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Sarasota Travel Guide: Where to Stay, What to Eat, and More

Sitting pretty on Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast, Sarasota is a sophisticated town of alluring beaches and nearby island getaways. Snow white, pure quartz sands, and turquoise waters make a fine backdrop to a day’s adventures, including aquatic activities like boating, kayaking, and parasailing. Sarasota, however, is more than just the sum total of its pretty beaches and palm-fringed Keys. Sprawling botanical gardens, encyclopedic art museums and one of the world’s top aquariums are reason enough to venture away from the shoreline. Despite the small size (population about 58,000), Sarasota has an impressive dining and drinking scene, and a surprising variety of cultural attractions (an indie cinema, various theater companies, and even an opera house). No wonder it was recently rated one of America’s Top 10 beach towns by Travel + Leisure magazine.

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Where to Stay

Sarasota has a wealth of options both in the downtown area and along the waterfront. Easy-to-reach barrier islands offer wide-ranging appeal, from lively beach action of Siesta Key to an idyllic retreat on Anna Maria Island. Despite Sarasota’s compact size, you’ll want a car when lodging in the area since some of the best beaches are a few miles outside of town.

Best Luxury Stay: Ritz-Carlton Sarasota

Overlooking Sarasota’s elegant marina, the Ritz-Carlton lives up to the high-class brand with an impressive array of amenities and beautifully appointed rooms, each with a private balcony. Book a Bayview Suite for extra room (625 square feet) and jaw-dropping views over Sarasota Bay. There’s little reason to leave the resort, with its award-winning restaurants (including the exceptional seafood haunt Jack Dusty) and stylish bars, not to mention the full-service spa and the inviting swimming pool. Guests also have access to the exclusive beach club on Lido Key, just three miles from the hotel (complimentary transport provided). Canine companions (under 40 pounds) are also welcome. The best part? The hotel’s exceptional hospitality, with a friendly staff that remembers your name, and your favorite drink order.

  • Nearest airport: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ)
  • Time: 10 minutes by car
  • Distance: 4 miles

Best Architectural Design: The Sarasota Modern

Evoking effortless style, the 89-room Sarasota Modern is a well-equipped boutique hotel that’s a short hop (0.3 miles) from the waterfront. It has sun-drenched rooms boasting an appealing modernist aesthetic, and the pool area, though small, makes for a welcome respite after a day of exploring. Guests can enjoy the complimentary bikes, which are handy for pedaling over to the restaurants and cafes along Main Street.

  • Nearest airport: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ)
  • Time: 9 minutes by car
  • Distance: 3.5 miles

Best Airbnb: North Longboat Key Beach Retreat

Longboat Key has a dazzling 12 miles of beachfront, located just a short drive northwest of Sarasota. For a fabulous island stay, this Airbnb can’t be topped. The three-bedroom house has all the essentials for a memorable getaway with a few good friends. You won’t need to go far once you put your bags down: the private beach access starts right outside your door. There’s also a heated saltwater swimming pool, hot tub, outdoor shower, a gas fireplace, high-quality furnishings, and a backyard filled with tropical greenery. The only downside is that you simply won’t want to leave.

  • Nearest airport: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ)
  • Time: 30 minutes by car
  • Distance: 16 miles

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Where to Eat

As elsewhere in Florida, restaurants in Sarasota have reopened with full capacity, though there are plenty of opportunities to dine outside or order quality take-out if you want to avoid the crowds. Sarasota offers ample dining choices, from sustainably sourced seafood restaurants perched on the waterfront to small-batch bakeries whipping up some of Florida’s best breakfast pastries. Aptly named Main Street is the best place to browse the dining scene. Price ranges are indicated with a “$” sign. For your reference:

  • “$” = budget-friendly or cheap
  • “$$” = average
  • “$$$” = expensive

Best Seafood: Indigenous

Award-winning chef Steve Phelps remains one of Sarasota’s most distinguished chefs. At Indigenous he showcases seasonal American cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on sustainable seafood. The changing menu features delicacies like Cobia with kimchi and ginger sauce or Thai caramelized pork, plus a good vegetarian option (wild mushroom and lentil Bolognese was a recent hit). You can order the menu for take-away, with curbside pick-up available.

  • $$$

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Best Spot for Sunset: Marina Jacks

Marina Jack’s is a festive waterfront spot with expansive outdoor seating that hits all the right notes when it comes to food, drinks and atmosphere. Around sunset, come for tropical cocktails on the breezy wraparound deck to the backdrop of live music. Afterwards, head to the bay-front dining room for oysters on the half-shell, sherry crab bisque or grilled Chilean sea bass; the steaks are also first-rate. There’s also more casual al fresco dining on the patio. Curbside pick-up is available.

  • $$

Browse Menu

What to Do

Some of the best attractions in the Sarasota area don’t require an admission ticket. Beaches steal the show here, and there’s something for everyone: always lively Siesta Key, upscale Longboat Key and slow-paced Anna Maria Island.

Ritz-Carlton Golf Club

Designed by the great Tom Fazio, the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club makes a dazzling setting for a game. The 18-hole championship course has verdant fairways and velvety greens amid 12 shimmering lakes, and it’s often ranked among the best in Florida. Those who are up for a challenge will relish ‘the lion’s den’ — the name given to the last three holes, which are among the hardest consecutive holes in Florida. Stop for lunch and drinks at the handsomely designed Golf Club Grille  environmentally friendly course lies 15 miles northeast of Sarasota at Lakewood Ranch. Free transportation is provided to guests of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, just make sure to tip well.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Home to the world’s largest collection of orchids and bromeliads, these botanical gardens are among the most impressive in the entire state. The downtown campus spreads across some 15 acres along Sarasota Bay, and features mangrove walkways, rainforest gardens, desert landscapes and native Florida species. If time allows, visit the larger Historic Spanish Point campus some 10 miles south. Here you can walk fabulous nature trails and scenic boardwalks, and learn about some of the early 19th-century settlers to the area.

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