Are you a first-time visitor to our fair region or have you lived here for years? With a passel of national awards and accolades—named this year in everything from Top Florida Beach Honeymoon Locations (Travel Channel) to 12 Best Florida Weekend Getaways with the Kids (Trips to Discover) to Best Places to Live (U.S. News and World Report) and to Retire (Kiplinger)—there’s always something new for you to experience. Let us be your guide to the fun.

Party Time

Lace up your dancing shoes and head to Lakewood Ranch Main Street the first Friday evening of each month for a lively street party complete with food trucks, kids’ activities and live music. 8110 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., lakewoodranch.com/event/music-on-main

Find John Ringling’s Rolls

Your car-crazy visitors will want to hot-rod it to the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, where they can ooh and aah over more than 75 vintage automobiles. Quick! Which one of you can find the four autos that originally belonged to John and Mable Ringling—two Rolls-Royce limos, a Pierce Arrow limo and a Pierce Arrow convertible? 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 355-6228; sarasotacarmuseum.org

Home of the Braves

Yes, the main attraction at the brand-new CoolToday Park in south Sarasota County is watching the sizzling hot Atlanta Braves spring training games, this season starting Feb. 22. But there’s lots more to do year-round, with outdoor movie nights, community yard sales, Play in the Park family days, classic car breakfast meet-ups, even a Braves farmers market on Wednesdays from October through late March. The Tomahawk Tiki Bar is open year-round, too, with live music evenings until 9 p.m. 18800 S. West Villages Parkway, Venice, facebook.com/CoolTodayPark

Dogs frolicking at Brohard Beach

Image: Shutterstock

Cool Dogs

Did Fido tag along on your Florida vacation? High-tail it with him to Brohard Beach, Sarasota county’s only dog beach, where he can frolic in the water to his heart’s content. 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice

Row, Row, Row…

Sure, the 400-acre lake at Nathan Benderson Park plays host to prestigious national and international rowing competitions. But you can drop a paddleboard, canoe, shell or sailboat there any time an event isn’t scheduled. 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Sarasota, (941) 358-7275; nathanbendersonpark.org

Meet Folk

Find your inner folkie at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center, simply Fogartyville to locals. In addition to monthly Sarasota Folk Club concerts (open to the public), the hole-in-the-wall music venue with the coffeehouse vibe in downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District presents an array of national music acts, brings people together for civic conversations and hosts occasional art exhibits. 525 Kumquat Court, Sarasota, (941) 894-6469; wslr.org/place/fogartyville-media-and-arts-center

Try Bazooka Ball

Rainy day? Restless kids? Head to Livingston’s Amusement Center to ride the go-karts and bumper cars, play a round or two of billiards or try a round of Bazooka Ball in the glow-in-the-dark 3D arena. 5947 Clark Road, Sarasota, (941) 925-7665; livingstonsamusements.com

Living History

Lots to see and do at the bayfront living museum, Historic Spanish Point. Over the centuries, the 33-acre site was home to native Americans, pioneer homesteaders and finally Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer, who bought up tens of thousands of acres of land in the area and became a successful cattle farmer. We always make a beeline for the Fern Walk and Aqueduct Bertha designed herself; hauntingly beautiful, it’s the area’s own Secret Garden. 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, (941) 966-5214; historicspanishpoint.org

Virtually Mote

A day at Mote Aquarium, with more than 100 species of sea life to discover, is always a must. Now there’s another reason to visit: Mote’s new virtual reality station, where participants as young as 5 can virtually swim with humpback whales, dive with sharks, fly with a dragon or choose from several other experiences. 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, (941) 388-4441, mote.org/aquarium

Mable Ringling's rose garden

Image: Courtesy Photo 

Tiptoe Through the Roses

Mable Ringling, wife of the flamboyant circus impresario John Ringling, loved the finer things in life, but none finer than her rose garden, planted way back in 1913 near their spectacular Italianate mansion, the Ca’ d’Zan. A highlight of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s 66 lushly landscaped bayfront acres, Mable’s Rose Garden is abloom with more than 1,000 colorful and fragrant rose bushes—representing 400-plus varieties. It’s the oldest continuously growing rose garden in Florida. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 359-5700; ringling.org

Eat Around the Circle

What better way to experience the variety of St. Armands Circle dining than with a St. Armands Circle Food Tour? Key Culinary Tours presents the three-hour gustatory adventure, which stops at three restaurants for lunch fare (you will not leave hungry!) and also visits a few food-centric shops. The tour starts at the life-size statue of John Ringling on the Circle; reservations are required. Key Culinary Tours also hosts foodie tours of downtown Sarasota, Anna Maria and Venice. 301 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 893-4664; keyculinarytours.com

