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15 reasons to visit friends and family in Sarasota this Summer

Hang out on a beach, savor a meal, go on a bike ride, enjoy a sunset and see world-class performing arts. There's a ton of reasons to visit Sarasota this summer, what's yours?

So you're looking for an excuse to slip away this summer... perhaps to a place where you can dig your toes into the sand, sip on sunshine, and sink your teeth into each and every slice of paradise you discover?

Here are fifteen reasons why you 'ota consider a visit to your folks, friends and family in Sarasota.

Longboat Key | Christina Astore

Beach Town Vibes

Somewhere between the powder-white sand and the aquamarine and emerald-hued waves that kiss the Gulf coast shoreline, it's easy to drift off in a daydream about Sarasota's award-winning beaches.

Beachside living is a year-round lifestyle in Sarasota. Catch the Siesta Key Drum Circle on Sunday evenings, or head straight from the waterfront to the 'sandals and shorts' friendly Siesta Key Village any day of the week to find oyster bars and daiquiri decks, ice cream and mini-donuts, live music, Sarasota souvenirs, swimwear, beachy breakfast spots, and nightlife — the beach town essentials.

Beach bonus: Staying on Lido Key? For the true local experience, chow down on a lobster roll sandwich from the concession stand at the public beach at North Lido.

Siesta Key Oyster Bar | Carissa Warfield

Savor Sarasota in the Summertime

Home to the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in the state of Florida, Sarasota is a foodie's paradise. During the summertime, the culinary scene sizzles — particularly during the annual Savor Sarasota celebration in the first two weeks of June, with several restaurants extending through all of summer!

Sarasota Downtown Farmers Market

Farm-to-Picnic Potential

Beach and bayside parks with playgrounds, sea grape-kissed islands accessible by kayak, and the oak and pine-shaded natural habitats of Sarasota's Myakka and Oscar Scherer State Parks provide an array of scenic settings for Florida picnics.

For the truly local picnic experience, swing by a Sarasota Farmer's Market to meet the farmer responsible for the juicy watermelon slices in your basket, the sweet corn and tomatoes, and cilantro that might make their way into your perfect picnic salsa, or the local orange blossom or wildflower honey for your sweet tea. 

'Hook-to-Fork' Dining

From the placid inshore mangrove tunnels to the thrill of trophy sport fishing offshore on the Gulf of Mexico, Sarasota is an angler's dream. If fishing is your pleasure, take the time to enjoy the satisfaction of hooking and dining on your own hard-caught catch in Sarasota — but you're on vacation, so let someone else do the cooking.

"You catch, we cook" restaurants in Sarasota including Walt's Fish Market and Currents Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency will cook up your fresh catch to perfection.

Smooth Cycling

Bicycling in Florida is a breeze year-round, thanks to the state's naturally flat terrain. Rent a beach cruiser for breezy transportation around Lido Key and Siesta Key, or check out Sarasota's bikeable historic downtown neighborhoods with a rental from Sarasota Bike Tours. Spend a morning exploring with a ride to the Towles Court Artist Colony before catching an indie flick at Burns Court Cinema, and then take a spin through the heart of downtown on Main Street on your way to the marina-side Bayfront Park.

South of downtown, Sarasota's Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park offer 23 bike-friendly miles of uninterrupted nature trails, public art, and historical sites in south Sarasota County.

Stunning Summer Sunsets

Truth be told, every season on Florida's Gulf coast is sunset season — especially in Sarasota, where the sun sets each evening over some of the best-ranked beaches in the United States — but there's something special about summer sunsets.

Summer storm season often brings cooling late-night downpours to subtropical Sarasota during the months of July through September. As a result, summer sunsets often feature dramatic rolling clouds and heat lightning that electrifies the sky over the horizon — or, in other words, very enviable Instagram material.

World Class Performing Arts

There's no such thing as an 'off season' in the Sarasota performing arts scene, as summertime offers an array of world-class entertainment from the symphony to the improv comedy stage.

The Sarasota Music Festival, one of the premier youth classical music festivals in the nation, brings top pre-professional students from across the country to study and perform with hand-selected faculty from the top of their fields during the three-week festival in June, offering concert-goers intimate opportunities to experience the rising stars of the classical world. 

Florida Studio Theatre hosts its annual Sarasota Improv Festival July 13-15 featuring top improv troupes from around the U.S. for three days of nonstop laughter.

Learn more about the Sarasota Summer Stage, including ticket specials at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, West Coast Black Theatre Troupe, The Urbanite Theatre, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, The Players Theatre, the Venice Theatre, and McCurdy's Comedy Club. 

It's a Kayaker's Paradise

In search of a little peace and quiet? Look no further than the mangrove tunnels of Lido Key, along the the Intracoastal Waterway in south Sarasota County, or deep in the wild and scenic swampland of the 66 mile-long Myakka River.

Whether it's casual bay, lake and river paddling you seek, or the more physically demanding fitness thrill of tackling Gulf waves: kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding are some of the best ways to explore the spectacular aquatic side Sarasota's unbeaten path.

Dolphins and manatees, roseate spoonbill, pelicans, rays, osprey, turtles, alligators and deer are just some of the wildlife to be witnessed during a serene eco paddle adventure through Sarasota waterways. 

