East of Fruitville: Travel a Different Path

There's lots to discover when you head east on Fruitville Road

Get off Interstate 75 at Fruitville Road in Sarasota, and your tendency might be to go west. After all, that direction will take you toward downtown Sarasota, the beaches, and attractions like Mote Aquarium.

But head east on Fruitville Road, and you’ll find all kinds of cool sites to explore perfect for outdoorsy types, animal lovers, and folks who enjoy a slower pace.

You’ll first come upon the Fruitville Library, which offers weekly story time for kids, free concerts and speakers, and other events and classes. The library also marks the spot where you’ll want to turn off Fruitville Road to head to the Celery Fields (941-861-5000), a popular county park where more than 200 species of birds have been spotted.

This will also take you to Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, a large-animal rescue organization home to bears, lions, tigers, and other creatures. Visitors can learn more about the site’s namesake animals during Big Cat Encounter shows that are offered Wednesday through Sunday.

Continuing east on Fruitville Road will bring you to Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse, an open-air spot for barbecue and live music. Grab a seat under the tiki hut and order up some ribs, beef brisket, or fried chicken accompanied by sides like fried okra, collard greens, and cornbread.

For more good eats, stop at Fruitville Grove, which grows citrus, cucumbers, bell peppers, okra, strawberries, and other fruits and veggies. Visit the produce stand to see what’s in season; the market also sells Amish-made goods, jams, honey, and ice cream. Fruitville Grove hosts a Berry Festival in March with kids’ activities and a variety of berry-centric treats and a Pumpkin Festival in October offering all kinds of fall fun.

Across the road is Sun-N-Fun RV Resort. During the winter months, it’s a hotspot for snowbirds. During the summer it opens up to the general public, offering day passes that provide access to the resort’s pool, waterslide, and indoor aquatic obstacle course. It’s a great place to take the kids when the temperature starts rising.

If you’d rather take a swing than make a splash, head to Tatum Ridge Golf Links. The Scottish-style links course is situated among preserved wetlands and 11 lakes and features a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch.

Continue heading east and you’ll pass by churches, schools, and the upscale Founders Club housing development. Farms and growers located along or just off this stretch produce everything from bamboo to honey. Equine operations are also common in this parts.

When Fruitville Road hits Myakka Road, head south until you reach the Crowley Museum and Nature Center. Open to the public mainly on weekends, it gives visitors a glimpse of Florida’s past.

Hiking trails wind through the site’s 191 acres, traveling through piney flatwoods and oak hammocks. A half-mile boardwalk traverses through swamp- and marshland and offers a view of the Myakka River. Historic structures include a general store that’s been turned into a museum, and farm animals like chickens, pigs, and Cracker cattle can be found on the grounds. It’s a peaceful spot to enjoy nature and learn about a side of Sarasota County that you won’t find if you just stick to the beach.