A Scrub Jay sighting at Oscar Scherer State Park
A Scrub Jay sighting at Oscar Scherer State Park

13 Authentic Florida Things to Do in Sarasota

Authentic Florida experiences are everywhere in Sarasota County. Just think "simple," uncomplicated and old-fashioned fun. Oh, and did we mention easy on the budget? Hike through a local state park, kayak through a Florida mangrove tunnel, visit Sarasota County's past at Historic Spanish Point, plan a trip to the "kitschy" Jungle Gardens, or take a sea turtle walk, collect shark's teeth, try a juicy, Florida mango, build an old-fashioned sandcastle, or just watch the boats go by. There is so much to do and see here!

Oscar Scherer South Creek Kayaks

Visit a State Park

Sarasota County is home to one of Florida's oldest and most scenic parks, Myakka River State Park. East of Sarasota, this expansive piece of natural Florida encompasses acres of shady moss-covered oak trees, riverine forests, wetlands, and prairies with walking trails and birding vistas. Myakka's treetop canopy walk opens a panorama of bromeliads, lichens, birds and wildlife. And don't miss a ride on the old-timey Myakka airboats to spot the alligators, the real "stars" of Myakka.

Another park, south the city of Sarasota, along the banks of South Creek, is Oscar Scherer State Park. Here you'll get a glimpse of Florida's scrub pine flatwoods that once covered much of the state. Oscar Scherer is also one of the best places to experience an up-close encounter with the Florida Scrub-Jay, an authentic Florida native bird, and a threatened species. Campers delight in the shade of old oak trees while hiking, biking and kayaking.

Keep Cool in the Mangroves

One of the most unique experiences in Sarasota County is a kayak paddle through a mangrove tunnel. Mangroves are coastal plants that serve as Florida's nurseries for fish, crustaceans and mollusks. It is said that 75% of the game fish and 90% of commercial fish in South Florida depend on the mangrove habitat. And the trees also serve as rookeries for many species of birds. Years ago, small waterways were dug to flush mosquitoes from the coastal mangroves. Over time, the mangroves created a canopy leaving shady tunnels to paddle through. The experience is cool, even on a hot day, and it is quiet and the light is subdued, almost surreal. In the mangroves, you'll feel like you have entered a sacred authentic Florida space and serenity awaits you!

Almost Heaven Kayak Adventures launches from the South Lido Nature Park, one mile from St. Armand's Circle.

Ca d'Zan at The Ringling

Become a Yogi at the Ca d'Zan

How about a refreshing start to your day with a free morning yoga class on stunning terrace of the classic Ca d'Zan? The Ca d'Zan, winter home to the Ringling Barnum & Bailey circus magnate, John and Mabel Ringling sits on the lovely Sarasota Bay. You'll love the view, while admiring the famous 1920's-era home. Yoga sessions are held the 3rd Saturday of every month from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Bring a mat, towel and water. Can you say Ohmmm?

Visit the Past at Spanish Point

See a slice of "old" Florida at Osprey's Historic Spanish Point. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the outdoor/indoor museum includes a walking tour overlooking Sarasota Bay while featuring a range of exhibits such as an archeological glimpse of prehistoric inhabitants to the homestead of hearty early 1800-era pioneers to turn of the 20th century boom times.

You'll also glimpse the pioneer era of the Webb family who made their home here in 1867. They named the point of land jutting into Little Sarasota Bay Spanish Point because a Spanish trader had advised them of the site. Learn about the famous Sarasota resident Bertha Palmer Potter, a Chicago socialite who later owned the property. You'll enjoy a glimpse of Sarasota's history as you tour the packinghouse, a quaint chapel, graveyard, and the restored residences and gardens.

Peel a Mango

Summertime is when the rich, sweet, succulent mango ripens. Floridians love this juicy fruit. Trees grow in the warmer, southern half of the peninsula and the large oblong fruit turns from green to deep red, yellow, and even orange as it ripens. The flesh is a peachy-orange in color with a texture somewhere between plum and cantaloupe and it has a large seed in the center. The mango is one of the most desired tropical fruits in the state.

To buy a Florida mango, try the Sarasota Downtown Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, or several locally owned grocery stores that source farm fresh such as Detwiler's Farm Market or Yoder's Produce Market.

