Sarasota is a popular city on the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida and the county seat of Sarasota County. It is known for its vibrant arts community, excellent restaurants, unique shopping, and beautiful beaches. Sarasota, although a mid-sized city, is considered to be the cultural center of West Central Florida. The city has a metropolitan flavor unique to cities of its size and to cities in Florida.
The Asolo Theater, Florida West Coast Symphony, Sarasota Opera, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and frequent art shows add the the cultural theme of the city, rivaling the facilities of Florida's largest cities. Sarasota is also home to the Ringling Museum of Art, the Selby Botanical Gardens, New College (Florida's public honors college), a USF branch, and the Ringling School of Art and Design.
Sarasota's downtown comprises a true urban cityscape with offices and several upscale downtown condominiums. It is complemented by Saint Armands Circle, on Saint Armands Key, which is surrounded by Lido Key, across Sarasota Bay from downtown via the Ringling Causeway (with sweeping views of Sarasota Bay.) Saint Armands Circle is an upscale outdoor shopping area, with several cafes, reminiscent of Europe. The idea for Saint Armands was from John Ringling who also intended to build a Ritz hotel on Longboat Key. Today, Sarasota has a Ritz hotel downtown as well as the Longboat Key Club on Ringling's original site. The Longboat Key Club includes two golf courses, tennis, and all other resort facilities and is located just north of Saint Armands on Longboat Key.
The beaches are a major draw to the area. Siesta Key Beach is consistently ranked among the most beautiful beaches on Earth. (Siesta Key was also the site chosen for the marriage of Chrissy and Brian, of Home Today fame.) Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach, Lido Beach, and the beach running the 15 mile span of Longboat Key are equally beautiful and accessible. Indeed, much of Sarasota's charm comes from the fact that the beaches are so plentiful and accessible.
Sarasota beaches are the Winner of the "Worlds finest, whitest sand,"
Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), 6000 Airport Circle, 941-359-2777, . Located on the border between Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Sarasota has one primary expressway, Interstate 75, which runs north to south.
The major roads within Sarasota include the Tamiami Trail (which is the name given to US 41 between Tampa and Miami), US Route 301, Beneva Rd., Tuttle Ave/Swift Rd., Honore Avenue and Cattleman Rd., all running north-to-south, and Clark Rd., Proctor Rd., Bee Ridge Rd., Fruitville Rd. and University Pkwy., all running east-to-west.
The city includes the mainland downtown as well as three islands, called "keys." These are Longboat Key, Lido Key, and Siesta Key. Causeways to all these keys are free and very picturesque. Downtown Sarasota is very vibrant with a healthy mix of businesses, residences, and restaurants, as well as city services.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 3701 Bay Shore Road, Phone: 941-355-5305, . Daily 9AM-5PM. There are 5 shows at the gardens in addition to the grounds themselves which are filled with many interesting plants. As with most early attractions, they offer some animal shows and a chance to see some rare plants, many of which are of extraordinary size. This attraction is a rare opportunity to see what Florida was like in the tourist boom of the early 1900's.
The Ringling Estate, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Phone: 941-359-5700, . Daily 10AM-5:30PM. The Ringling Estate has recently finished a six-year restoration and expansion phase that restored all of the existing buildings and added four new buildings to the estate. Features of the 66-acre estate include the lush grounds and landscaping including Mable’s Rose Garden, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, the Cà d’Zan Mansion, the Tibbals Learning Center, and the Historic Asolo Theater located in the Visitor’s Pavilion.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, . The Museum of Art, built by John Ringling to house his personal collection of masterpieces, today features the great Old Masters including Rubens, van Dyck, Velàzquez, Titian, Tintoretto, Vernonese, El Greco, Gainsborough and more. Opened in October 1931, the Museum recently opened the Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing in 2007, adding an additional 30,000 square feet of exhibition space. The Museum’s 21 galleries feature internationally renowned European, American and Asian art with masterpieces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Courtyard of the Museum of Art features casts of original statues including the towering David by Michelangelo. The Courtyard features two fountains - Fountain of Tortoises, one of three replicas from the Piazza Mattei in Rome, and the Oceanus Fountain, copied from the 16th century original by Giovanni Bologna in Florence’s Boboli Gardens.
Circus Museum, . Established in 1948, the Ringling Museum of the American Circus was the first museum of its kind to document the rich history of the circus. The Museum has a fine collection including rare handbills, posters and art prints, circus paper, business records, wardrobe, performing props, as well as all types of circus equipment, including beautifully carved parade wagons. Located in the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center, The Howard Bros. Circus Model is a replica of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919 – 1938. Complete with eight main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 59-car train, the model is built in ¾-inch-to-the-foot scale replica and occupies 3,800 square feet.
