The Spring Break Guide to Sarasota County

Leave the parkas and mittens at home; bring the sunblock. Here's a guide to Spring Break fun in Sarasota County.

We, the swimsuits-and-sandals-clad people of Sarasota County, have heard rumors of a season called "winter." Driving in the sunshine with our windows rolled down and our sunroofs open, we listened to the national weather reports on the radio as February rolled into March, and winter 2015 storms, Sparta and Thor, barrelled their way across the nation, dumping snow and ice throughout the northeast, the Great Lakes, the midwest, and the Rocky mountains.

We don't know much about cold and snow, but we consider ourselves experts on enjoying year-round sunshine. It sounds to us like spring break couldn't arrive a moment sooner for our friends up north. Leave the parkas and mittens at home, but don't forget the sunblock: We'll have you warming up to the Gulf Coast lifestyle in no time.

Salt Life

We simply can't begin a spring break guide to Sarasota without first sharing a few suggestions of things to do while you're visiting our award-winning beaches.

Siesta Beach
Siesta Beach

Tripadvisor named Sarasota County's Siesta Key Beach the #1 beach in the United States in 2015, and also ranked the beach among the top 15 beaches in the world. Siesta Beach is best known for its powdery white sand, which gets its share of action at the beach volleyball nets. In the evening, BYOB and an instrument, if you have one, for the Siesta Key Drum Circle, one of the most popular events on the beach. The drum circle kicks off at sunset every Sunday, and consistently draws large, diverse crowds who dance and hoop into the moonlight in a funky local jam-fest.

The relaxed daytime vibes and the nightlife in the neighboring Siesta Key Village are an added bonus to the sun and salt, beach bodies, and drum circle jams you'll find on the beach. During a daytime stroll through the Village, visitors are never more than a few steps away from a refreshing ice cream cone or a dose of hair-of-the-dog in the form of a bloody mary or a daiquiri. Outdoor restaurants, brunch stops, souvenir shops and ice cream parlours line the walkable Village. When the daytime crowds clear out, popular local haunts include Village pubs and bars such as the Daiquiri Deck and the Beach Club, where bikini contests take place every Saturday in March, and the party extends into the early morning hours.

Just minutes to the north of Siesta, Sarasota County's other hallmark public beaches on Lido Key are among the most varied waterfronts in Sarasota. The beach at the north end of Lido offers a Gulf-side oasis similar to that of Siesta Key, featuring white sand dunes and rolling waves. Lido Key curves around to another beach park on its south side, which includes nature trails and barbeque and picnic spaces along a more placid bayside. As for nightlife, Lido has it all on St. Armand's Circle but we'll tell you more about the Circle when we talk about shopping. (There's a Daiquiri Deck on the Circle, too!)

Get Some Action

Care to get a little action while you're in Sarasota County? Let us suggest an afternoon of parasailing. The waters are warm this time of year, and parasailing offers a thrilling birds-eye view of Sarasota County's coastline and the city beyond.

The waterways of Sarasota County are also among the best fishing haunts on Florida's west coast, whether you're looking for an adrenaline-pumping salt water trophy catch from an offshore charter, or seeking a little solitude on a quiet kayak trip through inland waterways.

Kayaking opportunities abound in Sarasota County
Kayaking opportunities abound in Sarasota County

If you came to Sarasota escape the snow and get off the grid (or at least out of Wi-Fi range), or if you happen to be on the hunt for the mythical Florida Skunk Ape, the wilderness may be your spring break destination of choice. Camping season arrives early in Sarasota County, where you'll find a variety of camping options, and very little danger of frostbite. We can't say much regarding the dangers of the Skunk Ape, but we do offer these warnings: Do not look the Skunk Ape directly in the eyes and never, ever litter. Littering makes the Skunk Ape very angry. Good luck, and don't forget to pack some s'mores.

Treat Yourself

Don't be surprised if the time you spend spring unwinding in the Sarasota sunshine inspires a desire to treat yourself—perhaps to a new pair of designer sunglasses, a salon treatment or a massage.