Grill Out Sarasota Style for Barbecue Season

There's just something about the combination of salt water, beach volleyball, fresh lemonade, sunshine, swimsuits, juicy burgers and grilled corn on the cob… Summertime is the season for sizzling seasoned vegetables and meat on the grill, beachside is the best way to barbecue in Sarasota.

Find a place in the shade, playground-side, at South Lido Park or Siesta Key Beach to fire up the charcoal grill, set up a feast at the picnic tables, and kick back with friends over something sweet and tangy or smoky and spicy — just don't forget the sauce and the sunscreen.

Rainy Day Culture Kicks

Sunny days tend to get most of the attention as the great outdoors beckon from the beach, the bay, and outdoor markets and cafes of Sarasota and Venice. Rainy summer days have their charm — because you really 'ota find an excuse to spend some time in the great indoors, too, during your visit to Sarasota.

Stay dry and get cultured at The Ringling with a full day's worth of activities: take in Baroque and Renaissance art, Modern Art, the art of Asian antiquity, and stimulating special exhibitions in the art galleries; immerse yourself in the dazzle of Big Top circus life in the Ringling circus history museum, and travel back in time to the 1920s in John and Mable Ringling's' very Gatsby-esque Ca' d'Zan Mansion. 

Local Flavor from Craft Breweries and Food Trucks

The craft brewery has developed a reputation in thriving cities across the U.S. as the casual, food truck-friendly hangout of choice — and in Sarasota there are plenty of brew hubs from which to choose. Get a taste for local flavors — from south Florida fruit-inspired IPAs and gose beers to richy coffee porters, and even local root beer — as well as local street food classics served up by rotating food truck vendors at Sarasota's local breweries.

Shopping for Chic and for Quirk

Whether it be high end fashion boutiques or artsy salvage yards that catch your particular fancy — shopping in Sarasota offers a variety of one-of-a-kind adventures.

Wind your way around St. Armand's Circle for everything from high end art galleries and designer shops to beachy souvenir spots and specialty pet shops. Among the greatest thrills of shopping St. Armand's Circle are the delectable scents wafting from sidewalk bistros, gourmet restaurants, cupcake and fudge shops. You really 'ota treat yourself.

Treasure hunters should plan a day trip to Sarasota Architectural Salvage — part antiques warehouse, part salvage yard, and full DIY-inspiration paradise. SAS features upcycled art and furniture scavenged from historical demolition sites, flea markets and estate sales that is repurposed by the SAS crew and local artists into one-of-a-kind treasures. Show up a hot summer day when the ice chest is packed, and you may even be greeted at the door with an ice cold complimentary beer to keep you cool as you wind through the warehouse maze. 

The 'Old Florida' Allure

While Sarasota has all the urban amenities of a modern arts city, it manages yet to maintain the charming allure of "Old Florida" living — think porch swings, mingling flamingos, and spectacularly fragrant summer flowers that produce blooms worthy of a year-long wait.

Stroll through downtown Sarasota's historic Laurel Park neighborhood, filled with traditional Florida cottages and bungalows dating to the 1920s and 30s, and follow the intoxicating scent in the evening to catch glimpses of spectacular night blooming cereus — a flower that blooms just one night per year — crawling up Laurel's aged oaks. 

For a classic taste of the 'Old Florida' vacation experience, pay a visit to Sarasota Jungle Gardens, a 75+ year attraction lush with wildlife and one of the oldest and most famous tropical bird shows in the state of Florida. 

On Weekends We Brunch

Brunch, like breweries, is an indicator of a healthy city — or certainly a city with a healthy appetite —  and Sunday brunch in Sarasota is not just a trend: it's tradition.

Bloody Mary bars. Craft mimosas. Cold-brewed coffee. Thick, crispy bacon. Fresh, vegan-friendly greens and grains. Lemon curd and blackberry pancakes. Juice bars. Fried chicken and waffles. Lobster eggs benedict. Oyster bars. Sunday Gospel brunching. Home-cooked Amish breakfasts. Fresh-baked croissants. Eggs in every imaginable incarnation — you get the picture:

Whatever gets your mouth watering in the morning, Sarasota has the brunch spot to satisfy every craving. Don't miss the chance to indulge with friends and family at every available brunch opportunity — and we promise, there will be plenty of options.

Live Music Under the Stars

Something magical happens with the summer sun goes down and the breeze picks up in the evening — and Sarasota venues take advantage of that magic. Here are some of the most charming locations to dance the night away under the stars or enjoy a bite and a beverage, accompanied by live music, throughout the summer.

Every first Friday of the month, Lakewood Ranch Main Street hosts a free concert series with space to dance in the street and food vendors aplenty. On third Fridays, soak in live music under the stars in a stunning bayside setting at the Van Wezel's free Friday Fest summer concert series.

For an auditory taste of the truly local, hear live music every Thursday evening at the Sarasota Tea House Open Mic Night, and on Friday nights at the outdoor urban terrace at Payne Park, Cafe in the Park

Visit Sarasota? You Really 'Ota…

From brunch to sunset — and every beach trip, kayak trek, music festival, art adventure, farmer's market picnic, flamingo encounter, sip and taste of Sarasota in between — anyone can find a reason to slip away for a summer excursion in Sarasota.

Pay a visit, but we do have one warning: You may be tempted to write up your own list of 'Fifteen Reasons Why I Can't Wait to Return to Sarasota Next Summer.'