For families who need a quick easy weekend away from the east coast or midwest, visiting Sarasota Florida is a fantastic (but often overlooked) choice. There are enough things to do in Sarasota with kids that you won’t feel bored, but the city is compact enough that you won’t feel overwhelmed. It offers beaches, wildlife, culture and plenty of restaurant options plus great weather nearly all year!
After reading this article you’ll be able to quickly plan your family’s Sarasota getaway from start to finish – without a ton of research or stress.
Where to stay in Sarasota with kids
Sarasota has some wonderful family-friendly hotels to check out! Here are a few top picks.
Hyatt Regency Sarasota
You can read all the details in my Hyatt Regency Sarasota review, but we had an excellent stay here. I chose it for its central location, resort-like amenities and because I booked it completely for free with my favorite credit card for travel. It’s hard to argue with that! We loved the fun pool area and included activities like kayaking, fishing, lawn games and more.
If you prefer a newer, swankier vibe you’ll want to check out the Westin Sarasota. My brother stayed here for several nights before we got to town and loved the amazing views from the rooftop pool. It’s also much closer to the restaurants in downtown than the Hyatt.
Tropical Breeze Resort
More interested in a beach vacation with a small touch of city activities? Tropical Breeze Resort is just a three minute walk to Siesta Beach and offers free parking, so you won’t have to worry about duking it out with other visitors! They offer family rooms with bunk beds, some suites with kitchens or kitchenettes and even have rooms that can sleep 6, 8 or 10 people. It’s not fancy but you’ll find amenities like lush outdoor spaces, beach chairs to borrow, two pools on site, BBQ grills and even cornhole.
If you want to get out and explore all of the fun things to do in sarasota with kids, you’ll probably want to rent a car. Driving around town was thankfully pretty easy!
Alternatively, downtown Sarasota is actually quite walkable and offers several hotels and plenty of restaurants to choose from. If you opt not to rent a car, you can take the free Bay Runner trolley to access St. Armand’s Circle, Lido Beach and Longboat Key. The Hyatt Regency Sarasota (where we stayed) also offers free daily shuttle service to Lido Beach and St. Armand’s though the times are somewhat limited.
Sarasota is easy to access from either its own airport (SRQ) or Tampa International Airport about an hour away. We would have flown into SRQ using our Southwest Companion Pass but unfortunately our non-stop service only runs a few times per week. Thankfully Tampa is an easy enough drive and served by plenty of carriers.
Best things to do in sarasota with kids
The Ringling museum complex
The Ringling museum complex is one of the most unique things to do in sarasota with kids and a must-visit. It consists of a huge, gorgeous campus with plenty of attractions: the Ringling Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, Bayfront Gardens and Ca’ d’Zan – the “roaring 20s” mansion of John Ringling.
There’s truly something for everyone here, and you can tailor your visits to your interests and your kids ages. You can opt for a ticket that includes everything on the property or one that includes everything except Ca’ d’Zan.
Though I’d love to go back and see it, I skipped Ca’ d’Zan to be respectful of my kids’ attention spans. The good news is that you can enjoy the beauty of the exterior without going on a tour! Be sure to go to the left around the mansion to see it from all angles and enjoy the beautiful terrace looking out on to Sarasota Bay.
We enjoyed a short visit to the Ringling Museum of Art as well. The Searing Wing of the art museum houses rotating exhibits, and the modern sculpture installation that we saw was a great conversation starter since it pushed the boundaries of what kids may consider “art”. Since all of the museums are included with your ticket, it’s easy to pop in and out based on how everyone is doing! There’s even a kids play area nearby.
The star of the show for families is the Circus Museum. There’s nothing else like it anywhere! Sarasota gets its nickname of “Circus City” because it became the winter home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1920s, before which it was a sleepy enclave of fishermen. In honor of the special place Sarasota now holds in circus history, The Ringling includes an amazing museum dedicated to all things circus! In addition to plenty of artifacts related to circus history, there are also interactive opportunities for to try out various “acts” as well as the incredible “mini circus” recreation. It’s the perfect way to keep both adults and their kids entertained for several hours, particularly in the Tibbals Learning Center.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
One of the most unique Sarasota attractions that will appeal to the entire family is the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. The Mote is a research and conservation focused aquarium that’s focused primarily on local marine life including its stars: sea turtles and manatees!
There are two main buildings you’ll explore when you visit: the Mote Aquarium and the Goldstein Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center across the street. My kids especially loved the Research and Rehabilitation Center, which isn’t like anything you’ll fine elsewhere! Be sure to visit them both, and allow about two hours to meet all of the unique creatures who live there.
If you’re a member of your local AZA-affiliated zoo or aquarium, show your membership card to receive 50% off general admission.
But don’t leave the property yet…
Sarasota Bay Boat Tours
Departing daily from the dock behind the Mote, Sarasota Bay Explorers runs an excellent tour 364 days per year to introduce visitors to the marine life of southwest Florida. It’s a 2 hour trip on a very comfortable, shaded boat with naturalists narrating the whole way. They share tons of great information about the creatures that inhabit Sarasota Bay and the human history of the area.
