Yet this only describes a fraction of this fantastic city’s appeal. Tourists and residents find a wide variety of attractions here, from outdoor adventures, iconic statues, local museums, and markets.
As you delve into our top 15 things to do in Sarasota, Florida, know that it only scratches the surface. We consider each of these attractions must-sees for any visitor as each one showcases the spirit of Sarasota in its own way.
15 Popular Things to Do in Sarasota
We hope you have your notepad ready. Whether you’re a family looking for a vacation getaway or retirees and tourists looking for somewhere to explore, there is something on our list for you.
1. Experience the Magic of The Ringling Circus Museum
Discover the extraordinary history behind the famous Ringling Brothers Circus at The Ringling Circus Museum. With interactive galleries, ornate props, and historic costumes, you will be fully immersed in the exotic circus life.
This museum is far from being a place where you stroll and stare. It’s interactive! Step onto the precarious circus wire, squeeze into a clown car, and pose with a mighty (faux) tiger.
With 44,000 pieces of genuine circus items, you are bound to leave with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the circus and its performers.
2. Take in the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens feels like you’re stepping out of one world into another. What was once the home of Marie Selby, her passion for gardening, and the desire to conserve Sarasota’s natural beauty, led to the property’s transformation into a blossoming botanical garden.
You’ll find more than flora and fauna here. This expansive attraction has 11 different areas, including:
- The Welcome Center
- The Rainforest
- The Selby House
- The Desert
- The Great Lawn
- The Mangroves
- The Palms
- The Great Room
- Native Florida
- The Display Gardens
- The Payne Mansion
Traverse a vast spread of climates and environments that will widen your eyes and awaken your senses. It’s the perfect outdoor adventure for tourists of any age.
3. Immerse Yourself at The Mote Aquarium
The Mote Aquarium isn’t only an aquarium. It also serves as a marine laboratory. This synergetic partnership offers a unique look into the realm that lives beneath our waters.
Meet more than 100 different species that live at the Mote and the scientists responsible for the wildlife conservation, research, and education that takes place here.
Visitors enjoy a hands-on experience at the two touch tanks located on the premises. They can also explore the many sharks living within their 135,000-gallon habitat.
You can even get a firsthand look at the Mote’s research as it unfolds via their viewable working laboratories.
Many employees are available throughout the exhibit to give you information about their marine life. You can also take yourself on a self-guided tour, reading up on the species via their displays.
4. Delve into the Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Are you looking to tap into your “wild side”? If so, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens provide the perfect family-friendly adventure. Established in 1938, it is one of Florida’s oldest attractions still in operation.
However, don’t let its age fool you. This attraction is far from dated! Visitors get a rare, up-close-and-personal experience with animals and nature you won’t find in a modern zoo.
This includes more than 200 species that ranging from native to exotic. Come face-to-face with their very social flamingos or peer at their mighty alligators and birds of prey.
This attraction puts on daily bird and reptile shows that will “wow” visitors and make them laugh. Snap photos with some of their beautiful birds or take their wooden train for a spin.
Kids especially will discover hours of fun while learning all about the amazing features of “Old Florida”.
5. Witness the Unconditional Surrender Sculpture
No visit to Sarasota is complete without taking a moment to stop and witness its famous Unconditional Surrender Sculpture. This massive, 26-foot-tall statue encapsulates the iconic photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Time Square on V-J Day.
Tipping the scale at a whopping 15,000 pounds, it commands awe. Visitors are welcome to take photos before its magnificent presence, but you’ll need to take more than a few steps back to capture it all!
It doesn’t take long to enjoy this attraction, but the unforgettable sight is the perfect stop. Situated in Bayfront Park, you can take in a stroll and a view while you’re there.
Nearby are several areas to exercise and explore, including:
- Bike Trails
- A Playground
- Canoe Rentals and Launch Areas
- Hiking Trails
- And More
The Unconditional Surrender Sculpture is in downtown Sarasota beside the Ringling bridge. You won’t have to stray far to discover fantastic dining and shopping options.
6. Visit the Ca d’Zan Mansion
Didn’t get enough of the Ringling family after visiting their circus museum? Head on back and take a closer look at their personal lives in the Ca d’Zan Mansion. This incredible home offers a Guided Tour or a more immersive 45-minute long tour where you can go into the mansion’s most private quarters.
Although it may be hard to believe, this phenomenal piece of real estate is only the winter home of John and Mable Ringling. From the game room to the spectacular Belvedere Tower, this place is one of a kind.
Schedule a visit to witness this lavish mansion or couple it with tours of the museums, theater, and gardens. There are many venues here to explore, some of which are worth multiple visits!
7. Enjoy a Night at the Sarasota Opera
If you’re in the city on a night when the Sarasota Opera is performing, you will want to make a point to pencil in a show. This lovely venue features ballets, operas, and concerts as well as classic movies you can relive in a theater.
Their extensive event listings offer many ways for you to enjoy the rich performances here. Whether you’re an avid opera-goer or someone looking for a first-time experience, you’ll love it.
What about those who only want to step inside? After all, these walls are far from young!
You’re in luck. The Opera House Tours provide an in-depth introduction into the history and stories that fill these historic halls.
