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Since we have lived in and enjoyed the Sarasota, Florida, area for more than 18 years, we felt it was time to write about our adopted home town.
Every time we return home from our travels, we are reminded that it’s not only a great place to live, but also a wonderful place to visit that draws throngs of tourists from North American and Europe.
The contiguous cities and suburbs of Sarasota and Bradenton are a metropolitan area of about 750,000 people and are the heart of a fast-growing metropolitan area that has an enviable quality of life.
Together, they are frequently referred to as the Suncoast.
Many love the area so much that they eventually settle in the area. Why? Because it is the cultural and scenic gem of Florida’s west coast.
Located on the Gulf of Mexico just an hour’s drive from Tampa and less than four hours from Miami, the area is justly proud of its extensive arts and culture resources.
Its pristine, award-winning (and free!) beaches and beautiful waterfront vistas draw simply smart vacationers back again and again.
Throw in impressive culinary resources, and a growing shopping and international sports presence and you’ve got a winner.
The IMG Academy trains athletes from around the world and the world-class Benderson Park Rowing Facility, adjacent to the new University Town Center’s growing restaurant scene, will host the 2017 world rowing championships.
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For 2-3 Days:
- The Ringling Museum (art, circus and the gorgeous Ringling mansion)
- The bayfront along US 41 and across the Ringling Bridge to the St. Armands Circle (shopping, eating. Lido Beach)
- University Town Center and Lakewood Ranch. (upscale mall, restaurants, huge competitive rowing facility and an adjacent planned community)
- A visit to Siesta Key public beach (world class!) and/or Venice, Turtle, Lido, Coquina or Bradenton Beach.
- Upscale lunch or dinner at Michael’s On East, Marina Jack or The Beach Bistro.
- Downtown Bradenton, The South Florida Museum, Old Main Street and the Riverwalk.
- Take a sunset or afternoon cruise on Le Barge or the Marina Jack, both docked at the Sarasota bayfront downtown on U.S. 41
For Longer Trips:
- A circular drive from downtown Sarasota to St Armands, north on the barrier islands (Longboat key, Anna Maria), west on SR 64 to Bradenton, south on 41 back to downtown Sarasota.
- Explore nearby Casey Key, Venice, Punta Gorda and Boca Grande to the south.
- Enjoy Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater to the north, including Busch Gardens, museums, the zoo and the Tampa Aquarium.
- Deep sea fishing
- Mote Marine (aquarium and science center)
- Tour Selby Gardens a breathtaking collection of tropical plants in a gorgeous bayfront setting with great views
- Shop and walk through the Amish/Menonite Pinecraft neighborhood.
- Waterfront dining (The Beach House, Mar Vista, Marina Jacks, Old Salty Dog, Pier 22, River House Reef and Grill, The Seafood Shack or Sharky’s in Venice, to name a few).
Sarasota is accessible by plane, train, ship or car. Unless you enjoy long waits for buses in the hot sun or finding almost- non-existent taxis, a car is a must. Free parking is available in most places. I-75 runs through the region.
Three commercial airports serve the region:
- Sarasota International Airport (SRQ) is 11 miles from Sarasota and 8 miles from Bradenton.
- Tampa International Airport (TPA) is 56 miles away from downtown Sarasota.
- St.Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) is 48 miles away.
The nearest cruise port is Tampa, about 50 miles, serving the Caribbean, Mexico and Cuba.
Going by train is possible from the U.S. East Coast. The closest station is Tampa, with charter bus connecting service to downtown Bradenton and Sarasota. For a full list of rail discounts, including how kids can ride 50% off, check out our United States by Rail page below:
Mobility Level: Suitable for travelers of all ages. The Suncoast has a large senior population and throngs of 50-plus visitors, so the area caters to them. Elevators, free shuttles at the Ringling grounds and an island trolley service make getting around fairly easy. Expect to walk at St. Armands, Sarasota Main Street and at the Bradenton Riverwalk.
When To Go: Anytime. Summers are hot and sticky but restaurant lines and traffic are lighter and the cultural scene is still functioning, albeit at a lower intensity than in the winter. The 4th of July offshore powerboat races attract big crowds. High season runs from Thanksgiving to Easter and offers gorgeous weather (especially in November and March), an amazingly full cultural calendar and great beach weather.
Where To Stay: The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is pricey, but nice. The new Hampton Inn in Bradenton is also a good choice. There are many good beachfront resorts on the barrier islands and a multitude of national hotel brands are found along I-75 and near SRQ airport.
Special Travel Interests: Culture. Art, music, ballet and theatre abound. Beaches are world-class.
For more in-depth advice on the Suncoast, check out LONELY PLANET’S FLORIDA guide from Amazon.com. Thank you for using our referral (“affiliate”) links to support our journalism.
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What did you do on your visit to Sarasota and the Suncoast? Share your favorite tips in the comments section below!
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