Sarasota Jungle Gardens - Parrot with bright red plummage - Photo Credit: Eddie Kirsch
Sarasota Jungle Gardens - Parrot with bright red plummage - Photo Credit: Eddie Kirsch

12 Sarasota County summer activities for the family

Here's a list of activities and attractions the entire family can enjoy this summer in Sarasota County.

It's summertime and the living is easy… That is, until your child begins to utter the common summer gripe that all parents dread: "I'm bored. There's nothing to do around here!"

Fret not, Moms and Dads, because when the boredom blues strike, Sarasota has you covered. We've compiled a list of activities and attractions the entire family can enjoy so that, with any luck, you'll be hearing a lot less "I'm bored!" and a lot more "Wow, can we do that again?" this summer.

Make a Day of the Ringling

Ringling Museum.  Photo credit: Eddie Kirsch.
Ringling Museum.  Photo credit: Eddie Kirsch.

From its extensive art galleries to its spectacular circus museum, the space within the walls of The Ringling Museum could fill a day -- but be sure you make your way outside, as well, where the new Bolger Playspace invites kids to romp on its imaginative playground equipment.

Although the gallery setting may seem like an intimidating place to bring the younger tykes, Ringling encourages parents to introduce youngsters of all ages into the galleries, where age-appropriate looking games such as "find the animals in the paintings" can engage the whole family with the arts. Adjacent to the galleries, the Ringling Circus Museum delights kids and adults alike with the glitz and glam of a century's worth of circus memorabilia and history. The museum also includes an interactive learning center, where visitors can "walk the tightrope" and clown around while learning about circus culture in an educational three-ring setting.

Ringling's Summer Circus Spectacular, presented in collaboration with the Circus Arts Conservatory of Sarasota, is a special kid-oriented event that takes place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from June 18 - July 30. The event takes place in the historic Asolo Theatre on the Ringling grounds, and includes clowning, magic acts, trapeze artistry and acrobatics--a surefire way to escape summertime boredom in Florida's circus town.

Experience the Rainforest at Selby Gardens

Selby Rainforest Garden
Selby Rainforest Garden

Did you know that Sarasota has a tropical rainforest right in its own backyard? The Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden at Sarasota's Selby Gardens.

This interactive space gives children of all ages a unique opportunity to learn through exploration and play, as they make natural discoveries in the nooks and crannies of the 100 year-old banyan tree around which the Rainforest Garden is based. The Children's Rainforest Garden also includes a 12' waterfall, a forest pool filled with aquatic rainforest plants, a 27' foot-high canopy walk and rope bridge, an epiphyte canyon, and a variety of research and education stations, where kids can examine plants using field botany instruments and explore interactive tropical rainforest exhibits.

Stingrays and Seahorses and Sharks, Oh Mote!

An otter from Mote Marine and Aquarium
An otter from Mote Marine and Aquarium

Sarasota's marine research institute, Mote Marine, gives visitors an opportunity to see what lies beneath the sea in an entirely new light. In addition to being a scientific research laboratory and rehabilitation center for marine wildlife such as sharks, sea turtles, manatees and dolphins, Mote Marine Aquarium is a family-friendly educational center that welcomes all ages.

With general admission, visitors have access to the aquarium and the mammal research and rehabilitation center. Touch pools give kids a chance to get up close and personal with marine life in a safe and responsible environment, where they can learn the value of the marine ecosystem and about the role they must play to protect it.

With reservations, marine enthusiasts ages 10 and over can make plans to arrive before the crowds and go on morning rounds with the Mote staff, helping to the fish and learning about how the aquarium keeps its inhabitants healthy.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Big Cat Habitat
Big Cat Habitat

Make your way back to dry land and pay a visit to Sarasota Jungle Gardens or Big Cat Habitat to hang out with exotic wildlife from around the world.

Sarasota Gardens is home to more than 150 exotic and native animals, including flamingos, macaw parrots, crocodiles and alligators, snakes, prairie dogs and primates. Daily shows such as Wildlife Wonder, Reptile Encounters and the Jungle Bird show provide educational family entertainment that delights in the form of bicycling parrots and the chance to hold creepy-crawly reptiles.

Big Cat Habitat is a nonprofit rescue sanctuary for tigers and lions, as well as other wildlife, including bears, primates and birds. The sanctuary is open to the public from 12 - 4:30pm every Wednesday through Sunday, and gives visitors and opportunity to interact with animals in its aviaries, koi pond, and recently-expanded petting zoo.

Tarzan Your Way Through the Treetops at Tree-Umph

Treeumph! Treetop Adventure Course
Treeumph! Treetop Adventure Course

A ten minute hop on the interstate leads to one of the most unique amusement attractions in the state, Southwest Florida's only elevated "treetop adventure course," TreeUmph!, located in neighboring east Bradenton.

Get your adrenaline pumping as you climb, swing, wobble-bridge, and zipline through the tree tops of the 14-acre nature adventure course. The course provides enough variety to challenge even the most athletic adventurers, but is also suited to children ages 7 and older. The course takes anywhere between two to four hours to complete, culiminating in an exhilarating 60 foot-high, 600 foot-long, zipline ride across the park.

In the summertime, families are encouraged to book their adventures early in the day to beat the heat and seasonal afternoon thunderstorms.

Let Imagination Run Free in the Children's Garden

Children's Garden
Children's Garden

For the little ones and for those who are young at heart, The Children's Garden in the downtown Gillespie Park neighborhood may just be the most magical place in Sarasota. The whimsical, two-acre garden playground includes a fairy garden, a pirate ship, a climbable dragon, a giant chessboard, a maze, a butterfly garden, a dress-up station and theatre stage, and an art studio.

