Nestled into Florida’s lesser-explored west coast, Sarasota is located around an hour south of the well-known city of Tampa. A dazzling white stretch of sand, turquoise ocean and tree-covered coastal islands, its tourist board promotes ‘beaches and beyond’; it’s a fitting description indeed for a place that is about to serve up a wholly unique 2018/2019 holiday experience.
Visitors embark on holidays in Sarasota for the sun, sand and sea, yet there’s so much more to this fascinating Gulf of Mexico destination. Enjoying a tantalising subtropical climate, Sarasota is known for its long, hot summers and mild winters. And with its range of cultural, beachfront and sports activities for young and old travellers alike, holidays in Sarasota are tailored to please. The city and its surrounding areas present a large selection of accommodation to suit all budgets and requirements. Whichever you choose, you’ll never be too far from the city’s great selection of restaurants, bars and shops.
From art museums to farmer’s markets, aquariums to river kayaking, holidays in Sarasota are never a dull affair. Get a true sense of Florida’s incredible wildlife as you head out on a nature trail in the Myakka State Park. Here you’ll get to see deer, raccoon, lizards and various birds of prey roaming around their natural habitat, with treetop walkways, river boats and lookout towers offering panoramic views of the spectacular surroundings.
For something a little cultured you could head to the Ringling Museum, a beautiful mansion house on the coast that’s home to an array of contemporary art, or for the sporting types the Bobby Jones golf club is open to all with no membership required. Historic Downtown Venice is a breath of fresh air against Florida’s backdrop of strip malls, a unique collection of boutiques, independent shops and great restaurants, all against a Mediterranean-inspired backdrop. Don’t forget to check out the farmers’ market on Saturdays.
With its mix of fine dining, foodie markets, microbreweries and great year round weather, it’s fair to say that a Sarasota holiday offers up plenty in the way of culinary delights. Have a browse around Sarasota farmer’s market, particularly at Englewood and the midweek market held at Phillippi estate park to choose from loads of fresh local produce, an ideal way to stock up if you’ve gone self-catering. Seafood and gator (less, alligator!) are staples in this part of America so get down to Longboat key for beachfront shacks, outdoor cafes and fine restaurants alike. There’s even an Amish community in Sarasota, the likes of Der Dutchman and Yoder’s serving up incredible pies and cakes.
If you’re feeling a little thirsty, head to Drum Circle distillery to try award-winning rums, or to Sarasota brewing company for local beers aplenty. The Bijou Café is the place to go for wine lovers, as it’s said to have the largest collection of South American wines in Florida. For a romantic dining experience, book yourself into Euphemia Haye, voted amongst the country’s top 200 eating spots for couples.
Whilst the likes of Busch Gardens, YMCA water park & alpine climbing and the Bishop Planetarium offer up the most family-friendly options in this part of Southern Florida, the most memorable activities to get involved in are the ones allowing you to get up close and personal with the natural surroundings. At Myakka State Park, the kids will love taking boats through the rivers and swamps, seeing different species of wild bird up close and personal and catching a glimpse of the region’s infamous alligator population.
At the TreeUmph! Adventure Course in Bradenton you can go rambling through the trees on obstacle courses, a super day out for active families. An evening of bowling fun awaits at Sarasota Lanes, perhaps after a day of exploring the trees and flowers at Selby botanical gardens with its rainforest, greenhouses and 15 acres of carefully maintained natural beauty. A close-up look at the region’s marine life is possible at Mote Marine Aquarium with over 100 species of wildlife.
Being part of either the crowd or the action itself is never too hard in Sarasota. Take a bike tour, go for a run along the beach or even catch the Baltimore Orioles training in Spring. The area is home to several fishing resorts dedicated to deep sea fishing, whilst renowned golf courses are part and parcel of the Florida experience. At Myakka State Park you can ride kayaks through the undergrowth or take a speed boat across the water past alligators and wild birds. In Lakewood Ranch, go clay pigeon shooting at the Ancient Oak Gun Club.
Its main stretch may be a built up urban area, but it’s on the six islands lining the Sarasota coastline that the true beauty of the area’s beaches shines through. Each reveals a different personality, natural delights and recreational goings on. Indulge in the peace and quiet of Siesta Key and its endless, unspoilt white sands. Take the kids down to Nokomis beach and trawl through the pretty shells in search of the best ones to take home, or get down with nature on the boardwalks and walking trails at Venice’s Caspersen beach. Relax and unwind down at Manasota beach or for a spot of seclusion, Longboat Key is the place for you.
Whilst some areas may be a little quiet, there are plenty of food and drink options at both Lido and Longboat keys. Columbia restaurant and Café Europe at St. Armand’s Circle have plenty of outdoor seating and menus to suit all appetites.
There’s more to Sarasota nightlife than meets the eye. It’s about live music, sunset cocktails in beachfront tiki bars, film festivals, and live comedy. It’s no South Beach, but then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Downtown is a nightlife hotspot with plenty of craft beer bars, cocktail dens and rum caverns to get your teeth into. Get down to the Blue Rooster for jukebox vibes, hand crafted cocktails and a buzzing crowd. The historic Asolo theatre puts on live performances, as does the Florida Studio Theatre yet in a more relaxed, audience participation kind of way.
Out on the keys, the party really gets going at Siesta Key Village with live music and DJs playing into the night at Daiquiri deck and the Siesta Key Oyster Bar. So whether you want to come in and party from the beach or get your glad rags on for a classy night on the town, there’s a little something for all on a Sarasota holiday.
The weather here is pretty incredible all year round, making Sarasota holidays an ideal choice for Valentine’s Day in February. Even then, a bright Florida sun fills the clear blue skies and provides the perfect backdrop for romantic adventures. Take a walk through the Ringling Gardens and enjoy a sunset picnic overlooking Sarasota Bay. This Venetian inspired house built in the 1920s is the epitome of romantic elegance, capturing the essence of the Mediterranean in the heart of Southern Florida. There’s also an onsite food outlet to pick up your picnic items.
Out on the water, couples will relish the chance to experience the shimmering Gulf waters up close. You might even catch a glimpse of passing dolphins. Several companies offer catamaran cruises in either morning, afternoon or at sunset. For something a little livelier, the vessel Le Barge comes equipped with real palm trees on deck, plus live music and a plentiful supply of cocktails.
For a state renowned more for its theme parks and beaches, there’s a vast array of cultural goings on to enjoy in Florida. The Sarasota Music Festival showcases the best up and coming classical music with festival Fridays, symphony Saturdays and ‘rising star’ chamber performances. For an all-round adrenaline celebration you can’t do better than the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix, held annually around the 4th July public holiday. Alongside the boat races there’s a classic car rally, fishing tournaments, driver meet and greets and even a golf classic to enjoy.
A little earlier, in June, the Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week is a two-week culinary celebration held across various restaurants with special one-off dishes and great price deals. Participating eateries are some of the most respected in the region, meaning you’re sure to eat well during the fortnight.