Sink Your Teeth into Family-Friendly Shark Spots in Sarasota

If you’ve got a mini–Jacques Cousteau at home, Sarasota County is an ideal place for a family vacation with kiddos who are fascinated by sharks. 

Whether you think sharks are misunderstood predators or total undersea villains thanks to movies like Jaws, there’s no denying that they’re fascinating aquatic creatures. In fact, you might have a son or daughter who’s totally obsessed with the toothy fish, in that classic way kids have of forming full-throttle passions.

If you’ve got a mini–Jacques Cousteau at home, Sarasota County is an ideal place for a family vacation with kiddos who are fascinated by sharks. After all, it’s home to the city of Venice, also known as the “Shark Tooth Capital of the World.” The city’s Venice and Caspersen Beaches (along with nearby Manasota and Blind Pass Beaches in Englewood) are ideal spots to hunt for the tiny, black, fossilized treasures.

Search the Sand

Those teeth shed by prehistoric sharks millions of years ago turned into fossils after being buried under layers of sediment in the Peace River Formation, located in the Gulf of Mexico just offshore those area beaches. Eventually, the fossilized teeth wash up on the shoreline, where they can be scooped up by beachgoers.

Want some help with that? Pick up a “Florida snow shovel” at one of the Venice Main Street shops in the historic downtown that sells beach gear. The contraptions with wire mesh baskets on one end sift the sand as you search, but all it really takes to find shark teeth is a good eye and quick hand.

If you’re visiting Venice during April, head to the annual Venice Shark’s Tooth Festival, where fossil collectors from across the Southeast United States display and sell their finds. There are also more than 100 artists who sell their work during the festival, along with a variety of food vendors and musical acts.

Dive Deeper

Families with older kids who are certified scuba divers can book fossil hunting trips through outfitters like Venice Dive Center and Aquanutz Dive Charters. If you’re lucky, you’ll find some coveted megalodon teeth.

The new Venice Quest scavenger hunts help visitors explore the city through the Scavify app. Choose the “Young at Heart” hunt that’s great for kids, and one of the tasks will instruct you to head to the beach and snap a photo of a shark tooth (or shell) that you find there.

Families can also search for the small bronze shark sculptures that have been installed recently throughout the city of Venice. The interactive, public art installation includes examples of 10 different shark species native to local waters, including two extinct species (megalodon and snaggletooth). It was funded by Gulf Coast Community Foundation as part of its 25th anniversary celebration.

Take a Bite

Kids of all ages will love eating a meal at Sharky’s on the Pier, which sits on the Gulf of Mexico and really leans into its namesake theme. Take a post-lunch or -dinner stroll on the newly renovated Venice Fishing Pier and you just might spot something cool swimming in the water.

Or grab a sandwich at Shark Bites Deli in Venice, which has a kids’ play area with toys, puzzles, and plenty of shark-themed touches. Sandwiches boast names like the Great White (turkey, swiss, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, and creamy avocado) and the Bull Shark (roast beef, Havarti, bacon, horseradish sauce, mayo, lettuce, and tomatoes).

See Sharks in Action

Once you’ve found your fill of fossilized teeth, head to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota to learn more about the kinds of sharks living in the water today. At the aquarium’s Shark Zone exhibit, bonnethead, sandbar, nurse, and blacknose sharks swim around the 135,000-gallon Shark Habitat. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 11 a.m., visitors can watch special narrated shark training sessions (free with regular admission) to learn how Mote cares for its sharks and the training methods used to keep them healthy.

Mote’s founding director, Dr. Eugenie Clark, was nicknamed “The Shark Lady,” so it’s not surprising that the aquarium works to teach visitors about the often-feared fish. It’s also home to the only Center for Shark Research recognized by the U.S. Congress, where scientists are exploring the fact that sharks, skates, and rays rarely get cancer and assessing if any findings can be used to help develop new treatments for humans.

And if you just didn’t find enough shark teeth on the beach, stop by Mote’s Fossil Creek area. Purchase a container of sand and the kids can sift out real fossilized shark teeth that they can take home with them. Then pose for a family photo by the aquarium’s replica megalodon jaw, which helps show the size these prehistoric sharks could reach (up to 60 feet in some cases) when they swam the ocean millions of years ago.