NOTE: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we advise that you check local guidelines before making travel plans at any of these things to do in Sarasota. If you choose to travel, please do so safely and responsibly.
For more information: Visit Sarasota County
Sarasota’s Myakka River State Park
One hour south of Tampa on Florida’s sparkling Gulf Coast, Sarasota, known for its sugary white beaches and rich, cultural amenities offers plenty to do for the summer traveler. Read on to check out all of our favorite things to do in Sarasota!
If you are looking for some “authentic” Florida outdoor activities, Sarasota has a wide range of things to do for the entire family that are simple, uncomplicated – and easy on the budget.
Sarasota’s World Famous Siesta Key Beach
Hike through a state park, kayak a Florida mangrove tunnel, experience the past at a local historic site, visit a “kitschy” old Florida attraction, collect ancient shark teeth, fish under evening stars, build a sandcastle or take a sea turtle walk.
These are all things you can do in Sarasota that will create endless “keepsake” memories:
Get Above the Trees
Myakka River State Park Canopy Walk
Sarasota is home to Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s oldest and most scenic parks. This expansive piece of natural Florida east of Sarasota encompasses 37,000 acres of shady moss-covered oak trees, riverine forests, wetlands, and prairies with walking trails, birding vistas, and even a treetop canopy walk. Overlooking a tremendous vista, this treetop view provides a panoramic window to a world of bromeliads and lichens, birds, and wildlife. And don’t miss an airboat ride on the Myakka River to spot alligators, the real “stars” of Myakka.
Keep Cool in the Mangroves
Sarasota’s Lido Key Mangrove Tunnels
A unique experience awaits kayak paddlers in Sarasota Bay. From a launch site in South Lido Park is a paddling trail through a series of small waterways. A canopy of mangroves forms a shady tunnel over what were once mosquito control ditches. The mangrove is a coastal plant species that are vital to the ecosystem. Exposed roots anchor the trees in shallow water and along shorelines. The root system provides cover serving as a nursery for fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.
It is said that 75% of game fish and 90% of commercial fish in South Florida depend on the mangrove habitat. And the tree canopy serves as a rookery for many species of birds. The shady tunnels provide a paddling experience that is cool even on a hot day, and the quiet and subdued light makes it almost surreal. In the mangroves, you feel you have entered a sacred Florida space.
Shark teeth can be found along Venice and Casperson beaches
Long ago, Florida was submerged under an ocean filled with sharks – many, many sharks. Over time, as the water receded and the Florida peninsula emerged, the prehistoric sharks died and their skeletons disintegrated, but their fossilized teeth remained. The city of Venice, in south Sarasota County, happens to be located along a fossil bed, and is considered the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.”
Some beachcombers use the “Venice snowshovel” to find shark teeth
Although you might find a fossilized shark’s tooth on any area beach, your best bet is to head to Venice’s Caspersen Beach. With your toes snuggled into the sand at the water’s edge, pick up a handful of sand and shells and sift through your fingers. Shark teeth generally range from 1/8 to 3 ½” long and are usually dark gray or black in color. After you collect your bounty you can celebrate at Sharkey’s on the Pier Restaurant with a great Gulf view and a well-deserved, delicious fish sandwich.
Visit the Past
Historic Spanish Point is an indoor-outdoor museum (photo, Chapel)
See a slice of “old” Florida at Osprey’s Historic Spanish Point. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the outdoor/indoor museum includes a walking tour overlooking Sarasota Bay and features a range of exhibits from an archeological glimpse of prehistoric inhabitants to the homestead of hearty early 1800-era pioneers to turn of the 20th century boom times.
You’ll also glimpse the pioneer era of the Webb family who made their home here in 1867. The legend goes that they named the point of land jutting into Little Sarasota Bay Spanish Point because a Spanish trader had advised them of the site. You’ll also learn about famous Sarasota resident Bertha Potter the widow of Potter Palmer, a Chicago socialite who later owned the property. Tour the packinghouse, chapel, graveyard, and the restored residences and gardens for an enjoyable glimpse into Sarasota’s history.