Pamper yourself on St. Armand's Circle on Lido Key. Like Siesta Key Village, you'll find plenty of confectionaries, restaurants and bars on St. Armand's, but the atmosphere on the Circle offers a more upscale twist than the beachy Village. St. Armand's Circle is known for its world class shopping, as well as its art galleries and Zagat-rated restaurants. Located mere minutes from Lido beaches, the Circle also features a number of hair and nail salons and massage studios. For a day of luxury in Sarasota, look no further than St. Armand's.

Shopaholics will not want to miss the new Mall at University Town Center, which opened in October. The 880,000 square-foot mall features more than 100 stores and restaurants, as well as high end spa, hair and nail salons. (We can't help but mention that it's also worth a visit to the Visit Sarasota County information center, located on the ground level of the mall, in case you haven't been taking notes in this article.)

Grab a Growler

We have a hunch that there may be a few among you Spring Breakers who are here to weigh in on our craft beer scene—and yes, ours is quite… wait for it… hoppin'. Don't believe us? Check out our Beginner's Brew Guide of Sarasota County.

Big Top Brewing
Big Top Brewing

Sarasota Brewing Company, Darwin's Brewing Company, JDubs Brewing Company, and Big Top Brewery are locally-based breweries, each featuring unique, Sarasota brews with their own distinct flavor and style. Many of Darwin's brews, for instance, are inspired the unique spices and flavors of Peruvian chef and brewery founder, Darwin Santa Maria's, South American home, including cacao and aji charapita (hot peppers). Sarasota's historical circus culture comes to life in the hops and the label art of Big Top Brewery. At JDub's, brewmasters team up with local musicians for rock 'n' roll themed brews, or with Tampa brewery, Cigar City, for large-distribution collaborations.

Growler's Pub is Sarasota';s main "college bar," located in walking distance of Ringling College of Art and Design and New College of Florida. The craft beer pub features 30 beers on tap, and is a frequent host to trivia nights, local and touring bands, and various theme parties. If you're in town for St. Patrick's Day, the aptly-named Shamrock Pub is a local hub that is known for its craft beer selection, and famous for its annual St. Paddy's Day block party,

While we're on the subject of bars: If you find yourself in search of a place to cheer on your team during March Madness season, sports bars such as Sports Page, Smokin' Joes, Legends, and Evie's Tavern are good game day options, featuring big screens and plenty of classic brews on tap. To the south, Bogey's of Venice and Norma Jean's Sports Bar have game day coverage in Venice.

Catch Some Culture

Don't forget about the arts and culture of one of America's top small cities for the arts!

At Ringling Museum, old meets new in an eclectic mashup of traditional Renaissance and Baroque classics in the permanent collection and edgy and elaborate "garbage art" creations in the Ringling's Re:Purposed exhibition, currently on display in its modern and contemporary galleries.

Sarasota Opera performs Madama Butterfly
Sarasota Opera performs Madama Butterfly

In downtown Sarasota, the performing arts reign supreme. There are ample chances to catch a show with options such as the historic Sarasota Opera House, the contemporary and improv theatre, Florida Studio Theatre, and the widely-acclaimed West Coast Black Theatre Troupe. (And if the Opera House feels like a bit too much culture for a spring break-cation, there's always Drag Queen Bingo at the Player's Theatre...)

Downtown Sarasota features also features a selection of dining options, ranging from pizza-by-the-slice joints like Patellini's to restaurants helmed by world-acclaimed chefs like Darwin's on 4th's Darwin Santa Maria and locavore favorite, Indigenous' Steve Phelps. Bars and clubs such as Tavern on Main, and the Gator Club cater to a diverse selection of nightlife tastes—and the best part? Free parking is available almost everywhere downtown

Take a Spring Break in Sarasota County

From the beaches to the breweries... have we mentioned that we think you need a vacation? Step into the light, Spring Breakers—the sunlight, that is. We promise, Sarasota County has plenty of it to go around.

A wakeboarder performs a jump stunt against a setting sun
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