Road trip adventures in Florida that show it has more than just theme parks? Count me in.
On my trip to Sarasota County I found all of the key things to do and made a list of where to visit. I wanted a mix of adventure, culture and relaxation. To try and put a guide together of how to spend a week in Sarasota County.
Maybe you’ll be planning a fly and flop holiday (I love this term!), or maybe you are looking for a destination to relax in after some heavy theme park action in Orlando.
Either way, for me Sarasota has a bit of everything, combining the best of Florida with laid back Sarasota vibes, amazing food, nature and culture. Let me show you how to have fun in the 941.
Where is Sarasota County?
Sarasota County is situated on the southwest coast of Florida on the Gulf Coast. It’s only a two hour drive from Orlando International Airport, and just one hour drive south from Tampa.
Is Sarasota County worth visiting?
I have been asked this a lot and the answer is a massive YES! There is so much more to Florida than the theme parks, and a holiday in Sarasota County is a fantastic example of that.
This part of Florida is known as the cultural coast because of all the museums, art galleries and performing arts venues. From the Ca’ d’Zan to the Art Museums to the Opera House.
Then there is the Gulf Coast Conservation Foundation, which aims to protect natural resources. They have marine life conservation projects protecting sea turtles and seabirds alongside the fantastic work at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.
Sarasota County is absolutely worth visiting in my book. So let’s crack on with the list of things to do.
Segway Tour in Sarasota County
Taking any kind of tour is a great way to establish yourself in a new destination, and if I am completely honest the thought of riding a Segway doesn’t usually excite me all that much!
However that opinion changed in Sarasota! Firstly, the Segway’s by Sarasota by Segway were the best Segway’s I’ve used, and very easy to drive. And secondly this is a great way to get around when it’s so hot and humid.
We covered around 12km in our tour using mostly very spacious pavements (or sidewalks as they are known here!). It was a lovely introduction to the history of Sarasota, the Ringling Brothers, the Old Town and the Bayfront. A brilliant way to get to know a new destination, without breaking a sweat.
Myakka River State Park
Quite simply a must visit in Sarasota County! Myakka River State Park is one of Florida’s largest and oldest parks and home to the Myakka River, a state-designated wild and scenic river.
The Myakka River State Park is a nature lover’s paradise, with unspoiled wetlands, prairies and pinelands where you can go hiking, boating, canoeing and cycling. And entry to the park is only $6!
In my first hour I had seen around 10 alligators, walked up the canopy walkway for views across the entire park, and watched a snake cross the road! I knew right away I was going to like it here.
You could easily spend the whole day exploring, if not two. And if I had more time I would have loved to get out on the water and see some of the birdlife up close. Or even just rent a bike and cycle around.
Siesta Key Beach
Does this beach need much more introduction that the #1 ranked beach in the USA? Yes Siesta Key Beach is often named the #1 beach in USA and for good reason. Soft golden sand, crystal clear turquoise waters and plenty of space to find your own private spot.
When you have had enough sun head to Siesta Village to explore the shops and cafes, or just sit back with a Mimosa. I grabbed a broken egg sandwich as the Broken Egg Café, and sipped on a mimosa before heading back for another dip.
Or officially known as the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium! And don’t forget the mammal centre. Usually I wouldn’t rave about an aquarium or necessarily add it to a to do list, but in this case Mote Aquarium must be on there, it’s amazing.
I was most impressed by the large scale conservation projects that Mote funds and supports. Mote is an independent, non-profit marine research institution with world-class marine scientists. They believe that conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education. I agree!
Their research started with sharks and has expanded to understanding manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and coral reefs, and even included human cancer research. There is far too much to mention here so please take a look at the Mote website for more information.
Make sure you don’t miss the otters, manatees and sea turtles in the Mammal Centre, or the exhibition centre which currently showcases the incredible work of shark photographer Brian Skerry.
Sealife Encounter Boat Cruise
Conveniently located right behind the Mote Aquarium is the next thing I recommend you do, a boat cruise! I particularly recommend this one with Sarasota Bay Explorers as it includes some really valuable information about the wildlife, ecology and history of the area.
We had barely left the dock when we saw a Manatee, before making our way around the bay to see Bottlenose Dolphins. That was before we went to the important nesting spot The Rookery to see some of the amazing birdlife.
Our marine biologist talked us through some of the conservation work they are doing and we had a small island stop to learn more about the ecology and look at some of the mangroves. A lovely way to spend the afternoon in Sarasota County.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
When it comes to Botanical Gardens, they can be a bit hit or miss as to whether I recommend them. Well the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a hit, and one that you cannot miss!
It’s set in 15-acres of bayfront gardens and sanctuaries, sharing plants from all around the world alongside native nature and the region’s history. It started when Marie Selby opened her private collection to the public in 1973. One of the highlights is the Banyon Grove planted by Marie and her husband nearly a century ago.
They also have a number of exhibitions on display here, such as the current artist in residence; Patti Smith. And look out for the boat that runs to the Historic Spanish Point campus with a further 30-acres to explore.
The bird pictured below, crab fishing in the mangroves: Yellow Crowned Night Heron.
