Sarasota, Florida, is a great holiday event getaway, especially this holiday season, for couples and families thanks to its abundance of exciting museums, carriage rides, gorgeous gardens, delicious restaurants, and entertaining Sarasota attractions.
The Ringling Museum, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, and the Big Cat Habitat are some of the best attractions in downtown Sarasota, Florida.
Those interested in theater, holiday music, or opera can visit the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Sarasota Opera House, or the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center.
To avoid any surprises, it’s best to call ahead and verify the attractions’ and restaurants’ hours of operation.
What is Sarasota Florida best known for?
Why was Sarasota so popular with tourists? Sarasota offers a paradise for all nature lovers; the Gulf Stream lies within. Amongst other Sarasota attractions are countless beautiful white beaches, mysterious mangroves as well and a vast park.
Is there a lot to do in Downtown Sarasota Florida?
Sarasota County offers many attractions that can be enjoyed by everyone. Say hello to manatees, relax on the beach, listen to live music, experience holiday events, or explore an agricultural market.
Top 10 Best Holiday activities in downtown Sarasota Florida
Christmas is, without a doubt, a highlight of the year. Whether you’ve lived in Sarasota for years or have just moved here, you’ll find that the city goes all out to welcome the holiday season every year.
The following are some of the best places in Sarasota to attend a Christmas party or event this year:
1. St. Armands Circle
St. Armands Circle is a wonderful place to take the kids because it’s so kid-friendly. Sarasota is a great place to take the kids for some holiday shopping and dining. St. Armands Circle first opened to the public after it was purchased by Charles St. Armand in the 1890s.
Attractions at the festival include a skate park, a selfie elves rink, a snow globe exhibit, a gingerbread sledding hill, and a carousel. Please take note that the December 2nd holiday lights of the night program has been postponed. 16:45 to 21:00.
During the week, between Tuesday and Friday, they are open from 12 pm to 6 pm Monday through Friday. Late Thursday and all of Friday, starting on November 17 and ending in January of 2023. Sarasota, St. Armands Circle. Winterland is a theme park with free admission, $10 winter activities, and a $20 Winterland and Skate combo ticket.
2. Sarasota Christmas Tree Lighting
A Christmas tree will be lit at 7 p.m. for the tree lighting ceremony, and the party will begin with refreshments and a photo opportunity with Santa. 6–8 pm. On November 1, visit Selby Five Points Park in Sarasota (located at 1 Central Avenue). Our final stop will be in Sarasota’s historic downtown.
3. Christmas Jeep Parade
Starting at DeSoto Square Mall, the annual Jeep parade travels to Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, St. Armands Circle, and Anna Maria Island; all while decked out in lights and decorations. 6 pm. DeSoto Square Shopping Center, 3301 Boulevard, December 3. Bradenton.
In Sarasota, it’s possible that snow won’t fall. However, we know how to throw a dazzling Christmas party, with lights and ornaments adorning our homes and other prominent landmarks. Come into the holiday spirit by checking out one of these places that glow brightly after dark.
4. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota is a beautiful place to spend the day, where visitors can stroll under shady banyan trees and get up close and personal with exotic orchids and other flowering plants. The annual Lights in Bloom event takes place in the gardens after dark during the holiday season.
The 15-acre garden is illuminated by over two million lights, which form glowing tunnels and highlight the many trees throughout the space. Beautiful flowers decorate the paths, and multicolored butterflies and dragonflies flutter in the air.
Santa Claus makes nightly appearances (prior to Christmas Eve), there are activities for kids, and there are seasonal crafts, seasonal foods, and drinks available.
This year’s celebration runs for 18 evenings, from December 14 through January 4, at the usual time of 6 to 9 o’clock each evening. Adult tickets cost $25, while those for children 5-12 years old cost $7, and those for those under 5 are admitted free of charge.
On the evening of December 21, visitors can purchase tickets for the “Selby Experience,” which grants them early access to the light show, includes reserved parking, a buffet, and an open bar for $150 per adult and $40 per child (4-12 years old).
Location: Sarasota, Florida, 811 South Palm Avenue, Phone: (941) 366-5731
5. University Town Center
Check out University Town Center for some of the best holiday events shopping in all of Sarasota. More than four million lights are displayed nightly from November 15 through January 6 in the shapes of everything from Christmas trees to rowing crews.