Cà d’Zan, . The Ringlings' dazzling palatial mansion is a tribute to the American Dream and reflects the splendor and romance of Italy. Described as “the last of the Gilded Age mansions” to be built in America, Cà d’Zan has 56 incredible rooms filled with art and original furnishings. With its Venetian Gothic architecture, the mansion is a combination of the grandeur of Venice’s Doge’s Palace, combined with the gothic grace of Cà d’Oro and Sarasota Bay serves as the Grand Canal.
Museum Of Asian Art. The 19th century travel photograph provides a singular historical record, cataloguing not only cultures and landscapes that have been radically altered by development and modernization, but also witnessing the immense creative effort of these early expeditionary and travel photographers. The images attest to the remarkable technical skills they formulated, coercing the nascent medium to fit their needs--whether braving the heat of the desert plains, the humidity of the tropical rain forest, or the bitter cold of the world's highest mountains. These artists also helped to generate the aesthetic standard in a world that had never before known photographs. Untethered by convention, they were free to develop their own vision, bound only by the dimensions of their camera's negative. Viewing these images now, we are privileged to experience through their eyes some of those magical initial moments when West encountered East. By producing images of uncommon beauty and depicting what was foreign with pathos, these photographers elevated what could have been a mundane record to an enduring artistic accomplishment. In their photographs, the incidental becomes consequential; and the commonplace, significant. And where we might have seen caricature, instead an individual meets our eye. These exceptional artists traveled to the other side of the globe in search of the unique. The grace with which they photographed allows us to appreciate the universal as well: the connections between people, between cultures and across time.
The Historic Asolo Theater, . An 18th-century treasure in a 21st-century venue, the Historic Asolo Theater is a work of art in its own right. The palace playhouse was created in Asolo, Italy to honor the 15th-century exiled Queen of Cyprus. In the late 1940s, the theater was brought to the Ringling Estate and served as the first stage for many of the community’s most recognized performance organizations. Today the theater features a diverse performance schedule including theatre, dance, film, music, and lectures.
The Mote Marine Lab Aquarium, Ken Thompson Pkwy, Phone: 941-388-4441, ext. 348, . Daily 10AM-5PM. Adults $15, ages 4-12 $10.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 811 South Palm Avenue, Phone: 941-366-5731, . Daily 10AM-5PM. Adults $12, Children 6-11 $6.
Art Center Sarasota, 707 N Tamiami Trail, Phone: 941-365-2032, . Tu-Sa 10AM-4PM. Usually, 2 or 3 art exhibitions going on concurrently. Some pieces in gallery available for sale. Free, $3 Donation Requested.
Siesta Key Rum, 2212 Industrial Blvd, ☎ 941-702-8143, . Varies - see website. The Siesta Key rum distillery is located on the north side of Sarasota. The distillery is open for tours. Registration is free at the company website or via phone. There is a Gift Shop/Tasting Room where samples are available. Siesta Key rum is an award winning artisan rum made in Sarasota from Florida sugarcane. Free.
Siesta Key Beach. Siesta Key Beach is among the first and foremost reasons for many visitors to come to Sarasota. The sand, which is 99% pure crystal quartz, is often cited as being the cleanest, whitest sand in the world. With an athletic area equipped with vollyball courts, a cookout area complete with grills (bring your own charcoal), and life guards on duty all day, Siesta Key Beach is a great place for families and spring breakers alike. On Sundays at sundown, there is a tourist-heavy drum circle where local hippies play and everyone dances.
Historic Spanish Point, 337 N. Tamiami Trail. Visit Historic Spanish Point and experience the past 5,000 years of history in Southwest Florida. Open to the general public from M-Sa, 9AM-5PM; Su noon to 5PM. Exhibits range from learning about the Florida Environment, Southwest Florida’s Maritime Heritage, Pioneer Homesteaders, Archaeology and the Bertha Palmer time period of growth in Southwest Florida. The 30 acres of land used as Historic Spanish Point was once the winter estate of Mrs. Palmer. Adults $7, ages 6-12 $3, and under 6 free.
Ed Smith Stadium, 2700 12th Street. The spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles. If you are in the Venice area between February and March, catch a preseason game for between $5 and $12. Bring the entire family for an evening of baseball.
Great World Way (Nature Tours), 8374 Market Street, Lakewood Ranch, Phone: +1 941 650-1820,  Beyond the beaches, but within easy driving distance of downtown Sarasota, is a vast wilderness area of more than 100,000 acres. The backbone of this wilderness is the 66 mile long Myakka River. Within it's watershed are hundreds of miles of trails. You can access this wilderness via horseback, mountain bike, canoe/kayak, and on foot accompanied by a state-certified Master Naturalist.
