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Holidays in Sarasota: Why this Florida Gulf Coast destination is a must-visit

Sarasota is known as Florida's Cultural Coast, and trust us, there's no shortage of arts and culture. From museums, opera and ballet to an Amish community where you can enjoy delicious traditional food, there's plenty to explore. Of course, culture is not all the city has to offer. Sarasota County boasts 35 miles of coastline and some of the best beaches in the US (no joke, Siesta Beach is continually voted the #1 beach).

Throw in several eclectic districts with trendy restaurants and bars, and some stunning natural parks (many of which are free to visit), and Sarasota has a lot to offer. It may sound like a cliché to say that this destination has something for everyone. But in this case, we think it's true. Read on to find out more about Sarasota and why we think you should plan your next holiday here.

How to get to Sarasota

Tampa is the closest international airport to Sarasota with direct flights from the UK. From London, the flight takes about 10 hours.

Both Virgin and British Airways fly daily to Tampa and Orlando. Orlando is about a 2-hour drive from Sarasota, so it's a great place to fly into for those looking for a multi-centre holiday that includes some theme park time with some beach time.

For indirect flights, you can fly into Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, which is about a 10-minute drive from downtown Sarasota. Jet Blue also flies from non-stop from JFK to SRQ Daily if you prefer to either transfer in New York or have a twin-centre holiay that includes New York City and Sarasota.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: A visa or ESTA is required to enter the USA. Remember to submit the ESTA application on time. This should be done at least 72 hours before departure.

Getting around Sarasota County

Hiring a car is probably the easiest way to get around, especially if you want to explore more than just Sarasota. You can reserve a car before your holiday and pick it up at one of the airports. Many of the beaches and nature parks in Sarasota County have free parking, which is a big plus.

If renting a car isn't in your budget or you don't want the hassle, you're in luck. Getting around Sarasota is very easy (and cheap) by public transport. The local trolley service, The Bay Runner, connects downtown, St. Armands Circle and Lido Beach. The best part? It's free.

Getting around by bike or on foot is also easy. There are many scenic bike paths throughout the county. Ride along Lido Beach, through Siesta Key or Longboat Key, or take the Legacy Trail, an 18.5-mile recreational trail that connects Sarasota to Venice. The trail is open from 6am to sunset.

🏴‍☠️ Pirate Tip: Looking to save some cash on your way to or from the airport? Take the Breeze76 Flyer, a trolley service that takes visitors to and from the airport and downtown hotels for only $2 per person.

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Our top reasons why we love Sarasota

1. The beaches are some of the best in the world

Sarasota is known for its crystal clear, quartz sand beaches, with Siesta Key remaining the number one award-winning beach in the US and top 20 in the world. Sarasota boasts 35 miles of beaches, so there are plenty to choose from. Other beaches worth visiting are Lido Beach, Manasota Beach, Venice Beach, Turtle Beach and Caspersen Beach to name a few.

2. Sarasota is the arts and culture hub of Florida

The city is home to the Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, a professional orchestra, the Ringling Museum and more! Public art is scattered throughout the county, from Bayfront Park's sculpture "Unconditional surrender" (pictured above) to Venice's interactive public art installation "Shark Spotting". There's even an entire district dedicated to art, aptly named the Rosemary Art & Design District, where you can snap photos of colourful murals and elaborate sculptures.

3. There's plenty to do outside

Sarasota offers a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year. During spring, visitors can enjoy the beauty of native flora and fauna at Myakka River State Park or the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. In summer, in addition to beach breaks, visitors can explore free parks or take a Sea Life Encounter Cruise with Sarasota Bay Explorers. Autumn is an excellent season to rent a kayak and spot dolphins or manatees on a Mangrove Tunnel Tour. In winter, the temperature is perfect for a bike ride on the Legacy Trail.

4. The food scene is just as good as the arts and culture scene

Thanks to its many cultures and influences, Sarasota's food scene passes the vibe check. From casual beachside bites to sipping craft cocktails, Sarasota is full of options when it comes to food and drink. You can expect to find restaurants that serve thoughtful and delicious cuisine, with a farm-to-fork concept using locally sourced produce and products. If you're more of a drinker, we hear you. Sarasota has many breweries, wineries, distilleries and bars to satisfy every palate.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: If you visit in June, dozens of restaurants throughout Sarasota County offer multi-course lunch and dinner menus called "Savor Sarasota" for as little as $25 and $40 per person.

Where to stay in Sarasota

Downtown Sarasota

There's plenty to do in Sarasota's lively downtown. Just a mile from the beaches, downtown is packed with trendy restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries. Downtown is divided into five districts, each offering something different.

Don’t miss: The Bay is a waterfront park with lots to do for people of all ages. Our favourite is the walk through the mangrove reserve, where you’ll see birds, turtles and beautiful native wildflowers along the way. Entry to the park is free.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: The Bay also has free events for the public. Check out the calendar to see what free events are on during your holiday.

Lido Beach

Lido Beach is located on Lido Key, a small island off the coast of Sarasota. In town, you'll find St. Armands Circle, literally a circle of restaurants, shops and bars.

Don’t miss: A highlight for us is kayaking through the mangrove tunnels. Located at Lido Beach Park, you can hire kayaks for a few hours or the day and paddle your way through nature. Expect to pay around $60 for a two-hour tour, or rent a kayak for the day from around $40 and make your own tour.

