Helmsley viewLooking for a fun family destination in Florida that even teens will like?  Try Sarasota and these 13 things that teens will like:

(1) Stay at the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel. When I heard Old Florida as a way to describe the Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, I was afraid that meant old as in old. But old Florida means low-rise, family friendly with lots of water sports (including a giant water bike and catamaran), newly remodeled rooms (big enough for 5 people), quality food in the restaurant and a staff that has worked there for years and years. They enjoy a 40% repeat business and that says something. Jot this down: January is off peak pricing.

The gym is on the small side so if you need a work out, hit the beach. The beach is gorgeous and there is plenty to do: sail, bike, kayak and more right outside the hotel room door.

HANDICAP ACCESS: The Helmsley has 4 rooms that are wheelchair accessible – each with a different view.

(2) Invent something at GWIZ Museumtake your under 10 year olds on a rainy day. For the over 10 crowd reserve time in the Fab Lab – absolutely the coolest science room I have seen in a kid’s museum. Kids are the inventors and can create everything from fabric to a radio show. There are “coaches” nearby to encourage the kids but they do not do the projects for them. The rest of the museum has a lot to do for the under 10 crowd but several of the exhibits are old and could use some refurbishment.

G Wiz
(3) Eat lunch at Nancy’s BBQJust go. You’ll thank me. And Nancy. Nancy started out selling her pulled pork out of a truck. The lines were so long she had to create a larger operation.

Nancys BBQ
(4) Paddle board & kayakMy 13 y/o daughter really liked kayaking. I preferred paddle boarding even though my paddle boarding experience in Carlsbad, CA wasn’t great. This time I was given instruction and that made all the difference. I had no idea that the paddle should be held a certain way or why the oars are so long.

Paddleboard
(5) Eat deep fried hot dogs at Old Salty Dog Restaurant – Great view, casual and you can bring your dog or send them a picture of your dog.

(6) Study Seahorses at Mote Marine Lab – Seahorses rule at Mote Marine Lab and they have a passionate protector. Back in the day, the director raised and sold enough seahorses to put himself through college and then changed his focus from selling seahorses to protecting them. Definitely take the behind the scenes tour so you get to meet him and the seahorses upclose.

Mote Lab_seahorses
(7) Tour Bob’s TrainBob has passion. It’s worth the tour of his train cars just to get a glimpse of his passion for the circus, Ringling and the train cars that he is restoring. You can have lunch surrounded by hundreds of photographs, autographs and memorabilia.

(8) Hold a lizard and feed the flamingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens.

Jungle Gardens
(9) Visit Ringling MuseumGoing to Sarasota and not seeing the Ringling Museum would be like visiting New York City and not seeing the Statue of Liberty. The Ringling Museum is colorful and the miniature circus with its thousands of pieces needs to be added to the wonders of the world. The mini circus was built by one man over several years and the attention to detail is fascinating.

mini circuss clown_nose
(10) Go to the Circus! Circus SarasotaThere is always a circus in town in Sarasota. Dolly Jacobs is a semi-retired circus performer who started the Sarasota circus to keep the art alive. Her acts are international and her passion is inspiring.

(11) Eat dinner at Troyers Dutch Heritage Restaurant, owned and operated by Amish and Menonites. The food is wholesome, tasty and plentiful.

(12) Join a Kodiak bear for snack at Big Cat Habitat – This is a homeless shelter for animals: emus, deer, bears, lemurs, primates, wallabys and a tortoise. Owners who cannot take care of their animals for one reason or another bring them here and Big Cat’s owner, Kay Rosaire, veteran circus performer, takes them in. She treats the animals with dignity and loves each and every one of them. She uses positive reinforcement techniques to train her miniature ponies, lions and tigers that perform in her show. Kids can feed the goats and families can watch the Kodiak bear have dinner. Her efforts are supported by Whole Foods and other food donors.

s feeding_bear
(13) Spend some time at the Ritz Carlton HotelThe Ritzy kids club room has it all (including an additional charge) and the rooms are gorgeous. The location is downtown and close to incredible shopping.

See more family vacation ideas in Sarasota!