The Game of Kings

Pack a picnic (champagne and caviar would not be out of the question), pick out a fabulous hat and enjoy a match at the Sarasota Polo Club. The thrill-a-minute Game of Kings brings some of the sport’s finest players to the bucolic 130-acre campus in Lakewood Ranch. The 29th season runs Sunday afternoons Dec. 15 through April 12. 8201 Polo Club Lane, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 907-0000; sarasotapolo.com

Lipizzan stallions on the Herrmann family farm

Image: Barbara Banks

Airs Above the Ground

Those magnificent Lipizzan stallions whose “airs above the ground” have thrilled generations of horse lovers actually reside on the Herrmann family farm in Myakka City. Originally bred in the 16th century for Austria’s Hapsburg royal family, they were rescued during World War II by General George Patton, and the escape was immortalized in the Disney film, The Miracle of the White Stallions. The Herrmanns open up their farm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from December through April for free two-hour training sessions. Afterwards, you’ve invited to visit the stables—bring a camera to snap plenty of pix. 32775 Singletary Road, Myakka City, (941) 322-1501; hlipizzans.com

The Champions

Those daring young water-skiing athletes who make up the Sarasota Ski-A-Rees, a Sarasota tradition since 1957, show off their award-winning jumps, flips and pyramids on most Sunday afternoons at their “stadium” behind Mote Marine Laboratory. Among their clever show themes have been “The Waterskiing World of Harry Potter” and “Star Wars: The Skiquel.” Find out for yourself why they’ve won the Southern Region Water-Ski Show Championship 17 times, most recently in 2018. And did we mention the shows are free? 1602 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, (941) 388-1666; skiarees.com

Eyes on the Pies

Visiting Yoder’s Amish Village is a must for pie-lovers. Whether your tastes lean towards banana cream or shoofly, the family-operated eatery has you covered. The quaint village also has a fresh produce market, a deli stocked with tasty to-go meals and a gift shop for finding distinctive handcrafted goods. 3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota, (941) 955-7771; yodersrestaurant.com

Paul Rudolph's Cocoon House

Sarasota Mod

Important to Sarasota’s rich heritage are the renowned architects who practiced here in the 1940s through ’60s, people who went on to have acclaimed international careers like Paul Rudolph and Victor Lundy. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation hosts monthly guided tours of Rudolph and partner Ralph Twitchell’s Cocoon House on Siesta Key, above, and of Rudolph’s Umbrella House in Lido Shores—both remarkable examples of what has come to be known as the Sarasota School of Architecture. Sign up online. (941) 364-2199; sarasotaarchitecturalfoundation.org

No Pool, No Problem

Every summer, Sarasota’s Sun n Fun RV Resort runs outrageous deals for access to its enormous swimming pool, which provides blessed relief for residents who otherwise don’t have access to a pool. If you’ve got young ones, mosey on over to the toddler area, where kids can wade and splash while their parents relax in the shade. For the adventurous, there’s a three-story slide. 7125 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 371-2505; sunrvresorts.com

Down on the Farm

Our area has plenty of farmers’ markets to keep your fridge stocked. The downtown Sarasota Farmers Market takes place Saturdays year-round, while the Phillippi Farmhouse Market in south Sarasota runs Wednesdays from October through April and the Bradenton Farmers’ Market happens Saturdays from October through May. The Market at Lakewood Ranch, meanwhile, just shifted days, from Wednesday to Sunday, and is in business from November through April. In south Sarasota County, the Venice Farmers Market sets up Saturdays year-round, the Englewood Farmer’s Market operates Thursdays from October through May, and the new Atlanta Braves Farmers Market in North Port is open Wednesdays from October through March.

Revelers at Ringling Underground

Image: Courtesy Photo 

Crashing the Courtyard

The first Thursday of every month from fall through spring, the Ringling Museum stays open late and cranks the amps for Ringling Underground, rock and pop concerts held in the gorgeous courtyard. It’s free for students, and you’ll find yourself mingling with hundreds of kids from New College of Florida and Ringling College of Design, while munching on tacos, sipping an adult beverage and hearing energetic under-the-radar bands from around the country. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 359-5700; ringling.org

Jolly Trolley

Learn about Sarasota’s history from the comforts of an air-conditioned trolley. Sit back and let the knowledgeable guides regale you with stories of the people, places and events that have shaped this coastal paradise. Discover Sarasota Tours offers a variety of day and night themed excursions, from haunted Sarasota to circus history, and even a Tiki Trivia trolley tour. 1826 Fourth St., Sarasota, (941) 260-9818; discoversarasotatours.com

