If pristine white-sand beaches, a vibrant culinary scene and activities galore sound like the perfect recipe for your family’s next vacay, look no further than Sarasota. Located on the southwestern coast of Florida, Sarasota is one of Florida’s primary Gulf Coast cities that offers a little something for everyone and warm, year-round temps—making it the ideal destination for fun and sun any time of the year. We recently visited Sarasota and have all the details on where to stay, where to play and where to dine while visiting this slice of paradise. Scroll down to learn more!
Location, Location, Location!
Located about an hour south of Tampa and just north of Fort Myers, Sarasota County consists of Longboat Key, Lakewood Ranch, the city of Sarasota, Kido Key, Siesta Key, Osprey, Casey Key, Laurel, Nokomis, Venice, North Port, Englewood and Manasota Key. Together, they make up six barrier islands (each with their own vibe) and more than 35 miles of beaches. Those who might’ve visited grandparents in Sarasota back in the day will be shocked to find a whole new Gulf Coast city full of vitality, growth and abundant activities and experiences.
The Perfect Family Resort with Luxury Amenities & Five-Star Accommodations
Finding a luxury resort property that is also family friendly can come with many challenges. But The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota totally hits the mark by offering a sophisticated yet casual Gulf Coast vibe along with impeccable service, sophisticated surroundings, top-notch cuisine and activities and experiences for all ages. Book a Bay View Suite and take in the breathtaking views of Sarasota Bay and gorgeous Gulf of Mexico sunsets on the private balcony and enjoy the room’s spacious, beachy vibe that draws inspiration from the seashore.
In addition to access to a championship 18-hole golf course, a state-of-the-art fitness center, full-service salon and spa, large heated swimming pool and whirlpool and water activities on Sarasota Bay (think: stand up paddle boarding and canoeing), kids will find ping pong, air hockey, video games, billiards and foosball at the Cove located on the resort’s pool level. Kids can also check out board games at the Concierge Desk and participate in the resort’s Ritz Kids program which offers a variety of special services and vacation activities based on the program’s four pillars: water, land, environmental responsibility and culture. From learning about coral reefs and forests, to enjoying storytelling, art and food, kids will find a plethora of activities to make their stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota one for the books. Psst…the resort is known for serving special treats in its lobby like a complimentary s’mores bar with hot ganache. Need we say more?
Perks of Staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
One of the best perks of staying at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota is access to the resort’s private Beach Club. Located just three miles from the hotel, this exclusive club sits on the beautiful white-sand beaches of Lido Key and offers hotel guests a private, quiet and exclusive Gulf of Mexico beach experience. Take a dip in the heated, zero-entry family swimming pool, relax in the Gulf-front Jacuzzi, enjoy poolside dining and participate in an array of distinctive Sarasota beach activities. The best part? You’ll never have to fight for a chair in the sand or worry about schlepping your towels and chairs to the beach. Note: complimentary shuttle transportation is provided daily to and from The Beach Club for guests of the resort.
Chill on Sarasota’s Famous Beaches
With over 35 miles of beaches, it’s no surprise that Sarasota’s coastline is a top attraction for both residents and visitors alike. Siesta Key consists of eight miles of sand and includes Turtle Beach, Crescent Beach and awarding-winning Siesta Beach (it was named best beach in the US by Dr. Beach in 2017 and received TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award in 2015 and 2017). On any given day, Siesta Beach offers sparking Gulf of Mexico views, powder-fine white quartz sand and balmy breezes. Renovations in 2016 brought a paved pedestrian esplanade, an elevated concession stand and a beach-themed playground, making it even more desirable for families. Psst…check out the Siesta Beach drum circle every Sunday at sunset complete with dancing, hula-hooping and bongo drumming.
Lido Beach, located north of Siesta Beach, is another popular beach among families. Out-of-towners who frequent Lido Beach love if for its white sand (no water shoes needed here) and locals love it for its legendary concession stand lobster rolls. North Lido Beach also offers a pool for lounging and swimming and the southern end of Lido Key provides both Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota bayside beach access. In south Sarasota County, you’ll find Venice Beach which holds the title of “Shark Tooth Capital of the World” for its endless collection of prehistoric megalodon shark teeth. And Longboat Key, the northernmost and longest island along Sarasota’s coast, is where you’ll find 12 miles of shoreline and turtles who nest and lay their eggs there.
