The Bay Park
family running on a beach
kids playing at selby gardens in sarasota

Family-Friendly Things to Do on a Budget

Sarasota has many ways for families to explore and make memories without breaking the bank.

April 12, 2023

Less money may mean less spending, but it doesn’t have to equal less fun. If you're on a tight budget but still want to explore Sarasota County with your family and little ones, don't fret, because the area abounds with free, public programming, outdoor parks for all and plenty of affordable activities.

Head to the Beach

Siesta Key drum circle on Sunday nights

Find free fun on the beach – from body surfing the Gulf Coast waves and sunbathing in the Florida sun to grilling out at the free public barbecues for a family picnic at South Lido Park. Shellcomb the beaches for sand dollars, beautiful sea shells, coral and hermit crabs, and even hunt for sharks' teeth at Caspersen and Venice Beach. Your kids may even be able to jump in on a friendly game of beach volleyball at the free net setup at Siesta Key Public Beach. 

Catching a gorgeous west coast sunset over the Gulf of Mexico is free of charge, and if you're lucky and find yourself at Siesta Key Public Beach on a Sunday evening, you and the family can experience the famous drum circle, a community celebration of artists, dancers and passersby. 

Get Immersed in SWFL Nature 

Little Sarasota Bay exploration

The Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast is a local nonprofit, located at Bay Preserve at Osprey that provides free nature programs for kids. For young marine lovers, take advantage of aquatic adventures wading in the grass flats of Little Sarasota Bay and using dip nets to collect creatures that live there – including fish, shrimp, crabs and maybe even a seahorse! Your kids will help out water scientists by performing a water quality test and learn all about these special creatures, the place they call home and how they can do their part to protect our coastal waters.

Further south in North Port, you and the kids can feel "totally lost" in the Old Florida feel and lush vegetation that is Orange Hammock Wildlife Management Area. The wild habitat offers visitors a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities – including fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. The more than 5,000-acre area has approximately nine miles of trails for the kids to forget any gaming or socials on their phones.

Explore Farmers Markets

Downtown Sarasota Farmers Market

Find fresh fruits and vegetables, plants, crafts, local goods and more at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday morning, as well as the Venice Farmers Market on Saturdays. Meanwhile, the Siesta Key Farmers Market and Waterside Place's Lakewood Ranch Farmers Market both land on Sunday mornings. There is usually free live music playing at the markets, affordable food truck bites and great people-watching!

Go Camping

Path to the beach from Turtle Beach Campground

Opt for staying at one of Sarasota County's primitive campsites to save some cash. There are a number of places to pitch a tent, make some s'mores and hike around for free with the family! Once you've paid the admission to the park and your campsite fee, go wild in Myakka River State Park – spending all your time outdoors, searching for epic wildlife, climbing the Canopy Walkway and fishing in the river.

Camping at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey is great because it gives you amazing access to a bounty of hiking and nature trails within the state park, as well as access to The Legacy Trail, which is free to jump on and explore on feet or wheels. And if you happen to be at Turtle Beach Campground in Siesta Key during turtle nesting season (May 1 through October 31), you and the fam may get lucky witnessing the natural phenomenon of our native loggerhead hatchlings on the beach. 

Head to The Bay

The new Bay Park is a green oasis for all

Widely known as "one park for all" to enjoy, The Bay Park is a community park and green oasis of various free activities and programming for the public – both locals and visitors alike. From free yoga classes, country line dancing lessons and paddle tours to family movie nights and guided nature walks, you can find a calendar of events and activities at The Bay any given time of year. 

Play at Payne Park

Pedestrian paths at Payne Park leading to cafe, skatepark and playground

Tucked away in Downtown Sarasota is Payne Park, a beautifully landscaped community park – replete with a skatepark free of admission, a giant circus-themed playground, water fountains, trails to bike and stroll, disc golf and a cafe to grab a little bite to eat. And on Friday evenings, catch free live music there from a rotating lineup of local musicians.

Ride a Trolley Around Town

Siesta Breeze Trolley cruising through the Village

From Downtown Sarasota, there are a number of pickup and drop-off spots where you and the kids can jump on the new Bay Runner trolley for free. The open-air trolley service goes from downtown to St. Armands Circle on Lido Key and down the shoreline of Lido's beaches, then back again – from 8am to midnight, every day. This allows the entire family an easy-breezy and complimentary transit to see the best parts of downtown and the key. Just jump aboard and get off as you please – or stay on and enjoy the ride!

Additionally, in Siesta Key, the Siesta Breeze Trolley provides free service from Siesta Village to Turtle Beach Park, between the hours of 8am to midnight. Kids think it’s extra awesome to ride without a car seat and get to take in the energy of the Village as well as sights of the shoreline. Meanwhile, parents can avoid the stress of parking and can sit back and enjoy the views.