Nightlife: Sarasota After Dark

Sarasota has enough Florida Gulf Coast nightlife to spice up (or cool down) your visit to our sunny beaches-and-beyond destination.

When many of us think of Florida, we imagine daytime activities -- visions of ourselves on the beach, out on a boat, or perhaps indoors, perusing a museum or someplace that closes its doors at 5. But what happens after the sun goes down? From Sarasota's museum nights and live music to breathtaking sunsets, there's more to do than dine and drink after dark.

The Arts After Dark

Experience art with a twist at Art After 5, a weekly after-hours event presented each Thursday evening by The Ringling (Ringling Museum of Art). Art After 5 offers up viewings of the museum's permanent collection and special exhibitions, as well as cocktails, from 5-8 p.m. The after-hours admission is also discounted; adults pay $10, children 6-17 pay $5, and museum members and children under 5 get in free.

Also in the arts and culture realm, you can spend the night at the opera ... or the orchestra, or the theater. Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Orchestra and Asolo Repertory Theatre put on stunning performances each season. Seasons typically run from early fall to the end of spring, taking a summer break in between. To preview upcoming seasons and performances and order tickets, visit, and

Venture into downtown Sarasota at 6 p.m. on the first Friday of each month for the Palm Avenue First Friday Walk. Palm Avenue is known for its art galleries as well as its antiques shops, and the walks feature live performances from the Palm Avenue Arts Alliance. The Second Friday Walk focuses on the quaint shops and restaurants in the Burns Court section of town. 

Rythms of the Night

Nighttime is the perfect time to listen to music, particularly when it's offered live in such diverse venues across Sarasota, from the bars to the beach to the terrace of circus legend John Ringling and his wife Mable's former home.

Sarasota's Siesta Key Drum Circle is nearly legendary. The locally famous gathering of local and visiting musicians, families, beach bums and people of all ages takes place every Sunday night after sunset on Siesta Beach, the #2 beach in the country according to Dr. Beach's 2010 list. The drum circle often carries on until after dark, when the fire dies down and the crowd disperses. Some travel down the beach for a moonlit walk; others head to the beachy bars and restaurants crowding nearby Siesta Village. Given the warm weather year-round, the event takes place nearly every weekend. Drum circle-goers often bring along drums or a variety of other instruments or, at the very least, chaise lounges on which to sit and watch the excitement. Drummers who range from professional to beginner form what is often a rather large circle by the main entrance to Siesta Beach. Belly dancers, children and those who just want to let loose join the middle of the circle and let the beat move them.

Smaller drum circles often take place on Wednesday and Saturday nights on Nokomis Beach, a quieter stretch of beach in Sarasota's South County.

If you do move on to one of Siesta Village's bars or restaurants post-drum circle (or nearly any other day of the week), you're bound to hear music -- and not just the typical tunes pouring out of the speakers. Live music is common in the Village, and all over Sarasota. Local favorite Siesta Key Oyster Bar usually has a live band late into the night and their musicians always seem to know just what to play to fit the Siesta vibe. Daiquiri Deck,  Dance the night away at Beach Club, just a few steps away.

Bars and clubs abound and live music can be taken in at a variety of venues, from the family-friendly patio at downtown's Mattison's City Grille to the ever-changing atmosphere at Clasico to the 21+ venues like Cask & Ale.  

Chill as the Sun Chills

Nighttime isn't just about going out and keeping busy, however. Sometimes it's nice to just relax. Serene Sarasota has limitless options for getting some much-needed peace and quiet, taking a long walk or getting in touch with nature ... even after the sun goes down.

One of the simplest yet most enjoyable things in life is taking in a sunset. Best of all, it's completely free. The Sarasota sunset is spectacular, and one great way to take it in is by going for a walk over the Ringling Bridge. Combining exercise, sightseeing and simple pleasures in one, a walk over the bridge is a relaxing activity to do solo, or with a friend or the whole family. If you feel up for going the distance, you can take it from downtown Sarasota all the way over to Lido Key and St. Armands Circle. You can also sit or walk along the water across the street from Bird Key. It's on the way and provides a breathtaking view of the sun setting over the purple Van Wezel.

You won't have difficulty finding things to do after dark on either side, as many shops in the circle are open late, and both downtown and St. Armands have some of the county's best restaurants and bars. Here, 8 p.m. isn't too late to buy a pair of shoes and it certainly isn't too late to enjoy a 1905 salad and sangria on the patio of Columbia Restaurant (St. Armands Circle) or ceviche and martinis at Selva Grill (downtown Sarasota).

There might be no better view of the city than Westin Sarasota's rooftop bar. Head down the street to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota's Jack Dusty for a waterfront cocktail, or cross Ringling Causeway and head to Marina Jack for more great bites and cocktails while enjoying a piano lounge setting.

After Dark in the Parks

Another free and scenic downtown adventure is a nighttime trip to the marina. Walk the length of Main Street and cross over to the marina, where you can roam the docks and check out the boats or lie in the grass and look up at the sunset or the stars. Both locals and visitors enjoy walking their dogs or taking a jog along the water after the weather cools down at dusk.

A picnic also doesn't have to be reserved for lunch. A picnic dinner can be enjoyed on the sands of Siesta or the grass by the marina at Island Park, though the outdoor options around the entire county are plentiful. Pack some cheese, crackers and perhaps a bottle of wine, or grab some Thai take-out and head outside. Choosing nighttime for your picnic ensures that crowds, birds or heat don't force you to gobble down your meal.