Sarasota, Florida City Guide

By
Sammantha Rials
Sarasota City Guide

Sarasota is one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Siesta Key beach is probably the key reason for this. However, once you get past the overwhelming sites, Sarasota can be seen for what it truly is, a wonderful and eclectic city that is full of love and culture.

The arts community in Sarasota is diverse, the restaurants and food choices are abundant, and every age range is able to thrive and prosper in Sarasota. From colleges to retirement communities to great grade school education, there is truly room for all people to be successful and happy in Sarasota.

Culture

The culture in Sarasota is multi-faceted. This is because people from all over the world come to Sarasota. Whether it be for travel, a job, a new beginning, or to escape the cold, Sarasota is a highly visited city. 

One of the main reasons people visit Sarasota is for the beaches but they stay because of the feeling Sarasota gives them. That being said, Sarasota is full of character. Downtown Sarasota is known for high-end shops, wonderful restaurants, and a truly amazing location within walking distance of the Sarasota Bay.

The arts scene in Sarasota is abundant and rich. Similarly, the food is top-notch and there are often high-end events being held in different places in Sarasota. Due to the beautiful beaches, among other things, many people come to Sarasota for retirement. Therefore, there is a large senior community in Sarasota. 

Sarasota has a long and rich history as a home to circus arts. This is mostly due to circus magnate, John Ringling, adopting it as his home. The Circus Arts Conservatory is keeping that legacy alive to this day. Ringling also had a huge effect on the architectural style of the area, building lots of homes in the Mediterranean Revival style that still colors the culture of Sarasota.

There is a huge diversity of all different people in Sarasota, including many different religions and there is a place of worship available whatever your belief system may be. Some of the churches in the area include: Sarasota Baptist Church, Church of Hope, Church of the Palms-Prebysterian, Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, and Church of the Trinity. The Kadampa Meditation Center Florida is based out of Sarasota and is a Buddhist Temple and non-profit organization. 

History

Inside the John and Mable Ringling Museum
The Ringling
Photo Credit: The Ringling Facebook page

 

Sarasota has a long history of human habitation from early Native Americans to Spanish settlers and American pioneers. You can learn about all of this history from the Native population on with a visit to Historic Spanish Point. It is located in Osprey, just south of Sarasota, but contains valuable historical information from the entire area. Another excellent place to visit is the Crowley Museum & Nature Center, which allows you to experience life as a pioneer.

One of the most notable historical figures of Sarasota is John Ringling. John Ringling and his brothers founded the Ringling Brothers circus and later bought the Barnum and Bailey Circus, turning it into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the most successful circus empire in the world. John chose Sarasota as the winter home for he and his wife in 1909 and commissioned their 30-room mansion, which would be completed in 1926. The house is now a part of the John and Mable Ringing Museum. John and his brother Charles, who helped develop Sarasota as their circus headquarters but didn't live long enough to see it completed, are considered pioneers in the area. In fact, there is even an arts school dedicated to them, the Ringling College of Art and Design.

To learn more about the early history of Sarasota, pay a visit to the Sarasota Historical Society, housed in the Bidwell-Wood House built in 1882 and the Crocker Memorial Church built in 1901.

Food and Drink

Food from Oak & Stone
Photo Credit: Oak & Stone Instagram 
 

The food in Sarasota is not only tasty but also inclusive. Sarasota offers foods for all cultures and groups of people. 

Breakfast: Going out for breakfast and brunch is always going to be a trend and Sarasota has quite a few great places to check out! The Sunnyside Cafe is a great place for breakfast or brunch, and it is now open for Dinner as well! The Breakfast House is a breakfast and brunch spot located in an old house. The food is to die for and there is an ambiance like no other at this local favorite.

Lunch/Dinner: Venezia Italian Restaurant delivers some of the most authentic Italian food in the area and you can't beat its proximity to Lido Key! The Lemon Tree Kitchen is also in Downtown Sarasota and it serves vegan and vegetarian dishes as well as other fancy foods! The Lucky Pelican Bistro is a great spot for lunch or dinner. Michael's On East is the go-to spot for fancy dinners and high-end events. Mi Pueblo El Restaurante Mexicano & Cantina is a hometown favorite for Mexican food and birthday celebrations (they give you a sombrero to wear while they sing you happy birthday and you get a nice birthday treat!). Oak & Stone is a unique treasure, with its self-serve beer wall and wonderful menu, there is surely something for everyone!

Quick Bites: Poppo's Taqueria is an organic Tex-Mex inspired eatery.  Pizza Burgers N Tacos (PBNT) serves pizza, burgers, tacos, and more! 

Breweries: Beer is a big deal in Sarasota, especially thanks to local breweries and Oak & Stone. JDub's Brewing CompanyCalusa Brewing, and Big Top Brewing are a few of the local breweries in town. Each brewery has different kinds of beers and a tasting room or tap room onsite.

Buddy Brew Coffee Beans
Photo Credit: Buddy Brew Coffee Instagram
 

Coffee: Who doesn't love coffee? Thankfully, Sarasota has a good amount of coffee shops around town. The Perq Coffee Bar offers speciality coffee, light food items and more. The Reserve is a gathering spot that serves coffee, beer, kombucha and more! Buddy Brew Coffee is an Instagram-worthy coffee shop located in Downtown Sarasota that sells coffee drinks and its own brand of coffee beans.

