Cuban fare and sangria, dozens of taco choices at Surf Shack and Big Olaf’s ice cream parlor makes dining on the Circle a favorite for both families and couples.

To the north of St. Armands, Longboat Key is home to acclaimed romantic spot Euphemia Haye and Dry Dock Waterfront Grill invites boaters to dock directly outside before digging into fresh seafood.

Downtown Sarasota mixes independent gems such as the Bijou Café, a favorite of Opera patrons and Mozaic, a serving eclectic flavors with Moroccan twists, with the likes of Hyde Park Steak House and nightlife at Clasico and Mattison’s City Grille. The Hillview area just south of downtown caters to doctors and nurses from nearby Sarasota Memorial Hospital and families in the Southside neighborhood.

Downtown Sarasota, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Downtown Sarasota, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Indian, Mediterranean, and French cuisine can be found alongside Morton’s Gourmet Market and Libby’s Café + Bar.  Save room for a slice of pie in Pinecraft Village, an Amish and Mennonite community just inside the city limits!

Further south, in the heart of Venice, is a shopping and dining district referred to as Venice Main Street. Dining options range from Italian and American to a throw-back soda fountain. In the southernmost region of Sarasota, Englewood offers an annual restaurant week at the end of September and Dearborn Street is home to the colorful and artsy Mango Cafe.

Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Fruit Market Downtown Venice, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

For those looking for an off-the-beaten-path favorite, line-up early on Fridays for the fish tacos and homemade guacamole at the Lido Beach Public Pavilion. They sell out fast, and the view can’t be beat!

A variety of food and wine festivals take place throughout the year. Forks & Corks in January brings vintners for a grand festival and classes, the Whiskey Obsession Festival in March offers 200 spirits to taste ranging from the elegant to the sublime and the annual Suncoast BBQ & Bluegrass Bash in April brings award-winning pit-masters and bluegrass music to Venice.

The artisan spirits and craft beer movements have taken root in Sarasota. JDubs Brewery and Big Top Brewery, offer Circus City IPA and Trapeze Monk, respectively. The long-established Sarasota Brewing Company in the Gulf Gate neighborhood has been serving craft beers for years. The Drum Circle Distillery distils small-batch rums, called Siesta Key Rum, in cooper still pots.

Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com



  • Family-friendly outings include Mote Aquarium, splash parks, and TreeUmph! Adventure Course
  • Attractions include Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Mote Aquarium, The Ringling, Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary, Historic Spanish Point and more
  • Paddle through the mangrove tunnels on Lido Key

In addition, to be a leading research institute on sharks and other marine mammals, Mote Aquarium is an ideal spot to get up close and personal with marine animals while also learning about their habitats.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, hammocked between Sarasota Bay and the bustling streets of downtown Sarasota, is a natural escape offering beautiful glimpses of the world’s largest collection of epiphytes-harmless plants that grow on other plants.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

In another nod to the area’s circus heritage, the Big Cat Habitat &Gulf Coast Sanctuary founder Kay Rosaire opened this animal rescue in 2005, and The Ringling estate offers a Museum of Art, John and Mable Ringling’s winter home the Ca d’Zan mansion, a circus museum with the world’s largest circus in miniature and a historic theater.

Ringling Estate, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Ringling Estate, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

For the more active at heart, renting bicycles to journey along the 10-mile Legacy Trail, a rails to trails project or take to the treetop for a ropes course and zip lines at TreeUmph Adventure Course.

The Circus Arts Conservatory offers adult and children’s circus arts classes at its arena not far from the downtown city limits. Little tykes can enjoy numerous public playgrounds such as Payne Park’s Circus-themed jungle gyms and the City of North Port, named a Playful City USA for the seventh straight year, has numerous outdoor areas built for climbing, running and jumping.

