The Sarasota/Bradenton area is a renowned vacation and business destination with a welcoming atmosphere, attracting business travelers, athletes, and Florida residents to its many sights and sounds.
Sarasota is a small coastal town on the southwestern coast of Florida at the southern end of the Tampa Bay area. It’s a traveler’s paradise as it mixes pristine beaches with a thriving urban community. Just 15 minutes drive away from Sarasota, Bradenton, also known as the ‘Friendly City’ overlooks the Manatee River, south of Tampa. The city has a little bit of everything for sports lovers, thanks to the IMG Academy, beautiful beaches and a variety of public and private golf courses. The academy appeals to international and national tennis players, aspiring golfers, amateur and professional baseball and football coaches, trainers and players.
So whether you want to visit the beach to relax and rejuvenate, experience the vibrant cultural and culinary scene, or even learn about Florida’s sports culture, our guide shares everything you need to know about visiting the Sarasota/Bradenton area.
Places to See
One of the first things you will want to do when arriving in the Sarasota/Bradenton area is to visit the city’s Suncoast beaches, which are pristine white affairs looking out over the Gulf of Mexico. These aren’t on the mainland, but rather on the keys, a series of barrier islands that separate the Sarasota Bay from the gulf, but it is just a short drive over one of the many bridges to reach them.
The most popular keys with the most spectacular beaches are the Siesta Key, Lido Key, and Longboat Key. Staying on one of the keys is a great way to be close to the water, and you are still within easy reach of all the attractions on the mainland.
If you want a different kind of outdoor experience, head to the Myakka River State Park, which is 60 square miles of prairies, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. It is the ideal place for hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, or joining an exhilarating airboat ride across the water. If you are happy to go a bit further afield, you can also drive to the 500-acre Lake Manatee State Park.
If you prefer cafes and shopping, head to Village of the Arts, a century-old 40-acre community with more than 100 homes, but just as many galleries, eateries, studios, and workshops to explore.
For a relaxing outdoor experience, you should visit the Gulf shore such as Anna Maria Island, Holmes Beach, and Bradenton Beach, which are situated just a short drive from the Sarasota/Bradenton area.
IMG Academy is home to the world’s most dedicated student-athletes. The famous boarding school prepares its student-athletes to become future champions on the courts and in the fields, and athletes, especially in tennis and golf. If you’re looking for sports training opportunities in a more tailored environment, head to the IMG Academy.
For some recreational activities, head to Robinson Preserve, a hub for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. Indulge in a wide range of fun activities such as horseback riding, bird watching, and canoeing.
Things to Do
There is no shortage of things to do to keep you entertained during your stay in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.
Stock up on fresh, local supplies for your stay at the Sarasota Farmers Market, which has taken place every Saturday morning for more than 40 years. You will find arts, crafts, and presents, but the highlights are the baked goods, local honey, farm fresh vegetables and fruits, and fresh juice made from famous Florida oranges.
One of the things that the Sarasota/Bradenton area is most famous for is being home to the Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus, an American traveling circus called The Greatest Show on Earth (yes, of the Hugh Jackman movie fame). The now defunct circus started giving shows in 1871 and gave its final show in 2017. There are lots of attractions in the city dedicated to and named after the troupe.
You can visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and Ca’d’Zana modern era mansion inspired and designed in the Venetian Gothic style of Italian palazzos, full of original masterpieces and replica art. Walking through its doors really does feel like stepping back in time.
Considering Sarasota’s unique aquatic environment, you would expect it to be home to some interesting marine life. You can discover these water-dwelling animals at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. You will meet sea turtles, eels, otters, and the inhabitants of the 100,000-gallon shark tank. But the most popular residents are definitely the crocodiles and alligators.
Grab your clubs and play golf in one of the most renowned golf courses in Bradenton, Manatee County Golf Course, offering you five sets of tees to select from and play. If you can tear yourself away from the golf, head to Manatee River and enjoy a stroll along its scenic shores at sunset.
Where to Eat
Since the Sarasota/Bradenton area has a thriving tourist trade, there are lots of very good places to eat. Sample the local seafood at The Old Salty Dog, with two seaside locations, one on Siesta Key and the other on City Island. Owens Fish Camp is also considered one of the best seafood joints in the city.
If you are looking for Mexican food, Mi Pueblo is unmissable. No need to book, just show up to sample the chimichangas, soft chicken tacos, and shrimp quesadillas. For classic northern Italian dishes don’t miss Cafe Baci, and for Cuban, a Florida staple, head to Columbia, which has been operating in the city for more than 100 years.
You’ll also find a wide range of restaurants and bars located near the IMG Academy and Bradenton Beach such as Mocha Joe’s, Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, Crager’s Restaurant, Bradenton Donuts and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Don’t miss the Chang Kao Thai Cuisine for some Thai and Asian delicacies in Bradenton.
Also experience Amish food at one of the restaurants run by the substantial Amish community in the area. Der Dutchman has both a set menu and a buffet option if you want to try a bit of everything. Their breakfast is also one of the best ways to start the day. Nearby Yoder’s is also an Amish option serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, and homemade peanut butter pie.
Where To Stay
The Sarasota/Bradenton area is awash with excellent places to stay. With so much to see and do, you will definitely find a great place to rest your weary head at the end of each day. The area has a vibrant accommodation scene, you will find a wide range of options to suit your needs.
If you’re in the city on business or leisure vacation, you can stay in a self-catering apartment equipped with modern amenities, either close to the beach or on the mainland.
Need accommodation? Viagem apartments are located close to IMG Academy and Bradenton Beach. You can book a memorable stay in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.
Like many American cities, the Sarasota/Bradenton area is built for drivers, so hiring a car can be one of the best ways to get around. There is a good bus service, called the SCAT, which also runs to and from the airport, but it does not operate on Sundays and has a pretty limited service at night. But if you choose to use public transport you can fill the gaps with taxis and ride-sharing apps.
A tourist friendly destination, Sarasota is a very safe city and you should feel completely comfortable walking around the areas of the popular attractions, even at night. (The suburb of Newtown has a bit of a reputation for crime, so it is best avoided if you don’t have a reason to be there). Its location on the west coast of Florida also means that it is relatively safe from the hurricanes that are known to hit the peninsula.
Best Time to Visit
Sarasota is certainly a year-round destination. However, you can visit between February and May or October and November if you want to enjoy the best beach weather and avoid the hottest summer months or cold snaps over Christmas.
It’s time to start planning your trip to Sarasota! From fun beach adventures to unique art experiences, Sarasota is worthy of a weekend of your time or even more week days. If you’re also looking for new local experiences, you will definitely have your fill in this small city.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Sarasota? Take inspiration from our collection of apartments for one-of-a-kind vacation.