Sarasota, Florida, is known for its beautiful beaches, but beaches aren’t all that Sarasota County has to offer. It’s home to lots of family-friendly activities – museums, gardens, trails, food, and more – making it a great vacation spot you can drive to with lots of family-friendly activities.
Six islands line Sarasota's extensive coastline with various beaches and parks. Siesta Beach, located on the eight-mile island of Siesta Key, is widely regarded as one of the best beaches in the world and ranked #2 on Tripadvisors' 2023 Top Beaches in the U.S. Nokomis Beach on Casey Key is Sarasota County’s oldest public beach and a popular spot for finding shells. There are picnic areas, concession stands, and on-duty lifeguards at the 18-acre park year-round.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the official state art museum of Florida, is a 66-acre museum complex in Sarasota. It was established in 1927 as the legacy of Mable Burton Ringling and John Ringling for the people of Florida. The Museum offers various Family Programs in the Education Center, such as Stroller Tours, offered at 10:30 am, June 13 through July 25, where a museum educator will guide a one-hour tour designed for parents or caregivers visiting the museum with an infant. Entrance to the Museum of Art is free on Mondays (only for the Museum of Art, not the entire Museum).
The Ringling also features the Circus Museum, where you can discover the history of the American circus through special exhibitions, displays, and interactive galleries. Afterward, explore the Bayfront Gardens, with over 2,350 trees within the arboretum representing native, exotic, historical, and culturally significant trees.
Nearby is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. There are two campuses: Downtown Sarasota and Historic Spanish Point. Both campuses are open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and offer a variety of family-friendly events. Check the calendar on selby.org for more information. Or families can make their own fun at the Gardens by using the Selby Plant Discover Guide at either campus to explore the gardens.
Young visitors can join up with the Little Sprouts Club, an interactive program designed for preschoolers and their caregivers. Sessions take place monthly in the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden at the Downtown Sarasota campus and include family-guided rotations through craft stations, sensory centers, and other age-appropriate outdoor activities, plus snack and story time.
Sarasota is also home to other kid-friendly nature spots, such as the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and the Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
Mote’s manatees, sharks, sea turtles, and otters are ready to meet you 365 days a year at Mote Aquarium, and at the Marine Laboratory, visitors can explore touch pools, hands-on exhibits, and windows into science and conservation.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens is home to more than 200 native and exotic animals including birds of prey, many different species of parrots and macaws, primates, small mammals, dozens of, snakes, iguanas, alligators, and other reptiles – many of them rescued or donated – including Florida’s noted pink flamingos.
The Legacy Trail, a gift of significant historical and environmental lands, is 15 miles and extends from Sarasota to Caspersen Beach. The trail can be used to view wildlife in different habitats, relax in a mostly undeveloped environment, or as a path to walk, rollerblade, and bicycle.
Camping is available at Oscar Scherer State Park located in nearby Osprey, Florida, in one of 104 fully equipped campsites with electric and water hookups for RVs. There is a nature center on the property, along with hiking trails, a beach, and two playgrounds at the Lake Osprey and South Creek picnic areas. The Park also hosts events; visit floridastateparks.org for more information.
Sarasota is home to some great restaurants too. Visit the Croissant & Co Bakery in Venice for authentic French food and pastries, Napule Italian, Max’s Table for breakfast or lunch, Dockside Waterfront Grill and if your family enjoys Indian food, Tikka Indian Cuisine was recently awarded #2 of Florida’s Top 100 Restaurants of 2023 by Yelp. Detwiler’s grocery store is unique to the area and has a deli, sub shop and ice cream.