Holidays on the Green is a free event that features beautiful light displays. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to spice things up, you can also go snow tubing or snow slide, ice skate, ride a carousel, or take horse-drawn carriage rides (various fees for activities).
Every Saturday night at 9 o’clock during the holiday season, the sky is lit up by fireworks.
6. Trolley Tours
Local trolley tours are a relaxing way to see some of Sarasota’s best light shows. Every night in December at 6 and 8:15 p.m., for $15 per person, the Sarasota Trolley conducts its Holiday Lights Tour. Hop on one of the vintage-style trolleys with wooden seats and take in the sights of our beautiful city at night.
Holiday Tour of Lights rides on SRQ Trolley leave nightly at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. ($15 per person) from December 6 through December 31. At the same time, guests are welcome to bring their own beverages and listen to holiday music while on their tours.
Visit Discover Sarasota Tours’ website to learn about the seasonal trolley tour offerings in the region.
7. Downtown Venice
It’s that time of year when everything in downtown Venice shines. The tall palm trees lining Venice Avenue are illuminated with strings of lights, making for a unique and photogenic scene.
Lamp posts are decorated with extra lights in the shapes of poinsettias, gift boxes, and other winter holiday icons.
In front of City Hall in Venice, Florida, natives like the alligator and dolphin coexist with more far-flung animals in an illuminated menagerie (like a camel and rhinoceros).
After viewing that exhibit, head over to West Blalock Park’s Venice Arboretum to see trees decked out in lights and other holiday decorations.
8. Venice Christmas Boat Parade and Sarasota Boat Parade of Lights
Holiday boat parades also take to the water at this time of year, with boats aglow with plenty of festive spirit for events like the Venice Christmas Boat and the Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade.
On December 7, the Venice Christmas Boat Parade will float along the Intracoastal Waterway, and on December 14, the Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade of Lights will sail through Sarasota Bay.
9. The Ringling
The Ringling Museum of Art, located at the end of Bay Shore Road, is one of the top-rated attractions in all of Sarasota.
The Mable and John Ringling Museum of Art, founded in 1927 with donations from the Ringling family, is located on the campus of Florida State University and serves as a fine art museum of Florida.
There are 21 galleries here, showcasing diverse collections from ancient artifacts from Cyprus to modern American paintings to Asian art to contemporary European art.
Over ten thousand works of art from antiquity to the present day are housed in the collection. The museum’s collection includes pieces by such artists as Bernini, Boudin, Duchamp, Gainsborough, Poussin, Velaquez, and many more. Its Rubens collection is famous all over the world.
The location is 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34243, and the phone number is (941) 359-5700.
10. Siesta Key Village, Sarasota, Florida
The tiny island of Siesta Key is located just off the coast of Sarasota, Florida, on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Siesta Key Beach, a colorful and bustling beach road village full of restaurants, shops, bars, spas, ice cream parlors, and more, is at the heart of this eccentric and entertaining island.
Deck the halls with evergreens; the 27th annual Light Up Siesta Key and Village Holiday Parade is fast approaching. This party is suitable for the whole family and goes on from 5 to 9 in the evening.
The event will kick off at the corner of Avenida Del Mare and Beach Road and conclude in Siesta Key Village. After the parade, everyone is invited to visit the town Christmas tree and have a free photo with Santa (the first 250 children will also receive a holiday goody bag).
There will be plenty for the youngsters to do, and there will be entertainment for everyone. There is no cover charge.
Other Sarasota Florida Attractions Worth Checking This Holiday Season
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
Ken Thompson Parkway on City Island is home to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, a marine research facility. Originally founded in 1955 as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, it was renamed in 1967 to recognize donors Lenore and William R. Mote and William’s sister, Betty Mote Rose. The lab explores marine and estuarine environments.
The aquarium is home to over a hundred different marine species, including many native marine animals. Opened in 1980, this aquarium is home to a wide variety of marine life, including jellyfish, manatees, rays, seahorses, and sea turtles.
One of the aquarium’s most popular activities is the narrated shark feedings. There is a lot for families to do in Sarasota, and this is one of the best options. Some examples of educational activities are field trips, classroom presentations, and summer camps.
Location: 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34243; Phone: (941) 388-4441
Ca d’Zan Mansion, Sarasota, Florida
Ca d’Zan Mansion was home during the winters for American circus owner John Ringling and his wife, Mable. The mansion was constructed on the waterfront between 1924 and 1926, and it features five stories and 36,000 square feet.
