Sarasota is home to America’s No. 1 Beach, Siesta Key Beach. Here, you’ll find old Florida beachfront homes, quintessential beachside villages and the whitest, coolest sand on the Gulf of Mexico. For a destination that perfectly blends quaint coastal gems with a metropolitan arts scene, look no further than Sarasota, Florida.
Your Guide to Sarasota
Sarasota is a city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, nestled on the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Tampa and north of Fort Myers and Naples. This quaint city was once the home of the Ringling Brothers. Now, there are numerous cultural institutions dedicated to the arts, theatre and opera, making it a winter paradise for northern city dwellers. Sarasota is also the gateway to powdery sand beaches and the Florida lifestyle. Here, you can lounge in flip flops on quartz sand beaches by day, and don formal attire to the opera by night.
The county of Sarasota is separated into different areas, most easily known as Siesta Key, Downtown Sarasota, St. Armands and Lido Key, and Inland Sarasota. For vacationers and visitors looking to enjoy some of America’s best beaches, we recommend visiting Siesta Key.
Siesta Key is a beautiful beachfront island located off of Sarasota’s mainland, easily accessed by two draw bridges on either end of the island. This idyllic atoll is best known for Siesta Key Beach, a frequent contender on best beach lists. The beach features white, powdery sand made from quartz, making it cool to the touch. The sea just off the shore is shallow with sand bars, a perfect spot for families with young children and waders. Just steps from the beach, you’ll find Siesta Key Village, a quaint strip of bars, restaurants and shops selling everything from frosty daiquiris and oysters on the half shell, to coastal souvenirs and beach buggy rentals. At nighttime, this beachy promenade turns into a fun nightlife scene with late-night music and dancing at the Beach Club and happy hours running through to the early morning hours.
While there are several large hotel chains dotting Siesta Key Beach, for the most part, this area’s accommodation options are limited to small, family-run beachside motels and hotels, and privately owned short-term vacation rentals. Either way, you are guaranteed an authentic Florida holiday upon arrival.
Centered around Main Street, Downtown Sarasota is a hub of businesses, highrise condos, restaurants, shops and cultural institutions. Here, you will find everything from white tablecloth restaurants to waterfront tiki bars. The Sarasota Opera, The Sarasota Ballet, and The Ringling Museum are all nearby, and during the cultural season from May to October, this area is alive with guest performances and off-Broadway acts.
While there is no beach within walking distance, Downtown Sarasota hugs the waterfront at Sarasota Bayfront Park. Enjoy a walk in the park and then pose for an iconic snapshot in front of the Unconditional Surrender kissing statue. We recommend sunsets at Marina Jack, for a meal with an awe-inspiring backdrop overlooking yachts and sailboats in the marina. This area has recently blossomed, and you’ll find numerous chain hotels here. Don’t fret though, hotels like The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota and The Sarasota Westin, offer free shuttle services to surrounding beaches.
St. Armands & Lido Key
A quick (and stunning) drive over The Ringling Causeway Bridge will land you on Lido Key, a decadent address for Sarasota’s most thriving residents. Peruse St. Armands Circle for unusual goods from local boutiques, dine at restaurants with casual but chic beach vibes, and enjoy live music — or just an ice cream cone here. “The Circle,” as locals call it, is a must-visit stop for luxury island vibes and enjoyable window shopping.
Just beyond The Circle, and within easy walking distance, is Lido Key Beach, a beautiful strip of sand, home to seabirds and other wildlife. Unlike Siesta Key Beach, Lido Key Beach is more relaxed and less busy, except for during July, when events like the Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix attracts thousands of visitors. Parallel to the beach, there are numerous hotel options from The Holiday Inn Lido Beach to Lido Beach Resort.
The Beaches of Sarasota
Sarasota is first known for its beaches. Nestled along the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota’s strips of white sand are frequent headliners among the Best-Of lists, landing on the Best Beaches in America lists by TripAdvisor, Dr. Beach and more. Here’s your complete guide of the best spots to sprawl out and enjoy the Florida sunshine in Sarasota.
Siesta Key Beach
Located on Siesta Key, the famous Siesta Key Beach is best known for its fine, white quartz sand. This, paired with the shallow bay and walkable sand bars, makes it a perfect spot for families with children learning to swim, or those looking for a peaceful enclave to paddle and wade. Siesta Key Beach is a social hangout, attracting plenty of tourists during season, but during the quiet times, you’re likely to find a secluded strip all to yourself. This most-loved beach recently underwent large-scale renovations and received a $21-million-dollar makeover. Now, you’ll enjoy five-star amenities including bathrooms, a huge playground for children, a new state-of-the-art concession building, new 15-foot-wide pedestrian walkway leading to the beach, expanded parking, new tennis courts and more.
Just a little south on Siesta Key, past Siesta Key Beach, Crescent Beach is a quiet stretch that leads to a pool of rocks known as the Point of Rocks. While there’s only one somewhat-hard-to-find public access here (it’s wedged opposite Crescent Supermarket by the Stickney Point Bridge), this beach is mainly comprised of large beachfront resorts and megamansions. If you’re looking for a half-way escape from the more touristy Siesta Key Beach, but want to enjoy the much-desired quartz sand, this is your spot.
Farther south on Siesta Key is a camper’s paradise. Turtle Beach is a slither of beach equipped with campground amenities and boat slips to easily launch kayaks and boats. This is easily described as Siesta Key Beach’s sportier sibling. High sand dunes lead out to a somewhat narrow beach with a shore that drops away quickly, not as suitable for new swimmers. The sand here is comprised of more shells. You’ll want to bring flip flops for the trek from the parking lot to the beach. Across the street, you’ll find several simple restaurants including a marina-side tiki bar serving hamburgers and cold ones, and a casual waterfront eatery serving up a very reasonable brunch, first mimosa included.
Lido Key Beach
On Lido Key, Lido Key Beach is a regular spot for beach yoga, watersports and gorgeous sunsets in general. There’s ample parking for this moderately quiet beach, but you’ll enjoy the clean and modernized amenities, from a public swimming pool to a concession stand that serves up some of the most delicious lobster rolls we have ever had (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!). This place livens up around the Fourth of July, when The Sarasota Power Boat Grand Prix sends major horsepower speeding offshore, along with all-day beach parties and celebrations.
Where to Stay & When to Visit Sarasota
For a prime beach location, stay on Siesta Key for easy access to the area’s best beaches. This small island, just 3.5 miles long, offers plenty of public and affordable transportation. The north end of the key has more activity, like the Siesta Key Village, while the south end has more accommodation options but fewer stores and restaurants. Downtown Sarasota offers larger brand hotel options like The Ritz-Carlton. While these hotel options are not necessarily on the beach, most Downtown Sarasota hotels offer complimentary shuttles to and from the beach.
The best time to visit Sarasota is during the cooler months, however, season is at a high at this time, so expect long wait times, higher rates and busier beaches. In the summer, you can expect lower hotel rates and to walk straight into restaurants.