Cycle Around

Leisurely tooling around on two wheels is a great way to see Sarasota, and Sarasota Bike Tours offers tours of downtown historic Sarasota, the leafy bayfront neighborhoods between the Van Wezel and Ringling Museum and a Siesta Key sunset tour, as well as a combo bike and kayak experience on South Lido Key. Bikes and helmets provided. (941) 313-0613; sarasotabiketours.com

Up A Creek

Ordinarily, we never even stroll near freshwater. Alligators? No, thanks. But at Rye Preserve, a quiet county park in Parrish, it’s usually safe to dip your feet in shallow points where the water runs clear. On a hot day, when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, a little cool water on your toes provides a major refreshment. 905 Rye Wilderness Trail, Parrish, (941) 776-0900; mymanatee.org

Ca d'Zan

Image: Shutterstock

Mogul Manor

Step into someone else’s dream with a tour of John and Mable Ringling’s Venetian Gothic mansion, Ca’ d’Zan. Devoted patrons of the arts, the circus mogul couple poured their passion into creating a home that speaks of both luxury and whimsy. It’s a highlight of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art campus. Grab your sweetheart for a spin around the ballroom and you, too, can be part of the fantasy. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 359-5700; ringling.org/admissions-and-tours

Climb This

Looking to conquer mountains, Florida-style? Head to Leffis Key Preserve, a public park off Bradenton Beach on the south end of Anna Maria Island. Trails lead to a whopping 26-foot hill at its center, offering awesome 360-degree views of Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. 2351 Gulf Drive S., Anna Maria Island; mymanatee.org

Fossil Findings

Did you know the beaches in Venice are among the world’s top sites for finding shark teeth fossils? Discover your inner paleontologist by spending time in the surf hunting for souvenirs from megalodons that swam our oceans millions of years ago. With its walking trails, wildlife siting opportunities and picnic facilities, Caspersen Beach is particularly lovely. 4100 Harbor Drive, Venice, (941) 861-5000; visitvenicefl.org/places/beaches/caspersen-beach

Up, Up and Away

Hike into the sky by climbing the Canopy Walkway at Myakka River State Park. The 100-foot-long walking bridge dangles 25 feet above the ground and gives you access to a 74-foot-tall tower with stunning views of the park and the river. 13208 S.R.72, Sarasota, (941) 361-6511; floridastateparks.org

Be Sure to Cross The Bridge!

Lots of towns have sunset traditions, but none are more beautiful and beloved than the mile-long sunset stroll across the Ringling Bridge linking downtown Sarasota to Bird Key and St. Armands. Pretty wonderful first thing in the morning, too.

Dinner Time

Pack a picnic and head to world-class Siesta Beach to bask in the sunset. Grills and covered picnic tables are available to the public, and kids will love jumping in the surf and climbing around the state-of-the-art playground. It’s a great way to turn an ordinary meal into a memorable family evening. Beach Road, Sarasota, visitsarasota.com/siesta-key

The Florida scrub jay

Image: Shutterstock

Twitter Alert

Go on the hunt for the endangered Florida scrub jay at Oscar Scherer State Park, that wonderful piece of Old Florida just off Tamiami Trail in Osprey. As its name implies, the lovely blue and silver bird can only be found in Florida, and Oscar Scherer’s scrubby flatwoods are a prime habitat, even though fewer than 20 remain here. Guided scrub jay walks take place at 8:30 a.m. every Sunday morning, and it’s free with your admission to Oscar Scherer. 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, (941) 483-5956; floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/oscar-scherer-state-park

Saddle Up 

Grab a bike and head to the Legacy Trail, a 12.5-mile paved recreational path from mid-Sarasota to Venice. Most of the trail, an old rail line, is bordered by nature, and you’ll see the occasional gopher tortoise or rare fox or bobcat. If you leave from the north trailhead at Culverhouse Nature Park in Sarasota and pedal to the southernmost spot at Historic Venice Train Depot, reward yourself with a craft beer at Off-Trail Bike and Brew, 430 Venice Ave. E. The trail is open year-round, 6 a.m. to sunset.  scgov.net/government/parks-recreation-and-natural-resources/find-a-park/specialty-parks/the-legacy-trail