Daily activities at the Chlidren's Garden include gardening classes, "magic nature" classes that teach about "everything from bugs to rainbows", art project classes, and "step into a story" nature stories that unfold on the Children's Garden ampitheatre stage.

Geared toward the younger tykes, The Children's Garden is full of magical surprises to keep the little ones entertained, and makes for an enchanting spot where all ages will enjoy settling down for a picnic.

Get Creative at the Art Center

Art Center Sarasota
Art Center Sarasota

One tried and true recipe for conquering boredom is to flex the creative muscles. The art centers in Sarasota, Venice, North Port, Longboat Key and Englewood host workshops and programs throughout the year to appeal to artists of all ages, including kids as young as elementary age.

Admission to the Art Centers in Sarasota and Manatee County is free, and visitors have the opportunity to explore the galleries, where they can be inspired by the work of both local and visiting artists.

The North Port Art Center offers free art classes on Saturdays for kids, as well as summer art camps. Similar programs are also offered at the Venice Art Center, as well as Art Center Sarasota.

Have a Splashing Good Time at the YMCA Water Park

YMCA Aquatic Center
YMCA Aquatic Center

There's no better way to cool off on a hot summer day than with a trip to the water park. The aquatic center at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones Branch YMCA in Sarasota, located next to the Westfield Mall in south Sarasota, is a haven for families seeking to beat the summer heat.

In addition to the traditional community center amenities, the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA includes a 50-meter Olympic size pool and diving pool for serious swimmers, as well as the Josephine Lofino water park, where anyone can slip and splash down the twisting water slides or cool off in the water jets.

It's wet and wild, it's fun--and most important of all, the YMCA water park provides refuge from the summer heat.

Go Fishing

Fishing charters abound in Sarasota County
Fishing charters abound in Sarasota County

Whether you prefer to stay on the shore or sail the high seas (or at least the bay), an afternoon spent with a rod and reel in hand is a terrific way to pass the time. Head out to the Ken Thompson Pass fishing pier, the Ringling Causeway Park fishing pier, or the Venice fishing pier to keep your feet on land, or if you have your eye on the big catch, hit they bay or the Gulf on a charter fishing tour.

Flying Fish Fleet is a family-friendly Sarasota charter that offer off-shore fishing excursions for all ages. Hit the Gulf waters with Siesta Key Fishing Adventures for trips lasting between 4-12 hours to wrangle the wildest fish in local waters, or join Flying Fish Fleet on a trip that sails from the bayfront park at Marina Jacks, where upon your return, you can even have your fished cooked up at O'Leary's Tiki Bar by the bay.

Get in Touch with Nature on an Eco-Tour

Wildlife tours in Sarasota County bring you up close to native critters
Wildlife tours in Sarasota County bring you up close to native critters

It's impossible to be bored when surrounded by new and unique wilderness. Myakka Wildlife Tours and The Sarasota Bay Explorers take advantage of Sarasota's natural landscape to provide a variety of tours that explore different parts of the area's diverse ecological environments.

Hop on board the Sarasota Bay Explorers' "Miss Explorer," where your family will have the opportunity to sculpt their own itinerary from a variety of options that include bird watching, snorkeling, shark teeth collecting, manatee and dolphin observation and more, or take a trip with a marine biologist to view sea birds in their nesting habitats and get up close with wacky marine life such as puffer fish and sea horses. Sarasota Bay Explorers also offers guided kayak tours in South Lido Park, suitable for all ages six and over.

Two Myakka Wildlife Tours vessels, "The Myakka Maiden" and "Gator Gal," are a roaring good time. These airboats will take you on an exhilarating (and noisy) tour through Upper Myakka Lake, where alligators roam the wetlands, and egrets and herons nest in the mangroves.

Grill Out at the Beach

Lido Beach South
Lido Beach South

A summer in Sarasota would not be complete without a barbeque at one of the nation's top beach destinations, Lido Beach or Siesta Key Beach.

Siesta Key Beach, designated the "No. 1 Beach in America"  by Dr. Beach in 2011, is consistently recognized as one of the top beaches in the United States, due to its sparkling white, powdery sand that stays cool even on the hottest days. The beach park includes amenities such as barbecue grills, a playground, picnic tables with shaded seating and beach volleyball nets.

Like the Siesta Key Beach Park, the Ted Sperling Park at South Lido Beach is a terrific barbecue and picnic spot, where visitors can enjoy the setting of a natural Florida beach. In addition to grills, picnic tables and playground equipment, the Lido Beach Park includes self-guided nature trails with beaches along both Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as kayak and canoe launches and trails.

Explore the Cosmos

Located less than twenty minutes from Sarasota in neighboring Manatee County, the South Florida Museum and Bishop Planetarium presents the unique opportunity to take an educational journey that starts in prehistoric Florida and travels across the cosmos.

Kids of all ages delight in the discovery of ancient fossils from Florida's earliest paleolithic inhabitants, as well as relics and artifacts of the Native American tribes who resided in the greater Sarasota and Tampa Bay region prior to western settlement, in the natural and cultural history museum. The museum leads to the Parker Aquarium, where local celebrity, "Snooty the Manatee," resides and delights his fans during his thrice-daily feeding sessions.

The South Florida Museum also contains a planetarium, where daily shows inspire "oohs" and "ahhs" from the audience while highlighting the vast wonders of the galaxy. On a rainy day, the combination of indoor activities at the South Florida Museum and its aquarium and planetarium provide a full day of boredom-busters.

When boredom strikes this summer, you need not venture outside of Sarasota for the cure. Whether it's a visit to the art gallery that's up your family's alley, or a trip to the beach or even the farthest reaches of the solar system, it's impossible to be bored when there's entertainment at every turn!

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Photos of Tammy Jones's Family enjoying Splashin' Selby
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