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The Beach Is Just the Start in Sarasota

Discover a paradise where nature, art, and history come together on Florida’s Gulf Coast

Photo: Kelsey Johnson

Some travelers cannot live on sun and sand alone. If you want a dose of culture to go with your outside time, you’ll find the perfect mix in Sarasota. In addition to the state’s famed outdoor recreation, Sarasota offers activities that range from lively community-focused experiences to a deep-rooted history of performance and circus arts. For a bit of everything, plan your trip to Sarasota around these five must-do cultural and outdoor activities.


Paddleboard in the Bay

Meet Sarasota’s newest cultural hub: the Bay. Part restoration, part recreation, this 53-acre urban park located along Sarasota’s waterfront opened to the public in October 2022. The Bay features a living shoreline that replaced a crumbling seawall, plus accessible boardwalks and paths and a mangrove bayou that was restored by removing invasive plant species. The bayou is open to human-powered watercraft, so you can launch a kayak or paddleboard and explore the waterway. Ride and Paddle by Siesta Sport Rentals offers kayak and paddleboard rentals as well as guided paddling tours in the Bay. Afterward, hang out in the hammock grove or stick around for the park’s regularly scheduled live music, featuring local talent and a variety of genres from jazz to gospel music. 

Launch a paddleboard and explore the mangroves.
Launch a paddleboard and explore the mangroves. (Photo: Kelsey Johnson)

Plan your Florida trip: Check out other parks and green spaces around the state.

Visit the Ringling

Ringling became a household name in the early 1900s, when “The Greatest Show on Earth”—the famous circus run by the five Ringling brothers—was in its heyday. Thanks to a sizable fortune built from the successful circus, John Ringling and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. Thus began the city’s longstanding ties with circus arts. Today, visitors can explore the Ringling—a circus museum, historic theater, botanical gardens, and art museum derived from John and Mable’s eclectic personal collection of European art—all set on the historic Ringling estate.

Plan your Florida trip: Discover more places to experience art and history in Florida.

Then Try Your Hand at Circus Arts

You don’t have to run away and join the circus to get a taste of what it’s like to perform under the big top. Just head to Sarasota. Since 1927, when the Ringling Brothers Circus relocated its headquarters from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota, circus arts have been a pillar of the community’s arts and culture scene. With the relocation came hundreds of circus performers who lived and trained in the city. The Circus Arts Conservatory is a modern rendition of the training facilities that supported the Ringling Brothers Circus performing artists. Young performers from ages eight to 18 train here with the Sailor Circus Academy—the oldest youth circus in the country. The conservatory also offers recreational classes for adults and kids. Soar through the air on the flying trapeze, practice artistic shapes and movement in a lyra hoop, or learn tricks on aerial silks. 

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Try your hand at circus arts. (Photo: Kelsey Johnson)

Plan your Florida trip: For more cultural experiences in Florida, take a peek at these recommendations from art experts around the state.

Practice Yoga on a Quartz Sand Beach

No coastal Florida vacation is complete without a day at the beach. Siesta Key is one of the most popular beach destinations in Sarasota, and for good reason. Not only does Siesta Key have plenty of opportunities for recreation and a great dining scene, but the local beach is also quite unique. While most beaches in Florida consist of a mix of limestone and quartz sand, Siesta Beach is 99 percent pure quartz sand. White quartz sand funnels down river systems from the Appalachian Mountains and is deposited in the Gulf of Mexico. The concentration of quartz is thought to create an energy vortex, which makes Siesta Beach a popular spot for meditation and energy work. If you don’t have your own practice, you can join yoga classes on the beach, held year-round. 

Plan your Florida trip: Explore Florida’s best beaches from the Gulf to the Atlantic.

Spend an Afternoon at Selby Gardens

For a tranquil escape at one of Sarasota’s most beloved spots, head to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The ten-acre bayfront botanical garden was once the home and personal garden of Marie Selby, a prominent yet modest Sarasotan and avid gardener who was passionate about sharing her love of plants. The Selby house and garden opened to the public in 1975, after Selby’s death. Today, the garden cultivates stunning displays of tropical plants, including an extensive collection of bromeliads and orchids. Selby Gardens also hosts seasonal events, nature-themed art exhibits, creative and wellness classes, and educational programs for plant lovers.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Explore the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. (Photo: Kelsey Johnson)

Plan your Florida trip: Visiting other parts of Florida? Don’t miss these botanical gardens.

VISIT FLORIDA is the Sunshine State’s official tourism marketing corporation and travel planning resource for visitors across the globe.