South Florida Museum and Parker Manatee Aquarium, 201 10th Street West, Bradenton, Phone: 941-746-4131, . Open Jan-Apr and July M-Sa 10AM-5PM; Sun noon-5PM. Rest of the year Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM; Su noon-5PM. Home of the oldest manatee born in captivity and other wonderful aquatic animals and also includes a Native American collection and a Spanish courtyard containing replicas of 16th-century buildings. This is a great place to spend the day with the entire family. From U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) take Manatee Av. west to 10th St. W. and turn right. Admission is $9.50 adults, $7.50 seniors, $6 students with ID, $5 children 5-12, free for children 4 and under.
Marina Jack, Bayfront Dr. Marina Plaza on the waterfront, Phone:(941) 365-4232. Keep your feet on the land while dining at the Marina Jack Restaurant or take off for an evening around Sarasota Bay on the Marina Jack Dinner Boat. Located on Sarasota Bay, the restaurant offers theatre seating so that everyone can enjoy a view of the waterfront. There is also the Portside Patio Bar for light meals or a drink before dinner. The Dinner Boat is an hour and a half lunch cruise or a two-hour dinner cruise. Plenty of temporarily marina slips available.
Historic Palm Avenue. Downtown Sarasota's "Best Walk in Town". Located one block from Sarasota's Bayfront, aptly poised between the Ritz Carlton and Selby Gardens. Stroll the Galleries, Restaurants, Antique and Specialty Shops. "Palm Avenue's First Friday Art Walks" are held the first Friday of every month from 6PM-9PM. Enjoy gallery openings, live performances and hors d'oeuvres as Palm Avenue Merchants serenade the Avenue and its guests.
St. Armands Circle. Removed from the intensity of downtown Sarasota, St. Armands Circle has an unbelievable selection of original shops, galleries and restaurants. Designed in a charming circular pattern amongst a flourishing landscape, this makes for a breathtaking shopping or afternoon strolling or evening dining experience. Take Tamiami Trail (US 41) to SR 780 W to St. Armands Key, travel over the Ringling Causeway and Sarasota Bay and you will run right into lovely St. Armands Circle.
Westfield Shoppingtown Southgate (Formerly Southgate Mall). an upscale mall with a Saks, Macys, and Dillards.
The Landings Shopping Center
Main Street in downtown also has several shops.
A. Parker's Books, Inc., ABAA (also, Book Bazaar, Inc.), 1488 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236 (One storefront west of SW corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue), ☎ 941-366-2898, . 10-5 Mon-Sat; Rare Bookroom Open by Chance or Appointment; Sundays by Chance or Appointment. Incorporated in 1980, A. Parker's Books has been located in downtown Sarasota, Florida for over thirty years. They have consistently offered one of the finest selections of rare and antiquarian books in the Southeast and provide Library Design and Collection Development among their services. Their knowledgeable staff and their high level of integrity are demonstrated and monitored by their professional memberships in the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association (FABA), Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA), and International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). More than a decade ago, they merged their stock with a neighboring bookstore, Book Bazaar, Inc. Their Sarasota storefront has since housed two distinct shops; A. Parker's Books, Inc., continues to specialize in antiquarian, rare and finely bound books and maintains a rare book room which is the highlight of many visits to the store, while Book Bazaar, Inc., fills the majority of the space with an array of used, out-of-print and scholarly books.Free Browsing. (27.336220000,-82.540884000)
The Breakfast House, 1817 Fruitville Road, Phone: 941-366-6860. Breakfast and lunch.
Cafe Amici, 1371 Main St, Phone: 941-951-6896.
Cafe Epicure, 1298 N Palm Ave, Phone: 941-366-5648. Italian upscale casual.
Caragiulos, 69 S Palm Ave, Phone: 941-951-0866 . One of Sarasota's best-known Italian-American restaurants.
Columbia Restaurant, 411 St. Armands Circle, Phone: 941-388-3987. Cuban-American food.
DaRuMa Restaurant, 5459 Fruitville Road, phone (941) 342-6600 . Japanese steakhouse and seafood
Empress Garden Chinese Restaurant, 6090 N Lockwood Ridge Rd, Phone: 941-359-3658.
Esca, 1888 Main St, Phone: 941-365-3722, Mediterranean Fusion Cuisine, Nightly Enterainment, Outdoor dining, Upstairs Bar & Balcony, Late-Nite Bar Menu, .