This waterfront location appealed to the Ringlings because it evoked memories of the lagoon in Venice, a city they adored. The home is in the Mediterranean Revival style, which was heavily influenced by the Doge’s Palace in Venice. The villa’s name translates to “House of John” in Venetian. The mansion served as both a home and a museum for their extensive
diverse collection of art and artifacts. Tours of the mansion are available, led by knowledgeable docents.
Location: 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34243; Phone: (941) 359-5700.
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
On Palmer Boulevard in Sarasota is the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, a safe haven for big cats and other animals. The sanctuary was established by Kay Rosaire in 1987, and in 2005 it received nonprofit status. Their goal is to rescue exotic cats and other animals like bears and birds and then educate the public on the importance of doing the same
There are three large indoor/outdoor habitats at the sanctuary, each with its own pool and plant life to simulate the natural world. Visitors can watch training demonstrations with the big cats to learn more about the importance of protecting animal habitats.
Location: Sarasota, Florida, 941-371-6377, 7101 Palmer Boulevard
Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, FL
Baltimore Orioles spring training takes place at Ed Smith Stadium. The stadium was constructed in 1989 to take the place of Payne Park as the minor league baseball site for Minor League Baseball teams and the Cincinnati Reds spring training from 1998 to 2008, and the Baltimore Orioles from 2010 onwards.
In time for spring training in 2011, the stadium underwent extensive renovations. The seats in the stadium are refurbished versions of those at the Orioles’ home ballpark, Camden Yards. There can be as many as 7,428 spectators inside the stadium.
Location: 2700 12th Street, Sarasota, FL 34243; Phone: (941) 954-6101
Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy, Sarasota, FL
A visit to the Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy is guaranteed to brighten your day. Marietta Lee, an artist in her own right, has been curating this enjoyable, multimedia collection since 2006 in an effort to “preserve work of artistic and whimsical importance.”
It is Marietta’s hope that the artwork displayed in the gallery, hallways, garden, entrance hall, and even bathroom will have a positive effect on visitors and encourage them to express their own creativity.
In fact, any artist whose aesthetic values align with those of the museum is encouraged to donate some of their work. Take note that there is no fee required to enter the building.
Sarasota, Florida, 941-364-3399, 2121 N. Tamiami Trail
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Sarasota, FL
Bay Shore Road is home to the garden and animal attraction known as Sarasota Jungle Gardens. It has been open to the public without interruption since its opening in 1939, making it a historic landmark in the state.
Ten acres were initially set aside for the gardens, into which thousands of exotic plants and trees were put. As early as the 1970s, cockatoos, and macaws were featured in the first Exotic Bird Show.
Little by little, more and more animals and shows were added. Parrots, small mammals, primates, and many reptiles like alligators, crocodiles, iguanas, lizards, and snakes now call the gardens home. Pink flamingos populate the garden, too.
Location: 3701 Bay Shore Road in Sarasota, FL 34236; our phone number is (941) 355-5305.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota, Florida
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is a great place to go if you want to see a variety of different kinds of performances, such as a comedy show, dance performance, concert, or play.
The hall was originally constructed between 1968 and 1969 with a gift from Lewis and Eugenia Van Wezel, and it underwent a major renovation in the year 2000.
There is space for 1,736 guests in the auditorium and another 350 in the Grand Foyer, which spans 6,000 square feet.
By doing so, you gain access to the additional 1,500 seats on the Bayfront Park and Terrace. Looking for a unique date idea? Take in a show at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. There is a dedicated Education Center within the hall, and it hosts a wide range of community outreach educational programs for people of all ages.
Sarasota, Florida, 777 N. Tamiami Trail; 941-953-3368.
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe
From adaptations of well-known musicals to original works by WBTT Artistic Director and Founder Nate Jacob, musicals are the bread and butter of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s production schedule. Nate, a director, singer, actor, and playwright, founded WBTT in 1999 as a community-based organization and has since seen it blossom into a thriving not-for-profit professional theater.
Each season, the Troupe puts on five shows at their own theater. The WBTT is the only professional black theater on Florida’s west coast.
WBTT’s productions of dramas by renowned playwrights like Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson are just as well-known as the company’s musicals. The Troupe also participates in a variety of outreach and teaching initiatives.