Kayaking the mangrove tunnels at South Lido Beach is a peaceful aquatic activity

Image: Shutterstock

Mad For Mangroves

Searching for a peaceful aquatic escape? Look no farther than the mangrove tunnels at South Lido Beach. After renting a kayak or paddleboard, visitors can drift through the quiet passageways enjoying the dappled light and tranquility of nature. From your floating observation deck, spy fiddler crabs, jellyfish and a bounty of other marine life. Lots of companies offer guided tours. 2201 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota, (941) 346-3207; visitsarasota.com/beaches/south-lido-beach

Swim With The Horses

Here’s something you can’t do in Schenectady: horseback riding in the warm waters of Palma Sola Bay. A few companies offer the once-in-a-lifetime experience off northwest Bradenton’s Palma Sola Causeway. Cponies’ hour-long horseback swims, for example, are led by a mounted guide who points out native sea life as you “ride” along. (941) 773-5196; cponies.com 

Siesta Key Beach

Image: Shutterstock

Beguiling Beaches, North to South

Coquina Beach A long, uninterrupted stretch of public shoreline on the south end of Anna Maria Island. Ample parking along the road or in a large lot to the south, where you’ll also find concessions, restrooms and a big picnic area.

Longboat Key A dozen public beach access points do exist on this 10-mile-long residential island. You just need to know where to find them. Visit the town of Longboat Key’s website, longboatkey.org, for addresses.

Lido Beach Within walking distance of St. Armands Circle’s shops and restaurants, Lido Beach has year-round lifeguards, ample parking, a concession stand, wheelchair access and a public swimming pool.

Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach The confluence of Big Pass and the Gulf of Mexico is a favorite spot for picnicking, with tables, grills, a playground and nature trails. Popular with boaters and kayakers, especially on weekends. No lifeguards on duty; beware strong currents.

Siesta Beach The crown jewel of Sarasota’s public beaches, it was named America’s No. 1 beach by Dr. Beach in 2011 and again in 2017, and by TripAdvisor in 2015. A $21 million renovation has yielded lots of handsome picnic pavilions, a great kids’ playground, new concession/restroom building and more.

Turtle Beach This quiet beach on south Siesta Key has a playground, picnic pavilion, fishing pier, handicapped-accessible boardwalk, restrooms and ample parking. A kayak launch, too, for boaters to explore the adjacent lagoon and natural wetlands. Adjacent to it is the county’s only beachfront campground. No lifeguards on duty.

Nokomis Beach Sarasota County’s oldest public beach has a boat launch, playground, picnic tables, snack bar and a popular weekly drum circle. The 1950s-era Nokomis Beach Plaza has been restored to its midcentury modern glory. Five walkovers protect the dunes and shoreline. On Casey Key; lifeguards are on duty year-round. 

North Jetty Beach Florida’s west coast is not a surfing hotspot, but the jetties, meant to battle erosion, help to create decent-size surf with regularity. (They’re also home to some great fishing, as resident anglers will attest.) Bait shop and concession pavilion, plus year-round lifeguards, restrooms and volleyball and horseshoe courts.

Brohard Beach and Paw Park Between Venice and Caspersen beaches, Brohard Beach is the county’s only public dog-friendly beach. The Paw Park has fenced-in grassy areas, and four-legged friends can also romp through the water and along the beach (leash required). Picnic tables and restrooms, but no lifeguards.

Venice Beach Known as the Sharks Tooth Capital of the World, treasure hunters and beachcombers flock to this beach to search for fossilized sharks’ teeth. The Venice Beach Pavilion houses a concession stand. Year-round lifeguards, plus beach wheelchairs, food concessions, picnicking, restrooms, boardwalks and well-loved sand volleyball courts.

Caspersen Beach This unspoiled stretch of natural coastline south of Venice is a prime place to find fossilized sharks’ teeth. A short nature trail leads to nearby marshlands, or just kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet. Nature lovers enjoy the walking trail that leads to the Venetian Waterway Park. Restrooms, picnic area and playground, but no lifeguards.

Manasota Beach Gulf beach access as well as boat docks along the Intracoastal Waterway that double as boardwalks for exploring the mangroves. Year-round lifeguards, beach wheelchairs, picnic tables and shelters, fishing, restrooms, too.

Blind Pass Beach This quiet, narrow stretch of beach-to-bay, on Manasota Key in southernmost Sarasota County, is a secluded spot perfect for a nature hike or quiet beach picnics surrounded by serene Florida flora. Great for shelling and finding shark’s teeth. Canoe launch, fishing, restrooms and playground, but no lifeguards.

