This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Looking for the best things to do in Sarasota for kids? If you’re planning a Sarasota beach vacation, 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 attractions.
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 white sand 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 outdoor activities like dolphin cruises and wildlife tours to indoor fun at circus museums, there’s something for everyone here.
Things To Do In Sarasota
- Siesta Key Beach
- Discover Sarasota City Tour
- Circus Park/Payne Park
- Sarasota Jungle Gardens
- Bayfront Park
- Lebarge Tropical Cruises
- The Ringling
- Circus Arts Conservatory*
- The Mote Marine Laboratory
- Big Cat Habitat
- Crowley Museum And Nature Center
- Myakka Wildlife Tour
- Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
- St. Armand’s Circle
- TreeUmph Adventure Course
- Sarasota Classic Car Museum*
- Sarasota Children’s Garden
- Dakin Dairy Farm
- Mixon Fruit Farms
- Jumpin’ Fun Inflata Park*
*Great for rainy days!
Where Is Sarasota Florida?
You’ll find Sarasota located on the coast of southwest Florida, just south of Tampa and north of Fort Myers. It’s also about 90 minutes from Disney World, making it easy to combine a beach vacation with a Disney vacation too.
Siesta Key Beach
If you’re looking for one of the top things to do in Sarasota with kids, you can’t miss the award winning Siesta Key Beach. It frequently ranks as one of the best beaches in the United States and for good reason. The sand on this public beach is unlike any other! It features amazing sugar-fine sand that’s made up of 99% quartz and is so soft that it feels like you’re walking on powder.
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 and sand toys, order lunch from the cafe or cool off with a giant ice cream cone. There’s also a colorful playground complete with a giant “sand” castle.
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 one day at Siesta Beach. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever been to and 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
Discover Sarasota City Tour
One of my favorite things to do when I visit someplace new is to take a tour. After all, that’s the best way to see everything and helps you decide what you want to come back and visit later!
Discover Sarasota Tours is the perfect way to see the sights of Sarasota, especially since you can do it from the comfort of an old fashioned trolley! This 90 minute tour features over 45 sights along the route, which includes some of Sarasota’s most historic neighborhoods, can’t miss shopping and dining areas and cultural attractions.
Our tour guide Steve kept us totally entertained along the way with facts and stories about each area. Even thought I’ve lived here for years, I learned a lot about Sarasota and even stumped my husband with a few facts when we got home (I love it when I’m smarter than he is!).
There were plenty of cool sights along the way but my favorite was actually the first one we saw…two houses built to look like a boat and a lighthouse.
There are plenty of other tours available when you’re finished with this one. Check out the Amish Experience, Circus History, Haunted Sarasota tours and more. Kids will love the Rainbows & Unicorns tour and if it’s just the grownups touring, check out the Infamous Happy Hour or Tiki Trivia Trolley Tour. The bonus is that the trolleys are completely air conditioned so it’s a great way to have some fun AND get out of the sun for a bit on a hot summer day.
Payne Park, also known as Circus Park, is a brightly colored playground modeled after the circus. It shouldn’t be a big surprise to find something like this because Sarasota is such a big circus town. 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.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Sarasota for kids, it doesn’t get much better than this!
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Established in 1939, Sarasota Jungle Gardens is one of the oldest established attractions in Florida. It’s also one of the most popular destinations in Sarasota.
With 10 acres of lush tropical landscaping, you really will feel like you’re walking through a jungle at times. There are over 200 native and exotic animals on the grounds and you’ll find something new around every turn.
We started with the the parrots. Some were more than happy to pose for my pictures but others were a little more camera shy.
After that we checked out the reptiles. I’m not much of a snake person but there’s something about alligators that I find fascinating! We found this guy peeking out to see what we were up to.
One of our favorite areas was the butterfly garden! We all had fun getting up close and personal with the butterflies.
The girls were so excited when butterflies actually landed on them that they were begging me to take more pictures (which NEVER happens).
As if that weren’t cool enough, next up were the pink flamingos. They were everywhere, just wandering freely amongst the guests.
We had already bought flamingo food and I think the flamingos knew it. They came right up to us and ate out of our hands…such an amazing experience.
Watch out though…once they see you feeding their friends, all the flamingos will want in on the action. Keira’s reaction was priceless when this one snuck up on her! He was very friendly…she just turned and didn’t expect to see him there!
