The west side of Florida has interested me for some time. The soft white beaches. The warm, calm waters from the Gulf of Mexico. The sleepy little towns that dot the coastline. So naturally I was eager to spend a few days in Sarasota on my most recent trip to Florida. We fly down every year to visit my in-laws in Delray Beach (on the East Coast) and I love to take two of my girls to explore other parts of Florida for a couple of days when we can.
Only one hour from Tampa, it’s easy to get to Sarasota, and it’s well worth the trip for the famed beaches, fabulous restaurants and loads of family-friendly activities, like the aquarium and botanical gardens. An ice cream cone at Kilwin’s in St. Armands Circle is also a must-do. Whether you have only a few days or a week or more to enjoy the Sarasota area, here are five can’t-miss activities with kids:
A few years ago, Dr. Beach named Siesta Key the best beach in the country. Siesta Key has picked up several top family beach accolades as well, and we felt the awards were well-deserved. The sand was soft, the beach was wide and the water was warm. Get there early (before 10 am) or around mid-afternoon once the early beach-goers have gone in for the day. Spend time building sand castles, play some beach volleyball or wade out to your knees to find the best shells.
It’s easy to spend a few hours at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, particularly since they opened the Children’s Rainforest Garden with its treehouse, rope bridges, waterfalls and interactive displays. You may find yourself spending more than a few minutes relaxing in the hammocks and kids will love the activity stations housed in thatch roof huts. Before you go, give the hugging trees a big hug and put together a few puzzles at the Selby Garden Kids’ Corner.
The popular Mote Aquarium in Sarasota is well worth a visit to learn about sea turtles, sharks and seahorses. We particularly liked the behind-the-glass look we go into the Seahorse Conservation Laboratory, as well as the insights we were able to get into Mote’s work to save sea turtles. Kids will love the jellyfish on display, the shark tank talks and the opportunity to pan for sharks’ teeth at Fossil Creek.
St. Armands Circle is the place to be in the evenings. There are lots of great restaurants, like Columbia, as well as kid-friendly favorites like Cha Cha Coconuts (one of our faves). You’ll also find a variety of retail stores and ice cream shops. After dinner, do the Statue Walk around St. Armands Circle to see various Greek statues before heading to Lido Beach for a magnificent west coast sunset.
Next door to Mote Aquarium you’ll find Save Our Seabirds, a wild bird sanctuary. When you first arrive, you’ll be given a sheet that lists all of the birds on-site by name and shares a little bit about each one’s story. Some birds were rescued and will soon be released following rehabilitation, while others will never again be able to survive in the wild and have made Save Our Seabirds their permanent homes.
While in Sarasota, we stayed at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, which was centrally located and offered easy access to all of the local attractions. The hotel also had a wonderful swimming pool with a waterfall and we were able to make s’mores over a fire pit at night, so we had a fabulous time even when staying in and not exploring the Sarasota area.
Ciao Bambino’s Family Vacation Consulting Team can help! Accommodation booking is free, while a complete itinerary including activities and logistics advice is fee-based. This service saves parents time, money, and stress. Request assistance on our Connect with a Travel Advisor page.
Editor’s Note: The author was recently a guest of Visit Sarasota County. However, all opinions expressed here are her own. All photos by Erin Gifford. Erin Gifford is a mother of four who writes about family travel at Kidventurous. In her free time, she likes to run half-marathons and the occasional marathon while sharing her experiences at Run with Erin.
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