“Let’s go to Sarasota this winter,” I said to my boyfriend L as we began to plan our annual January vacation to Flo-ree-da. We had wanted to check out this part of the gulf coast of Florida for a while. Several friends who had visited Sarasota had good things to say about this popular destination for post 50 travelers. Since we were already going to St. Pete, we tacked on a few extra days and headed south. It ended up being a fabulous first time visit to Sarasota. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I can’t wait to tell you all about it.
A quick ride from St. Pete
The drive from St. Pete Beach to Sarasota is only about 45 minutes, quicker than we thought. We rented a modern bungalow in Gillespie Park, one of the five districts of downtown. It had more space than we needed but we liked the location. This section of town is within walking distance of central downtown shops and restaurants and it’s only a short drive to tourist attractions and beaches. It’s an eclectic area with cute homes and pretty gardens. It reminded me of Venice Beach, California.
A growing retreat for retirees
We had a chance to meet with Brittany, the manager of tourism for Visit Sarasota. She told us that January through April brings an influx of visitors to Sarasota. She said that 60 percent of the population is 50+. “What’s unique is the quality of retirees. Former CEOs retire in Sarasota County,” said Brittany. “We have more than 2200 non-profits here ranging in fields from animal care, to child and health care and more. Many of the retirees are active on these non-profit boards.”
“We’re a big city with a small town feel,” said Brittany. We could tell that the city of Sarasota is a growing metropolis — both for the 50+ population and the 40 percent under 50 — with all the building going on, especially around downtown. “We have nine new hotels here,” said Brittany.
What makes Sarasota so appealing
While we munched on yummy fried green tomatoes and other appetizers at Boca Sarasota, Brittany explained what makes Sarasota so appealing:
♥ A vibrant downtown: Between Main Street, Lemon Street and Orange Avenue you’ll find a wide selection of restaurants and shops. There’s a Farmers Market every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. We also liked the large Whole Foods Market for breakfast and takeout meals.
♥ St Armands Key Circle: Separated from the mainland by Sarasota Bay is St Armands Key Circle, an island shopping center. The circle is a nice place to walk around during the day or evening. With fine shops and restaurants, it’s a great place to go window shopping or dine. The tropical greenery and historic statues add to the ambiance. The only challenge at the Circle is finding parking. We were lucky both times.
♥ Beautiful beaches: There are six islands that line the gulf coast of Sarasota. We visited two, Longboat Key, which is at the northern end with 12 miles of shoreline, and Caspersen Beach in Venice (there’s a Venice in Florida too) where there is a boardwalk. Longboat Key has some private beach areas and is mostly residential with big homes and high rise condos. There’s just one small strip mall with a few shops.We wanted to dine at The Lazy Lobster but it wasn’t open for lunch the day we visited.
Venice was about a 20 minute ride. We had brunch at the Upper Crust Cafe & Bakery in the historic downtown and after a nice walk scoping out the shops, we went for a walk on the beach and then to the pier for bird watching.
We missed visiting Lido Key, Casey Key and Siesta Key beaches. According to Visit Sarasota, Siesta Key is “widely regarded as one of the best beaches in the world.” Brittany said that Travelocity and Doctor Beach awarded Siesta Key as “best beach for 2017.”
♥ Cultural and historic attractions: One of the reasons I like vacations to places like St. Pete and Sarasota versus a Caribbean island, is that there are so many cultural and historic attractions to visit. Sarasota has art museums and galleries, opera and an orchestra, 12 theatres, performing arts venues and an aquarium.
Sarasota is home to the Ringling Museum of Art. Remember Ringling, Barnum & Bailey Circus from your youth? John Ringling and his wife Mabel moved to Sarasota in 1911 and built an art museum in 1920. When they died they left the entire campus to Florida. Now it includes a Circus Museum and Rose Garden. Ooh, ooh, ooh, there’s so much to share that I’m going wait to tell you all about my tour of the Circus Museum in a future blog post.
♥ Gorgeous gardens: If you like orchids, you’ll want to visit Selby Botanical Gardens. It has incredible horticultural displays and is a leader in the botanical world of epiphytes, these are plants that grow attached to trees. The rainforest at the Gardens is really cool. And if you like meditative and mindful walks, this is an awesome place to stroll and relax. However, if you like roses, I recommend Mabel’s Rose Garden at the Ringling Estate where the Ringling Museum is located.
♥ Good eats: We ate at some top-notch restaurants and cafes during our stay including seafood at Shore, authentic Italian at Sardinia, and Greek food at Blu Kouzina. It’s easy to see why Sarasota was named one of the Best Food Cities in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards in 2016.
More enticing activities to experience in Sarasota
There is so much more to see and do in Sarasota, especially in the great outdoors — kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking trails, and more. I wished I could have gone on one of the walking tours through downtown’s historic districts as well. Guess I’m just going to have to schedule another trip to Sarasota. As you can see, I’m a first-time Sarasota fan and highly recommend it for a long-weekend getaway or extended vacation.
“Ooh, ooh, ooh, we’re going to have to visit Sarasota again next year,” I said to my boyfriend L. “We need to start planning now for our 2020 visit to Flo-ree-da. Only next time we’ll go a little later in January or February. That’s when the direct flights kick in from Philadelphia to SRO airport.” Brittany said that now there are new direct fights to Sarasota Bradenton airport from Philadelphia. Frontier flies from Philadelphia to Sarasota from January 12 to September 9. (Note: We went from Tampa airport, which really isn’t that far a ride.)
Stay tuned. I’ll be sharing my Sarasota foodie adventures and my tour of the Circus Museum soon.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary Official Sarasota County VIP Pass to visit cultural venues in Sarasota during my stay. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.