The boat is licensed to trawl in the Bay, so we were able to see and touch plenty of unique species including several puffer fish! There’s also a fascinating walk on one of the Bay’s uninhabited mangrove islands and plenty of opportunity for bird watching as you pass by a rookery. We saw one dolphin at the beginning of our trip, but if you’re lucky you’ll spot a pod of them and maybe even a manatee or two.
If you have more time in the area, take a day trip up to Crystal River to go swimming with manatees! I promise it’ll be an amazing experience.
Rather than head back to your hotel after visiting the Mote and taking one of the excellent boat tours, the late afternoon is a great time to pop over to Lido Beach. It’s a beautiful spot that’s enjoyed by both locals as well as visitors. The sand is soft and white, but there are also TONS of seashells to collect! If your kids love shells, they’ll spend hours finding all different types. It’s the perfect option for family fun!
Enjoy St. Armands Circle
One of Sarasota’s main hubs for dining and shops is St. Armands Circle, just a few minutes from Lido Beach and the Mote. It’s a great place to spend the evening as a family. Grab an outdoor table at Venezia to dig into some pizza while you people watch after a long day, then stroll around and top it all off with Meaney’s Mini Donuts.
There are also plenty of fun daytime events to check out. We visited during the Fall Festival of the Arts, which featured hundreds of artists displaying their works!
If you visit St. Armand’s Circle during a busy time it may be tricky to find street parking. Don’t be intimidated! There’s a large public garage on North Adams that has plenty of spaces and is extremely inexpensive.
Siesta Key Beach
Like nearby Lido Beach, Siesta Key beach offers soft, white, powdery sand made of quartz (rather than coral). It’s the busier of the two and finding parking can be a real challenge but once you’re there it’s easy to understand why it’s routinely been rated as one of the best beaches in America! There’s plenty of sand to go around and stunning views for miles.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
If you’re visiting with young kids and looking for a fun wildlife encounter, consider a visit to Sarasota Jungle Gardens. It’s been in operation for nearly 85 years after starting out as botanical gardens. The highlight here is the “flamboyance” (aka colony) of flamingos you can visit on the property and even hand feed. Keep in mind that the flamingos are used to being fed by humans so they can be very assertive in asking you for food – some younger kids may be intimidated so plan to keep them close if you think they’ll be scared.
We really enjoyed the “keeper talk” – different creatures are featured every time but overall it’s very educational. There’s also a petting zoo and the opportunity to hold a baby alligator, in addition to exotic birds and other creatures to see. It’s a beautiful property to walk around and the paths are all stroller-friendly.
Keep in mind that Sarasota Jungle Gardens is not part of AZA, so there’s no reciprocity discount. There are sometimes holiday-related discounts for online purchase.
Stroll downtown Sarasota
Downtown Sarasota is the city’s cultural hub and offers plenty of galleries, public art installations and great restaurants. It’s worth walking around just for the food scene and giant sculptures! You can take the free trolley around downtown, which might be exciting on its own to keep younger kids entertained.
Take in stunning sunsets
Sarasota is known for its amazing sunsets and there’s no shortage of places to experience one! Here are just a few of the many options:
- Bird Key Park – This little park is just off the Ringling Causeway on the right side as you head from downtown Sarasota toward St. Armand’s and Lido Key. It can get busy right at sunset because lots of locals like to stop here for the view!
- The Bay Park – I really enjoyed this small sandy park, complete with adirondack chairs, for a peaceful sunset without going too far: it’s just a stone’s throw from the Hyatt Regency Sarasota where we stayed! Even better, there’s a lovely playground on site so you can let your kids run around before dinner.
- Bayfront Park – Located right next to the Sarasota Marina and in front of downtown Sarasota, this is a great place to pull up a bench and watch the sunset over the Ringling Causeway. It also offers a playground for younger children and a splash pad (closed for renovation as of this writing).
- Beaches – Both Lido Beach and Siesta Key Beach offer unobstructed sunset views over the Gulf of Mexico. There’s no better way to close out a beach vacation!
Baseball spring training
If you’re planning on visiting Sarasota between late February and late March, be sure to check the baseball Spring training schedule! You can catch both the Baltimore Orioles and the Atlanta Braves in the area for the “Grapefruit League” games against other eastern and midwestern teams. The Pittsburgh Pirates also play in nearby Bradenton.
Where to eat in Sarasota with kids
I’m not going to lie, we ate a lot on our family trip to Sarasota! We didn’t love every single place but here are the ones I recommend:
- The Toasted Mango Cafe – solid local breakfast/lunch option with a few outposts around the city including downtown and Siesta Key
- Palm Avenue Deli – great bagels
- Venezia Pizza – great location on St. Armand’s Circle
- Kurtos Chimney Cake & Bread – good lunch option downtown
- Tzeva – fantastic Mediterranean food with outdoor seating at Art Ovation Hotel
- Main Street Creamery – high-quality ice cream parlor in downtown (the best in Sarasota based on my unscientific study)
- Meaney’s Mini Donuts – fun dessert option, and the peanut butter ones are great
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