Oscar Scherer State Park.  Photo credit: Debbie Ericson
Oscar Scherer State Park. Photo credit: Debbie Ericson
Celery Fields.  Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Celery Fields. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Crowley Walkway.  Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Crowley Walkway. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Pinecraft, Yoders. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Pinecraft, Yoders. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Ringling Grounds. Photo by Eddie Kirsch
Ringling Grounds. Photo by Eddie Kirsch

Unplug and Escape in Sarasota County

Since the advent of smart phones and portable tablets, some days it feels downright impossible to escape the demands of the voicemail, text and email notifications buzzing in our pockets. From television to Twitter, the modern world can often feel like it's full of noisy distractions, but the good news is this: every tech device has a "Power Off" option—and we have the power to utilize it.

Sometimes, all we need is a place where we can unplug, escape and reboot. Take some time to turn the volume down on the day-to-day and find some Zen in these 'off the grid' spots in Sarasota County.

Become One with Nature

Sometimes sneaking out of Wifi range is the only way to truly find a slice of peace and quiet, so be sure to travel lightly when you take a trip into the wilderness of Sarasota County's most serene spaces. We suggest bringing refreshments, binoculars and a camera or a journal to remember the moment—but leave your smartphone at home to guarantee a distraction-free journey into solitude.

1. Celery Fields

Celery Fields
Celery Fields

Early birds catch the worm—and early bird-watchers catch the most rewarding bird sightings—at Sarasota's Celery Fields, a wetlands restoration project located at Fruitville Road and I-75. Established as a flood mitigation zone, Celery Fields is a 360+ acre site consisting of open marshlands, ponds and canals that serve as a habitat for hundreds of species of native Florida wildlife. Two boardwalks provide scenic vantage points of Celery Fields, where nearly 220 species of birds have been recorded by the Sarasota Audubon Society to date.

2. Oscar Scherer State Park

Oscar Scherer State Park - Kayaks.
Oscar Scherer State Park - Kayaks.

Oscar Scherer State Park, located in the south Sarasota County town of Osprey, is a 1381-acre park featuring opportunities for hiking, swimming, bicycling, rollerblading, picnicking, saltwater and freshwater fishing, wildlife viewing and camping. Fifteen miles of trails offer a chance for visitors to immerse themselves deeply in untouched native Florida. The park is known as one of the best places in the state to catch a glimpse of the rare Florida scrub-jay—a threatened species only found in Florida—and bobcats, bald eagles, and deer may also be spotted at Oscar Scherer. The Lester Finley Barrier Free Nature trail is accessible to people with sight, hearing and mobility impairments, and features a wheelchair accessible fishing dock and butterfly observation area.

3. Bay Preserve at Osprey

Bay Preserve
Bay Preserve

What it lacks in acreage, Bay Preserve at Osprey makes up for in beauty and solitude. This 4.2-acre community park, operated by the Conservation Foundation, is located just outside of Historic Spanish Point and provides access to Little Sarasota Bay for kayaking, canoeing, snook and tarpon fishing, and rowing. Live oaks draped in Spanish moss shade paths to the historic Burrows-Matson house, bayside pier, and the Honore T. Wamsler Wildlife Observation Platform. Bay Preserve is the practice spot for the Sarasota Crew rowing team, so if you make your visit to this tranquil park in the evening, you may expect to see rowers gliding smoothly across the bay.

4. Crowley Museum and Nature Center

Crowley Walkway
Crowley Walkway

Travel to a simpler time at the Crowley Museum and Nature Center in the rural realm of east Sarasota County. Established as a farmstead in 1879, the 191-acre site today features pioneer buildings, heritage-style farm animals, an organic muscadine grape vineyard, and beehives—as well as rare, wildlife-rich Florida habitats to explore. Exploration trails at the Crowley meander through pine flatwoods, oak hammocks and swampy marshland made accessible by boardwalks. The Crowley also offers a "folk school" that teaches survival and self-sustainability skills, including sustainable agricultural practices, modern homestead skills, practical crafts and outdoor self-reliance.

