Sarasota County came as a complete surprise to me. When I think of Florida I don’t usually think of art, unless you count the street art in Miami, maybe. I think of Disney World and alligators and manatees. But Sarasota county is full of arty and unique experiences that aren’t part of your average Florida vacation. Unfortunately, I didn’t run into Jerry Springer or Stephen King during my stay, despite them both having houses in Sarasota! But here’s what I did get up to during my trip.
Discovering Sarasota County
One thing that quite literally struck me (several times, in the face) about Sarasota County was the sheer amount of LOVE BUGS. These are black flying insects with orange/red markings that fly around EVERYWHERE looking for fellow love bugs to procreate with. Apparently they don’t last very long. All that love making really takes it out of them. It kind of reminds me of “flying ant day” in Ireland (and maybe the UK?), but more amorous. There is an urban legend that would have you believe they were the result of a university science experiment gone wrong. However, this is not true. They are thought to originate from South of the border in Central America. No need to worry though, they aren’t dangerous at all, just a little irritating. You might want to watch how wide you open your mouth when outside and probably avoid eating outdoors during love bug season. Definitely don’t let it put you off though. It’s actually quite an interesting natural phenomenon to observe while on holiday.
Things to do and Things to See in Sarasota County
Marie Selby Botanic Gardens
I love a botanic garden. Possibly because my art teacher used to send us out to the local botanical garden to sketch flowers when I was in school. Possibly because I was a big fan of Poison Ivy from Batman. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that I’ve seen a few in my time. And the Marie Selby Botanic Gardens just blew them all out of the water. Honestly, if you love plants and/or flowers you will want to spend hours in this place. There is an entire room dedicated to orchids. They had an exhibit on inspired by Andy Warhol. They recreated famous works by the eccentric painter using flowers! It was absolutely stunning. It’s also the first botanic garden I’ve even been in that looks out over the sea. There’s plenty of activities for kids too if you’re on a family holiday. They have a tree hugging station that I LOVED. The gardens span over 9 acres and more than half of the plants have been collected from the wild.
You can read more about the Marie Selby Botanic Gardens here.
Siesta Beach Sunset
Siesta Beach is consitently named one of the top beaches in the U.S.A and it is easy to see why. The sand is like icing sugar, bright white and so fine that it doesn’t even feel like it would chaff. And it seems to stay cool all day long, despite the beaming sun. There are brightly coloured life guard houses dotted along the beach. Of course, I took the opportunity to climb up an unmanned one to get a few photos. The sunset at Siesta Beach is the stuff of legends. It basically looks like someone has taken a pink highlighter and scribbled across the sky. We went when it was particularly cloudy and it was still stunning. Definitely worth a visit. If anyone has mobilitiy issues they have roll out mats that make it easy for wheelchair users etc to access the beach. The nearby town of Siesta Key is adorable and full of colourful, cute shopfronts. It’s the perfect place to spend a view days chilling and enjoying the beach.
Ringling Circus Museum
This giant museum and grounds full of whimsical and weird items was once owned by John Ringling, one of the five Ringling brothers. The Ringling circus was once called “The Greatest Show on Earth” and John was, at one point, one of the richest men in America. There are a few different parts to the Ringling Museum. You can explore his home, Ca’ d’Zan, which is full of opulent pieces from around the world. For me the most interesting part is Circus Museum which contains a giant miniature (paradox?) circus along with old circus memorabilia and an interactive circus exhibit. There is also a Museum of Art but for me the most interesting part of old art museums is captioning the paintings inappropriately. I’m more of a modern art kind of girl. There’s also some lovely rose gardens and cute coffee shops. It was absolutely ROASTING the day I was there so I was hopping between patches of shade and dodging the sun like a vampire. I probably didn’t explore the garden as much as I should have. But the coffee shop was lovely so I sat there and had a lemonade.
You can read more about the Ringling Museum here.
Unconditional Surrender Statue
Even if you don’t recognise the name you’ll recognise the photo that this statue was inspired by. The “Unconditional Surrender” statue bares a striking resemblance to “V-J Day in Times Square” by Alfred Eisenstaedt where a U.S Navy sailor grabs a woman in a white dress and kisses her in Times Square. The sculpture, by Seward Johnson, can be found on the seafront of Sarasota city. It’s 26 feet tall about absolutely stunning. Definitely worth a photo.
