Running at Nathan Benderson Park. Photo by Carissa Warfield

Run for the hills, sands, and palm trees

Check out these routes in Sarasota and enjoy the destination by foot!

Running is my husband’s favorite way to see a new city. He can get a feel for the layout, see the architecture, get in touch with the local nature, and scout out places for the day. He’ll spend weeks finding the best routes so he doesn’t waste any of his vacation runs on a less ideal course. Luckily, Sarasota features numerous options for scenic, safe, and scouted places to run, both on and off the beaten path.

Ringling Bridge

“Running the Bridge” is a common local activity for Sarasotans. Weekend mornings find this stretch between downtown Sarasota and St. Armand’s Circle bustling with runners, strollers, dogs, and bikes. The views of the Bay and downtown from the Bridge’s apex are outstanding and it provides an incline to the otherwise flat Florida terrain. If you happen to be staying at a downtown Sarasota hotel, you can run directly to the start of the Bridge. Otherwise, park in the parking lot below the Bridge or at the Unconditional Surrender statue for easy access.

Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores

This neighborhood located between Downtown Sarasota and University Avenue gives runners the ultimate neighborhood eye candy. Run through tree-canopied streets lined with bungalow, midcentury, and modern houses as well as water views. From Highway 41/Tamiami Trail, turn west onto Indian Beach Drive (Ringling College of Art + Design resides at this intersection). You will see signs for the Sarasota Recreational Trail.

Park along the shaded street and lace those trainers. The running route takes you down a curve along the water with shockingly stunning views of the Bay. Continuing down Indian Beach Drive, your run will pass Sarasota Jungle Gardens and the Route signs will direct you down Bayshore Road. From here, you can choose to loop back at Mecca (3.3 mile loop) or continue to the Ringling Museum (3.5 mile loop), where the grounds are free to venture.

Rothenback Park

Rothenback Park, located at the far East end of Bee Ridge Road, features two paved loops amongst native Florida nature. Run below the palms and pines, keeping an eye peeled for gators and deer. The loops – the shorter is a mile, the longer is almost three miles – guide your way, allowing the runner to enjoy the scenery of the hammock. And you can’t get lost, which is usually my problem.

Celery Fields

To bust your rump, head to the Celery Fields. What our family refers to as “The Mountain,” this area, located just southeast of the Fruitville Road exit off Highway 75, gives runners the opportunity to sprint an incline like no other in Sarasota. Jogs through the paths circling the hill extend the length and decrease the incline. And hearing the lions roar from adjacent Big Cat Habitat puts a little fear in you and makes you run a little harder and faster.

It’s also a fantastic spot for birding as well as sunset viewing on the benches up top. You just have to get there first.

Nathan Benderson Park

This newly-built Nathan Benderson Park features a 3.5-mile loop around its world-class rowing lake. With easy access to University Avenue, a playground, and water views, it’s the perfect combination of ease and challenge.

Payne Park

Payne Park is a pebbled half-mile loop in downtown Sarasota is ideal for intervals, shorter runs, or a quiet run through the park. Easily accessible by car or foot from downtown Sarasota via 301. For a post-run snack or refreshments, hit up Café in the Park, located within Payne Park.

Red Bug Slough

Running through Red Bug Slough’s 72-acre nature preserve gives an up-close view of the local flora and fauna of Sarasota County. Red Bug Slough, located on Beneva Road between Bee Ridge and Clark Roads, provides miles of shaded trails for adventurous runners. Entry is free, as well.

Legacy Trail

Spanning from Venice to Sarasota, the Legacy Trail is a 10-mile paved path surrounded by trees, flowers, and animals. Parking is available at either end of the Trail, but also at intervals throughout, allowing a customized length for the runner. Miles are marked, as well. Because cars are not an issue and the path is set, runners fear not getting in the zone and making any mistakes. Just get in the groove and stride.

Siesta Key Beach

A run on Siesta Key’s three-mile beach, with the cool quartz sand underfoot, is not only a tough workout, but unbelievably calming. Watching for dolphins and diving pelicans as each step goes by, it’s a truly zen moment. For a longer run, include adjacent Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach, and/or Siesta Village. Together, the four parts add up to eight miles in length.

Main Street to Historic Burns Square

To get a true grasp of Sarasota, this is your route. A run along downtown’s Main Street and its paved sidewalks abounds with smiling faces and restaurant and shopping scouting. Begin at the West (waterfront) end and venture through the tree-lined streets until you reach Osprey Avenue. Head South to view the historic homes that juxtapose with the newer condos featured downtown. From Osprey Avenue, a right/west on Laurel Street shows more of these bungalows as you cross Orange and continue to Pineapple Avenue, which is full of antique and local shops. You are now in Historic Burns Square. Take a short venture down Pineapple until Selby Lane. Turn Right. Back in that hidden nook you’ll find Burns Court, home of Owens Fish Camp and Burns Court Cinema, amongst other goodies. Follow until Pineapple reappears, take a left/north and continue north until a left/west on Ringling brings you the scenic route to your start via Bayfront Drive. Full length 2.36 miles.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park’s 38.9 miles of trails abound at this idyllic park. Run amongst the armadillos and deer, sprint past palms, turn the world into an obstacle course. Plan ahead with water; though most of Myakka is shaded, it does not provide hydration stations within the trails.

The State Park is also home of the Myakka River Half Marathon.

Oscar Scherer State Park

Oscar Scherer State Park, home of the Scrub Jay, features fifteen miles of nature to calm your soul as you meander through. Try to keep your eyes on where you’re going as you search the trees for the Florida Scrub-Jay, an elusive species found predominantly here. The park is also home of the Scrub Jay 5K.

Lido Beach

A jaunt down Lido Beach, with its stunning clear waters and cool ocean breezes, will make any runner want to keep up that pace indefinitely. For a longer route, continue south through South Lido County Park. Even longer? Head north through St. Armand’s Circle (5.4 miles for the full loop). Those staying at Lido Beach Resort can step outside and start.

City Island to St. Armand’s Circle

Can’t decide which type of run to take – water views, nature, tourism, shopping, or house ogling? A route between City Island and St. Armand’s Circle crosses each of the list in one 3.5-mile loop. Begin at City Park and traverse through their nature trails before heading past Mote Marine Aquarium and across the bridge at North Boulevard of the Arts. Feel free to pause to catch the water breeze and admire the view. If you continue south, St. Armand’s Circle is ahead. But for some serious house envy, meander down North Washington Drive before heading back. To extend the run, a left turn at John Ringling Boulevard will bring you towards the Ringling Bridge; a right turn will lead to St. Armand’s Circle and Lido Beach.

Can’t decide?

Give many of them a chance simultaneously at the Sarasota Music Half Marathon. Bands play, spectators cheer, and the sights fly by mile by mile. For runners coming from cooler climates, a race in February is a novel occurrence.

For additional events, visit the Manasota Track Club. Novel Florida races include Mote’s Run for the Turtles and Sandy Claws Beach Run. During the summer months, they host my most favorite thing in the running world, the 1-mile Summer Beach Runs on Siesta Beach.