Since I have lived in and enjoyed the Sarasota area for over 16 years, I felt it was time to write about my adopted home town. Every time I return home from my travels. I am reminded that it’s a not only a great place to live but also a wonderful place to visit that draws throngs of tourists from North American and Europe. Many love it 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. It 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 (The IMG Academy trains athletes from around the world and the world-class Benderson Park Rowing Facility will host the 2017 world rowing championships) and you’ve got a winner.
The cities and suburbs of Sarasota and Bradenton are a metropolitan area of about 750,000 people and are contiguous and are the heart center of a fast-growing metropolitan area that has an enviable quality of life. Together, they are frequently referred to as the Suncoast.
Before You Go
Read one of the Lew Fonseca novels by the late Sarasota author Stuart Kaminsky
Sarasota is accessible by plane, train, ship or car.
- Sarasota International (SRQ) is 11 miles from Sarasota and 8 miles from Bradenton. Tampa International (TPA) is 44 miles away via by I-75-I-275
- The nearest cruise port is Tampa, about 50 miles.
- 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.
- I-75 runs through the region.
When You Are There
- Getting Around: 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.
If You Only Have Two or Three Days:
Must-sees for a short trip are
- The Ringling Museum (art, circus and the gorgeous Ringling mansion)
- The bayfront along US 41 and the 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
- 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
If You Have Several Days, enjoy:
- 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).
Ginny O’s Tips For Dressing The Simply Smart Travel Way For Sarasota and the Suncoast
Bring comfortable and fashionable sandals, walking shoes, a bathing suit, lightweight clothing, a folding sun hat that can fit in a purse and think resort casual in your dress. Shorts and casual clothes are fine for shopping, museums and many restaurants. Women should pack at least one dressier blouse. a lightweight skirt and a lightweight wrap for evening wear, the arts and upscale dining. No jacket and tie required for the men, even at arts events.
Sarasota and The Suncoast At A Glance
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.
Editor’s Notes: Jeffrey Orenstein is a syndicated travel writer who lives on Florida’s West Coast. He and his wife Virginia enjoy simply smart travel and writing about it. They can be reached at jorenstein@SimplySmartTravel.com. Check out their travel ideas, articles and blog at www.SimplySmartTravel.com.