Shopping

Sarasota is arguably one of the best places to shop in Florida. Most of this can be credited to the University Town Center (UTC) Mall. The mall itself holds a plethora of different stores but the surrounding area does as well. In fact, there is a plaza with a Super Target right across from UTC. There is also the Westfield Sarasota Square Mall which has plenty of young and trendy stores and an AMC theatre. Westfield Southgate is another mall located in Siesta Key with lots of high-end stores.

St. Armand's Circle is huge spot for shopping as well. The St. Armand's circle is walking distance from the Lido beach and has some of the nicest shops in Sarasota. 

Entertainment

A turtle at Mote Marine Aquarium
Photo Credit: Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium Website
 

The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is big tourist attraction in Sarasota. The aquarium has a large variety of sea-life and great exhibits, like the Shark Zone. Sarasota Lanes is a great local place to hang out and go bowling.

Marina Jacks is a docking area for boats, a restaurant, and a huge tourist attraction. Marina Jacks is located right on the Sarasota Bayfront and is often known to host celebrations for occasions such as the Fourth of July. There are different cruises available and guests can rent boats. 

Sarasota is also close to the many activities and events in the Tampa Bay area including Busch Gardens.

Arts

The arts scene is abundant in Sarasota. One of the more notable places is the John and Mable Ringing Museum. The museum holds exquisite paintings and artwork, mostly from the collection of John Ringling and his wife Mable. This museum has become a staple in the community. Events such as weddings are held at the Ringling Museum, and there is even a restaurant inside the museum, The Muse at Ringling. There are art exhibits at the Ringling museum, a circus museum, butterfly garden, beautiful sculptures, and more. Locals come to Ringling just as much as tourists because of the events that take place there and the energy of the museum.

The Ringling is the most famous art experience in the city, but there is so much more art to see than just that. There are galleries all throughout the city, some of the best include 530 Burns GalleryArt Uptown Gallery, and the State of the Arts GalleryThe Artful Giraffe is a good place to stop by and create some of your own art. To get even more involved in the arts, check out Art Center Sarasota where members can take classes and workshops as well as enjoy 3 curated galleries. For art that is a little bit more unique and interesting, head to the Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy.

Similarly, there are always several different shows going on in town. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is always hosting different performers. Another spot to checkout performances is the Asolo Repertory Theatre. The Florida Studio Theatre shows different plays throughout the year. 

If you aren't interested in plays and want to experience something different, the Sarasota Opera House is a wonderful place to start. This opera house has been open since 1979 and continues to provide stupendous opera performances to this day. You can also see some amazing ballet at the Sarasota Ballet.

Sports

Ed Smith Stadium
Ed Smith Stadium
Photo Credit: Baltimore Orioles Website

Sarasota's most important contribution to sports is as the Spring Training location of the Baltimore Orioles. They train at the Ed Smith Stadium.

Since the opening of Nathan Benderson Park, several important sporting events have taken place there. There is one professional sports team in Sarasota, the Sarasota Metropolis FC, a minor league soccer team.

The large amounts of retirees living here and the warm weather insures that there's plenty of world class golf in the area, mostly at private country clubs in specific communities.

Nature

Myakka River State Park
Photo Credit: Myakka River State Park on Florida State Parks Website 
 

One of the biggest reasons Florida is a tourist destination is because of its breathtaking beaches. Sarasota is home to quite a few of the best beaches in Florida and in the world. Siesta Key is probably the most well known due to its white sand. However, Lido beach, right off of St. Armand's Circle, is another wonderful beach.

The Myakka River State Park is a gorgeous park that garners a large number of visitors. The park allows guests to campout and go paddling, geo seeking, horseback riding, hiking, and more. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is an excellent place to get to know the plant life of the area in a beautiful bayfront setting.

Education

Exterior Shot of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
Photo Credit: University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Facebook
 

Sarasota has a wonderful education system. However, the colleges definitely stand out the most. There are four main colleges in Sarasota, Ringling College of Art and DesignNew College of FloridaUniversity of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and State College of Florida.

Ringling College of Art and Design is one of the most well known because it boasts some of the most prolific art graduates in Florida. New College of Florida is one of the top private schools in the state and is known for being progressive and offering an open and warm environment for students of all walks of life.  University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is an extension of the University of South FloridaState College of Florida is the largest public college in the area. There are several different degree options available to students, including some 4-year Bachelor Degrees.

Fun Fact: Ringling College of Art and DesignNew College of Florida & University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee are all within a few miles of each other!

Sarasota also has wonderful public schools, including Sarasota High School, Booker High School, and Riverview High School. 

Tourism

The Sarasota Modern
Photo Credit: The Sarasota Modern Website
 

Hundreds of tourists flock to Sarasota each year, whether it be for the beaches, the weather, or the genuine love of Florida. Due to this, there are gorgeous hotels in Sarasota that offer guests lavish and amazing experiences. There are also many snow birds that flock to Sarasota every year or even own two homes and go between Sarasota and other places.

The Westin Sarasota and The Sarasota Modern Hotel are two lavish and beautiful hotels in the area. 

Transportation

A Siesta Key Breeze Bus
Photo Credit: Sarasota County Official Website 
 

There are several buses to take citizens around the city. In particular, the Siesta Key Breeze is a bus that will take guests around the Siesta Key area. Most Sarasota residents own cars and drive through town, however there are some people who bike or walk. 

Health

Sarasota Memorial Hospital is an outstanding hospital that is part of the Sarasota Health Care System, which provides a multitude of different services for patients.

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