Sarasota, Florida Travel Guide

One of Florida's most beautiful cities, Sarasota is located on the Gulf Coast and includes a number of islands, too, so you'll often see the area referred to as "Sarasota and her islands." Sarasota vacations have a little bit of everything, from relaxing beaches to downtown nightlife. Whether you want to enjoy laid-back Old Floridian life on your Sarasota vacation or tromp through one of the two nearby State Parks, or if you're a shopaholic or even a foodie, stay in a Sarasota vacation condo and you'll find Sarasota is the setting for your dream Florida vacation. Do you have ideas on how we can improve our Sarasota vacation travel guide? Share them with us.

Things to Do on a Sarasota Vacation

Sarasota Beach RelaxationObviously, the beautiful white sand is a must for any Sarasota vacation. But if you're in the mood for more than just swimming or sunning, you're in for a treat.  Step outside your Sarasota vacation rental and leave the beach behind, and you won't have a single dull moment. Sarasota vacations boast a lot of activities and attractions you simply won't find anywhere else, along with classics everyone can enjoy. Check out Sarasota's museums, especially the circus museums that celebrate Sarasota's role as the "Home of the American Circus;" even impatient kids who don't like most museums will enjoy learning about the Ringling brothers and some of the circus's amazing characters. Plan your Sarasota vacation to visit Sarasota's many historical sites, or take advantage of the city's proximity to the gulf by fishing off one of many piers or taking a boat ride (or renting your own). Nature buffs and bird-watchers will love the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota Jungle Gardens, and local bird sanctuaries – and that's not even including state parks like Myakka River State Park or Oscar Scherer State Park, where you can camp, bike, hike or birdwatch to your heart's content.

Sarasota is the best golfing location in the state of Florida, which is saying something given the state's reputation as a golfing mecca. The city is home to one of the state's first golf courses (from as early as 1905!). If golfing's not your thing and you'd rather keep the whole family occupied on your Sarasota vacation, escape the heat or the rain by visiting the G. WIZ hands-on science museum, for kids and the young-at-heart. Once you come here, you won't want to leave, with tons of activities that are so much fun your kids won't believe they're actually educational. For a really unique, magical Sarasota vacation adventure, bring your family to the Children's Garden, a unique garden/park with themed playground areas, like a pirate ship and a tree fort, fairy gardens, and even a dress-up room. When you're all worn out from adventuring, crash back at your Sarasota rental condo and take it easy, or just freshen up before you head right back out again.

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What to See in Sarasota

If you take a Sarasota vacation, you can't pass up the Myakka River State Park or the Oscar Scherer State Park – the views are spectacular, and you'll never find a better opportunity to see the flora and fauna of coastal Florida. For bird-watchers in particular, these parks are a must. Also, stop by Historic Spanish Park to get a glimpse into colonial life. While you're in the area, stop by Venice Beach and hunt for shark teeth; this beach is known as the "Shark Tooth Capital of the World" for good reason!

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Where to Shop and Eat in Sarasota

Sarasota ShoppingWith a higher concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants than anywhere else in Florida, Sarasota is the perfect location for a very special night out. No Sarasota vacation is complete without enjoying the fresh local seafood, whether that's at an upscale restaurant or from a shack by the beach. Marina Jack's Restaurant is a local favorite with perfect views of the marina, try the Caribbean lobster tail or enjoy the open-air raw bar. Café Gabbiano is an affordable but delicious Italian restaurant, with authentic flavors but with something for the whole family. Snook Haven Retreat serves affordable burgers with a local twist, enjoy freshly caught fish sandwiches, gator bites (yes, that's real alligator), and more. It's a little bit of a drive out of the way, but worth every mile for real Floridian ambiance. You can even go right from the restaurant to explore the Myakka River, too. If you're concerned about casual dining for the whole family, don't worry. The Broken Egg serves up kid-friendly classics (breakfasts, too) along with more adventurous fare that showcases the local seafood you can only get on a Sarasota vacation. If you're on a budget or you're tired of eating out, pick up some fresh Sarasota fish from the marketplace and come home to cook it in your Sarasota vacation rental's kitchen.

Shopping while on Sarasota vacations is a real treat, too, from flea markets to designer stores. Sarasota is a treasure trove for antiquing, with some truly amazing finds for patient shoppers. The area's best upscale shopping can be found along St. Armands Circle, with over 150 shops, boutiques and more. You'll find new fashions here from famous and local designers. If you wear yourself out looking for good deals and great trends, take a break at one of the area's many cafés or restaurants with outdoor seating and people-watch. Sarasota also has two shopping malls: Westfield Shoppingtown Southgate, with upscale shops and specialty stores and a truly luxurious atmosphere, from the background music to the people to the stores, and Westfield Sarasota, a more typical mall with the department stores, national chains and local favorites you'd expect.