Little ones at Carla's Clay

Image: Shutterstock

Clay Play

Squishy hands, happy hearts. That’s what devoted families say about the Saturday morning Kids and Clay workshops at Carla’s Clay. For $15, youngsters 6 and up can spend a contented hour forming lumps of clay into, well, whatever strikes their fancy. If your child’s 5 or younger, you can jump in with them at no extra cost. 1733 Northgate Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 359-2773; sarasotaclaycompany.com

Splash Zone

At Bayfront Park, follow the high-pitched squeals of delight to the ever-popular children’s fountain. When the water is turned on, most days from April 1 to Oct. 31, you’ll find kids of all ages (and a few game adults) racing around, stamping on the spurting fountains, climbing on the colorful animal sculptures and filling up buckets to douse unsuspecting friends. 5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota, (941) 263-6386; letsplaysarasota.com

Flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Image: Shutterstock

Jungle Boogie

Catch a wildlife show, take the ultimate selfie with an alligator and experience the joy of feeding a flamboyance of flamingoes at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, where children and adults alike can have fun learning about the furry and feathered friends of our animal kingdom. 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 355-5305; sarasotajunglegardens.com

Social Climbing

Climb and zip your way through the trees at Treeumph Adventure Course. Starting at age 7, kids and their parents alike can challenge themselves through several climbing levels and end the day by flying a 650-foot zipline back to “camp.” 21805 E. S.R. 70, Bradenton, (941) 322-2130, treeumph.com

Get Creative

Sparking creativity is what the Sarasota County public libraries’ new Creation Stations are all about. Creators of all ages can build something amazing on a 3D printer, design a robot, construct electronic circuitry, digitize family photos, learn how to code and even form a sewing bee—all for free. Creation Stations are in three public libraries in Sarasota, Venice and North Port, and slated for seven more soon. scgov.net/government/libraries/library-resources/creation-station

Fun at the Florida Railroad Museum

Image: Shutterstock 

All Aboard!

At the Florida Railroad Museum, history comes alive every Saturday and Sunday with trains chugging up and down a six-mile stretch of rail that once served a timbering operation. The ride takes you through dense woods and open farmland, ending at an old station that holds a collection of train artifacts. Special rides take place throughout the year, including visits from Thomas the Tank Engine, a Halloween-themed pumpkin patch journey and a North Pole Express. Kids eat it up. 12210 83rd St. E., Parrish, (941) 776-0906; frrm.org

Petite Patrons

From storybook classics to a holiday spectacular, Florida Studio Theatre offers family-friendly performances starring professional actors for just $10 a ticket. Make sure to bring your autograph books; children can meet the talent and pose for pictures after each show. 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota,
(941) 366-9797;
floridastudiotheatre.org

Happy Trails

Escape from busy downtown Venice to nearby Deer Creek Preserve, a beautiful stretch of primal Florida bordered by the wild and scenic Myakka River. Great World Adventures leads guided horseback tours through the old-growth oak hammocks and wetlands on some of the preserve’s 70 miles of trails. Guide Jimmy, a former rodeo clown who instantly charms kids, points out everything from wild bromeliads to ospreys, armadillos, wild hogs and sunbathing gators. The two-hour rides are geared for age 8 and older. 7100 Forbes Trail, Venice, (941) 220-5080; deerprairiecreek.com

Selby Gardens' Children's Rainforest Garden

Image: Courtesy Photo 

Nature Calls

Traverse a swinging bridge 27 feet above the ground, climb around the giant buttress roots of a Moreton bay fig tree, spend creative playtime in a forest explorer’s research station or simply daydream in a garden hammock in Marie Selby Botanical Gardens’ Children’s Rainforest Garden. Lots of special programs for families throughout the year, too. 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731; selby.org/the-gardens/childrens-rainforest-garden

A Whole New World

The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature (formerly the South Florida Museum) expanded this year when it added its new Mosaic Backyard Universe. The enclosed space, which overlooks the Manatee River, was designed to encourage kids to interact with science. Climb into the treehouse, hop onto the cardboard rocket and hunt for fossils in the sand. 201 10th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 746-4131, bishopscience.org

Fun at the Children's Garden

Image: Chad Spencer

Enchanted Forest

Stepping into the Sarasota Children’s Garden is like stepping into a world of make-believe. The north Sarasota plot is dense with trees, bushes and flowers, with pathways snaking this way and that and attractions sure to make your inner child grin. Discover a climbable mountain of old tires, a twisty maze, a rugged pirate ship, hobbit homes, a sandpit and a treehouse, and don’t miss the chance to play dress-up and put on a show on the wooden stage. 1670 10th Way, Sarasota, (941) 330-1711; sarasotachildrensgarden.com