Longboat Key

Located in the north of Sarasota, Longboat Key is home to a seemingly endless beach (11 miles to be exact) that offers uninterrupted views of the Gulf of Mexico in a tranquil setting. If you are staying elsewhere in Sarasota, the island is also a great day trip. Families will also like the beaches thanks to their calm waters. The island has 12 public beach access points, and the Quick Point Nature Preserve, which fatures wetlands and mangroves.

Don’t miss: Visit Bayfront Park Recreation Centre and book a kayaking or paddle boarding tour with Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & EcoVentures. The tours are a great way to spend time on the water and explore the beautiful surroundings.

Siesta Key

If we are talking beaches, then Siesta Key is a must-visit. It’s home to one of the most famous beaches in the USA, Siesta Beach. The white sand beach is perfect for swimming and snorkelling thanks to its calm, crystal clear waters. The beach itself is very large and the sand is made from crushed quartz, unlike most beaches which have sand made from crushed coral. The result is soft, powdery sand that feels amazing on your bare feet.

Don’t miss: As well as sunbathing, snorkelling is a must on Siesta Key. Point of Rocks, on the south of the island, is a great place to start. Siesta Village is also a must-visit. To get there, you can take the hop-on-hop-off trolley, which goes from one end of the island to the other.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: don’t miss out on the weekly drum circle that takes place on the beach. It’s exactly what it sounds like, locals and tourists alike gather every Sunday evening just before sunset on Siesta beach to dance and drum.

Venice Beach

Not to be confused with California’s Venice Beach, this one is located in the southern part of Sarasota County in Venice. This coastal town is a little less crowded than the north. Local shops and restaurants in the downtown area make it the perfect place to spend the day.

Don’t miss: Music lovers shouldn't miss the chance to catch an orchestral performance at the Venice Symphony. Hunting for shark teeth is an activity that shouldn't be missed. Venice Beach is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, so beachgoers will have fun searching for shark teeth.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: Unlike most beaches in the US, Venice Beach allows the consumption of alcohol. Don't go wild pirate, but you can indulge in a nice cold brew while taking in the views.

What to do in Sarasota

While we've already covered quite a bit of fun things to do in Sarasota County, there are plenty more attractions to highlight. Here are a few of our favourites that are worth checking out during your holiday.

Myakka River State Park is one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks where you can see alligators in their natural habitat. Admission is $6 per vehicle. While you are there, you can take a guided tour of the park by boat or tram.

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, set on 45 acres of bay front land, is filled with native and international plants. The downtown location is the smaller of the two campuses, the other being the historic Spanish Point campus in the Osprey area, which is also worth a visit if you have time. Admission is $26 for adults, $11 for children aged 5-17 and free for children under 5.

If you're searching for a unique experience, add the Ringling Museum to your list of must-visit places. The estate is vast and includes the Ringling Museum, the Ringling Mansion, known as the Cà d'Zan, and the Bayfront Gardens.

The Ringling Museum, which honours the circus established by John Ringling, is open daily from 10am to 5pm. The museum-only tickets cost $25 per adult, while the tickets for the museum and the 1st floor of the Cà d'Zan cost $35. Discounts are available for military personnel and students. The mansion is the former residence of John and Mable Ringling. Built in the 1920s, it is an excellent representation of Mediterranean Revival architecture.

Also on-site, you can visit Bayfront Gardens for just $5 (free on Mondays). Although the entrance fee does not include access to the mansion, you can still appreciate the architecture from the outside.

Pirate tip 🏴‍☠️: If you are an art enthusiast, we suggest visiting the Glass Pavilion, which has free admission.

Where to eat in Sarasota

Our hungry pirates, you'll be in foodie heaven. Be sure to not miss our top picks for restaurant in Sarasota County. We've also got some great recommendations bars and breweries as well.


Head to Brewsters on Main for traditional American pub grub, including fried chicken and chips. Need we say more?

Seafood lovers shouldn't miss a trip to Owen's Fish Camp, which offers a cool backyard setting with live music and a heavy dose of classic Florida nostalgia.

Stop by Selva Grill for Peruvian-inspired food and cocktails.

Savvy savers should dine at El Melvins for tacos. We are told that not only are they very affordable and yummy, but the trendy interior is very Instagrammable and it passes the vibe check.

If you're in town for Rosemary District’s RADD Night Market, it's also well worth a visit. The market is on every third Thursday of the month. Expect live music, during the locally made goods and food.

Siesta Key

Breakfast at Another Broken Egg Cafe in Siesta Key with satisfy all your salty and sweet brekkie cravings

After some sun at Siesta beach, cool off at Daiquiri Deck with one of their colourful and fruity frozen daiquiris!

Lunch or dinner at SKOB (Siesta Key Oyster Bar) is a must. We recommend going during happy hour to save a bit of cash. Enjoy live music and beachy vibes.

Longboat Key

Take in views of Sarasota Bay with your lunch at Dry Dock Waterfront Grill while you stuff yourself full of shrimp.

Looking to have a picnic at the beach? Head to Publix, a supermarket chain that has a bit of a cult following thanks to their delicious sandwiches and other ready-to-eat deli picks.

Pirate Tip 🏴‍☠️: A must-visit is Pinecraft, an Amish community and a great stop for those looking to sample Amish food. Yoder's Amish Village is highly recommended for lunch or dinner, but there is also an on-site bakery where you can pick up freshly baked Amish goods.