Main Street Bar and Sandwich Shop, 1944 Main Street, Phone: 941-955-8733.
Mattison's City Grill, 1 North Lemon Avenue, Phone: 941-330-0440. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. An open-air but covered restaurant and bar with live music, on the corner of Main and Lemon downtown.
Miguel's Restaurant, 6631 Midnight Pass Rd. (On Midnight Pass Rd. 1/4 mile south of Stickney Point Rd.), ☎ 941-349-4024, . open at 5PM. Quaint French Continental cuisine at the south end of Siesta Key. Wonderful food, full bar and early bird specials.
Urban Reef (formerly known as Esca) Upstairs Bar & Live Music, 1888 Main St, Phone: 941-365-3722, . Entertainment every night of the week: Karaoke, DJs, bands, jazz, flamenco, lounge, performers & more. Late nite bar menu.
Comfort Suites, 8305 Tourist Center Drive, Phone: (941) 360-2626, . All-suite hotel with free Wi-Fi available in all rooms as well as public areas.
Hotel Indigo Sarasota, 1223 Blvd of the Arts Phone:(941) 487 3800 conveniently located right downtown.
Hyatt Sarasota, 1000 Blvd of the Arts Phone: (941) 953 1234. On Sarasota Bay
La Palme Royale European Style Bed & Breakfast, 624 South Palm Avenue, Phone 1-866-800-3921 or 941-284-8890. . This 1924 historically designated two-story Craftsman style home among oak trees overlooks Sarasota Bay. From your private oasis stroll down Palm Avenue to the art galleries, fine shopping boutiques, superb dining, theater, opera or the famous Burns Court Cinema. A Pet friendly & Gay friendly accommodation in the heart of downtown.
Lido Beach Resort, 700 Ben Franklin Drive, ☎ 800-441-2113, . Beachfront accommodations.
Longboat Key Hilton, 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Phone:(941) 383 2451. In the middle of gorgeous Longboat Key.
The Ritz Carlton Sarasota , 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Phone: (941) 309 2000. Complete with beach club on Lido Key, located on Tamiami Trail.
Sleep Inn Sarasota, 900 University Pkwy, Phone: (941) 359-8558, . Located across the street from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, this newly renovated hotel is perfect for corporate, sporting, and event travelers.
Suburban Extended Stay, 7251 North Tamiami Trail, Phone: (941) 355-7747, . Well-equipped kitchens and free wireless internet in all rooms.
Lido Islander, 528 South Polk Drive, ☎ 941-388-1004, . checkin: 3:00PM; checkout: 11:00PM. Amid a tropical garden, the units are steps from Lido beach, with the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico just beyond. Quiet side roads and boulevards are perfect for a morning jog or a casual stroll to nearby St. The units are completely furnished and fully equipped. The 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units have full kitchens.$50.
Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch, 6231 Lake Osprey Drive, Phone: 941-782-4400, . Luxurious accommodations in a boutique setting. Also features the Alamo Steakhouse on property, one of only 7 revolving restaurants in Florida.
Hilton Garden Inn, 8270 N. Tamiami Trail, ☎ +1-941-552-1100, . Centrally located in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, this hotel is within less than 1 mile from Ringling Museum along Sarasota Bay. This hotel offers free shuttle transportation to Downtown Sarasota Historic District and anywhere else within five miles of the property.
Hyatt Place, 950 University Parkway, ☎ 941-554-5800, . checkin: 3PM; checkout: noon. Hotel offers free continental breakfast, 24 hour food service with full bar, free wi-fi internet, free parking and free shuttle service to SRQ airport and downtown.$89-199.
Hotel Ranola, 118 Indian Place #6, ☎ 941.951.0111, . Originally built in 1926 as an apartment hotel, it offered snowbirds an escape from harsh Northern winters. Ranola has now been revived as a small hip boutique hotel with 9 units.
Sarasota is a rather safe city, although regular precautions should be taken just to be safe. The only real place a tourist should avoid is Newtown. Located right near downtown, Newtown is a small neighborhood notorious for drug related crime. Sarasota gained world-wide attention in 2011 when two British tourists were murdered in Newtown.
Newtown is rather small and is normally fine to drive through during the day. However vigilance is required if traveling through Newtown at night, it is strongly advised to not go near Newtown at night while on foot and in a car the doors should remain locked.
Tampa and St. Petersburg are an easy drive North via I-75 and the Sunshine Skyway. Professional Football, baseball, NHL, and most other sports venues can be found there. Tampa also has more shopping at International Plaza and Westshore malls. Ybor City and the University of South Florida are also in Tampa, as is a Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and Busch Gardens.
This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!