Location: 1012 N Orange Ave, Sarasota FL 34236, Contact Number: (941) 366-1505
Central Sarasota Farmers Market
There’s nothing quite like a leisurely stroll through a crowded market on a sunny Saturday morning, taking in the sights and smells of fresh, vibrant produce while sipping a cup of coffee and munching on a slice of cheesecake.
Central Sarasota Farmers Market welcomes local growers, bakers, makers, and musicians every Saturday of the year.
Everyone selling their wares here is a farmer or grower who is more than happy to talk shop with customers.
The marketplace bustles with activity, and the number of vendors and customers continues to rise. The market can be found on the plaza in front of Sarasota County Technical College.
Location: Florida House, 4454 S. Beneva Rd., Sarasota, FL 34238; Phone: (941) 677-0078
Sarasota Paddleboard Company
It would be easy to spend a whole day in Sarasota doing nothing but sipping umbrella drinks and lounging on the beach. But if that’s not your thing, renting a kayak or paddleboard is a lot of fun, too.
For those who are comfortable doing so, Sarasota Paddleboard Company will deliver a kayak or paddleboard to your hotel or home using only the highest quality equipment.
If you are just starting out, don’t worry; your instructor will be there to assist you every step of the way.
Location: 690 Ben Franklin, Contact Number: 941-650-2241, Sarasota, FL
Drum Circle Distilling, Sarasota, FL
After a few too many rum drinks as the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, Drum Circle Distilling was conceived. Whether it was the abundant sunshine, the beautiful sandy beaches, or the excellent rum, a distillery for handcrafted rum was conceived, and a special still was ordered to help bring the vision to life.
The still was compact and attractive, made entirely of the shiny copper components for which rum is famously smooth. Siesta Key, a product of a world-class still, native sugar cane, and all-natural spices is so highly regarded that it has been featured in Caribbean rum magazines. Visit their tasting room to have some free samples and talk shop with the folks who made it.
Location: Sarasota, Florida, 2212 Industrial Boulevard; Phone: 941-358-1900.
Nathan Benderson Park, Sarasota, FL
Originally, Nathan Benderson Park was just a pretty average park with a big man-made lake in the middle. It was ideal for getting out and about on foot, by kayak or paddleboard, or even just walking the dog. Then the rowing community learned of its existence.
As a result, the park began hosting regular regatta competitions and investing in the infrastructure required for the sport, including boathouses, training centers, start/finish huts/towers, grandstands for spectators, and modern boat maintenance facilities.
You can still bring a picnic basket and enjoy a leisurely Sunday lunch on the grass or ride your bike around the lake.
Location: Sarasota, Florida, 34235, 5851 Nathan Benderson Circle, Phone: (941) 358-7275
Myakka River State Park
In terms of land area, Myakka River State Park ranks high among Florida’s largest and oldest parks at 37,000 acres. Sarasota County and Manatee County are both included here.
The Myakka River, after which the area is named, winds through 58 square miles of varied ecosystems, including hammocks, pine forests, prairies, and wetlands.
Both the boardwalk and the canopy walkway provide excellent vantage points for spotting birds and other wildlife. There are two lakes in addition to the river, where guests can canoe, fish, and kayak. Through the park’s dry prairie area, hikers can access the park’s network of hiking trails.
The Legacy Trail connects Sarasota and Venice by way of a paved path. The 10.8-mile trail, which opened in 2008 along a former rail corridor, is widely regarded as one of the state’s finest routes for biking trails. The original 1911 railroad line was in use until the early 2000s when it was finally decommissioned.
Starting up north near Palmer Ranch, the trail continues south through Osprey’s Oscar Scherer State Park to meet up with additional paths in the park. The path travels further south through Nokomis and Dona Bay, eventually joining up with the Venice Venetian Waterway Park. The original mile markers are still there as a reminder of the railroad’s past.
Sarasota Opera, Sarasota, Florida
Sarasota Opera, a professional opera company, performs at the Sarasota Opera House on North Pineapple Avenue. Sarasota Opera House, formerly known as the Edwards Theatre, was purchased by the opera company in 1979 and opened in 1984. The opera company was originally known as the Asolo Opera Guild. It wasn’t until 2008 that the opera house reopened after undergoing extensive renovations.
In February and March, the company hosts its annual Winter Opera Festival, featuring four fully staged operas. The Verdi Cycle is the opera company’s signature production, and it features all of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas, as well as his orchestral works, chamber works, and Requiem. The firm supports a wide variety of educational initiatives.