Must-Visit Family Attractions
In addition to gorgeous beaches and waterfront activities, Sarasota offers a variety of family attractions. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is recognized as the official State Arts Museum of Florida and should definitely be at the top of your must-do list. Located just a few miles west of the Sarasota airport, The Ringling sits on 66 acres of bayfront property and houses The Ringling Museum of Art which includes 21 galleries of paintings, Cypriot antiques, Asian art, American paintings and contemporary art collected by American circus owner, developer and art collector John Ringling and his wife Mable.
The Ringling is also home to the Circus Museum and the only place in the country where you can view the world’s largest miniature circus (it’s a whopping 3,800-square-foot display that includes a big top with circus performers, performers’ living quarters and a dining tent). Take in all the action under the big top and view circus costumes, props, performance equipment and other artifacts chronicling the history of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Other attractions on the estate include Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden and the spectacular Ca’ d’Zan which was the winter home of John and Mable Ringling.
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is another must-visit Sarasota attraction. Originally the home of William and Marie Selby, the Botanical Gardens showcase a living collection of rare and beautiful tropical plants in a variety of garden settings, including an awesome Children’s Rainforest Garden that offers natural space for discovery, exploration, learning and play. Other notable family attractions include the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, the Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary and St. Armands Circle, a quaint, laid-back shopping center that boasts a European vibe and offers more than 138 different shops and restaurants around the Circus Ring of Fame. From trinkets and treasures to high fashion and home décor, you’ll find it all on the Circle.
Dining Options at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
If you book a Club Level room at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the daily food and beverage offerings in the Club Lounge. From traditional breakfast fare and create-your-own paninis and salads to afternoon snacks, evening hors d’oeuvres and decadent deserts and pastries, you’ll find spectacular variety and impeccable service at the Club Lounge from sunup to sundown. Psst…a variety of sodas, juices, bottled water and coffee are available in the Club Lounge 24/7 along with fruit, cookies and candies. If you’ve got a crew of grazers, this is the only way to go!
In addition to the Club Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota offers award-winning dining options at its resort and Beach Club. Located right on the resort’s marina is where you’ll find Jack Dusty, a nautical-inspired restaurant, lounge and marketplace known for its delicious seafood, local cuisine and laid-back ambiance. Savor freshly caught Gulf shrimp, Sarasota Cioppio or Jack’s Ceviche (one of our favorites) and sip on signature crafted cocktails. (Psst…try the Siren made with Reyka Vodka or Hendricks Gin, Elderflower Liqueur, lemon, simple syrup and a prosecco topper served with grapefruit, cranberry and orchid ice cubes which make the drink change colors as it melts!) At The Beach Club, Ridley’s Porch offers locally inspired dishes and cocktails and sits right on the beautiful white-sand beaches of Lido Key, giving families an all-encompassing beachside experience parallel to none. (Note: the restaurant pays homage to the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, one of the smallest and rarest sea turtles, which can be found nesting on the beach May through October.) Start your meal off with deep-fried avocado bites, barbecue octopus and shrimp ceviche and end it with the restaurant’s famous carrot cake and out-of-this-world butterscotch bread pudding. You can thank us later!
Additional Places to Indulge Your Taste Buds
Sarasota County is home to a host of award-winning dining establishments and five craft breweries. If you’re looking for traditional Spanish fare, Columbia on St. Armands Circle is a must-try. A Florida tradition since 1905, Columbia is known for its Spanish dishes packed with fresh seafood and tender pork, chicken and rice; it’s bean soup with chorizo; and its delicious hot Cuban bread. Everything on the menu pairs well with a pitcher of fresh sangria (made tableside) and Columbia’s legendary 1905 Salad, also prepared tableside with its to-die-for garlic dressing. Psst…if you visit before mid-May, you can order fresh stone crabs chilled, steamed or broiled with Latin spices. De-lish!
If a quaint, sophisticated dining experience is what you crave, Indigenous (housed in a cozy old bungalow in the Towles Court arts district) offers innovative, carefully sourced American cuisine. Chef Steve Phelps opened Indigenous in 2011, and since then has honed his reputation as one of the region’s most inspirational and educational chefs. The menu is inspired by Chef Phelps’ passion for food, the planet and the community. From Parmesan Beignets and Smoked Fish Sea Saltine Nachos, to Gulf shrimp and grass feed burgers, Indigenous uses perfectly executed techniques and carefully sourced local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients to give guests a unique and conscious dining experience.
The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
1111 Ritz Carlton Dr.
Sarasota, FL 34236
Visit Sarasota: visitsarasota.com
—Kristina Moy (all photos courtesy of the writer)
This trip was paid for by Visit Sarasota and The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.