Sarasota Family Vacation

This Florida beach community offers both affordable and luxury accommodations, beautiful beaches, family attractions and quality cultural venues.

For years, I avoided visiting Sarasota because I was under the impression that it was an obscure destination that catered exclusively to affluent senior citizens. I was wrong. During a recent visit, I discovered much to my surprise that Sarasota is one of the most beautiful, family-friendly and affordable vacation destinations in Florida.

But the city offers opportunities beyond just a family beach vacation. Sarasota also has a rich arts and cultural community, and offers plenty of attractions to explore for families and individuals alike.

Sarasota Activities and Attractions

Located along the Gulf Coast in Southwest Florida a short drive south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, Sarasota is known for its miles of pristine beaches, consistently ranked among the most beautiful in the country. They’re located within the city’s mainland boundaries on Sarasota Bay as well as on the stretch of barrier islands that also compose the city, including Longboat Key and Lido Key. Top spots include Siesta Beach on Siesta Key, the mainland Venice Beach (close to downtown) and remote Casey Key, for a touch of Old Florida.

But Sarasota offers more than just an opportunity for a family beach vacation. The city also gas golf—Sarasota claims to be the site of the first golf course built in the United States— spas, shopping, fine dining, boating, water sports and fishing. What most people don’t expect from Sarasota, however, is that it also offers an abundance of top-quality cultural activities and family-oriented attractions, all accessible within a 10-mile radius.

While many of the beachfront resorts in the area offer plenty of on-site activities, you will definitely want a rental car so you can explore the Sarasota area, including neighboring islands.

Aquatic Adventures

Whether you’re traveling with or without kids, plan to visit Mote Aquarium. The aquarium offers marine exhibits featuring dolphins, sharks, manatees and more than 100 other marine species, and it hosts several daily boat and kayaking tours with partner company, Sarasota Bay Explorers. The guided kayak tours last for about two hours and take participants through the area’s maze of mangroves that surround Sarasota bay.

Rates: $55 for adults, $45 for children; not recommended for kids under age 6. Tel. 941-388-4200;

Ringling Museums

To complement your aquatic adventures, pay a visit to the Circus Museum within the Ringling Museum complex, which showcases a history of the world’s most famous circuses. Teens and adults alike can also experience circus life first-hand by participating in trapeze classes taught at the Tito Gaona Flying Trapeze Academy in nearby Venice, Fla.. In addition, adults can visit the John and Marble Ringling Museum of Art.

Scenic Segway

Teens and adults can enjoy a two-hour guided Segway tour of Sarasota, offered by Florida Ever-Glides. Priced at $59 per person, participants pilot their own Segway personal transport vehicle past Sarasota landmarks during their beachfront excursion.

Ages 12 and older; weight restrictions: 100 to 280 lbs. Tel. 941-363-9556;

Gardens, Golf and Shopping

Other memorable and affordable Sarasota area attractions include the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens and Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf. If you want to shop, St. Armands Circle features 140 upscale shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants in a lovely, park-like setting.

Performance Art

Visitors can experience live evening performances at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, the Sarasota Ballet of Florida, the Players of Sarasota, the Florida Studio Theatre or the Florida West Coast Symphony.

Sarasota Accommodations

In terms of accommodations, there are plenty of mid-priced and luxury hotels, many of which are very close to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the United States.

Mid-Priced Lodging

For between $150 and $200 per night, guestrooms are available at a wide range of hotels and resorts in the area, including Hotel Indigo, the Captiva Beach Resort, Casa del Mar, ResortQuest and the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. These hotels and resorts all offer special mid-week deals and incentives throughout the summer and fall. Keep in mind, however, that not all of the hotels or resorts in the area have swimming pools, so ask about on-property activities and amenities before booking your reservation. You can learn more about local accommodations by visiting the Sarasota Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Ritz Luxury

For the ultimate in luxurious accommodations in Sarasota, look no further than the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. This resort features top-notch service and amenities, including The Members Golf Club, with a new 18-hole course recognized as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, and a full-service day spa. While adults are enjoying all that the Ritz-Carlton has to offer, kids can participate in the Ritz Kids supervised recreational programs; kids day camps offer nature walks, scavenger hunts, and arts and crafts, and the Kids’ Night Out program offers themed activities like Alien Invasion.

The biggest perk to staying at this resort is that guests have exclusive access to the members-only Ritz-Carlton Beach Club, situated on one of the most gorgeous private beaches in the area. It also offers a separate pool area and the award-winning Beach Club Grill that overlooks the ocean. Dinner at the Beach Club’s “Sunset Celebration” (featuring a live drum ceremony as the sun sets on the beach) was definitely a highlight of my recent trip. Standard room rates start at $289 per night during the low season, June through August.

If You Go

More than a dozen major airlines (including JetBlue Airways, AirTran Airways, US Airways, Delta Airlines and Continental Airlines) offer flights directly to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, conveniently located less than six miles from the popular beaches, resorts and tourist attractions. At this small airport, you will avoid long lines and crowds, and you can pick up your rental car right outside of the airport terminal. The Tampa International Airport is another nearby option, a little over an hour away.

Whether you plan to spend a weekend or a week in Sarasota, you’re in for a fun and memorable experience that is a different experience from what other tourist destinations in Florida have to offer.

Destinations: Florida, Sarasota

Themes: Beach Vacations, Family Travel

Activities: Hiking, Arts and Entertainment, Golf, Kayaking, Museums, Sightseeing

User Comments

My family had a great time kayaking with Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures during our vacation to Siesta Key Florida. We had so much fun on our first eco tour through the mangrove tunnels on Lido Key (Sarasota), that we actually took a second tour with Almost Heaven with the alligators on the Myakka River. Both tours were simply amazing. The South Lido tour was a steady paddle around Otter Key. My 15 year old daughter actually had a family of dolphins jumping and playing around her kayak. Its all she has talked about for two weeks. My husband and I also loved the mangrove tunnels and lagoons. We saw a bunch of nesting birds and baby chicks. My sons loved the Myakka River tour. We saw over 100 alligators while paddling the river. Huge alligators, and turtles, eagles and the list goes on. I was very nervous at first but after awhile, they just became part of the scenery. Thanks to David, Ron and all the guides at Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures. You were recommended by our hotel, and the local chamber. And we will certainly recommend you to everyone we meet. We will see you on our next vacation!

Lido Key is a wonderful place to stay when going to Sarasota, right in the middle of everything. The beach is not too crowded and very nice, St. Aramnds is a great place to shop and eat, and downtown is just across the bridge. We like to stay at the Lido Beach Resort, right on the beach with a great pool, but it can be expensive. A cute little place just off the beach and less money, is the Lido Islander, with suites with a full kitchen at a reasonable price,

Kayaking in Sarasota If you are looking for a family-friendly adventure during your vacation to Sarasota, Florida and the surrounding areas, then look no further. Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures provides a wide variety of guided kayak eco tours that will allow you to get closer to nature while experiencing an adventure of a lifetime. You can explore the natural beauty of Florida and venture through pristine ecosystems and breath-taking surroundings. For more information or to book your kayak adventure, contact Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures at 941-504-6296 or via the Web at

Sarasota a great vacation I grew up going to Sarasota every spring break for about 20 years and still return to visit family that have now moved there. I met my wife on a blind date at one of the best doc and dine resturants in the world, Ophelia's down by Turtle Beach. I have lots of advise for any travelers headed that way too.