Looking for the best things to do in Sarasota, Florida? If you’re planning a Sarasota beach vacations, you may be surprised at all the other fun things this coastal town has to offer! After you soak up the sun, you’ll definitely want to check out these Sarasota activities and destinations.
This post was written in collaboration with VisitSarasota.org and our visits to some of these attractions were hosted. All opinions are my own.
When my husband’s job gave him the opportunity to transfer to Sarasota, Florida a few years ago, we jumped at the chance! While Atlanta wasn’t bad, it was nothing compared to this beautiful coastal town! When we drove down to check it out, we drank wine while watching the sunset on the beach and immediately knew this was where we were meant to be!
With warm weather, beautiful beaches and streets lined with palm trees, Sarasota couldn’t be more perfect! There’s so much to do and after several years of living here, we’re still constantly discovering new things to do in Sarasota. From dolphin cruises to circus museums, there’s something for everyone here.
Things To Do In Sarasota
- Siesta Key Beach
- Circus Park/Payne Park
- Lebarge Tropical Cruises
- The Ringling Museum Of Art
- The Mote Aquarium
- Crowley Museum And Nature Center
- Myakka Wildlife Tour
- Selby Botanical Gardens
- TreeUmph Adventure Course
- Dakin Dairy Farm
- Mixon Fruit Farms
- Bowlero (for rainy day fun)
Siesta Key Beach
If you’re looking for things to do in Sarasota with kids, you can’t miss the award winning Siesta Key Beach. The sugar-fine sand is made up of 99% quartz and never gets too hot.
Sometimes we just swing by to collect shells and play in the tide pools.
We love the pavilion at Siesta Key too. You can buy beach accessories like sunscreen to sand toys, a cafe that serves food, drinks and ice cream, and a fun playground for the kids. On Sunday evenings year round, you can join the popular drum circle, where drummers jam out on the beach while parents chill and the kids play in the sand.
You really can’t come to Sarasota without spending at least a day at Siesta Key Beach. It’s part of what makes Sarasota one of Florida’s top family vacation destinations!
Related article: 10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Siesta Key Beach
Payne Park, also known as Circus Park, is a brightly colored playground modeled after the circus. Because Sarasota is such a big circus town, and home to the Ringling, it’s a perfect fit.
This brightly colored playground park is the perfect place to spend an afternoon with the kids. There aren’t many parks like this one and the little ones absolutely love the checking out the clown cars, playing in the “animal cages” and riding circus animals.
Sometimes my kids disagree on where they want to go but we never have that problem with Circus Park. My oldest has as much fun here as my little one.
Not only is it great for the kids but there are also plenty of shaded benches for the adults. Parents can relax and enjoy the beautiful Sarasota weather while the kids wear themselves out on the monkey bars.
LeBarge Tropical Cruises
With dolphin/manatee cruises, sightseeing & nature cruises and the Tropical Sunset Cruise, LeBarge Tropical Cruises has something for everyone. The girls and I booked a sunset cruise and as soon as they spotted the palm trees and mermaids on the top deck, they couldn’t wait to board.
I had just grabbed a cocktail for myself and snacks for the girls when the musician started playing some of my favorite Jimmy Buffet songs. It doesn’t get much better than that. The two hour cruise took us along the coast where we gawked at the spectacular mansions (I made a mental note to buy some lottery tickets), spotted dolphins and of course, enjoyed a spectacular sunset!
How picture perfect is this view?!
For the record, this sunset is completely unedited and unfiltered…it really was this gorgeous!
Not only did we love the cruise, I was pretty happy with the food and drink prices! I paid $9 for a cocktail, bottled water and two bags of chips. Since I’d recently taken another boat tour and paid $8 for one cocktail alone, I thought $9 was a pretty good deal!
John & Mabel Ringling Museum Of Art (a.k.a. The Ringling)
The former estate of John Ringling and his wife Mabel, there is so much to see at The Ringling that you could spend the entire day there if you felt like it. The most popular attraction here is the Circus Museum. It’s filled with fun displays featuring circus props, dazzling costumes and other old circus memorabilia.
My girls love the interactive areas where they could practice balancing atop a horse and walking on a tightrope.
Little Keira is a bit of a clown anyway so she fit right in. We even found a clown car just her size.
The highlight of this museum is the Howard Bros. Circus Model. This 44,000 piece model of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus was built by Howard Tibbals from 1956-1974. When it was moved to the current location in 2004, it took a full year just to set up.
The circus model is truly a masterpiece and it’s by far my favorite thing at the Ringling. We’ve seen it several times now and we discover something new every time.
While the Circus Museum is a must see, you should also tour Ca’ D’ Zan, where John Ringling lived with his wife Mabel. It’s an over the top Venetian Gothic style home overlooking the Sarasota Bay. Even my girls love looking at the extravagant decor. I recommend taking the guided tour because the story of John and Mabel’s life is pretty fascinating (though if you have toddlers or young children, you may want to skip it).
You can also tour the Ringling’s Museum of Art, built by John Ringling to house his extensive art collection. Must be nice to have so much money that you can build a museum in your back yard, right? Finally, take a stroll through the beautiful gardens and if the kids are with you, hang out on the playground for awhile.
The Mote Aquarium
If you enjoy aquariums, grab the kids and head to The Mote. My girls loved getting up close and personal with manatees, sharks, sea turtles and other ocean animals.
They also had a blast at the touch tanks, where they could touch the stingrays and crabs as they moved through the water.
How amazing is this jellyfish exhibit? They almost don’t look real (but I promise they are)!