Location: Sarasota, Florida, 61 North Pineapple Avenue; Contact Number: 941-328-1300.
South Lido Park
Sarasota County’s South Lido Park can be found on Benjamin Franklin Drive. Located just north of Big Sarasota Pass, this Lido Key park boasts a waterfront setting. Otto Schmidt Zoldan, a pioneer, submitted a homestead application for the southern tip of Lido Key in 1904, where the park now stands. In 1910, he was awarded the land that would become South Lido Park.
The Ringling Isles’ development in the 1920s led to the renaming of Sarasota Key to Lido Key. The park was established in 1974 and offers opportunities for hiking, picnicking, paddling, and swimming.
Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota, Florida
Florida Studio Theatre is a non-profit theater that produces and performs contemporary plays at various locations around town, including the historic Keating and Gompertz Theatres as well as the more modern Bowne’s Lab Theatre, John C. Court Cabaret, and Goldstein Cabaret. Stage III, New Play Development, the Cabaret Series, the Mainstage Series, and more can all be found at this theater.
The Bowne’s Lab Theatre is home to the popular comedy group Florida Studio Theatre Improv. A variety of educational outreach opportunities are available through the theater.
Location: 1241 North Palm Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34236; Contact Number: (941) 366-9000
Save Our Seabirds, Sarasota, Florida
Located on Ken Thompson Parkway, right next to Mote Marine Aquarium, is a wildlife conservation center called Save Our Seabirds. The center takes in sick and injured birds from the wild, treats them, and then returns them to their habitats. The Wild Bird Learning Center is a part of Save Our Seabirds and is home to any rescued birds that can’t be released.
Over 150 birds are cared for at the facility, which spans three acres. As a component of the facility’s mission to reach out to the community through education, this area serves as an outdoor museum. The outdoor museum features both static exhibits and interactive activities for visitors of all ages. Trips and camps during the summer are also available for kids at the center.
Contact Number: (941) 388-3010; Location: 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway; Sarasota, FL
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
The Sarasota Classic Car Museum, located in a 60,000-square-foot building, is the United States’ second-oldest classic car museum. More than seventy-five rare, unique, and classic automobiles are on display at any given time.
A 1965 Mercedes-Benz once owned by John Lennon, a collection of Rolls Royce once owned by John and Mable Ringling, and many more were among the vehicles on display. Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, and Rivolta are just a few of the Italian car collection.
Location: 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236; Contact Number: (941) 355-6228
The Sarasota Orchestra has been performing continuously since its founding in 1949 under the name Florida West Coast Symphony. The orchestra has its permanent home at Holley Hall in the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center. Eighty musicians make up the orchestra that annually tours Sarasota, Charlotte, and Manatee counties for more than a hundred concerts of various genres.
A youth orchestra was founded by the orchestra in 1959 as part of its commitment to education. There are seven sections to this orchestra: In 2008, New York City’s Carnegie Hall played host to the world premiere of the Youth Philharmonic, the most advanced ensemble in the Youth Symphony Orchestra.
Location: Sarasota, Florida, 941-953-3434 Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail
The Celery Fields
Located in Sarasota County, Florida, the Celery Fields are a wetland area. Situated on the Great Florida Birding Trail, the wetland area in question has a lookout mound, walking paths, and ponds. The site, which is larger than 360 acres, is also the primary location for collecting stormwater in Sarasota County.
Over two hundred thousand aquatic trees and plants were planted, and two boardwalks were built so that people could observe the wetlands and their inhabitants after 100 acres had been restored. There have been sightings of 217 different bird species at this location, making it a prime destination for birdwatchers.
Location: 6799 Palmer Boulevard, Sarasota, FL 34243 Phone: (941)861-5000
Historic Spanish Point
The Webb family originally settled at Spanish Point in Little Sarasota Bay after making the journey from New York. After learning of the Spanish settlement, the Webb family gave the area the name Historic Spanish Point. Traveling to old Florida just got better with a visit to that site.
Cedar Hollow and Colonial Gables
DIY tours of Sarasota neighborhoods that have become famous for their holiday light displays are available to visitors on a holiday night. Locations of interest in Sarasota include the Cedar Hollow and Colonial Gables areas.
There are many great holiday activities to do in Sarasota Florida. Some of the favorites include visiting the beach, taking a trip to the park, shopping at local businesses, and enjoying a meal at a restaurant. If you’re looking for something fun to do during your vacation, be sure to check out some of these activities!
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