Wild Sarasota: A Guide to Enjoying the Great Outdoors in Sarasota County

Every season is the perfect season to get outside and enjoy the weather in Sarasota, thanks to Florida's year-round sunshine and temperate climates. From sea to shore, the opportunities to explore and appreciate the Great Outdoors are abundant in Sarasota County.

The balmy breezes that waft in from the Sarasota bayside, the pearly-white sands of Siesta Key that sparkle in the sunshine, the untamed wilderness of the Myakka State Park wetlands and pinelands. It's true: the great outdoors of Florida's Gulf Coast are like no other place on Earth. From sport fishing to extraordinary journeys deep into the heart of one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks, wild excitement awaits at every turn. Where will your sense of adventure lead you?

Get on the Water

To anyone who's spent any time on the water in Sarasota, it's no surprise that local beaches like Lido Beach and Siesta Key Beach are frequently ranked among the top beaches in the United States, or that the nation's wealthiest members at the turn of the 20th century, such as circus magnate John Ringling, flocked to the Sarasota bayside to build their elaborate homes. The pristine cerulean and emerald waterways of Sarasota are simply magical, and remain today among the area's top spots for outdoor recreation and leisure.

Paddleboarding - What'SUP

There are plenty of ways to get your feet wet in Sarasota. Take the paddle into your own hands with kayak and standup paddleboard (SUP) rentals from What'SUP. Beginners worry not: stand up paddleboarding is an easy paddle activity to learn, and can be done on any body of water. What'SUP offers private lessons and guided tours on Sarasota Bay, led by WPA (World Paddle Association) certified instructor, John Kurz -- or you can rent a board for the day to paddle out on your own.  What'SUP also has single and tandem kayaks available for rental. All paddle craft rentals are available for four-hour or eight-hour blocks.

Man-powered Crafts - Enticer Water Sports

An assortment of man-powered watercraft, including paddle boats, kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, and aqua cycles are available for rent on the bay and on the Gulf at Enticer Water Sports. The watercraft rental company also offers waverunners, and sailboats in various sizes ranging from 13 - 25 feet in length. Sailboats are available for experienced sailors, or a captain may be hired for an additional fee.

Powered Crafts - Siesta Key Watersports

Prefer engines to paddles for your on-the-water recreation? Siesta Key Watersports offers boat and Jet Ski rentals on the Gulf, as well as dolphin tours, sunset cruises, fishing charters and parasailing rides. Siesta Key Watersports boat rentals are equipped with GPS and VHF, and Bluetooth-equipped stereos and have full access to Gulf Waterways, from as far north as Bradenton Beach, and south to Englewood in southern Sarasota County. For jet ski rentals, ages 16 and up (with a parent present) can rent jet skis for hourly rates, up to four hours, to ride in a large unrestricted riding area.

Reel in the Big Catch: Charter Fishing in Sarasota

Fishing fanatics flock to Florida's Gulf Coast for the thrill of the catch -- and there's no one more savvy to the local waters than Sarasota's charter fishing boat captains. Whether you seek the thrill of big offshore sport on the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico, or fishing in the inland mangroves, you'll get hooked on Sarasota's waterways.

Charter Services

Siesta Key Fishing Charters offers exciting fishing excursions for all ages, both inshore and offshore, as well as "near-shore" (2-3 miles off the beach), where anglers may catch mackerel, king fish, and even small sharks. Offshore deep sea excursions open the waters to red grouper, cobia, tuna and barracuda.

CB's Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key and Sarasota Bay offer private inshore, spin fishing and fly fishing charters for anglers of all ages and skill levels. Guides on CB's Saltwater Outfitters excursions practice catch-and-release, but are happy to fillet fish for the angler if they would prefer to take their catch home to cook, or to Clayton's Siesta Grill located directly behind CB's Siesta Key, where the cook will prepare the catch.