Hang with the Flamingos

Hang with the Flamingos

For more than 75 years, Sarasota's Jungle Gardens has been delighting visitors. It is home to native and exotic animals - parrots, macaws, snakes, lizards, alligators and crocodiles - many of them donated or rescued. You'll be able to view the wildlife while you walk through lush, tropical garden walkways. Pink Flamingos are a favorite with visitors as they feed, flutter and pose amongst the floral beauty. The tropical bird show is one of the most famous in all of Florida and generations of families keep coming back to enjoy this must-see original Florida attraction.

Follow the Night Fragrance

A summer night is the prime time to see Florida's Night Blooming Cereus. This tropical "Queen of the Night" cactus only blooms after dark. By day, the epiphyte is a green, spindly, long and slender plant often bunched up and hanging off palms and oaks - not something you would notice or admire. But on summer nights, its flowers open to a large 8" diameter, displaying a creamy white and very fragrant flower. Sarasota Selby Gardens is a good place to see them or just take a drive through an older Sarasota neighborhood. They resemble sparkling firecrackers as they pop open at night.

Find Sharks Teeth

Long ago, Florida was submerged under an ocean filled with sharks - many sharks. Over time, the water receded giving way to the Florida peninsula. The prehistoric sharks died, their skeletons disintegrated, but their fossilized teeth remained. Offshore of Venice, there is a large fossil bed and sharks teeth wash up on the beaches regularly. That is why Venice is considered the "Shark Tooth Capital of the World."

A great place to find the fossils is Venice's Caspersen Beach. You can walk the beach searching the wet sand for teeth just washed ashore or just plop down at the water's edge, dig your toes in, and pick up a handful of sand and shells to sift through your fingers. Sharks teeth generally range from 1/8 to 3 & 1/2 inches and are usually dark gray or black in color. After you find your treasures you can celebrate your bounty at Sharkey's on the Pier with a great Gulf view and a well-deserved, delicious fish sandwich.

Take a Sea Turtle Walk

Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory, a research facility that has been collecting turtle data for more than 30 years, offers Saturday morning walks the months of June and July, at 6:45 am. Meet at the Longboat Key public beach access point, 4795 Gulf of Mexico Drive, where parking is available. Sea turtles nest between May and October, coming ashore in the dark of the night to bury their eggs in sandy nests. On the tour, Mote volunteers search for turtle tracks that lead to freshly laid nests so you can share the wonderment of Florida's magical beach nursery.

Stay Retro-1960s

Sarasota has many different kinds of accommodations, from the ultra modern to the old-fashioned, updated for comfort. Some are distinguished by a 1960's retro-feel, usually simple and basic yet comfortable for the vacation seeker. If you stay on Siesta Key, several are right on the beach or within walking distance. A few that you might check out are the Siesta Sun or Siesta Royale, both reminiscent of times past.

Make an Old Fashioned Sand Castle

What could be better than building a sandcastle? Go to your favorite beach then kick back, roll off your towel, grab a tool for digging. Did you bring your sand shovel and bucket? If not, don't worry. A shell or piece of driftwood, or your hands make good digging tools. Get sandy. Use your imagination. Build a tall tower, or a castle with a moat? Or how about sculpting a Florida dolphin, manatee, or sea turtle? The beach offers plenty of materials to build and decorate your creation - there's sand of course, and shells, coral, sea beans, sea glass, plant seeds, driftwood and seaweed. Go ahead. Get that authentic Florida creative spirit going and build your dream castle by the sea.

Watch the Boats Go By

Sarasota County has some authentic Florida restaurants where you can take a break from the beach and enjoy a fresh-caught grouper sandwich with a cold one. A few local hangouts are Osprey's Casey Key Fish House, Nokomis's Pop's Sunset Grill or the Old Salty Dog on Sarasota's City Island. All have waterfront views and available dockage if you travel by boat.

Camp at the Beach

The Turtle Beach Campground, a rare Sarasota County beach campground sits on a thin slice of Siesta Key paradise. Shaded under a row of shady pine trees perfect for tent campers and RV'ers, swimming, beach walking, shelling, barbecuing are the main attractions. You'll love the soft whisper of the tall pine trees as they sway in the breeze. And if you get warm, the Gulf of Mexico is just a short walk to the beach. Summer rates are a bargain and include full hook-ups. But this is a popular campground, so be sure to call ahead for reservations.