10 ways to play in family-friendly Sarasota County

There are lots of family-friendly ways to explore and enjoy Sarasota County. Looking for some family fun in the sun? You’ve come to the right place. Whether you’ve got toddlers, tweens, or teens in your traveling party, Sarasota County offers all kinds of options for the young (and young at heart). Here are 10 kid-friendly activities to add to your vacation itinerary.

Hit the beach.

Siesta Beach has gotten lots of national attention in recent years, and for good reason. It’s got about 100 acres of nearly pure quartz crystal sand that’s fine, white, and powdery, offering lots of room for playing Frisbee, sandcastle building, or just running around. And a major improvement project has added more parking and updated the tennis courts, playground, restrooms, and concession areas. Or you can head to Venice, Caspersen, or Manasota Beach to hunt for fossilized shark’s teeth, a cool souvenir to take home from your trip.

Make a splash.

From spring through fall, kids can run through the fountains, swim around the pool, and careen down the waterslides at the Sarasota Family YMCA Water Park. It’s a fun—and cool—way to spend a warm day. During the summer, purchase a day pass for Sarasota’s Sun-N-Fun RV Resort and Campground and zip down its waterslide, play in the Olympic-size pool and splash zone, or tackle a water obstacle course.

Cast a line.

Bring your own gear or rent some to see what’s biting at spots like the Venice Fishing Pier and Tony Saprito Pier in Sarasota. Or get out on the water with the help of operators like CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, Outriggers Charter Fishing, and Siesta Key Fishing Adventures, which offer folks the chance to land everything from snapper and redfish to tarpon and cobia.

Grab a paddle.

Kayaks and paddleboards serve as great ways to explore the local waters. Companies like Bay and Gulf Adventures and Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures lead kayak tours suitable for all ages around spots like the Myakka River and Lido Key and its mangrove tunnels. Or take a family paddleboarding lesson through WhatSUP at Ted Sperling Park. If you’d prefer a DIY approach, you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards from outfitters like Economy Tackle/Dolphin Paddlesports and Enticer Water Sports.

Sink a putt.

At Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf in Sarasota, you’ll travel through caves and past waterfalls and pirate ships as you tee up at the course’s 18 miniature golf holes. When you’re done with your round, check out the live alligator exhibit where you can even feed the reptiles with bamboo fishing poles.

Use your imagination.

Tucked on two acres north of downtown Sarasota, the Children’s Garden brings the fantasy world to life. Kids can climb aboard a pirate ship, find their way through a maze, and wander through a mushroom-filled Fairy Garden and dragon-inhabited Monster Garden. At the Ringling, the Circus Museum features hands-on exhibits where kids can play clown, tightrope walker, and animal tamer. Young visitors can also show off their artistic side and learn more about the Ringling’s collections during Saturday Family Workshop and Kids Quest programs.

Spin your wheels.

There are lots of places to pedal around Sarasota County. Covering more than 10 miles, the Legacy Trail stretches from Sarasota to Venice and connects with Venetian Waterway Park, which features five more miles of biking and walking trails on either side of the Intracoastal Waterway. Both offer flat, car-free pathways easily maneuvered by bike riders of all levels and ages. (If you don’t have your own bikes, you can rent them at places like Village Bikes and Siesta Key Bike & Kayak.) Kids 10 and up can ride with Sarasota Bike Tours, which supplies all the necessary equipment and takes participants on rides through places like downtown Sarasota and Siesta and Lido Keys.

Go wild.

Got little animal lovers? They can have encounters with all kinds of creatures in Sarasota County. Head to Myakka River State Park to see alligators gliding through the water or sunning on the shore. Visit famous local manatees Hugh and Buffett, rescued sea turtles, and other aquatic animals at Mote Aquarium, or feed flamingos and catch a reptile show at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. Bring binoculars to spot birds and even sometimes bats at the Venice Area Audubon Rookery and Celery Fields in Sarasota.

Take a tour.

When Mom and Dad need a break, let an expert show the family the area sights. You can dip nets in seagrass flats or go birding with the help of Around the Bend Nature Tours. Sarasota Bay Explorers offers boats tours where kids can both learn about and get hands-on with local sea life. Le Barge Tropical Cruises heads out into Sarasota Bay for dolphin and manatee watch and nature cruises, while National & State Park Concessions runs airboat and tram tours that explore Myakka River State Park.

Enjoy a good meal.

Forgo the fast food and chain restaurants. When it’s time to refuel, there are lots of restaurants in the area that provide a family-friendly atmosphere and eats that Mom and Dad will like as much as the kids. Kids can make their own pizza while parents sample the pasta at Caragiulos or dine on Southern fare while listening to live music at Blue Rooster’s Sunday Gospel Brunch Buffett. Grab some pulled pork or beef brisket at Nancy’s Bar-B-Q, a burger by the water at New Pass Grill, tapas at local institution Columbia, or peanut butter pie at Yoder’s Restaurant. And you can’t come to Florida without supping on seafood—Marker 4, Old Salty Dog, and Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar all offer interesting settings and plenty of menu options for young and old.