Bring home the trophy catch from an excursion with Outriggers Charters, offering half and full-day deep sea fishing excursions on the Gulf of Mexico. A family-friendly charter company, Outriggers offers daytime as well as nighttime fishing trips for big catches such as grouper, snapper, amberjack and trophy sharks.

Wolfmouth Charters, like Outriggers, offers night fishing excursions and inshore fishing, as well as offshore. For anglers who enjoy the thrill of reeling in their catch, but prefer to let it live to swim another day, Wolfmouth offers special catch and release photo-op trips: Use specialized hooks that won't harm the fish, and release your catch back into the water unharmed after the captain snaps your "bragging rights" photos. Dolphin and sunset cruises, and picnic trips to Egmont Key are also available from Wolfmouth Charters.

Hug a Tree, Spy a Butterfly, and Discover Sarasota County

Historic Spanish Point

Once you're back on dry land, there's so much Sarasota to discover! Perhaps you'll want to start from the beginning at Historic Spanish Point, a 30-acre environmental, archaeological, and historical museum on Little Sarasota Bay in Osprey.

Historic Spanish Point details prehistoric regional history in its 'Window to the Past' archaeological exhibition -- the only archaeological exhibition in the United States built inside a Native American shell mound. Sarasota County's pioneer history is preserved in its first packing house, the pioneer cemetery, and a pioneer chapel on the historic property grounds. Historic Spanish Point also features one of the largest butterfly gardens on the Gulf Coast, and a jungle walk and sunken garden.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Fans of butterflies and botanicals will also want to pay a visit to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, a 7-acre botanical garden on the bayside of downtown Sarasota, dedicated primarily to the research of orchids, epiphytes, and bromeliads. The Selby Gardens includes some of the world's premier collections of native and tropical plants, trees and mosses. In addition to its stunning botanical collections, Selby features a Children's Rainforest Garden with treetop exploration, an epiphyte canyon, a waterfall that mimics rainforest ecosystems, and research stations to help plant the seed of botanical fascination in budding explorers, researchers and naturalists.

Myakka River State Park

No adventure into the Great Outdoors in Sarasota is complete without a day-trip to Myakka River State Park, a 37,000 acre reserve in east Sarasota County. The sprawling park includes pine forests, scrub and prairies, wetland marshes and cypress domes. Bird and wildlife watching, picnicking, camping and primitive camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and canoeing are just a few of the activities to participate in on any given day at the state park. The Friends of Myakka volunteer organization, dedicated to the preservation of the park, publishes an events times and dates for monthly full moon concerts, wilderness adventures, and other park events on their website.

TreeUmph! Climbing Adventures

Change your perspective and experience the world from a bird's eye view while you monkey your way through the treetops at TreeUmph!, an east Bradenton adventure course, just outside of Sarasota County. TreeUmph!'s 14-acre adventure course is like no other in the region -- it's elevated to the tops of Florida's native pine and live oak forests. The course varies in difficulty, with levels for kids and adults that feature rope bridges and ladders, suspended logs, Tarzan swings, climbing walls and more -- all culminating in a thrilling 60 foot-high, 650 foot-long zipline ride! Get your Great Outdoors adrenaline rush here.

Sarasota Nature Tours

There's no better way to experience nature than to immerse oneself with the help of a knowledgeable guide. Sarasota County is home to scores of seasoned experts who are intimately familiar with the waterways, nature trails, and animal inhabitants of the local wild.

Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures

Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures is the largest eco-tour company in the greater Sarasota area, covering Siesta Key, Lido Key, Longboat Key, Myakka, and Anna Maria Island with a broad range of kayak tours suitable for all ages, physical conditions and experience levels. Skimming through the waterways of the greater Sarasota area in your own personal kayak, alongside a skillful guide, is an excellent way to get up close and personal with local wildlife -- in a way that is both safe and respectful to nature. Grab a paddle and choose your adventure, from the secluded mangrove tunnels of Lido Key to the shell-speckled beaches of Siesta Key. Dolphins, manatees and alligators are just a few of the creatures you may catch a glimpse of as you glide across peaceful waterways.

