Sarasota and her string of eight barrier islands also called “keys” are tucked into the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida, 60 miles south of Tampa and 75 miles north of Fort Myers. Sarasota County’s 40 miles of shoreline combined with great dining, shopping and museums, make it a great family vacation or weekend getaway. During a recent visit, we were delighted to discover that there are so many fun things to do in Sarasota with kids. Best of all, most of them are free!
11 Things to Do in Sarasota with Kids
1. Siesta Key Beach & Playground
The sand is 99% pure quartz, soft and surprisingly cool on the feet. The sugar-fine white sand beach is uber-family friendly too with plenty of space to claim a spot, FREE parking, outdoor showers, beach volleyball courts and picnic tables.
There is also a large playground that looks like a sandcastle. It’s so pretty and inviting that I wanted to run up it myself. So, between playing in the bath-like Gulf waters, or digging in the sand, kids can also let off even more steam running around this awesome play area.
2. The Ringling Museum
Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” thanks to circus magnate John Ringling who built his winter home in the area, which he then donated when he passed away in 1936. On his estate is The Ringling Circus Museum. It include the world’s largest miniature circus display with 44,000 pieces, an instant crowd pleaser for kids.For parents, there is the more museum-like features, including information on the Ringling Bros. history and some actual stage pieces on display.
You can also go on a paid tour the historic Cá d’Zan, the Ringling winter vacation mansion and all its fine Venetian-Gothic details. In addition, the Ringling Art Museum building contains more than 600 Baroque masterpieces, most of them acquired by John Ringling and his wife. In addition, the museum showcases a Peter Paul Rubens photography collection. Best of all, the art museum is FREE on Mondays.
The large museum grounds also features a rose garden, a secret garden, and a pier with water views, plus lots of space for kids to run around and take photos.
3. David Bolger Playspace
But wait there’s more! On the Ringling property there is also the FREE David F. Bolger Playspace an artistic-looking playground with a tower, slides, basket swings that fit both of my twins and hand-powered fountains shaded underneath gorgeous Banyan trees. We previously stopped here on our way to Orlando and my boys loved the playground while we enjoyed exploring the beautiful grounds. Parents Magazine also featured this play space as one of the 10 Trips to Take Before Your Kid Turns 10.
4. Downtown Farmers Market
Every Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. there is a free Farmer’s Market in downtown at Lemon Avenue and State Streets.
You can help your kids pick out everything from fresh pastries to fresh fruit and veggies (all year long).
There’s also live music and a trampoline jump.
Even in the off-season it was surprisingly big with lots of stands open. I walked away with some Matcha Green tea and local honey.
5. Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Established in 1939,the Sarasota Jungle Gardens has 150 native and exotic animals on display from parrots and iguanas to alligators and primates.
6. Gospel Brunch at Blue Rooster BBQ
Whether you’re religious or not, a Sunday brunch at Blue Rooster BBQ provides soulful live music and a yummy Southern buffet. Doors open at 11:30 a.m., but be sure and make a reservation. Best of all, kids 5 and under eat FREE!
7. Yoder’s Restaurant & Amish Village
In the Amish community of Pinecraft, Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village is celebrating 40 years of serving up comfort food including friend chicken and their famous homemade pies.
The restaurant itself is cozy, welcoming and kid-friendly. I was given an up-close look at how they make their heavenly cream pies, check it out here.
There is also a grocery store on the property with a deli counter and meals and desserts to-go along with a gift shop & marketplace with unique handcrafted Amish gifts for purchase.
8. Children’s Garden & Art Center
Just north of downtown Sarasota, a hidden gem awaits. This two-acre kid-focused garden combines playground structures and plenty of places to see in an outdoor setup. Children can also dress up in fairy costumes, walk the plank on a pirate ship and climb painted truck tires. The butterfly garden is especially beautiful.
9. St. Armand’s Circle
This circle of boutique and high-end shops is a delight for shopping enthusiasts. It’s also pretty to stroll around with some ice cream in hand.
10. Meaney’s Mini Donuts
While shopping or eating in Siesta Key, be sure and stop by this little hut for some little donuts. The warm Bavarian donuts were my favorite.
11. Elixir Tea House
Have a little princess who would enjoy a tea date? This Armenian-run tea house has private rooms where you can spend some quality girl time chilling and drinking tea. The small library-like room that I selected even had kids books in it.
For more fun ideas, read 13 Things to do in Sarasota with a 13 Year Old.
Where to Stay in Sarasota
Looking for a hotel? We stayed at The Hotel Indigo near downtown Sarasota, which had spacious rooms with beachy white furniture and local murals as wallpaper, along with two wading pools (one hot, one cold) and beach cruiser bikes available for rent. Here’s a video compilation of the property: