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Visit Sarasota – Beaches and Beyond

It’s unforgettable.


Cool to the touch no matter how high the mercury rises.
That’s the sand on Siesta Beach in Sarasota County on Florida’s West Coast.
It stays with you because it defies what travelers expect from sand in a warm climate.


“That sand is 99% ground quartz so the sand never gets hot on your feet,” says Kelly Defebo, Vice President, Marketing, Visit Sarasota. It originally comes from the Appalachian Mountains, from where it flowed through rivers to Siesta Key.


In fact, American geoscientist Stephen P. Leatherman, known as Dr. Beach, a geoscientist who evaluates U.S. beaches each year, rated Siesta Beach on Siesta Key #1 in 2017.


So, what draws visitors to Sarasota? “The biggest thing is the most obvious thing – the beaches,” says Defebo. “There is so much more to do other than the beaches.”


Sarasota County, which includes the City of Sarasota, is known for its 35 miles of beachfront along the Gulf of Mexico that stretch from north to south: part of Longboat Key, Lido Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Venice, and part of Manasota Key.


Before you go, check an online (or paper!) map to acquaint yourself with the geography of Sarasota County. It will help you understand the distances between the mainland and the keys. You’ll realize there are a lot of different places to explore within Sarasota County.


Each of the keys is distinct from every other one. “If you’re looking for quiet and more nature focus, Longboat Key would be the place to go,” says Defebo. If you prefer a lively day and night life combined with a beach, head for Siesta Key. Venice offers a slower pace, and attracts a lot of empty nesters.


Longboat Key features 12 miles of coastline and is home to turtles who nest and lay their eggs there.
Lido Key, situated between Longboat Key and Siesta Key, is named for the Italian word, lido, which means shore
or beach.


Casey Key is home to Nokomis Beach, Sarasota County’s oldest public beach. There’s an 18-acre park with lifeguards on duty and picnic shelters.


Caspersen Beach in Venice is a long stretch of beach still in its natural state; hiking paths and boardwalks are suitable for bird watching.


Venice Beach features lifeguard stands, a pavilion with shaded tables, bathrooms and plenty of parking. Brohard Paw Park is the only dog-friendly beach in Sarasota County.


On Manasota Key there are four beaches: Manasota, known for sand dunes and mangroves; Blind Pass, Englewood, and Stump Pass, a state park good for hiking and viewing flora and fauna.


Cultural Arts
For first-time visitors to Sarasota County, after the beaches, the Ringling Museum of Art is the number one attraction. With its wide range of exhibits from those with circus themes to sculpture, paintings, and prints of domestic and international interest there is something for every taste.
John Ringling and his four brothers brought their first circus show on the road in 1884. Following their success, they bought the Barnum & Bailey show. Of the brothers, John became the most financially successful, expanding to railroads, ranching, and real estate.


John and Mable Ringling, who married in 1905, bought a winter home in Sarasota in 1911 on 20 waterfront acres. By the 1920s, as their wealth grew, they built a new home on their property.


Ca’ d’Zan, a 56-room Mediterranean Revival style home, was completed in 1926. Mable Ringling worked with architect Dwight James Baum to design the 36,000 square foot mansion that took two years to build.
The Summer Circus Spectacular continues through Saturday, Aug. 17 at the Ringling’s Historic Asolo Theater. Circus Sarasota Under the Big Top is scheduled for February 2025.


At the Circus Arts Conservatory, known for performance, training, outreach, and the legacy of the circus, visitors can participate in trapeze and highwire classes.


Another attraction, especially suitable for families with young children, is Sarasota Jungle Gardens, where visitors can meander winding trails through 10 acres of tropical landscaping where 200 native and exotic animals live. Best-known for its pink flamingos, the gardens are also home to parrots and macaws, primates, small mammals, snakes, lizards, iguanas, alligators, and crocodiles. Hand-feed the flamingos or just watch them wade and splash!


Other attractions are a petting zoo and bird and reptile shows.
If you’re intrigued with orchids or bromeliads, head over to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. There are two campuses including the 15-acre Downtown Sarasota campus at 1534 Mound St. and the 30-acre Historic Spanish Point campus at 401 N. Tamiami Trail in Osprey. Images of photographer and conservationist Clyde Butcher will be on view at the Historic Spanish Point campus through Aug. 31.


Stop by the Mulford B. Foster Bromeliad Identification Center at the downtown campus to see the colorful bromeliads. View the orchids; volunteers and staff have documented more than 12,500 samples of live orchids. Peruse the Butterfly Garden, the Museum of Botany & the Arts, the Tropical Conservatory, one of eight greenhouses, and the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden with its striking 12-foot waterfall and mist.
Want to learn more? Sign up for classes ranging from painting and watercolor to mind-body connections and yoga. It’s all there.


For film lovers and aficionados alike, the Sarasota Film Festival, founded in 1998, is an international event typically scheduled in April each year. It celebrates the art of filmmaking and the contributions of filmmakers.
The Hermitage Arts Retreat, located on Manasota Key, hosts artists, writers, and poets that are referred by the National Curatorial Council. The public can attend readings of a work in progress at sunset, for example, as a “hands-on experience” for visitors, Defebo says, to experience a “sneak-peak” of a future completed work


If you enjoy browsing and/or buying in an historic area, visit St. Armands Circle, home to more than 100 stores as well as restaurants on streets that radiate from a central park roundabout. It was named for Charles St. Amand, a Frenchman whose name was somehow misspelled, St. Armand. It has stuck since 1893 when he purchased three tracts of land for a total of 131.89 acres for just $21.71, according to the St. Armands Circle Association. Even if you don’t want to shop, it’s worth a stroll to attend various events on the circle, such as: Exotic Cars on the Circle: 9/7/2024, St. Armands Art Festival and Craft Marketplace: 9/21 & 22, 2024 and Jaguar Festival d’ Elegance: 10/12/2024.


In Sarasota County, the outdoors beckon at two state parks: Myakka River State Park and Oscar Scherer State Park. Camping, glamping in a safari tent, fishing, hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, and canoeing attract visitors. The Legacy Trail is a 12-mile paved trail that traverses Oscar Scherer. Celery Fields, owned by Sarasota County and situated on the Great Florida Birding Trail, draws visitors to 300 acres for wildlife watching and Sarasota Audubon field trips.

“Sarasota is that destination that you go to expecting one thing,” Defebo says. But there is so much more. “Sarasota is full of surprises.”

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