Bay and Gulf Adventures

Kayaking adventures also await with Bay and Gulf Adventures, a Sarasota kayak rental and tour company that promises wild encounters on every trip. Alligator sightings are guaranteed in kayak tours along the Myakka River, where the prehistoric reptiles are known to soak in the sun's rays as they bask along the riverbanks, occasionally dipping into the water to cool down. Bay and Gulf Adventures also offers a special bird watching kayak tour from Lido Key to Robert's Bay, home of the largest rookery island in the Sarasota area. Catch a glimpse of snowy egrets, great blue heron, and osprey -- or even the pink-feathered oddities, roseate spoonbills that make their nests along the water in Sarasota in these uniquely thrilling tours.

Around the Bed Nature Tours

Certified Master Naturalists and Interpretive Guides lead comprehensive educational tours deep into the wilderness that tell the intriguing story of Florida's natural history in Around the Bend Nature Tours. From birding to archaeology, Around the Bend's certified experts cover a broad range of topics relating to the history and ecology of Sarasota and neighboring Manatee County in a variety of tailored tours for children and adults.

Pond studies and catch-identify-release dipnetting adventures in the seagrass flats of Sarasota with Around the Bend experts are a unique way to get to know some of the area's most overlooked residents, from crabs to sea urchins to and seahorses. Perhaps getting wet is not your game, in which case we recommend a visit to dry land on Emerson Point in Palmetto with an archaeological guide. There, you'll learn how the Native Americans lived and used prehistoric tools in a hands-on tour through history. In these expert-led, imaginative tours, adventure is always right 'Around the Bend.'

Sarasota Bay Explorers

Hop back on the water with Sarasota Bay Explorers, an ecotour company that offers sea life encounter cruises, guided kayak tours, nature safaris in covered boats, and private charters that allow patrons to choose their own itinerary based on the group's eco-interests. Sarasota Bay Explorers works in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory to offer comprehensive, hands-on, fun and educational marine science boat trips for public and private use. Offering some of the most varied marine tours in the area, Sarasota Bay Explorers gives its patrons the opportunity to experience the tremendous diversity of Sarasota's waterways. From the salty Gulf waters to coastal grasslands, wetlands and tidal mangrove forests, there's a vast aquatic universe to explore.

Myakka Wildlife Tours

Hop aboard Myakka Wildlife Tours' 'Myakka Maiden' or 'Gator Gal' to experience the most Florida mode of transportation through the wetlands -- the airboat. Airboats are safe and eco-friendly flat-bottomed vessels that are forward-powered by airflow, which created by large, aircraft-style propellers caged to the back of the boat. They are a popular mode of transportation through the Florida Everglades and other marshy, wetland areas unique to the southern United States. To get the true taste of Florida, experiencing a ride on an airboat is a must -- and with Myakka Wildlife Tours, the thrill of an airboat ride is paired with a chance to learn new facts about the alligators, sandhill cranes, and other unique native wildlife from knowledgeable Myakka State Park rangers and tour guides.

Peace River Charters

For the ultimate off-road experience in "extreme" nature touring, catch a ride on the swamp buggy at Peace River Charters. Mucky swamps, uneven terrain, overgrown brush and wetland shallows are no match for the elevated, monster-tire swamp buggies driven by experienced guides along the Peace River. These enormous buggies elevate rider twelve feet above the terrain, the perfect vantage point for viewing the scenic wetland landscape and the more than 400 species of animals that inhabit it. Peace River Charters also offers airboat rides and tours.

The Sunshine Bottom Line: Get Outdoors!

Practically every day is a day in the sun in Sarasota, so take advantage of it -- get outside and explore, experience and discover everything Florida's Gulf Coast has to offer. You've got quite a bit of adventuring to do, so we'll leave you with just one more word of advice:

Don't forget the sunscreen!