Historic Spanish Point
This 30 acre sprawling historic wonderland is located in Osprey. We were lucky enough to be given a tour of the grounds and got all the info. To be honest, I was completely mesmerised by the Spanish moss hanging from the trees and the dolphins that we saw swimming by towards the end of our tour that I probably didn’t take in as much of the history as I should have. Hands up, I’m not a MAD history buff. But I was blown away that Historic Spanish Point can trace its history all the way back to around 5,000 years ago. There’s a burial mound full of Native American remains and artefacts. Apparently 429 individuals, 4 dogs and an alligator were found in the burial mound. I feel like it would be a great place for ghost stories at Halloween. In fact, they do run ghost tours! It’s a beautiful place for a stroll and for photos, if, like me, history isn’t your thing.
You can read more about Historic Spanish Point here.
Farmers’ Market at Venice
I LOVE to do local stuff when I visit somewhere new. And the Venice Farmer’s Market is a blissfully local experience. If you’re a dog person you’ll be in Heaven, dogs are everywhere. Vendors chat freely to passing customers. I actually saw a “Laughing Yoga”, class on the green next to the market. I also met a giant friendly Irish wolf hound attached to a tiny elderly woman who was delighted to meet an Irish person like myself. At the market there’s plenty of fresh produce, handmade gifts and more. I bought some Himalayan rock salt and locally produced coffee. It’s a great lazy morning activity for chilling out.
You can read more about the market here.
Places to Eat in Sarasota County
Obviously there are tonnes of places to eat in Sarasota County but here are a few places I ate at during my trip. On our first night we had dinner at Chart House on Longboat Key. It’s got a great outdoor area perfect for watching the sunset with a cocktail. They didn’t have many veggie options, but the chef prepared me a lovely stir fry. Dessert was absolutely delicious. I’m obsessed with molten chocolate cake so obviously that won me over. Though make sure to bring a cardigan because they really crank up the aircon in there. When we were in Siesta Key we had dinner at a place called Ophelia’s On The Bay. They have a great outdoor area too that had previously been closed because of the attach of the LOVE BUGS. Luckily we got to sit outside as it was quite late and most of them had died off at that stage. I had a lovely veggie pasta, but the main thing to order at Ophelia’s is seafood. So if you’re that way inclined you’ll love the place. The place is super popular though, so make sure you book a table in advance. For lunch we hit Mattison’s City Grille in Downtown Sarasota. We were still partially stuffed from breakfast in our hotel, but we powered through because the food at Mattison’s is delicious. Giant glasses of iced tea and huge sandwiches were the order of the hour. The Grille is in the centre of Sarasota town so it’s a great spot for wandering around downtown afterwards. The staff are friendly and everyone feels like family. For a sweet treat after lunch we headed to Gelato-Go, a highly recommended gelato place just off the main street.They create their own flavours. When I was there they had a DETOX gelato!! I mean, it seems like a paradox, but hey, if I can eat gelato and feel healthy about it I’m in. The staff are super friendly and will give you little samples if you’re curious.
Where I Stayed
As pointed out to me by an eagle-eyed and not so friendly FB follower, Zota Beach Resort is actually in Manatee County. But it’s RIGHT next door to Sarasota town so we stayed there. It is a stunning, modern hotel. The staff are delightful and the rooms are perfection. Everything is clean lines and pops of colour. My balcony looked out across the pool and over the beach. And the toiletries were sulphate free and excellent. They have fresh lemonade and flavoured water in the lobby. One day they even had a fresh baked cookie stand in reception with three different flavours. The hotel rolls right out onto the beach where you can rent all sorts of items for water-based activities. There’s a bar by the pool that has some great happy hour offers too, #priorities.
How to Get to Sarasota County
I flew from Dublin to JFK, New York with Aer Lingus and then got a domestic flight with JetBlue to Fort Myers as I was visiting the Paradise Coast first. It’s a 1.5 hour drive from Fort Myers airport to Downtown Sarasota. You can fly direct from Dublin or London to Orlando, Florida and it’s only a 2 hour drive from Orlando. Or, finally, Sarasota Country has its own airport, Bradenton. From Dublin you can fly to Charlotte, Atlanta, JFK etc and then get a domestic flight to Sarasota. Then Bradenton airport is only about 15 minutes drive from downtown Sarasota. So it really depends on which option is more reasonable and how comfortable you are with driving in America.