Shop till you drop at The Mall at University Town Center

Image: Chad Spencer

Head to the Mall

Since it opened in 2014, the mammoth Mall at University Town Center has transformed the region’s shopping experience with its eclectic array of stores, everything from Gap to Louis Vuitton. At Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, you can swoon over the Prada pumps and show them off at an elegant lunch upstairs with friends at Sophie’s. 140 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota; mallatutc.com

Seeing Red

When the weekend rolls around, it seems like half of Bradenton heads to the Red Barn Flea Market, where you’ll find stalls selling everything from exceptional fresh produce to used books and video games, knockoff perfumes and beachy art prints. Don’t leave without stopping by El Tio Carlos, the region’s best taco makers. 1707 First St. E., Bradenton, (941) 747-3794; redbarnfleamarket.com

St. Armands Circle

Image: Shutterstock

 

Open-Air Shopping

Shop and stroll your way around popular St. Armands Circle. This pedestrian-friendly shopping district offers an eclectic mix of more than 30 boutiques, restaurants and sightseeing destinations. With six ice cream shops on or near the Circle, a beautiful day at St. Armands can be made even sweeter. St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, starmandscircleassoc.com

Search For Souvenirs

Take home a reminder of our beautiful area: Sarasota-branded T-shirts and I heart Florida baseball caps, alligator-themed refrigerator magnets, beachy snowglobes and lots, lots more. Some standout souvenir shops are the Sand Dollar Gift Shop on Anna Maria, Beach Bazaar in Siesta Village, Alvin’s Island on St. Armands Circle, and the Sea Hagg in Cortez (especially for nautical-themed gifts).

Treasures abound at The Exchange

Image: Shutterstock

Browsers’ Bonanza

You don’t have to be a pirate to hunt for treasure at The Exchange (formerly the Woman’s Exchange). From the tantalizing rotation of furnishings and unique housewares to designer labels, there’s something for everyone. As a bonus, your purchases have been helping the nonprofit consignment shop support local art and cultural endeavors since 1962. 539 S. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 955-7859; sarasotawex.com

Explore Two Historic Streets

Stretching from the white-sand Gulf beach to the Anna Maria City Pier, charming Pine Avenue is chockablock with interesting resort-wear and souvenir boutiques and eateries. Then take the free island trolley a few miles south to Historic Bridge Street on Bradenton Beach, a fun place to explore some totally unique shops full of art, beachwear, shell jewelry and more. facebook.com/PineAvenueAnnaMariaIsland; visitbridgestreet.com

Sky Zone

No visit to the Ringling Museum is complete without a pitstop at famed light sculptor James Turrell’s Joseph’s Coat Skyspace. Natural light streams into a courtyard through a 24-foot-square hole in the ceiling; the shifting colors of the sky are augmented with LED lights that subtly shift as you stare. A few meditative moments here will do wonders for your soul. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 359-5700; ringling.org

Play Three

Plan your schedule carefully—for February, say—and you win the prize of seeing three plays in rotating rep at Asolo Repertory Theatre over a couple of days. That means Equity productions of recent Broadway hit The Lifespan of a Fact, a new adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ever-popular Murder on the Orient Express, and the area premiere of the World War II era comedy, Into the Breeches! You can even catch rising acting talent in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory’s smaller theater next door. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 351-8000; asolorep.org

Urban Outlook

If you seek new, edgy plays by a diversity of voices presented in an intimate atmosphere, check out downtown’s Urbanite Theatre. Even the most dedicated and up-to-the-moment theatergoer will be surprised by regional premieres of some often intense, always intriguing works. Plus, they’ll offer you a glass of complimentary wine at the door. 1487 Second St., Sarasota, (941) 321-1397; urbanitetheatre.com

Purple Reign

The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, famed for its unique seashell design and lavender coloring, sits royally along the bayfront, typically presenting up to 70 shows each season, ranging from Broadway hits to stand-up comics to classical musicians, pop stars and dance performances. Marking its 50th anniversary in 2020, the hall is also home to a fine arts collection (tours are available) and offers plenty of family-friendly entertainment. 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3368; vanwezel.org

Versatile Voices

Sarasota is home to the only professional black theater company on Florida’s west coast—Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, celebrating its 20th anniversary this season. There’s lots to be joyful about, with a newly renovated space, a rooftop terrace perfect for parties, and a line-up that includes a work by Pulitzer winner Tony Kushner and a world premiere, true-story musical by company founder Nate Jacobs. Always plenty of energy and talent onstage. 1012 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-1505, westcoastblacktheatre.org

Easy On The Eyes

Wandering around Sarasota, especially near downtown, you’ll spot nearly 90 sculptures, wall murals, ceramic tiles and more—all part of our public art program established in 1989. Some stand beside commercial or residential buildings; some ornament our parking garages, traffic roundabouts and shopping destinations. For a full list of what to look for and where, head to the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County’s website, sarasotarts.org.