Staycation Excursions Off the Beaten Path

5. ((ecko)) tours

Don't be surprised if turning your phone on silent or unplugging for a few hours results in an urge to go off the grid completely for a few days. If that's the case, a staycation with ((ecko)) ecotours may be in order.

Established in 2015 as a project of the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida,  ((ecko)) is a collaboration between more than two dozen science and environmental non-profit and government organizations providing all-inclusive, curated 3-4 day ecotours of Florida's Gulf Coast.

These tours feature adventures on land and sea—by bike, motor boat, kayak and more—that are led by local environmental experts, scientists, and historians to reveal the natural diversity and cultural heritage of Florida's Gulf Coast. ((ecko)) currently offers five unique ecotours, including trips featuring the ecology and history of Sarasota Bay and the Myakka River, a prehistoric-to-present-day 'Manatee River of Time' journey, an urban wildlife bike tour, and a camping and wildlife observation trip.

The ((ecko)) site also features a comprehensive community calendar of local environmental and outdoor events. Check it out for adventure ideas before you log off the Internet entirely.

Sarasota No-Phones Zones

Most of these spots won't actually ban you from bringing your phone—but turning it off so that you can take in the ambiance without unnecessary distractions is highly encouraged. Tune out from the world for a few hours and tune in with your senses in Sarasota's most contemplative spaces.

6. The Ringling

Ca' d'Zan at The Ringling
Ca' d'Zan at The Ringling

Among the best places to unplug in Sarasota County without sacrificing access to air conditioning is the Ringling Museum. Save the the occasional soft footsteps of gallery attendants and the hushed whispers of visiting students and art connoisseurs, it's easy to lose oneself in the solitude of John Ringling's permanent collection. In fact, the Ringling art galleries may just be the quietest space in town.

Though antiquity provides tranquility in The Ringling's permanent galleries of Baroque, Renaissance and Asian art, the modern Joseph's Coat Skyspace is the ultimate space for solitude. The Skyspace, created by world-renowned artists James Turrell, is a feat of contemporary technology and engineering that employs subtly-changing LED lights to alter the viewer's perception of the sky above—as viewed through a 24 square-foot aperture in the ceiling. The Skyspace is accessible to museum patrons any time of day, but the experience is most spectacular at sunset. Arrive a half hour before sunset on Thursdays and Fridays for $5 admission to the Skyspace.

In addition to the art galleries and Joseph's Coat Skyspace, the Ringling grounds offer plenty of opportunities for tranquil strolling. Visit the bayfront and explore the Ca d'Zan Mansion, commune with the turtles and koi fish in the Ringling estate pond, and take a moment to smell the roses in Mable Ringling's award-winning rose garden. The David F. Bolger Playspace also offers a novel playground setting for youngsters who visit The Ringling, featuring unique playground equipment for a hands-on outdoor exploration-through-play experience.

7. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby Gardens
Marie Selby Gardens

Escape to a tropical paradise at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, an urban bayfront oasis situated just outside of downtown Sarasota. Selby Botanical Gardens is best known for its study and conservation of rare epiphytes (plants adapted to live in tree canopies) including orchids, bromeliads and ferns.

The Selby Gardens conservatory is home to hundreds of species of show-stopping orchids and bromeliads in a greenhouse setting, where it's no small stretch to imagine you've stepped directly into a tropical rainforest. Outside, the bromeliad garden is a preferred spot for plein air painters to find inspiration among the brightly-colored floral landscape. The Selby epiphyte garden, comprised of oak trees filled with air plants and mosses, is located near the Selby Gardens koi pond, alongside a peaceful, babbling waterfall.

Selby Gardens also features a majestic banyan tree grove dating back nearly a century, a meditative bamboo garden, a primordially awe-inspiring fern garden, and a butterfly garden filled with native Floridian flora. Along the bay, a recently-renovated boardwalk meanders through the mangroves with breathtaking views of Sarasota Bay, downtown Sarasota and Bird Key. Bring the kids to Selby Gardens for a romp in the educational treetop playspace, the Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden.