If you have young kids, they’ll want to check out the playground and the petting zoo and kids of all ages will enjoy the bird and reptile shows. Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a great experience for the whole family and and makes the perfect excursion when you want to take a break from the beach.
If you’re looking for a great spot to relax and enjoy gorgeous views, head to Bayfront Park near downtown Sarasota. Have lunch at one of the picnic tables, then let the kids run around on the splash pad or play on the playground.
Didn’t bring a picnic basket? We love enjoying a casual lunch overlooking the water at O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, especially on the days they have live music!
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, grab a table at Marina Jack’s instead. While you eat, you can check out all the fancy yachts and choose which one you’ll buy when you win the lottery (that’s what we do!).
This is also where you’ll find the Unconditional Surrender sculpture, based on the famous 1945 photo of a soldier kissing a nurse in the center of Times Square.
Stay until sunset and you won’t be disappointed. Bayfront has some of the prettiest sunsets I’ve seen! Even better, walk toward the front of the park and hop onboard a LeBarge Tropical Cruise for their sunset tour!
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 when they spotted the palm trees and mermaids on the top deck, they thought it was the coolest thing ever.
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! Even cocktails were a lot more reasonable than on most boat tours. We’ll definitely be taking more of these tours in the future.
John & Mabel Ringling Museum Of Art (a.k.a. The Ringling)
There is so much to see at The Ringling that you could spend the entire day there. The former estate of John Ringling and his wife Mabel has lots to see, including a Venetian style mansion, beautiful gardens, an art museum and everybody’s favorite, the Circus Museum.
The Circus Museum is our favorite too. You’ll start by wandering though rooms of displays featuring circus props, dazzling costumes and other old circus memorabilia from over the years. That’s just the beginning though.
My girls always want to head straight to the interactive area where they can practice balancing atop a horse…
…or 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.
*Note – This interactive section has been temporarily closed during covid. You may want to call ahead to find the current status.
While the girls like the interactive section, 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 it up.
The circus model is truly a masterpiece and it’s by far my favorite thing at the Ringling. It’s the kind of thing you could look at daily and still discover something new each time.
Be sure to head up to the second floor to see the model from above!
The detail that went into this circus model is pretty amazing! From the performers to the circus animals and even the hay, Tibbals didn’t miss a single thing!
If you have older kids, you might want to take a tour of Ca’ D’ Zan, the Venetian Gothic style home where John Ringling lived with his wife Mabel. Overlooking Sarasota Bay, it’s quite a sight to see. Even my girls enjoyed looking at the extravagant decor throughout the house.
I recommend taking the guided tour because listening to all the colorful stories behind John and Mabel’s life here makes the mansion that much more interesting.
Just a short walk from the house is the Mable Ringling Museum of Art, built by John Ringling to house their extensive art collection. Must be nice to have so much money that you can build a museum in your back yard, right? Fun fact: John Ringling had it in his will that the name of the museum was never to be changed.
If you have smaller children, you may want to skip this museum but you can still enjoy a stroll through the beautiful gardens.
Finally, finish your afternoon by letting the kids get a little wild and crazy on the playground. The giant slide is not to be missed!
Circus Arts Conservatory
Have you ever wanted to run off and join the circus? Here’s your chance! At the Circus Arts Conservatory, not only can you see circus performances live and via video but you can even learn how to be a circus performer! My girls and I recently signed up for an aerial silks class at the Circus Arts Conservatory and were really looking forward to experiencing it first hand.
They started us off with some easy exercises, then we hit the ropes…I mean, the silks. My oldest climbed right up as if she were some kind of superhero!
My youngest and I had a little trouble getting started (I’m known for a lot of things but upper body strength is not one of them). I thought it might be a problem but it wasn’t at all. If you can’t pull yourself up the silks, the instructor will make a knot for you to stand on.
Our instructor was also great about giving everyone individual attention if they needed it, helping both girls with their climbing and aerial tricks.
It was a lot of fun and by the end, my girls were doing “the mermaid”. They were so proud of themselves and now my youngest wants to come back for the Circus Summer Camp. Circus Camp covers even more skills, including the low wire, the flying trapeze, juggling and of course, aerial silks.
