The Ca' d'Zan at The Ringling
Heather Young

10 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?

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.

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 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.

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. 

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. 

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.