Take a “Selfie” with Flamingos
Sarasota’s Jungle Gardens is a classic, old Florida attraction
For more than 75 years, Sarasota’s Jungle Gardens has been delighting families. The “throwback” attraction is home to native and exotic animals – parrots, macaws, snakes, lizards, alligators, and crocodiles – many of them donated or rescued. You’ll be able to view the wildlife while you walk along lush, tropical garden walkways. Pink flamingos are a favorite with visitors as they feed, flutter, and pose up close amongst the floral beauty. The tropical bird show is one of the most famous in all of Florida and generations of families keep coming back to enjoy this must-see original Florida attraction.
Make an Old Fashioned Sand Castle
Sarasota’s white sugary sand makes stunning sandcastles
Sarasota’s beaches are renowned as some of the most famous in the world with miles of stunning, fine white sand. And there is nothing as simple or fun as building an old-fashioned sandcastle in the sugary sand – for kids or adults. Kick back, roll off your towel, and grab a tool for digging. Use your imagination. Maybe a tall tower, or a castle with a moat? Or how about sculpting a Florida dolphin, manatee, or sea turtle? The beach offers plenty of construction materials – sand of course, and shells, coral, sea beans, sea glass, plant seeds, driftwood, and seaweed.
Where to go? Also try these less discovered beaches: Turtle Beach on Siesta Key’s south end where the shimmering blue water meets a gently sloping beach; Ted Sperling Park, on the southernmost end of Lido Key where pine trees whisper in the breeze above sandy, sunflower-laden trails; Or try a Longboat Key beach. There are 12 access points along the length of the island – the one at its north end (#100 Broadway Street) has a wooden boardwalk meandering through sea grapes, pines, and sea oats, leading to the setting sun.
Fish under the Stars
The Venice Jetty is considered an excellent fishing spot
During the heat of the day, fish get a bit lethargic, but when the sun goes down, fish are more likely to bite. Night fishing is fun and some popular spots for night fishing, especially on local bridges and docks, including the Venice Jetty, Casey Key’s Blackburn Point Swing Bridge, Siesta Key’s Point of Rocks, and New Pass Bridge connecting Lido and Longboat Keys.
Follow the Fragrance
Night Blooming Cereus blooms during the summer
Summertime is prime time to see Florida’s Night Blooming Cereus. This tropical “Queen of the Night” cactus blooms only at night, so you will have to wait until after dark to see it. By day, the epiphyte is a green, spindly, long, and also slender plant often bunched up and hanging off palms and oaks. On summer nights, its flowers open to a large 8” diameter, displaying a creamy white and very fragrant flower. Selby Botanical Gardens is also a good place to see them. Director of Selby Gardens Horticulture, Mike McLaughlin shares that “an evening stroll through the Selby Gardens parking lot is a simple way to see this spectacular epiphyte in bloom.”
Take a Sea Turtle Walk
Florida Sea Turtle tracks are found along the coastline
On the Gulf Coast, Longboat Key Turtle Watch hosts morning Saturday walks the month of July. Visitors meet on Longboat Key, stroll to the beach in search of mother sea turtle tracks. Florida’s sea turtles nest between May and October, coming ashore in the dark of the night to bury their eggs in the white sandy beaches. On the tour, volunteers search for tracks that lead to freshly laid nests, stake the nests for protection, while you share the wonderment of Florida’s magical beach nursery.
Camp at the Beach
Sarasota’s Turtle Beach Campground provides a rare opportunity to camp on the beach
Here’s a rare treat. Camp directly on the beach. On the south end of Siesta Key is a county-operated Turtle Beach Campground, a thin slice of paradise shaded under a row of shady pine trees for tent campers and RV’ers. Swimming, beach walking, shelling, barbecuing, and also stargazing are the main attractions. Here visitors can scan the beach for large turtle tracks leading to nests where mother turtles have buried their eggs. Summer rates are a bargain beginning at $32 per day, or also $178 per week, and include full hook-ups. Be sure to call ahead for reservations.
No doubt, you will find delightful fun in Sarasota!
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