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When to Visit Sarasota

The peak season for Sarasota vacations is from February to Easter, so the city is most crowded then. Since it's a popular Florida vacation destination, you'll need reservations ahead of time for your accommodation (you'll have better luck trying to reserve a Sarasota vacation condo in advance) as well as many popular restaurants. Everything that caters to tourists taking a Sarasota vacation will be open this season, but you'll also find that things are more expensive then, too.

Off-season, enjoy a great budget Sarasota vacation from June through September, as long as you don't mind Florida's summer heat. Snowbirds also take Sarasota vacations during the winter to get away from northern chills, but you'll find it much sleepier at this time.

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What to Know About Sarasota

Sarasota was the winter location for the Ringling Brothers circus during its off-season, when performers relaxed and trained for the spring and summer. You can still see that circus culture has left its mark in the area, from local clown schools to circus-themed museums.

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What to Bring to Your Sarasota Condo Rental

If you're planning a Sarasota beach vacation, make sure you plan for sand and sun. Don't forget swimming essentials like bathing suits for everybody, underwater goggles, and water toys for the kids to build sand castles. With beach toys, keep it simple (read our tips for bringing kids to the beach for more advice!) and you'll have less to cart around without boring your kids. No matter where and when you take a Sarasota vacation, though, bring lots of sunscreen and slather up if you're going to spend any time at all outdoors. The warmer weather over a Sarasota vacation means you'll be wearing less, and kids' shoulders and knees burn quickly without a little extra protection.

If you don't want to pack all your gear, like strollers and car seats, you can rent some of those from area suppliers while on your Sarasota vacation. Bring an extra pair of clothes when you go to the beach. Know that sand gets everywhere (and we mean everywhere!) so you'll do well looking for Sarasota vacation rentals with laundry facilities so you can keep your clothes clean and irritation-free.

If you're driving, bring a cooler. Not only will it help you save money by bringing your own packed snacks on the road, it's also great for bringing water and snacks to the beach so you and your kids can stay full and hydrated. Also, bring good shoes. You'll be doing a lot of walking, wherever you go, whether you visit the museum, the beach or a playground.

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Local Sarasota Vacation Services

Many tourists choose to take Sarasota vacations each summer, and that popularity is reflected in the number of tourist-friendly services out there. If you're traveling with young kids, baby rentals can make your load a little lighter, providing baby gear like strollers, cribs and highchairs for inside the home and on the beach so you have one less thing to worry about. Likewise, beach rental services (which rent out umbrellas and beach chairs, among other things) help provide you with the basics if bringing your own would be too much hassle and buying your own would cost too much. If you rent a Sarasota beachfront condo or cottage, though, many Sarasota vacation rentals provide basic beach gear free of charge, saving you time and money. Likewise, some Sarasota vacation rentals include access to boats and fishing gear, but if not, local services can supply you with the gear you need, including sports gear like snorkels and boogie boards too.

The city of Sarasota has plenty of childcare options, like most big cities, and you can find this information easily online or in a phone book. Pretty much any regular service you could want can be found in Sarasota, Florida. And Sarasota vacation concierge services take care of everything you could want, from delivering groceries to running errands to preparing the perfect birthday cake.

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Getting to Sarasota, Florida

Setting off on a Sarasota vacation isn't hard. Fly into the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, a major airport that serves many airlines from around the world. The airport is halfway between Sarasota and Bradenton, making it convenient for any travelers taking Sarasota vacations, no matter where you're staying in Sarasota or the surrounding area. If you want to drive to Sarasota, it's about an hour from Tampa and four hours from Miami, right on the Gulf of Mexico. If you stay in a vacation rental in Sarasota, you'll probably want a car to get around, since Sarasota isn't especially pedestrian-friendly and doesn't boast about its public transportation. Either bring your own car or rent one from the many rental car services to be found around the airport and in the area.

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Why Sarasota Vacation Rentals?

Sarasota vacation rentals offer numerous advantages over traditional hotel rooms, and the benefits cover every aspect of your vacation. If you're traveling with a group, Sarasota rental homes will accommodate your entire group at a fraction of the cost of renting individual hotel rooms. Sarasota vacation houses or condos perfectly balance privacy and community, so you can split into separate rooms if you need personal space or bond in a shared area like the kitchen or living room. Speaking of kitchens, Sarasota vacation rentals usually include a full kitchen so you can eat in – which brings its own range of advantages, from saving costs (cheaper than dining out) to being more convenient for picky kids. Sarasota vacation homes are personally decorated by owners who often vacation in the home themselves, meaning that your Sarasota vacation condo or house has all the little touches that make it feel like home, and thoughtful Sarasota vacation home owners often include useful area information and even beach gear so you know where to go and don't have to supply everything yourself.

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