The great thing about the Circus Arts Conservatory is that you can book one lesson or a series of classes, depending on how much time you have. It also makes a great rainy day activity if you’re looking for something to do inside on a rainy day. You have to book online but they take reservations up until the day of the class, as long as there are spots available.
The Mote Marine Laboratory
If you enjoy aquariums, grab the kids and head to The Mote Marine Laboratory. on the northern end of Lido Key. Part aquarium and part research center, it’s a can’t miss if you’re coming to Sarasota.
My girls love that they can get up close and personal with manatees, sharks, sea turtles and other ocean animals.
Kids will also love the touch tanks, where they can touch the stingrays and crabs as they move through the water.
My favorites are the jellyfish! They almost don’t even look real (but I promise they are!).
Of course, you can’t leave without spending some time watching the otters at play. My youngest daughter absolutely adores them and it’s not hard to see why!
For an additional fee, you can choose extra adventures such as feeding the animals, getting up close and personal with sea turtles or dip netting in the bay. These experiences are as educational as they are fun and are perfect for all ages.
Big Cat Habitat
We’ve covered tropical animals and ocean animals but did you also know that you could see exotic animals in Sarasota?
The Big Cat Habitat And Gulf Coast Sanctuary was founded in 1987 as a rescue center for exotic cats and other wildlife in need of permanent homes. In addition to tigers, exhibits include bears, ligers and tigons (mixes of lions and tigers).
My girls really enjoyed the tiger show, especially since it kicked off with cute dogs doing tricks. Then they brought out the stars of the show, the tigers. The show was a good mix of entertainment and education but if you’re planning to check it out, be sure to get there early. The venue filled up fast when we were there.
Afterwards we wandered around and checked out some of the other animals, like this little guy.
The petting zoo was also a big winner! We made several stops as we went back and forth because we just couldn’t resist the adorable baby goats!
Though the baby goats were definitely the favorites, my girls also had fun petting a friendly turtle.
If you’re planning to visit, be sure to check the hours first. As of this writing, Big Cat Habitat is only open Wednesday-Sunday from 12-4.
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 found it fascinating to see 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? Head to the Myakka River State Park for a one hour Myakka Wildlife Boat Tour on the Upper Myakka Lake. Chances are you’ll see more than one!
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.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Originally I wasn’t sure if there would be enough to keep my girls entertained at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens but they had an amazing time! The gardens are beautiful on their own but I was pleasantly surprised by all the kid friendly experiences.
The girls loved exploring the Children’s Rainforest Garden, dressing up like butterflies in the play area, running around 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.
St. Armand’s Circle
If you’re looking for one of the best places to just wander around and exploring for an afternoon, you should head to St. Armand’s Circle on Lido Key.
Filled with unique shops, upscale restaurants, art galleries and more, there’s something new around every corner.
You’ll want to start by exploring the circle at the center of it all. Originally owned by Charles St. Amand, St. Armands Circle was bought by John Ringling in 1917 and it’s easy to see his influence. It’s most noticeable in the Circus Ring Of Fame, circus style wagon wheel plaques recognizing those who have made valuable contributions to the art and culture of the circus.
You’ll also see plenty of the Roman and Greek statues that John Ringling was such a fan of.
It’s not just for the grownups. My girls love exploring the different shops and finding unique treasures and delicious treats. When we’re done wandering, a trip to Kilwins for some ice cream is a can’t miss. The delicious smells coming from this candy shop and ice creamery make it almost impossible to just walk on by without stopping!
If you visit later in the day, grab your ice cream and take a short walk to Lido Beach to enjoy the sunset. A gorgeous Florida sunset is always the perfect way to end a day!
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. It’s a great activity for the entire family because there are easy courses for children and more advanced ones 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.
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
Unlike my hubby, I’m not much of a car buff. However, because the Sarasota Classic Car Museum is such a popular attraction, I thought it was about time I checked it out.
As the second oldest antique car museum in the nation, it’s filled with over 75 automobiles, from one-of-a-kind classics to antique, exotic and European cars.
The museum explores the history of cars, starting way back at the beginning with the “horseless carriage”. As you wander through the exhibits, it’s fascinating to see how our cars slowly evolved over the years.
There were a lot of one of a kind cars and this Shark car really stood out!
How would you like to own one of these tiny cars? It would be fun but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be driving down any interstates!
