Ringling's Children Garden - Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Ringling's Children Garden - Photo by Eddie Kirsch

Family activities for kids and adults

Sometimes what the kids want to do and what the grownups want to do don’t exactly match. But vacation can’t be all theme parks and hot dogs; here are five places in Sarasota with a little bit for you and a little bit for them and a whole lot of happy everyone.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

For Adults

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Acres upon acres of pristine botanical plants, ranging from massive banyan trees to exquisite orchids. A historic dwelling-turned-museum demonstrates the rich history of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Gourmet food, such as grain bowls, organic salads, and coffee to be enjoyed indoors or amongst the stunning flora and flauna. Pathway along the mangroves gives an up close view of the local birds, crabs, and sea life. The Garden’s gift shop and adjacent plant shop provide ample goodies to bring home. Adult tours are also available for guardians with a little alone time.

For Kids

For a dollar, feed the koi fish. The indoor play area, Kid’s Corner, provides nature-themed puzzles, books, coloring, and crafts, as well as a scavenger hunt of the Gardens. The newly-expanded Ann Goldstein’s Children’s Rainforest Garden lets kids and adults alike explore the treetop pathway, mangrove-adjacent swings, or play huts. Selby House Cafe pairs their gourmet items with kid-pleasing items such as PB&J and baby carrots to appease all diners. Massive exposed roots of the 100-year-old banyan tree beg to climbed and explored; are they dragon claws or octopus tentacles?

Insider Tip:

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has reciprocity with many botanical gardens throughout the country, as well as the American Horticultural Society, for discounted ticket prices.

The Ringling

For Adults

Ringling Museum
Ca’ d’Zan at the Ringling Museum

The Ringling, composed of the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan, and Bayfront Gardens offers world-renown art, stunning grounds, a historic mansion, background on the lives of John and Mable Ringling, rose garden, sweeping views of Sarasota Bay, and sculptures galore. The Muse at Ringling provides upper-scale dining. The Museum’s gift shop lets you bring home a bit of that culture and art. Guided tours of the Museum of Art and Circus Museum are included in ticket sales.

For Kids

In the lobby, grab a Scavenger Hunt form and make it an adventure. On Saturdays at 1:00, $2 will buy a ticket to Kids Quest, a 45-minute activity that teaches the attendees about a particular portion of the art. Saturdays also offer ROAR! Storytime and Family Workshop where books enlighten and children make their own art. The Circus Museum boasts the world’s largest miniature circus, as well as the clown car, costumes, high wire, and other circus memorabilia. Grab goodies from the Banyan Café, have a picnic amongst the Dwarf Garden, then play amongst the trees on the playground.

Insider Tip:

Entrance to the grounds is always free. On Mondays, entrance to the art museum is free – arrive early to avoid lines. Thursdays offer Art After 5 with discounted tickets from 5-8pm.

Bayfront Park

For Adults

Bayfront Park
Bayfront Park

O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill gives the quintessential Florida tiki experience with live music, boat drinks, and sand underfoot. Exquisite views of the marina, Sarasota Bay, and iconic Ringling Bridge. Marina Jacks serves upscale dining with views galore. Hop on Le Barge Tropical Cruises for troprock music, refreshing cocktails, and a zip around the Bay for a cruise like no other.

For Kids

The playground and adjacent Children’s Fountain burn that vacation energy right out. Peddle boats and aqua cycles are available for rent at Bayfront Excursions, next to O’Leary’s for a ride amongst the sailboats. Live music sets the beat for a little groove and puppies to pet abound.

Insider Tip:

Fountains are open April to October starting at 10am. No tickets needed. Be sure to catch the sunset from end of park.

Sarasota Farmers Market

Farmers Market produce. Photo credit: Abby Weingarten
Farmers Market produce. Photo credit: Abby Weingarten

For Adults

Fresh, local produce gives your vacation stomach a refreshing break from restaurant fare. Artisan crafts and products provide the ideal souvenir and a glimpse into the culture of the residents. Live music entertains as you savor your breakfast brat wrap or artisan coffee. Take some goodies to go and stock up your rental for that fresh taste all vacation long. Follow up with a stroll down Main Street.

For Kids

Puppy watch while enjoying a feast of gourmet breakfast cookie and freshly squeezed juice. Pick from a plethora of local fruits and let the juice drip down your chin. Craft toys, crafts, and seashells represent a simpler form of childhood fun. Listen to mom & dad say “yes” a lot amongst the too-good-to-be-good-for-you yummies (popsicles, included). Rides and free craft tables are available most weeks.

Insider tip:

Bring a cooler or insulated bag to preserve items in the Florida heat. Visit the website for music lineup.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State park
Myakka River State park

For Adults

Hike the trails, canoe amongst gators, bike the trails, and more at Myakka River State Park. All equipment is for rent to take the burden off your vacationing self. Climb the 74-foot tower for expansive views of the Park. The Pink Gator Café offers such Florida fare as alligator stew as you watch the Myakka River for wildlife and serenity. Spend the night in a log cabin and listen for nocturnal critters such as possums and owls.

For Kids

Walk 25 feet above the ground on the 100-foot-long Myakka Canopy Walkway. Embrace your inner Wild Kratt or Jeff Corwin in search of deer, armadillos, gators, maybe a panther, and other wildlife. Ride the Tram Safari on an airboat ride. Perfect your s’more making and storytelling around a campfire. Savor an iced coco at the Pink Gator Café.

Insider tip:

Friends of Myakka River hosts concerts under the full moon; enjoy folksie tunes below illuminated slash pines. Bring along a wildlife book or download an app (Merlin Bird ID is great for birds) so you can identify the creatures you encounter.