Sarasota: Florida’s Hidden Gem

Story by: Norm Fernandez     Date: 25 February 2022    Image by: Canva | Sean Pavone

7 minutes reading time United States

When you think of vacationing in Florida, you might think of popular tourist destinations. Places like Disney World in Orlando or Miami or Key West. While these are all great spots, I’m here to tell you about another destination. A place that can give you all the best Florida has to offer. Whether you want great food, interesting culture, or amazing beaches, this place has got it all! I’m talking about beautiful Sarasota, Florida!

While many locals and “snowbirds” might already know about this place, Sarasota is often overlooked for bigger cities like Orlando, Tampa, and Miami. Incorporated into a city in 1902, today Sarasota has a total city area of 25.9 square miles with a little over 57,000 people living within city limits. By comparison, Miami is double in size (56 square miles) but has four times as many people (over 440,0000). You won’t find overcrowding like that in Sarasota!

Getting to Sarasota

Getting There

Sarasota has its very own airport: the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. Also known by its code, SRQ, many of the biggest airlines fly in and out of there every day. You can book flights through Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, Emirates, and much more. SRQ offers nonstop service to and from Denver, Dallas, New York City, and a lot more US cities.

Another great option for flying is Tampa International Airport. It’s only a ninety-minute drive away from downtown Sarasota. J.D. Power ranked the airport number two in customer satisfaction two years in a row. Tampa International has been in the top five since 2015! You could very easily book a vacation to Tampa, enjoy a Buccaneers game one day, and take a short drive to Sarasota the next day!

To find Sarasota by driving, all you have to do is hop on Interstate 75 and look for exits 210 (Fruitville Road), 207 (Bee Ridge Road), and 205 (Clark Road). These are the three main roads heading East-West through Sarasota. Closer to the coast and running parallel North-South to I-75 is U.S. Route 41. U.S. 41 runs straight through downtown Sarasota. Fun fact: U.S. 41 is also known as the “Tamiami Trail” because it runs directly from Tampa (“Ta”) to Miami!

Downtown Sarasota, Florida

Staying in Sarasota

Within city limits, Sarasota has hotels aplenty. You can stay at The Westin Sarasota. The Westin has an amazing rooftop bar and rooms with spectacular sunset views of Sarasota Bay. Nearby you can also find The Ritz-Carlton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, and The Hyatt Regency Sarasota. If you want a more unique stay to compliment your visit, try the Art Ovation Hotel, with chic and modern styling. Another fantastic option is The Sarasota Modern, which is within walking distance of the Sarasota Opera House. But, we’ll talk more about that later.

Let’s say you’re going to Sarasota to enjoy its fantastic beaches (again, we’ll talk about that in a little bit). There are plenty of tropical-vibe hotels, too! You can find The Tropical Breeze resort minutes away from Sarasota Beach, or the Holiday-Inn on Sarasota-Lido Key. On Longboat Key, there’s the Four Winds Beach Resort and the Veranda Beach Club. Don’t forget to check vacation rental websites like Airbnb to find great deals for staying at vacation homes or condos, as well.

Downtown Sarasota Florida, Twilight

Downtown Sarasota

You can get a good idea of a city’s “vibe” by its downtown district, and Sarasota is no different! Let’s take a walk down Main Street. Main Street runs East-West between Washington Boulevard and U.S. 41. Here you’ll find all kinds of restaurants, bars, and stores; all within easy walking distance.

No matter what kind of food you’re into, chances are you’ll find it right on Main Street. We’re talking Italian (Mediterraneo or Flavio’s), American (Raffurty’s or Evie’s), Japanese (Utamaro or HUMAY), and tons more! Plus you don’t even have to leave Main Street to find desert: just head to Gelato-go Sarasota or The Fat Donkey to satisfy that sweet tooth.

The shopping on Main Street is great, too. Stores like Sara Campbell, J. McLaughlin, and Eleganza are great for “retail therapy.” There’s also the Book Bazaar, Mercantile for your home good needs, or Pixie Dust: the Metaphysical Boutique.

Ringling Museum - Sarasota, Florida

Cultural Crossroads

Did you know that Sarasota was once home to one of the creators of the World’s Greatest Shows? John Ringling of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus once called Sarasota home. His influence is still greatly felt throughout the city. Naturally, there’s even a street named after him!

In Sarasota, you will find the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The Ringling Museum of Art is truly an art lover’s paradise. It features amazing collections of European and American art. You can see ancient Mediterranean antiques and a courtyard filled with incredible sculptures. From the museum’s website: “The Museum’s collection includes more than 28,000 works that represent Western and non-Western art from ancient periods, the European Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, and American art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The collection was started by John Ringling, and it continues to grow.”

Nearby, you can also visit The Ringling Circus Museum, filled with artifacts from the heyday of the big top. You can see original pieces of wardrobe, performance props, parade wagons, and so much more. The centerpiece of the Circus Museum is a giant 3,800 square foot model miniature of Circus shows from 1919 through 1938. The young and young-at-heart will delight in catching all the smallest details of the circus come to life!

But that’s not where it stops, you can also visit the elaborate and decadent Ca’ D’Zan, which is where John Ringling and his wife, Mabel, lived. The giant mansion “stands as a testament to the American Dream of the Roaring Twenties.” The waterfront estate stands five stories tall and is over 36,000 square feet. It’s filled with all kinds of elaborate furnishings and decorations. From a custom-made silver German sink to a giant crystal chandelier hanging in the living room. Ca’ D’Zan is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere in Florida.

Ringling’s cultural influence flows through the rest of Sarasota, as well. You can see a show at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center. Enjoy the breathtaking outdoor sights at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Have a night at the opera in the Sarasota Opera House. Or check out some classic and exotic cars at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum.

Beach in Sarasota, Florida

Beaches, Beaches, and More Beaches

Of course, it wouldn’t be Florida if we didn’t talk about the beautiful beaches, right? And in Sarasota, you’ll find Siesta Key Beach, named the Best Beach in the United States in the 2020 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Awards! Siesta Beach is best known for its super-fine and cool sand and beautiful blue water as far as the eye can see. And since it’s on Florida’s western coast, the sunsets here are picturesque. On Siesta Key itself, you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, and bars to enjoy your day out in the sun.

Longboat Key is the longest island along Sarasota’s coast, giving beachgoers 12 miles of shoreline to enjoy. Far less busy than the more well-known Siesta Key Beach, Longboat Key is perfect for more laid-back and relaxing days on the sand.

Another great option is Lido Key and its three beaches. Fun fact: Ringling gave the island its name from the Italian word “lido,” which means “beach.” Along with Lido Key’s beaches, you should also stop by St. Armands Circle for unique shopping, dining, and more. If you find yourself on St. Armands Circle, make sure you get a bite to eat at The Columbia restaurant, which has been open for over 115 years!

Sarasota, Florida, Skyline

The Best Florida Has to Offer

Sure, Florida’s biggest cities like Tampa and Miami are pretty cool. But, Sarasota is probably the best way to experience the “true” Florida way of life.

With great beaches, plenty of things to see and do, awesome restaurants and bars, and so much more, Sarasota has everything you could ever want out of your Florida vacation.

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