Sarasota is the perfect place to go if you’re looking to enjoy the soft white sands and turquoise waters of Siesta Key, but what else is there to do aside from becoming a beach bum? While the beach is lovely to visit, you probably don’t want it to be the only thing you do — there must be trails to hike, wildlife to see, shops to visit, and more! 

Luckily for you, there is more to Sarasota than just the beach — the area is home to a diverse number of outdoor activities you must check out in between beach visits (we will recommend the perfect one for that)! The next time you visit Sarasota, check out this lineup of the best things to do. 

The Best Things to Do & See in Sarasota

Kayak through the Mangrovesmangrove kayaking

The Mangroves are a unique and vital habitat — they provide protection and food for a diversity of marine species and help keep the water clean by filtering it through their intricate root systems. If you love nature, this is a must-do activity. 

There are a couple of places within easy reach of Sarasota where you can kayak.

One of the most popular points is off South Lido Key but be warned, popularity isn’t good for everyone. The increased traffic in the mangroves (and nearby construction) has caused much of the wildlife to hightail out of there. So, it’s unlikely you will see the diversity of wildlife you want, and you will have a lot of kayak traffic to navigate. 

A better option is to kayak off Emerson Point, located in Palmetto, just 45 minutes north of Sarasota. This spot is a quiet little gem! Desoto Kayak Tours is one of the few companies operating from this point. They also keep the groups small and don’t operate daily to give the wildlife a break. It’s a great tour to catch dolphins, manatees (if you’re lucky!), and a variety of birds like the Osprey and the Great Blue Heron. kayaking emerson point

If you choose Emerson Point, after the kayak tour, stick around Emerson Point and wander a few of their trails; the best one is Terra Ceia (it’s right by the kayak launch). It’s only two miles out and back and snakes next to the mangrove and the shoreline. On a clear day, you can see right across the bay to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge connecting into St. Petersburg. After exploring Emerson Point, consider checking out the plant-based dining scene in Tampa or St. Petersburg. Both cities are nearby and have diverse options.   

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Visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardensorchid at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This 15-acre oasis (the downtown gardens are 15 acres, but there is also a second garden located at historic Spanish Point) is home to various gardens and habitats, including tropical, native Florida, and desert plants. The gardens are most well known for having one of the world’s best collections of orchids and bromeliads! Aside from being a gorgeous spot to wander, it is also very family-friendly to engage kids of all ages with multiple play areas, including an area with swinging bridges. If you’re interested in learning more about the plants you encounter, consider grabbing an audio guide to learn more as you wander.Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Try to find manatees (seasonal)

Seeing these gentle giants swimming in the wild is such a fantastic experience. The best time of year to catch a glimpse of these guys in the water is November through April as they come in closer to the coast in search of warmer waters (fun fact, manatees need water that is no colder than 68 degrees Fahrenheit — they may look like they have plenty of fat to keep them warm, it’s actually not fat! Their size is in part due to the size of their lungs)! There are a couple of spots close to Sarasota to try and catch them, and one a little farther away:

Kayaking off Emerson Point Preserve. Another good reason to go kayaking! The bay is shallow, allowing for the growth of seagrass — a favorite manatee food! Desoto Tours shared that they generally catch the manatees in the area from March – December. 

Visiting the sanctuary at Tampa Electric. Just outside of Tampa, the electric power station discharges warm, clean water into the bay, creating a manatee haven. For years manatees have sought shelter from the cold (and boats) in the discharge canal next to the power station. The waters surrounding the station are an official sanctuary for the manatees. There are multiple viewing platforms where you can watch from above in hopes of seeing a manatee pop out of the water!Tampa Electric manatee sanctuary

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Visiting Crystal River. The clear waters make this an optimal spot to see the sea cows hanging out, but there is a caveat. This area has become incredibly popular; they even sell swimming experiences with the manatees. I disagree with that — although they seem not to mind a handful of people or some kayaks, hundreds of people clogging up their waterway, splashing, and yelling seems to be a new form of pollution for them. They don’t need that. If you go, try and catch them from above without disrupting their home, you’re a visitor, after all. 

It can be challenging to catch a glimpse of these gentle giants because, sadly, there are only approximately 6,000 in the Florida waters — humans and boats are their biggest predators. 

 

 

Say hey to alligators at Myakka State Parkalligator at Myakka State Park

Have you ever seen an alligator in the wild? I hadn’t until I visited Myakka, one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks. It is home to over 40 miles of hiking trails, 500 – 1000 gators, countless wild boar, and a wide variety of fun birds (Spoonbills, Egrets, Bald Eagles, Osprey, and more!). 

If you’re interested in exploring the park on foot, there are plenty of trails to explore. Don’t miss The William Boylston Nature Trail and canopy walk (near the park entrance). The trail is less than a mile but includes a self-guided interpretive walk sharing information about the wildlife and ecology of the native environment. The canopy walk takes you up 74 feet above the palms to get a birds-eye view of the park — a neat way to appreciate the surroundings. canopy walk Myakka State Park

If you’d like more of a guided tour, consider hopping on one of the daily boat tours into Upper Myakka Lake. It’s a great way to see much of the park’s wildlife and learn more about its history. The tours run at 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, and 5 pm and last about an hour. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for kids; they must be purchased onsite. 

Relax at Siesta Key or Lido Beach siesta key beach entrance

For all you beach lovers out there, you can’t miss these two spots! 

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These two beaches are fan favorites — Siesta Key Beach has even been rated one of the best beaches in the US multiple times! And, once you step on the incredibly soft white sands, you will understand why. Even though it’s an incredibly popular spot, the beach itself is huge, so there is plenty of room to spread out, but that’s not the same for parking. If you need to park onsite, plan to arrive by 10 am to nab a spot. Aside from taking a cat nap under an umbrella, beachgoers can enjoy the sand volleyball courts or grab a bite to eat or a daiquiri at the onsite snack shack. If you’re looking for more snack, breakfast, or lunch options, check out Nutritious You, which is right by Siesta Key. They are one of the best spots for vegan and gluten-free eats in Sarasota. 

Just north of Siesta Key Beach is another excellent beach spot that tends to be quieter, Lido Key Beach. It’s equally as beautiful as Siesta Key! This is the perfect spot to go with family or if you just want to get away from loads of people. There aren’t any special amenities here, and the parking area is small; your best bet is to park on the street for free!

Shop till you drop!downtown sarasota art gallery

Downtown Sarasota has an eclectic mix of boutiques that are worth checking out. For art buffs, don’t miss Gallery Row on Palm Avenue, which is home to many beautiful art galleries — you can find everything from watercolor paintings to sculptures. Aside from art, you’ll also find antique shops, clothing boutiques, and a mix of dining options.downtown sarasota theatre

If you’re interested in finding great deals, don’t miss The Ellenton Premium Outlets. You’ll find everything — sunglasses, apparel, shoes, and more. The Outlets are located just 30 minutes from downtown Sarasota. 

Hotel Recommendation

We recommend staying out at the beach at Long Boat Key Club and Resort. The rooms are ideal for families. 

Long Boat Key Club and Resort

About the guest author

Rebecca is the creator of the vegan travel blog Veggies Abroad, which showcases mouthwatering lineups of vegan food, action-packed travel guides, and everything else a vegan or veg-curious traveler needs!

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