Find 'Old-Fashioned' Fun in Sarasota

8. Pinecraft

Yoder's, in Pinecraft
Yoder's, in Pinecraft

A little-known element of the local community is the 'Amish snowbird' contingent in the Pinecraft neighborhood—and what better place to step away from the distractions and headaches of the modern world than amongst the old-fashioned Amish?

Pinecraft is home—seasonally, at least—to scores of Amish and Mennonite farmers and families who travel south to escape the chilly winters in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other northern states.  The community of Pinecraft includes about 500 homes, featuring a small number of year-round residents in addition to seasonal renters, as well as Amish-run businesses. Don't be shy about visiting: Sarasota's Amish community is quite friendly and welcoming to outsiders.

Weekends in Pinecraft feature a community-run farmers market with fruits and vegetables grown by Amish farmers, as well as their canned goods and preserves. Shop around for a quality hand-crafted rocking chair and other wood furniture, or a hand-sewn quilt, from one of Pinecraft's skilled crafters and retailers. Of course, a visit to Pinecraft is not complete without a slice of pie from Yoder's Restaurant, or a scoop of creamy, locally-made buttermilk ice cream from Wilma's Big Olaf Creamery.

When you take a day to unplug, Pinecraft provides the perfect antidote to modern media and technology-induced stresses by providing a space that highlights the simple pleasures in life. You won't find traditional horse and buggy transportation in Pinecraft, but do expect to encounter plenty of folks cruising through Pinecraft on three-wheeled adult tricycles.

9. Pioneer Park

Take a step into local history that predates Facebook, Twitter and television at Pioneer Park, home of the Historical Society of Sarasota.

Pioneer Park is the site of the Bidwell-Wood House, the oldest residence in Sarasota County, where visitors can catch a glimpse into the "Florida Cracker" lifestyle. Named for their cracking cattle-herding whips, Florida Crackers were the pioneer cowboys, fishermen and settlers who cultivated the wild Florida landscape in the 19th century—and who laid the foundation for what would eventually become modern-day Sarasota.

Pioneer Park is also home to the Crocker Memorial Church, built in 1901. Today, under the leadership of the Historical Society, this 100+ year-old community gathering space hosts civic meetings, book clubs, theatrical performances, and history-oriented programs such as 'Conversations at the Crocker,' featuring discussions with longtime local residents and historians. Step out of the stress of the 'now' and immerse yourself in history at Pioneer Park.

10. Manatee Historical Village Park

Local history buffs will also enjoy the Manatee Historical Village Park in the neighboring city of Bradenton, located approximately 30 minutes north of downtown Sarasota. No phones, iPads or other 'smart' devices necessary to enjoy the Manatee Historical Village.

The Manatee Historical Village features the turn-of-the-century Wiggins General Store, the pioneer Fogarty Boatworks workshop with original tools and equipment, a typical 'Cracker Gothic' pioneer house built in 1912, the original Manatee County courthouse dating to the 1860s, an old pioneer school house, one of the region's first churches dating back 1887, a blacksmith, and a pioneer barn, smokehouse, and sugar cane mill.

Though you may be tempted to document the Village's plethora of authentic history via Instagram, it's best just to take in the sites and hands-on history without your tech.

Unplug and Explore

Intrepid explorers, we've provided you with the guide. It's up to you how you choose to spend your Facebook-free time in Sarasota—but we highly recommend you leave your tech devices at home.  

There's a world outside of our phone, computer, tablet and television screens that is rich with adventuresome opportunities to tune out from all the noise of modern living. Tune in, instead, with breathtaking nature, exciting local culture and unique heritage.

Choose the quietest space where you can find peace—what you do in that space is up to you. Here are some options: Meditate in a contemplative art space. Do yoga in the forest. Fill up the pages of a creative journal with drawings and prose while you soak in the sanctuary of a tropical garden.

Whatever you do, just don't forget to unplug—you deserve a refreshing reboot.