8. Stop By the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy
Art enthusiasts will find themselves drawn to the Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy. Unlike many of the museums, you’ll find scattered across Sarasota, this one is unique in its modern collection.
Almost every artist behind the work here is still alive. Almost half of the artists represented are women. You’ll find this influence shows in the eclectic nature of the museum’s exhibits.
Tourists and residents alike come to love this place, which exudes an air of creativity and positivity. Dubbed a “Grandparent Museum” for how often grandparents bring their grandchildren, it iss a colorful attraction.
9. Explore the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
Animal lovers are often drawn to the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota. This nonprofit serves as a refuge for animals with special needs or challenges.
Currently, over 150 animals are here. You can explore their habitats via a guided safari. You’ll learn all about the animals who live within the 3 large housing complexes and exercise habitats.
One of the biggest things visitors notice about the Big Cat Habitat is their dedication to the wellbeing of their animals. Every individual habitat includes a swimming pool, toys, abundant shade, and emotional enrichment.
Animals are happy here, which makes viewing them all the more fulfilling and exciting. This nonprofit facility also includes a cafe and souvenirs you can buy and cherish.
10. Shop Siesta Key Village
If you’re one to dine and shop, Siesta Key Village is one place you won’t want to skip during your vacation. This collection of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes is the perfect formula for a good time.
Almost 100 unique stores fill multiple blocks. Set in an outdoor shopping environment, you’ll be racking up steps on your pedometer as you explore.
No two shops are the same here. Each one features its own collection and personality. Whether you’re looking for the perfect souvenir or swimming gear for your next beach romp, you’re bound to find the perfect something.
You’ll find this area to be hopping during Florida’s tourist season. Events and festivals are common here, including their Siesta Fiesta.
If you’re into the nightlife, be sure to stop into the Daiquiri Deck or The Beach Club.
Fishing fans can also book themselves a night expedition at C.B. Saltwater Outfitters. With the underwater lights at Intracoastal docks, you’re sure to catch a bite when snook fishing. Take a charter or rent your own boat and equipment.
With so much to offer, this is one of the hottest hangouts in the area.
11. Rent a Kayak or Paddleboard
Are you itching to get out on the water? Sarasota offers many opportunities to get active on its rivers and shores. With numerous locations for kayak and paddleboard rentals, you can opt to go out on your own or sign up for a tour.
Bay and Gulf Adventures offer kayaking adventures in lagoons and rivers around the Sarasota area. It’s a great opportunity to get some exercise, enjoy the water, and witness wildlife.
12. Mix Food and Entertainment at Livingston’s
Those who go to Livingston’s bring home memories. This unique attraction in Sarasota is a bar and grille with more than 50,000 square feet of amusements, including:
- Go Karts
- Bazooka Ball
- Bumper Cars
Whether you’re looking for family fun or a place to share drinks with good company, you’ll find it here. The food features all the American classics. Indulge in pizza, grab a burger, enjoy fried classics, or go straight for the desserts.
This restaurant features both daily happy hours and nightly specials.
13. Test Your Teamwork at Escape Countdown
Want to break out of the traditional tourist haunts? How about breaking out of an escape room? Escape Countdown is a 5-star immersive experience perfect for families and friends.
This one-hour puzzling adventure forces participants to work together to escape an enclosed room. Think of it as a live-action version of Clue! You’ll scour the environment for hints to help you find the solution for escape.
With multiple themes to choose from, you can play more than once!
14. See Sarasota on the Back of a Bike
Explore Sarasota in a whole new way with Sarasota Bike Tours. You don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy these two-wheel treks. Choose between Cruisers and the more luxurious Electric Choppers for your tour.
Tour options include:
- Tours of Downtown Historic Sarasota
- A Sarasota Restaurant Tour
- Sunset Tours
- Bike and Kayak Tours
- A Ringling Museum and Sarasota Bayfront Tour
- An Urban Night Ride Tour
- And Much More
Tours vary in length and distance.
You can also rent bikes on a weekly basis and hit the city on your own.
15. Go Back in Time at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum
The Sarasota Classic Car Museum is the second-oldest of its kind still operating in the US. You’ll view an envious collection of automobile here, including John and Mable Ringling’s Rolls Royces and John Lennon’s 1965 Mercedes!
More than 75 vehicles call this place home, from the original horseless carriage to the stunning speedsters. Car fans will love the souvenir shop here and there is even an antique camera exhibit for the insatiably curious.
There are daily guided tours, or you can ask the docents questions at your leisure.
Plan Your Next Sarasota, Florida Vacation
With so many things to do in Sarasota, Florida, you will never be able to see it all in one day. Book your stay at the Casa Del Mar, our stunning beach resort in Longboat Key, Florida.
Situated on the white shores of the Gulf of Mexico, you won’t have to stray far from your condominium door to indulge in the sun and sand. Meanwhile, we are only a few miles away from Sarasota and its host of attractions.
From delicious dining options to the adventures and discoveries we’ve listed above, you can enjoy the best the Sunshine State has to offer from the comfort from one of our beautiful Longboat Key rentals.
Contact us today to start planning your vacation.