Since buying our Florida home in 2017, I get quite a few DMs and emails asking about things to do in Sarasota. This question seems to be extra popular this time of year when everyone is flocking to warmer weather. One of the reasons why we love living here is that there is always something to do. This city is full of fun activities (many of which are free!), delicious places to eat, and new areas to explore.
Today I am going to highlight some of my favorite activities and restaurants in Sarasota. And because I know visitors oftentimes like to venture into the surrounding areas, I’m also going to share some local favorites that span from Siesta Key up to Anna Maria Island. By the end, you’ll be ready to pack your bags, throw on a comfy airport outfit, and plan a trip!
Favorite Things to Do in Sarasota
There are a ton of different ways to spend a day, or even a week, in Sarasota. Your ideal itinerary will depend upon your reason for visiting the city and with whom you’re traveling. Do you want to spend time relaxing at the beach? Maybe you’re hoping to do some shopping and dining with your significant other? Or maybe you’re traveling with kids and looking for fun things to do in Sarasota as a family? I’m going to touch on a little bit of everything, as we’ve enjoyed doing it all over the past few years!
One of the most popular reasons to visit or live in Sarasota is for the breathtaking beaches. Personally, my favorite local beach is Siesta Key. Not only is the sand and water beautiful but the location and amenities at this beach are great as well. The city paid for a massive renovation of Siesta Key in 2016 and the outcome was a big upgrade! The amenities nearby are great including the public bathrooms, food options, and areas of shade. While this beach is the most accessible when it comes to parking, I will warn you that most spots are snagged by 10 AM during the busy season. So be sure to plan accordingly!
If checking out beaches is at the top of your things to do in Sarasota list, then you might also want to make your way to Longboat Key or Anna Maria Island. LBK has some beautiful public beach access points. The downside is that the parking is extremely limited and there aren’t many amenities available. The large public beach on AMI, Coquina Beach, does have parking, bathrooms, and changing areas. However, I still prefer Siesta Key!
Local Things to Do in Sarasota
Something we’ve enjoyed while living here is experiencing the unique local events. There is always something going on! The city hosts First Friday events, for which the streets downtown are closed and there are a ton of food options, shopping, and free entertainment.
One of my favorite things to do in Sarasota is to explore the Farmers Market on Saturdays. This market isn’t just limited to produce. Instead, it actually highlights many of the local shops and artisans in the area.
And when it comes to events to plan around, I always check the schedule at the Van Wezell, which is our local performing arts hall. Sarasota gets great musical acts to perform here and you can typically get really reasonable prices! You can see the current schedule here.
Kid-Friendly Things to Do in Sarasota
If you are looking for kid-friendly things to do in Sarasota, I would recommend Selby Garden and Mote Aquarium. Sarasota has had quite a boom over the past five years. Therefore, the city is working to upgrade a lot of the popular attractions, including both of these.
Selby Garden is a great way to see so much of the beautiful nature Florida has to offer. Plus, it provides some lovely water views! They constantly have activities geared toward both children and adults – You can check out their full schedule here. Selby Garden is currently open, but it is going through a massive renovation that is set to finish in early 2024.
Mote Aquarium is a really sweet aquarium that feels like “old school” Florida. They too are getting a MAJOR upgrade, set to be completed at the end of 2024. For now, you can visit the location they have been at for decades on Longboat Key. They have sea turtles, manatees, rays and so much more!
The Sarasota Art Museum, which just opened in 2019, is a wonderful spot to visit. They are constantly bringing in new works of art that feel fresh and relevant. At 15,000 sq feet, the museum feels substantial, but not overwhelming. I also love the sweet bistro that they have on-site. It’s a great place to sit and grab a coffee. In addition to displaying incredible art, the museum hosts a really fun outdoor jazz performance once a month. During this event, you can relax and enjoy the music while also grabbing a glass of wine or even dinner!
The Ringling Museum will no doubt pop up when you are looking for things to do in Sarasota. I find the grounds of the Ringling Museum to be stunning, but the actual exhibits to be underwhelming. Additionally, the Ringling Museum is typically crowded, especially during the busy season. So be prepared to circle for parking and to encounter some lines while visiting.
Shopping in Sarasota
While I wouldn’t say Sarasota is a shopping-centric town, we do have some true gems. Canned Ham Vintage is an incredible vintage shop that you shouldn’t miss. I have bought so many of my favorite items there (the earrings are always top-notch) and they are constantly getting new inventory! Camilyn Beth is a local designer who is as talented as she is kind. Her store is located right on Palm Avenue, with her design studio right above! The Met Fashion House in St. Armands Circle has a great selection of some of my favorite brands such as Veronica Beard, Self-Portrait, and See by Chloe!