For an additional fee, you can feed sharks, take a seahorse lab tour or even host a birthday party. While The Mote is fun, it’s an educational experience as well, making it a win/win for everyone.
Crowley Museum And Nature Center
Off the beaten track, the Crowley Museum is a great place to visit if you want to mix fun with education. If you’ve ever watched Little House On The Prairie, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported right into Walnut Grove.
My girls loved seeing what things were like in “the olden days” as they explored the buildings and learned about pioneer history. They were totally fascinated as we checked out old kitchens that the pioneers used.
I also had to give them a mini lessons about how looms and spindles were used. Lucky for them, I never had to make their clothes…I’m afraid to think about how that would have turned out!
I think their favorite part was the new friend they made. This little guy was so friendly that he seemed to love the girls as much as they loved him! I think he’s even smiling for my photo!
The Children’s Discovery Path is a nature trail with lots of opportunities for hands-on learning. Our favorite section of the trail was the small observation deck with a kid-friendly zipline and giant binoculars.
We found more things to do when we made our way back at the pioneer houses. The girls enjoyed the old seesaw but they really had a blast pumping water from the well.
The Crowley Museum also offers classes such as canning, soap making, plant dying and more. It was both fun and educational and well worth the visit!
NOTE: If you’re there late in the day, be sure to bring insect repellent. Those pesky Florida mosquitos come out as soon as dusk hits and you don’t want it to dampen your fun.
Myakka Wildlife Tour
Want to see alligators up close and personal? Take the one hour Myakka Wildlife Boat Tour on the Upper Myakka Lake and there’s a good chance you will.
You’ll also get a lesson in other animals that call this area home as well as Florida flora and fauna. In keeping with the traditional summer weather, we got caught in a brief afternoon rainstorm but little Keira thought it just added to the fun!
When you’ve finished the boat tour, hop aboard the tram for a land tour or take a walk on one of the nature trails.
Selby Botanical Gardens
Originally I wasn’t sure if there would be enough to keep my girls entertained at the Selby Botanical Gardens but they absolutely! The gardens are beautiful on their own but I was pleasantly surprised by all the kid friendly experiences.
Keira and Ashling loved exploring the Children’s Rainforest Garden, dressing up like butterflies in the play area, playing on the playground and feeding the koi.
Other highlights include the conservatory, where you’ll feel as if you’ve just walked into a rain forest, the butterfly garden, the mangrove and baywalk, the bamboo garden and more. If you feel like skipping the beach for day, this is a great alternative.
TreeUmph Adventure Course
Though a little off the beaten track, TreeUmph is the place to visit if you’re looking for adventure!
You’ll climb high into the trees, crossing precarious bridges, swinging from ropes like Tarzan and of course ziplining. There are easy courses for children and more advanced courses for adults of different skill levels.
I liked that I could choose the level of difficulty that I wanted, though I plan to take it up a notch next time.I don’t recommend it if you’re afraid of heights but if you like adventure, you’ll want to go again and again!
It’s a great bonding experience for families or a fun place to get away from it all for a few hours.
Dakin Dairy Farm
If you’re visiting Sarasota in the fall, you’ll want to bring the kids to the Dakin Dairy Farm. The tour includes a hayride through the barn where you can watch cows being milked. You’ll also see pig races and learn how milk is bottled in the processing facility.
When I went with my youngest, the highlight of the trip was when she bottle fed baby animals. It was adorable and she still talks about it.
Mixon Fruit Farms
Head over to check out Mixon Fruit Farms if you want to see where some of our Florida oranges come from. The pumpkin festival is a must see but this is a great place to visit any day of the year.
You’ll definitely want to take a tour on the Orange Grove Express, where you’ll learn about citrus and see a wildlife refuge where they take care of hurt or orphaned birds, reptiles and other animals.
There’s also a special “Hunny” train just for the kids!
You also won’t want to leave without wandering through the Magical Maze.
On your way out, pop into the market to pick up fresh fruit, ice cream or souvenirs.
While there are tons of things to do in Sarasota, many of them are outside. We love the outdoors…when the weather is good. However, Sarasota plenty of popup storms in the summer months and if you’re looking for things to do in Sarasota when it’s raining, you’ll want to head over to Bowlero.
We recently attended their grand re-opening and I’d forgotten just how much I love bowling, despite the fact that my ball seems to go in the gutter a lot!
This place is huge…definitely not like any bowling alley I went to as a kid. With 64 bowling lanes, I can’t imagine you’d ever have to wait long to get a turn. My girls had a blast and it was super cute to watch Ashling giving her little sis some pointers.
The food and drinks are delish too! This is not your everyday bowling alley food.
Bowlero has a full bar, complete with fancy cocktails, and the menu is loaded with delicous snacks and entrees to choose from. I had a salad (which was really good) but it was hard to pass up the footlong Coney Dog or the mouthwatering pretzel that was the size of my seven year old’s head.
Next time I may have to splurge on the Alley Sampler. With buffalo wings, tenders, nachos, cheesy bread and mozzarella sticks, it’s definitely a plate for sharing.
When you’re finished bowling, head to the arcade for video games, air hockey and more games to keep the kids entertained.
It’s a great place to spend the afternoon when it’s too hot or too rainy outside.
From sunset cruises to aquariums, you’ll never run out of fun things to do in Sarasota! Which one would you want to do first?
Planning your visit already? You may want to check out these posts too!
When you’re going to the beach, you’re definitely going to want cool beach gear! These are some of my all time favorite beach accessories…