Sarasota Opera House

Image: Pat Nebel

Aria Grande

Where rock star Elvis Presley once performed, the Sarasota Opera House now welcomes artists from around the world, notably for its four-opera winter season in February and March. The beautifully restored theater is a suitable home for tragedy (La bohème, Romeo and Juliet), comedy (The Elixir of Love) and even rarely performed works like Alfredo Catalani’s La Wally. Sit back to enjoy the spectacle and sweep of the stories (with surtitles), costumes, scenery and the high notes. 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 328-1300; sarasotaopera.org

Never A Dull Moment

No matter what kind of show you’re in the mood for, always hopping Florida Studio Theatre can probably satisfy. With five theater spaces clustered around Palm Avenue and First Street, there’s plenty of room for drama, cabaret revues, comedy improv and even a café/bar to hang out at with friends before or after the performance. This year, FST also hosts a special year-round event, the Suffragist Project, noting a century of American women’s right to vote. 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org

Turn Up The Volume

The Sarasota Orchestra, now in its 71st season, is not resting on its laurels. This year is a chance for the musicians—and audiences—to spread their wings a bit, as they welcome nine guest conductors, some of them in the running to be the next artistic director. Besides its classical offerings, the orchestra presents pops concerts, featuring artists such as sax man Branford Marsalis and singer Storm Large of Pink Martini fame. 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org

Sarasota Art Museum

Image: Ryan Gamma

What’s Old Is New

The newest addition to our arts and cultural scene, the Sarasota Art Museum officially opens in December (click here for more) in the restored Sarasota High School building, dating from 1926. With that historic past, however, SAM is plenty relevant to today and tomorrow, presenting traveling exhibitions of contemporary art and installations created just for the site, and engaging audiences with a trove of educational programs aimed at all ages. Be among the first to pass through its doors. 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 309-4300, sarasotaartmuseum.org

Sarasota Ballet

Dance Fever

That’s what grips us every season, as the Sarasota Ballet presents works by such choreographers as Sir Frederick Ashton, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine and Paul Taylor, at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, the Sarasota Opera House and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Of particular note: the ballet’s affinity for Ashton, whose Romeo and Juliet has its company premiere this season. The company has performed to raves in Washington, D.C., in New York and at Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 359-0099; sarasotaballet.org

Rum Time

You can pop into the warehouse of Drum Circle Distilling, which makes the award-winning Siesta Key Rum, during normal business hours, but it pays to plan ahead and register for a distillery tour. The guided walkthroughs take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, as a rum maestro explains every step of the company’s process. Then hit up the tasting room for samples. 2212 Industrial Blvd., Sarasota,
(941) 702-8143; siestakeyrum.com

A Legend Reborn

Locals were skeptical when the owners of the Bahi Hut announced last year that they were cleaning up the legendary dive bar and banning indoor smoking. Wasn’t the grunge the whole point? But we needn’t have worried, because, while the Bahi has gotten a good scrubbing, it has maintained its considerable charm. If you’re going for the first time, you can’t not order the Mai Tai, beloved (and reviled, by some) for its potency. 4675 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 355-5141; goldenhostresort.com

The Gator Club

Image: Chad Spencer

Cheers

For over a century the brick building on the corner of Lemon Avenue and Main Street in downtown Sarasota has been a hub of social activity. From its humble beginnings as a grocery store to being seen on the silver screen, the site of The Gator Club has had a vibrant history. Be a part of its legacy by enjoying a cocktail in the cozy upstairs lounge. Rumor has it that ghostly guests of bygone years still linger there. 1490 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5969; thegatorclub.com

Going Up

The Sarasota bar scene has climbed to new heights with the recent addition of the Westin Roof Bar and Eats (100 Marina View Drive, Sarasota; (941) 217-4777; marriott.com/hotels/travel/srqwi-the-westin-sarasota), the Art Ovation Hotel’s Perspective Rooftop Pool Bar (1255 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 316-0808; artovationhotel.com) and Sage restaurant’s rooftop lounge (1216 First St., Sarasota, (941) 445-5660; sagesrq.com)

