As perfect as the beach is, there’s tons more to keep you happy and busy here on the Gulf Coast.
As the poolside bartender muddled fresh strawberries and mint together with elderflower liqueur for a signature vodka “mo-Tito,” she shared the origin of the name Sarasota. While “zota,” adopted from indigenous communities, means “blue waters,” “zara” came from Spanish settlers who thought the beaches’ white sands looked like the Sahara. Voila! Sarasota, with its “white sands, blue waters,” which happened to be the backdrop for our discussion. Although white sand and blue water do indeed draw travelers to Sarasota, there are actually plenty of other ways to immerse yourself in this gorgeous Gulf Coast getaway. Here, eight great ways to enjoy Sarasota, Florida.
1. Kayak a Mangrove Forest
On the southern tip of Lido Key, Ted Sperling Park has a perfect put-in for kayaking Sarasota Bay. Greg of Kayaking SRQ led us through groupings of magical mangrove tunnels, where we spotted starfish, crabs, and jellyfish throughout the tour. In summer, paddlers may be lucky enough to glimpse manatees and dolphins. And while those sea mammals are never a guarantee, sighting birds and connecting to nature during any season is. Group tours are $50 per person for a total of two hours, or you can opt to rent your own kayak for four hours for just $35.
2. Get Artsy
The fabulous former property of The Ringling Bros. circus magnate John Ringling boasts rare artwork including the largest Peter Paul Rubens collection in the world, and wife Madge Ringling’s immaculate Ca d’Zan Mansion. The Ringling outdoor grounds are always free to roam, and on Mondays the entire pink palace Art Museum, inner courtyard, and Circus Museum are free to the public. Put a new spin on sunset and attend “Art After 5” for $10 at James Turrell’s “Joseph’s Coat” exhibit. The immersive experience lasts from pre-sunset until nightfall and is a truly spellbinding experience full of color, light, and enchantment.
3. Discover St. Armand’s Circle
While the roundabout of Lido Key, St. Armand’s Circle, is traditionally known for its high-end shopping and restaurant staples, Speaks Clam Bar is new to the Circle after earning accolades at its original Lakewood Ranch location. Just one block north of the central “Circus Ring of Honor” Hall of Fame plaques, Speaks offers a playful prohibition-style ambiance and impossibly fresh house-made pasta. Become mesmerized by the dough-to-noodle process on view as you contemplate, in true clam bar style, how you want your sauce: sweet, medium, or hot?
4. Visit a Rooftop Bar
Since opening just over a year ago, the Westin’s rooftop bar has become a go-to spot in downtown Sarasota. The breathtaking views of the ever-growing city and glistening bayfront are embedded in your cocktail fee, but the 360-degree vista and fireside flair make it all worth it. The Roof Bar and Eats features a variety of live musicians, mixes dynamite craft cocktails, and offers small bites too––an ideal place to lounge under canopies 19 floors above sea level.
5. Hit the Siesta Key Beach Drum Circle
Every Sunday, just before sunset, Siesta Key public beach turns into what feels like an impromptu dance festival. The weekly local Drum Circle started with a handful of hippies and has expanded to a participatory performance institution for locals and tourists alike. It is quite a spectacle with hula-hoopers, bellydancers, fire throwers, and of course pods of drummers, and has outlasted rainstorms and Superbowl Sundays. To fully feel it though, it is best to not only watch but to jump in!
6. Soak Up the Science
The Gulf Coast teems with wildlife, but how can we learn more about it while we’re here? The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium takes an interactive approach, with two touch tanks and up-close exhibits of playful otters, a 135,000 gallon shark habitat, molasses-moving manatees, and four ancient sea turtles. Mote is also a working laboratory that conducts cutting-edge marine research, so you know every morsel of knowledge is accurate and up-to-date. Stay a while and you will learn some “Fin Facts,” too, such as: Did you know the resident manatees, Hugh and Buffett, eat 70-some heads of lettuce each, per day? Holy sea cow!
7. Meet Up at “SKOB”
Siesta Key Oyster Bar is arguably the most active and amiable bar in Siesta Key Village. Owners and sisters Jill and Beth, their father Jack, and their husbands Geno and Keith make all their patrons feel at home. Cover bands, sports games, and fresh-not-fried bar food is where it starts, but the jovial, easygoing vibe make it special. Happy hour happens every day at “SKOB” from 3-6pm, with its hallmark Dozen Oysters on the Half Shell for only $7––a must. Speaking of dollars, adorn yours to the walls of the bar, not only making your mark but also being a part of an annual local donation to persons or organizations in need.
It is not easy to find hotel deals along the Gulf Coast’s highly coveted keys, but between Zota Beach Resort’s advance purchase rates and low-season mid-week stays, splurging a little is worth the chance of putting your feet up at this beachfront, luxury choice lodging. Whether you lounge along its private beach or elegant and expansive pool area, there is a feeling of ease and seclusion. The resort is built to make you stay, with its walkable upper level restaurant, intimate poolside cabanas, happy hour, and generous wine bar. For the active types, sandy summer games line the property whether you’re into cornhole or life-size chess and Connect Four.