(Mirror) Reminiscent of the urban feel of artsy Miami combined with the laidback feeling of being on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the turquoise waters of Sarasota Bay sparkle in the sunshine, reflecting back at the city’s waterfront skyline.
What new Florida adventures will this city hold? What exciting finds will there be? These are not always questions I ask myself when arriving to a new destination, but because I’ve traveled around the Sunshine State, I’m always curious what each unique destination holds here, each with its own seemingly distinct flavor.
My visit to Sarasota boasted a collection of outdoor adventures, worldly cuisine and world-class art and museums. With 13 performance stages in downtown alone—the city is surprisingly home to world-renowned theatre, ballet and opera—something I had yet to experience in Florida!
An aerial view of the John Ringling bridge leading into Saraosta. All photos courtesy of Aaron Drake
As the city’s sole TAG-approved hotel, Hotel Indigo was the logical option. It’s very close to Sarasota’s walkable downtown, with restaurants and the waterfront only a short distance away. The pet-friendly hotel offers a modern, boutique feel with all the expected comforts while away, including complimentary Wi-Fi. H20 Bistro in the hotel’s lobby serves as the spot to grab a cocktail for happy hour, dinner fare made with fresh local ingredients and or the daily breakfast buffet before you head out for the day.
A lovely spot to dine out for lunch, and only a couple blocks from Hotel Indigo, is lesbian-owned The Overton (theovertonsrq.com). This newer eatery features large doors that can be opened for an open-air style café vibe, serving up delicious food or just a cozy spot to sip a coffee. Cuisine here ranges from breakfast options like egg sandwiches and fresh pastries, to full lunch dishes like a burger and fries.
Of course if you’re on vacation, O’Leary’s Tiki Bar (olearystikibar.com) might be more your vibe. Located in Sarasota’s Bayfront Park (next to the must-see outdoor Embracing Our Differences art exhibit currently on display through March), this Florida-style waterfront restaurant dishes up no-frills beach fare and frozen cocktails that you can chow down on picnic-style with your feet in the sand while overlooking the Bay.
Get to know Sarasota on a more intimate level by making a reservation at Clasico Café Bar (barclasico.com). This romantic restaurant has a mildly different vibe from every other Italian eatery; with international beats playing, sidewalk café-style seating and a certain buzz from patrons all dressed up, you’ll get the feeling like you’re sitting in a restaurant somewhere south of the equator. The restaurant transforms on weekends with a live DJ and dance floor. For late nights, if you don’t fancy checking out the city’s main gay watering hole Oasis (facebook.com/oasissarasota), find your way to Pangea Alchemy Lab (pangealounge.com), currently only accessible through a back alley entryway. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time to a dimly lit prohibition-era speakeasy, but updated with a cool modern vibe and inventive libations, of course. It’s perfect for after-dinner drinks or small shared plates.
Hands down the top attraction when visiting Sarasota, is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (ringling.org). This elaborate 66-acre estate includes art exhibits you’ll be surprised to find in Florida. And the circus magnate’s own personal stunning mansion the Ca d’Zan and gardens are works of art as well. It’s easy to spend an entire afternoon here wandering the grounds before finding your way in to gape at the art on display or explore the Circus Museum.
A quick runner-up to the Ringling Museum is another piece of Ringling’s legacy-turned-center of local and visitor life alike, St. Armand’s Circle (starmandscircleassoc.com). This outdoor shopping area has more than 130 high-end retail stores and restaurants, mixing local history and culture to paint a unique perspective of the city of Sarasota.
For those with a penchant for learning and experience, another must-visit is Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium (mote.org). Here you can get up-close and personal with many of Florida’s species of marine life! The not-for-profit marine research location provides a hands-on learning experience about many of Florida’s underwater creatures such as sharks, turtles and manatees, as well as the valuable rehabilitative work being done to preserve these species. And leaving from the Mote is another experiential way to spend the afternoon on Sarasota Bay: Sarasota Bay Explorers (sarasotabayexplorers.com) sails out for daily tours of the bay—but with an educational twist. Mote researchers play tour guides as they dredge up sea life from the Bay to give guests a close encounter with the unique ecology that lies just beneath the surface.
For the outdoorsy among us, Sarasota offers an exhilarating adventure that was by far my favorite experience during my visit. Treeumph (treeumph.com), which can really only be described as adventure courses, combines zip lines, ropes and treetop obstacle courses for what results in a full-body, adrenaline-spiking good time. Most importantly, don’t miss spending time at the beautiful white sandy beaches that the Gulf Coast is known for. Plan a day at Siesta Key, or the city’s gay beach on Lido Key.
Whatever you’re seeking for a quick weekend getaway, if it’s culture, cuisine or adventure, Sarasota has plenty to spare. Go to VisitSarasota.com for more info.
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