Get Your Prescription Filled

No visit to Anna Maria Island is complete without a checkup at The Doctor’s Office, the island’s best cocktail bar. If you’re feeling frisky, ask for the traditional absinthe service, a ritualistic experience that includes chilled water
dripping over a sugar cube into small cups of the once-illicit liquor. 5312 Holmes Blvd., Unit B, Holmes Beach; doctorsofficeami.com

Cold Ones

With 11 active breweries, a handful of beer gardens and dozens of bars that cater to beer geeks, the Sarasota area offers plenty of sudsy options for your next hang session. Of the breweries, we recommend Calusa Brewing (5701 Derek Ave., Sarasota, (941) 922-8150; calusabrewing.com) because you’ll always find something new and fun to try. If you’re looking to sample several types from all over the U.S., stop in at 99 Bottles (1445 Second St., Sarasota, (941) 487-7874; 99bottles.net)

Alley Rally

To find one of Sarasota’s best bars, you’ve got to be a little adventurous. Duck into a dark alley behind Main Street to find the entryway to Pangea Alchemy Lab, a hidden gem for serious booze hounds. The menu of classic cocktails is always solid, but we prefer to browse the seasonal options. 1564 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 870-5555; pangealounge.com

Laugh It Up

McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, comfortably settled downtown, has been bringing established comics like Sinbad, Pauly Shore and Kevin Nealon to Sarasota for years, along with up-and- comers on the circuit. The club also hosts open mic nights, welcomes the performers of Black Diamond Burlesque, and hosts special events like the recent “The Great Love Debate.” Comedy boot camps, too, for the aspiring humorist. 1923 Ringling Blvd., (941) 925-3869, mccurdyscomedy.com

Fresh seafood at Star Fish Company

Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay

At Star Fish Co., if you’re curious where the fish you’re eating comes from, just look next door. A.P. Bell Fish Company, the longtime commercial fish house adjacent to the dockside restaurant, provides most of the seafood you’ll be chowing down on, which means you’re getting the freshest fish possible. We adore the grilled grouper, swear by the smoked mullet and can’t get enough of the stone crabs when they’re in season. 12306 46th Ave. W.,
Cortez, (941) 794-1243; starfishcompany.com

Park Place

With a huge, circus-themed playground and a rad skate park, Payne Park is one of the city’s best destinations for kids. Adults, too, thanks to Cafe in the Park, a sunny restaurant that serves excellent coffee, salads, sandwiches and snacks. Hang out on the patio while your kid takes a break from perfecting his or her kickflips, and enjoy The Zoe, a sandwich made with crusty bread, prosciutto, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and honey. Perfection. 2010 Adams Lane, Sarasota, (941) 361-3032; cafeinthepark.org

Get Weird

Hankering for a plate of frog legs, alligator bites or fried green tomatoes? Head to Linger Lodge, undoubtedly the area’s most unique restaurant, set on the bank of the Braden River. Don’t mind the dozens of taxidermy squirrels, snakes and other critters staring down at you from the walls; most are animals caught on the property. Al Roker called it one of the top five weirdest restaurants in America for a reason! 7205 85th St. Court E., Bradenton, (941) 755-2757; lingerlodge.com 

Check Out The Hob Nob

Wonder where the locals lunch? If it’s a balmy day, chances are they’re at The Hob Nob, Sarasota’s oldest outdoor diner. Tasty burgers, shakes and crinkle-cut fries; it’s like Happy Days without the jukebox and the Fonz. Don’t be put off that it’s on a busy commercial corridor. 1701 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 955-5001; hobnobdrivein.com

The Rod & Reel Pier

Image: Chad Spencer

Grab Some Grouper

Jutting out into Tampa Bay at the very north end of Anna Maria, the Rod and Reel Pier is that quintessential casual Old Florida eatery—the perfect place to grab a grouper sandwich or bucket of peel-and-eat shrimp with visiting relatives. For a small fee, you can fish right off the dock when you BYOR (that’s bring your own reel in Florida-speak). 875 N. Shore Drive, Anna Maria, (941) 778-1885; rodreelpier.com

Praise The Lord

The fried chicken, collard greens and fried green tomatoes that downtown’s Blue Rooster serves up for its Sunday buffet brunch may be tempting, but the real draw is the gospel music provided by the ensemble Truality. We defy you not to start clapping, stomping and singing along once their musical fervor catches you up in its heartbeat. Reservations recommended. 1524 Fourth St. Sarasota, (941) 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com

Kay Kipling, Cooper Levey-Baker, Olivia Epstein and Sarafina Murphy-Gibson contributed to this story. 

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