My husband was all about the Ferrari exhibit! Even I can appreciate a cool sportscar!
If it’s in your budget, you can head next door and pick out a classic car of your own. They’ve got a huge variety of cars for sale and if you’re looking for something to show off to the neighbors, this is the place to find it!
I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed our visit. You clearly don’t have to be into cars to have a great time here and even my girls had a great time. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in Sarasota and makes a great rainy day activity if your beach plans get rained out!
Sarasota Children’s Garden
If you have young children, a visit to the Sarasota Children’s Garden should be on your list. You’ll leave the real world behind when you follow the yellow brick road to this two acre garden filled with whimsy and enchantment.
The Amazing Maze takes you past a pirate ship and into the “Black Pearl Tunnel”, through the fairy garden and into the monster garden, where you’ll find the giant green dragon, Snuffy.
Stroll past giant mushrooms, knock on the houses of the three little pigs and wander through the butterfly garden. You can spend the afternoon just checking out the gardens or sign the kids up for one of the art, gardening or nature classes. Either way, they’re sure to have a magical time.
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, pig races and a lesson in how milk is bottled in the processing facility.
When I went with my youngest, the highlight of the trip was bottle feeding baby animals. The kids all had a blast (and the baby animals were pretty happy too).
Most tours take place in the fall so be sure to check the website first if you’re planning to visit.
Mixon Fruit Farms
Want to see were Florida oranges come from? Well, some come from the orchards at Mixon Fruit Farms
Take a tour on the Orange Grove Express to learn about Florida’s most popular citrus and check out the wildlife refuge where they take care of hurt or orphaned birds, reptiles and other animals.
Smaller kids will love this cute “Hunny” train too!
Don’t leave without wandering through the Magical Maze…will you be able to find your way out?
Before you go, pop into the market/gift shop to pick up fresh fruit, ice cream or souvenirs.
The pumpkin festival in the fall is a must see but but you’ll have a great time visiting Mixon’s Fruit Farms any time of year.
Nothing says family fun more than miniature golf and there are no shortage of places to play in Sarasota. We love them all but Smuggler’s Cove is one of our favorites.
The overall theme is fun but the alligators are the main attraction! They even sell gator food at the concession stand so you can feed them.
Smuggler’s Cove has several locations but when you’re in Sarasota, you’re never too far from golf courses or mini-golf!
The best part about miniature golf is that it’s an activity that all ages can enjoy, from toddlers to seniors. Just pick your favorite color ball and you’re good to go!
Jumpin’ Fun Inflata Park
I only have one warning about Jumpin’ Fun Inflata Park…your kids are NOT going to want to leave.
We’ve been here many times (and have even thrown a birthday party or two) and my girls can’t get enough of this awesome indoor playground.
It’s easy to see why kids love this place! From obstacle courses to rock climbing, there’s no shortage of things to do. One of their newest attractions is the JFI AirRider, a zipline that takes kids (and adults) soaring 30 feet over the play area below. This was a big hit and both my girls rode multiple times.
My favorite part? Watching my girls battle it out American Gladiator style! I’m not sure it was a fair fight but they didn’t seem to care.
Jumpin’ Fun has over 20 different attractions, including a special play area just for toddlers. If you live locally, you can buy 30, 60 or 90 day passes. It’s also a great idea option for parents who have to work in summer while the kids are out of school. Just hook up to the free wi-fi and let the little ones run free.
While there are plenty of things to do in Sarasota, many of them are outside. We love the outdoors…when the weather is good. However, if you’re looking for things to do in Sarasota when it’s raining, Bowlero is a great option.
We recently attended their grand re-opening and I’d forgotten just how much I love bowling, despite the fact that my balls always seem to like the gutters. We even made a new friend while we were there.
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.
Bowlero has a full bar, complete with fancy cocktails, and the menu is loaded with delicious 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 you’ll want to share.
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, there are so many fun things to do in Sarasota for kids, you’ll never run out of ideas! Which one of these Sarasota attractions do you want to do first?
All that fun is going to make you hungry! That’s when you’ll want to check out some of the best restaurants in Sarasota.
NOTE: This post was originally written several years ago and I’ve been updating and adding to it as we discover new things to love about Sarasota. The little girls in the photos are the same throughout, just at different ages.
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…