Next up head down to Venice and soak up some of the charm of old Florida. Just the beach itself is worth the visit, being much smaller and quieter than some of its rivals on the Gulf Coast. It also has an offshore coral reef!
Or you can just wander the streets lined with moss-covered oak trees and swaying palm trees, which date back to the 1920s. I spent some time in Centennial Park, before wandering the shops and grabbing an ice-cream. I wanted to recharge my batteries before my next activity, also in Venice.
Yes you read that right, I would be learning to Trapeze with the legendary Trapeze artist Tito Gaona. And I love how this is linked with the circus history of Sarasota and the Ringling Brothers.
Tito runs a class for all abilities to learn how to Trapeze in his purpose built academy just outside of Venice. And for a start, what a character Tito is! Friends with Hollywood A-listers and with some of the most impressive YouTube videos, I knew I was in safe hands.
Your typical group class with Tito will last around two hours and you’ll get 3 goes on the Trapeze. There is a warm up, briefing and all safety equipment is provided. And although I very much had a “what the hell am I doing here?” moment, it was one of the most fun activities I’ve done in ages.
Make sure you watch the video for that part at least!
John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art & Ca’ d’Zan
As you will have read or heard, the Ringling Brothers and their circus is deeply embedded in the history of Sarasota. In a nutshell, the circus is what put Sarasota on the map, and the Ringling Bridge built by the brothers brought visitors from all over the world, and the population grew accordingly.
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art includes an Art Exhibition, Circus Museum, Asolo Theatre, Bayfront Gardens and the historic Ca’ d’Zan (their house).
The Circus Museum must be seen to be believed, it is a model replica of the circus in its prime and shows the scale and size of the circus. And the Ca’ d’Zan was the home of the circus entrepreneur, designed in a Venetian Gothic style, it’s a stunning spot to explore, right on the bayfront.
That’s all before I’ve talked about the Gardens, Art Galleries and Theatre. I recommend allowing plenty of time to explore, and grabbing lunch at The Grill Room.
Where to eat in Sarasota County
One things I was not expecting to blow me away was the food! Sarasota County has hands down some of the best restaurants and food options I’ve seen in America, let alone in Florida. I strongly recommend adding these places to your list, and if you visit please tell them I said hi!
You’ll find this place tucked away in Siesta Key Marina, serving ‘quality interpretations of classic dishes’. It’s obviously going to be known for it’s fish, but their fish n chips could give any UK chippy a run for it’s money.
In fact it’s better than most chippies I know. There I said it, one of the best fish n chips I’ve ever had! Enjoy.
The Fountain Kitchen & Wine Bar
Anywhere claiming to have the best pizza in Sarasota has to be on your list! I mean, I only had one pizza in Sarasota, so I’m not exactly an expert. But it was a pretty damn good pizza, in a lovely and small venue in the arty Burns Court neighbourhood.
Michael’s on East
Moving on to fine dining! Michael’s on East is exactly that, award-wining cuisine combined with outstanding service and a “1940s supper club” atmosphere. I don’t know what that is but I liked the vibe.
I had an outstanding 3-course meal which included a main of Southwestern Seared Mahi-Mahi. Followed up by an Old Fashioned in the bar watching a live pianist putting on a show.
Libby’s Neighbourhood Brasserie
Another favourite of mine was the atmosphere and menu at Libby’s, who offer Classic American Cuisine with a twist! They combine great food and sophisticated drinks very well here.
I had an amazing honey and bourbon glazed salmon followed by my first every key lime pie, which basically makes me Floridian now.
Anywhere in the States that promotes an organic vegan menu is always getting my support! As they say “healthy food for a healthy life”. I would have loved to eat here more, but just had a chance to pick up a smoothie – please be sure to check them out.
Fin at Sharky’s
My final dinner was at the popular sunset point in Venice, overlooking the beach at Fin at Sharky’s. Another amazing drinks menu, buzzing atmosphere and a “craft dining” experience.
I had the Caribbean Cobia and washed it down with a cocktail before a sunset walk along the pier. The perfect way to end my time in Sarasota County.
Where to stay in Sarasota
I stayed at the magnificent Art Ovation, a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel in the heart of Downtown Sarasota. I couldn’t have been closer to the action, this was a great spot to be based at for all of the things to do above.
The highlight however is the year round rooftop pool, which has a great vibe day and night. In fact, at the weekend the rooftop bar felt like the place to be, with a trendy music and DJ playing into the night. I couldn’t have been happier with my stay here.
Book your holiday to Sarasota County
Hopefully I have inspired you to visit Sarasota County on your next trip to Florida. If you are looking for the best deals or people to book with check out Icelolly. As they say “We’ll find the deal to get you there”
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to Sarasota County and all the things you can do here. Please do let me know if you have any other suggestions in the comments below, or if you make it to any of my recommendations above.
Please check out my other Road Trip and USA content.
My trip to Sarasota Country was in partnership with Visit Sarasota County, Visit Florida and Icelolly. But as always the photos and opinions in the article are my own, and I loved every minute of this trip. For further info visit www.visitsarasota.com and www.visitflorida.com