Speaking of St. Armands Circle, spending a day shopping, dining, and exploring this area is a favorite thing to do in Sarasota for many visitors. It’s a great area if you’re looking to just get out, grab a bite to eat, and do a bit of shopping. My favorite restaurants in St. Armands are Shore, Colombia (a classic that has been around for more than 100 years), and Crab and Fin. Similarly, if you’re shopping downtown, there are many great places to grab food or cocktails as well. I love Owen’s Fish Camp for dinner (they have a great space out back for kids to run around with live music), State Street for cocktails, Selva for dinner (don’t miss the house chopped salad), and the Fountain for a casual pizza date.
Favorite Restaurants in Sarasota
Okay, now that I’m thinking about it, dining in Sarasota needs its own section – There are just so many great options! It’s hard to nail down my favorites, but here is a list of some of my favorites. I say this because I know I am going to accidentally leave someone I love off the list!
- Walt’s: This restaurant is third generation-owned and they catch fish daily. I love the Oscar off the Hook and the fish dip! Wait times can be long, as this is a hugely popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
- Veronica’s: Set in Southside Village, Veronicas is a dark, cozy raw bar. They have an awesome skirt steak, the best Caesar salad, and awesome oysters (obviously!) I love dining at the bar, which is first come first serve, but they do take reservations for the dining room.
- Owen’s Fish Camp: A charming seafood restaurant set in an old cottage – This is such a darling place to dine. There is a huge backyard with a separate bar and they typically have live music. The Low Country Broil is amazing, and if they have Scamp as the local catch get it (trust me)!! Owen’s gets insanely crowded, so you’ll want to arrive early and be prepared to wait, as they do not take reservations.
- Spearfish: Located on Siesta Key, this little casual spot has fast, fresh, easy, and very tasty dishes. The grouper bites and the coconut shrimp are my personal favorites on the menu.
- Whitney’s: One of my absolute favorite things to do in Sarasota is dine at Whitney’s. This casual spot is set in an old gas station, and on most days all the windows and doors are open. The queso is awesome and I also love the LBK Bowl. This menu is great for sharing and they have live music every Friday!
- Jack Dusty’s – If you want a nice, relaxing brunch with a view, I would check out Jack Dusty’s in the Ritz. I love sitting outside and catching up with girlfriends on a pretty Sarasota day!
- Indigenous: Located downtown in an adorable cottage, this restaurant is locally sourced with an ever-changing menu. Everything I’ve had here is mouth-watering, even the simplest dishes. This is the perfect spot for a nice date night or to celebrate a special occasion. The chef is now also opening up a food truck at Calusa Brewery, which I plan on visiting soon!
- Meloria: DC transplants opened this space last year and it has become a local favorite. Sarasota has a lot of wonderful seafood spots and, surprisingly, a lot of Italian restaurants. So, this high-end American menu filled an empty niche! The coconut panna cotta on the dessert menu is incredible, and I am not even a dessert person. Here’s a little insider tip…If you sit at the bar, you can order the “off-menu burger”, which is to die for!
- Shore: There are two Shore locations, one in St. Armands and one on LBK. I love both, but if you can swing it, snag a table at the Shore LBK with a water view. I get something different every time I dine here and I have never been disappointed.
Other Types of Cuisine
- Florence and the Spice Boys: This super popular food truck opened their first permanent location this year and the space is as amazing as the food. They completely transformed the restaurant that they took over and added so many personal touches. The menu is always interesting! Some of my favorites include the turmeric fried chicken sandwich and the fried brussel sprouts.
- Origins Pizza: Origins is my go-to when ordering pizza. They have multiple locations now, which makes dining in super easy. The newly opened spot at The Landings is great. I always order my pie thin and extra crispy!
- Columbia: The oldest restaurant in Florida, Columbia is a full-on attraction. Dinner can be a bit of a zoo, since this is on so many visitors’ “must eat” list. For this reason, I typically like to do a late lunch here and I get the 1905 salad with the original Cuban.
- Artisan Cheese Company: While this is mostly a cheese shop (and a damn great one!) you can also pop in for lunch or to order a cheese board and glass of wine to stay. The lunch menu is typically small, but mighty, and the space has a very cool industrial, yet welcoming, feel. The shop also has great sourdough, organic wines, spreads imported from all over the world, and the best cheese selection in Sarasota.
- State Street: If you love a cocktail, this is your place. Located in the heart of downtown, this dark, romantic bar is within walking distance to so many restaurants. I love grabbing a martini here before heading off to Selva, Owens, or one of the other great spots on Main Street.
Phew, as long as this list of things to do in Sarasota seems to be, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface! I shared a few additional Sarasota favorites in this post as well. And if you happen to be traveling here (or anywhere!) this winter, you may want to check out my travel must-haves, airport outfit ideas, and my favorite travel beauty products.