50 Things to Do With Only a Few Hours in Sarasota
Here are some of the best activities you can try around Sarasota County when you are trying to get the most out of a quick visit to the destination
We can’t – and shouldn’t - schedule everything and sometimes you have two hours or so to spare between meetings or before your dinner reservation. What to do with that time rather than sit in your hotel room and watch trash tv, wishing you were enjoying the city you’re in? Whatever your interest – be it history, food, sports or leisure – Sarasota has a fun mini-activity to fill that gap in your day.
Hike around Red Bug Slough Preserve to admire the natural Florida flora, critters, and trails without the trek to Myakka your limited time frame may not allow. The easy sneakers- or sandals-friendly trails are shorter and easy to navigate, so you’re definitely sure to make it back in time for the next item on the agenda.
A few hours isn’t enough time for a full 18 holes, but is perfect for a pop-in at the driving range at one of Sarasota’s 60+ golf courses, including three courses wrapped into one through Golf in Venice.
Drop into local favorite O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill lining downtown's bayfront for some live music with tropical flair. If time allows, indulge in a fruity cocktail from the bar or a ride on a paddle boat on Sarasota Bay.
Pamper yourself with a treatment at Spa at The Ritz-Carlton downtown. A 30-minute hydrafacial or 80-minute massage will fit that random time window quite nicely.
Search for hidden goodies at Red Barn Flea Market, one of Florida's most popular and progressive flea markets in the area and a local landmark.
Venice Beach, the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, provides mile after mile of beaches sprinkled with black fossilized teeth, waiting to be discovered. A quick stroll may yield millions-year-old treasures.
The Ringling Art Museum is a must-do for any Sarasota visit. Take advantage of the no-admission grounds or free admission Mondays so any length of visit isn’t going to break the bank.
There seems to always be a public event or festival of some type (fishing, art, stone crab, chalk, movie) going on in Sarasota, perfect for a quick look-see into what’s what.
Check out some local art at the Art Center Sarasota. The ever-changing (and free!) exhibits vary in style and scope, so there’s always something on which to feast your eyes.
Feed the gators at Smuggler’s Cove Adventure Golf (and putt-putt a round if time allows)
Got kids? Head over to one of Sarasota’s parks to jump, climb, slide, and swing – the train- and circus-themed ones are especially novel.
Mote Marine Aquarium is divided into two halves – with two hours to spare, you can definitely do the whole of one side. Which will it be – sharks, otters, sea turtles or manatees?
Take a leisurely stroll along the Sarasota Bayfront Park. Sailboats, birds, dolphins, a walking trail, fountain and friendly faces adorn the optimum views of John Ringling Bridge and beyond.
Take a self-guided photo op tour and Instagram your heart out. #MySarasota
Explore the neighborhood of Newtown and delve into its history and culture with Newtown Alive. The Civil Rights Heritage Trail, trolley tours and docent-led church tours elaborate upon the rich history of the area.
Stroll, run, bike, rollerblade or skate the newly-extended Legacy Trail, featuring 30 continuous miles of paved trails from South Sarasota to Venice, with beautiful trailheads and rest stops in between.
Tucked away in plain sight, the Sarasota Garden Club serves as the easiest get-away when you don’t have a lot of time to get away. As long as it’s daylight, the gardens are open for your enjoyment.
Cross the iconic Ringling Bridge into St. Armand’s Circle. Traverse the route, shopping, noshing on ice cream, peruse art and people-watch. Pop into notable Columbia Restaurant for epic Cuban bread and Sangria. The Circle Ring of Fame pays tribute to famous circus performers from around the world.
Learn the history of Sarasota from prehistory to the present at Historic Spanish Point. A few hours are perfect for a thorough self-guided tour of the 30 acres.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens abounds with creepy crawlies, reptiles, and trick-performing birds. Feed a flamingo, hold a macaw and (finally) learn to tell the difference between alligators and crocodiles.
Into things that go zoom? The Sarasota Classic Car Museum Inc. covers it all from 1885 to the present.
Let the stir-crazy kids get out that pent-up energy at Bounce Down Under, an Australian-themed indoor bounce house extravaganza. Older kiddos may prefer Jumpin Fun Inflata Park, a massive indoor maze and ninja course. Two hours is perfect; any longer and you’re risking over-tired, which is a recipe for disaster.
Feed a liger at Big Cat Habitat, home to (I kid you not) lions, tigers and bears (oh my!).
Historic and quirky Burns Court neighborhood is the quintessential location for unique photo ops, shops, and charm. Bring your camera and an open mind and explore for an hour or so.
Let someone else take the wheel as you enjoy the views aboard Siesta Key Breeze Trolley. Ride it over to the beach, take a stroll, enjoy the views, feel the sun on your skin and then head back to reality.
Lounge by the pool for a few hours at The Sarasota Modern. For a small fee, amenities such as their luxurious pool, hot tub, Juice Bar access, ping pong and more are yours to enjoy at the downtown hotspot.
Two things I could do forever – drink coffee and people-watch. Get the best of both at C’est la Vie. Delicious lattes and prime outdoor seating on Main Street, the hub of downtown Sarasota? Oui, oui!
Embrace your sense of adventure and give parasailing or jet skiing in the Gulf a try with Siesta Key Watersports. When in Rome, er, Sarasota, right?
An artisan cocktail and a friendly companion can both be found at Libby’s Neighborhood Brasserie, where scrumptious swills await you. Have more time to waste? Stroll through the Southside Village for quaint boutiques, gourmet specialties, coffee shops and more.
When in doubt, go shopping at the massive University Town Center (UTC) district and the luxurious Mall at UTC, where just about every retail store you could want will be waiting.
Search out the myriad art installations around the county – some new, some old, some big, some bigger.
Sit under the Bodhi tree and watch the Bay in the quiet serenity of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Perhaps you’ll reach enlightenment.
Grab a pint (or flight!) of craft beer from one of the local breweries and brewpubs of Sarasota County – where food trucks often line for bites to pair with your beverage.
Stop and smell the roses – literally – in the rose garden of historic Edson Keith Mansion. If time allows, Phillippi Estate Park, in which it’s located, also features a nature trail and infographics detailing the history of adjacent Phillippi Creek.
Watch the sunset over the water – any time of the year is a spectacular time for this.
Meet up with friends at Snook Haven in Venice and explore Old Florida with a one-hour tour of the Myakka River.
Stroll through the nature trail at Ken Thompson Park, watching for fiddler crabs scurrying underfoot.
Sarasota is home to more than 300 known species of bird. Grab your binoculars – or even just your eyeballs – and do a little birding. The Celery Fields and Oscar Scherer State Park are two popular destinations for ornithology enthusiasts, but even a drive down I-75 will reveal osprey nests and swooping cranes.
Use this gift of time to really nail that family/couple/friends photo. Fix your collar, adjust your hair, find that perfect spot and take your time. The relaxation and joy will shine right through the picture in a way a rushed selfie just wouldn’t cut it.
It seems like the most obvious, but sometimes we need reminders – or permission – to do something so simple and pure - go for a walk on the beach. Feel the sand under your toes and the breeze in your hair. As Jimmy Buffet says, “Salt air it ain’t thin. It can stick right to your skin, and make you feel fine.”