Circus Arts Cons Concession, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Circus Arts Cons Concession, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Water warriors are encouraged to grab a paddle and take to the water. Kayak the mangrove tunnels of Lido Key or glide through Sarasota Bay’s gentle waters while spotting dolphins, manatees and a wide variety of birds. Stand up paddle boarding is also popular in the Bay and many area outfitters offer rentals.



  • Unwind while watching the sunset at Sarasota’s beaches
  • Listen to live music outdoors
  • Try yoga on the beach or under the full moon

It’s not hard to chill in Sarasota. Ocean breezes, palm-lined streets, and daily sunshine are the perfect ingredients for feeling at ease. For a simple and easy way to unwind, pack a picnic basket, bring a blanket and watch the sunset at any one of the beaches.

Siesta Beach, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Siesta Beach, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

During the summer listen to live music at Friday Fest on the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall’s lawn and during the winter and spring live jazz in the parks by the Sarasota Jazz Club is a favorite.

To rejuvenate in nature, head to the nation’s only warm mineral springs, aptly named Warm Mineral Springs. Located in North Port, it is rumored to be the sought-after “fountain of youth,” because of its high mineral content and consistently warm 87-degree waters.

Yoga-lovers have a range of options to meet their Zen while in Sarasota. On the evening of the full moon each month, north Lido Beach folks bring their mats for the Full Moon Yoga under the moonlight.

Yoga on the Terrace is also a monthly event that takes place on Saturday mornings on the terrace of the Ringling Cà d’Zan mansion or re-center on Siesta Public Beach with Yoga on Siesta Beach. The Ritz-Carlton Members Spa Club and the remodeled Island House Spa at the Resort at Longboat Key Club treat their guests to relaxation rituals and customized treatments.

Siesta Beach, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Siesta Beach, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com



  • Flagship brands such as the Ritz-Carlton and Hyatt Regency have properties in Sarasota along with full-service seaside resorts and bungalows with views

From refined resorts on the beach to boutique hotels tucked along the streets of Sarasota, finding a place to stay where you can kick, back and relax is easy. Accommodations range in prices with the prices the highest during peak season January through March.  The summer months offer the most affordable rates.

Joining the mix of established properties such as the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, Hotel Indigo, The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Lido Beach Resort and the Inn at Venice, are the Westin, Embassy Suites, and Hotel Sarasota all slated to open in downtown Sarasota in 2017.

Downtown Sarasota, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

Downtown Sarasota, Photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com

History buffs will enjoy knowing that John Ringling dreamed of building a Ritz-Carlton on the land he owned along Longboat Key. Construction began, and he collected statues and other decorations to adorn his hotel; however, the Depression came, and his plans never materialized. The statues now line the exterior courtyard at The Ringling Museum of Art and the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, opened in 2001, sits in the spot of Ringling’s former El Vernona Hotel in downtown Sarasota.



  • The Ringling’s Museum of Art is free on Mondays.
  • An hour before sunset, a drum circle forms at Siesta Beach on Sundays and Nokomis Beach on Wednesdays.
  • The splash park at Bayfront Park on City Island in downtown Sarasota and the splash fountain in Venice are two free places for children to play and stay cool in the summer.
  • Take a ride on the pontoon airboat at Myakka River State Park and receive an education in alligators and birds
  • Pinecraft is a tidy Amish and Mennonite community within the city limits of Sarasota. Take out pies are available at Yoder’s and Der Dutchman.
  • The Sarasota Chalk Festival colors the streets of Venice every November.
  • Manasota Key is a favorite fishing spot along the coast.
  • Run or walk the Ringling Bridge for a beautiful view of downtown Sarasota, Sarasota Bay and the keys. The Sarasota Music Half-Marathon routes along the bridge and takes place every February.
  • North Port’s Warm Mineral Springs, with 9 million gallons of fresh water at a constant temperature of 87 degrees Fahrenheit, is a popular spot for visitors looking for the healing touch.
  • Brohard Beach in Venice is the area’s only dog-friendly beach