Florida is famous for its theme parks but there’s lots more to do in this photogenic region. For example, there are some fantastic Sarasota museums that you really shouldn’t miss. It’s no surprise that the county is known as Florida’s Cultural Coast®. We’ve rounded up our favourite tourist attractions in Sarasota County for young and old.
The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida and an exceptional cultural and educational centre. This famous American museum is the legacy of John and Mable Ringling and located within the 66 acre grounds of their Winter estate.
John Ringling was the founder of the Ringling Bros. circus and later became the co-owner of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The Ringling has an interactive Circus Museum and the miniature 44,000 piece Howard Bros. circus model.
There’s also a pink Renaissance style Museum of Art, commissioned by John Ringling. It has an impressive collection of European paintings and Asian art, as well as temporary outdoor sculptures by artists such as Ai Wei Wei.
Visitors should not miss Ca’ d’ Zan, the former home of John and Mable Ringling. The name means House of John in the Venetian dialect and the decor was inspired by their frequent trips to Italy. Next to it, you’ll find Mable Ringling’s pride and joy, her Rose Garden. It’s the oldest rose garden in continual use in Florida and dates from 1913.
The Ringling has many other treasures including the 18th century Asolo Theater from Italy and the new Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily, until 8 pm on Thursdays. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day
5401 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota, FL 34243
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
There’s a wonderful selection of cars at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, representing 100 years of automobile history. It’s the second oldest continually operating antique car museum in the United States.
The collection features well known cars belonging to stars including John Lennon’s 1965 Mercedes Benz and Paul McCartney’s Mini Cooper. You can also see the Rolls Royce cars that belonged to John and Mable Ringling as well as many rotating exhibits.
Opening hours: 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Sunday. Closed on Christmas Day.
5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243
Art Center Sarasota
With four galleries, Art Center Sarasota provides creative opportunities to the whole community. They run youth programs including Creative Kids Saturday Classes and the Creative Kids Summer Art Camp. The exhibitions focus on local and regional art, showcasing many emerging and established talents.
Opening hours: 10 am to 4 pm, Monday to Saturday
707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
This iconic Sarasota museum plays an important role in wildlife conservation. Mote Marine has helped to rehabilitate many injured sea creatures such as manatees and turtles.
In fact, they hold regular turtle spotting walks at a nearby beach in season. The Washed Ashore art exhibit features sharks and turtles made from plastic and other debris, in order to educate visitors on how to keep rubbish out of the ocean.
Mote scientists are leading 25 research programs including finding new ways to restore coral reefs. They’re also training local diver and snorkeler volunteers as part of their BleachWatch program to detect bleaching on coral, an early warning sign of damage.
There are over 100 species of fish and marine animals at Mote, as well as a 135,000 gallon shark habitat. Visitors can see inside some of the working labs such as the Seahorse Conservation Laboratory, through glass walls. Staff and volunteers are also on hand to answer your questions.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236
Crowley Museum & Nature Center
A great place to discover more about pioneer history, Crowley Museum & Nature Center is fun for all the family. There’s a half-mile boardwalk which leads visitors through 5 different Florida habitats and a two story observation tower overlooking the Myakka river.
The Children’s Discovery Path has five interactive stations with fun activities to get involved in. The museum itself houses some interesting pioneer artefacts and there’s also a sugar cane mill and a birding trail.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm in fair weather, from Saturday to Sunday
9192, 16405 Myakka Rd, Sarasota, FL 34240
Historic Spanish Point
Spread over 30 acres, Historic Spanish Point is a fascinating insight into Floridian pre-history. Its one of the largest intact archaeological sites on the Gulf Coast from the prehistoric period. The Window to the Past exhibition is the only place in the United States where you can go inside a prehistoric shell midden or mound.
There’s also one of the largest butterfly gardens in Florida and many different natural habitats, with over 50% of the county’s native plants being represented here. Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer established a homestead here in 1910 and you can visit three of her gardens.
Opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Saturday and 12 – 5 pm on Sundays
337 N Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL 34229
Save our Seabirds
Housing over 120 birds in their 3 acre site, Save our Seabirds aims to rehabilitate injured birds and to educate the public on how to minimize environmental risks to them. Their Birdwalk shows visitors how each species has adapted to its natural environment, and the Wild Bird Learning Center has some interesting educational displays.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily
1708 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236
Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy
One of the most colorful museums in Sarasota, it features quirky paintings and sculptures galore, as well as a tranquil garden. The Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy is the passion project of local artist Marietta Lee. Some of her works are exhibited here as well as those of many other unique artists.
What makes this place so special is the warm welcome that the volunteers give to visitors. They’ll provide you with as much or as little information as you want on the artworks.
Marietta herself is often at the museum to lend a hand. Even the restrooms here are works of art. There’s no café or gift shop but there is a kitchen manned by volunteers which gives you complimentary cookies and soft drinks. As entrance to the museum is free, donations are greatly appreciated.
Opening hours: 1 – 4 pm Thursdays to Saturdays and from November to May
2121 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34234
The Ringling College of Art + Design
With over 50 exhibitions each year, all of which are free, the Ringling College of Art + Design is a key fixture on the Sarasota arts scene. Since opening more than 85 years ago, it’s helped students to develop their creative skills. These days its renowned for its computer animation programs.
Opening hours: 10 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday
2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34234
Venice Museum & Archives
Housed in Triangle Inn which dates from 1927 the Venice Museum & Archives has a vast collection of over 30,000 objects and photographs. There are some interesting exhibits including a giant Megalodon shark and one on auto racing in Venice from 1953 to 1960.
Opening hours: 10 am to 4 pm from Monday to Wednesday, and 11 am to 3 pm on the 1st and 3rd Saturday from October to April
351 Nassau St S, Venice, FL 34285
Sarasota Tourist Attractions
The Children’s Garden
One of the most popular things to do in Sarasota with kids is to visit The Children’s Garden. There are fun storybook readings and many other activities like weekly art and gardening classes. A maze, pirate ship, secret garden, tree fort and three little pigs’ house are just some of the attractions.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily
1670 10th Way, Sarasota, FL 34236
This huge statue by Seward Johnson commemorates the end of the Second World War and is said to be inspired by a photograph by Victor Jorgensen. The original bronze statue was created in 2005 with the help of computer technology and damaged by a car in 2012. It was replaced by the current statue in 2013.
Island Park Drive, Sarasota, FL 34236
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
With a magnificent setting on the shores of Sarasota Bay, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular Sarasota attractions. Voted among the top places to visit in Sarasota by TripAdvisor, this living museum is the only botanical garden in the world specialized in the study and display of epiphytes.
If you’re wondering what epiphytes are, they’re plants that grow on other plants. Orchids, moss and many ferns are some of the best known examples. There’s a charming tea room and a gift shop as well as 15 acres of exotic flowers and plants to admire.
The children’s rainforest garden has a rope bridge, outdoor musical instruments and play area. The museum itself has some interesting temporary exhibitions, including Warhol: Flowers in the Factory, celebrating the role of nature in Andy Warhol’s art.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily. Closed on Christmas Day
900 S. Palm Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Feeding flamingos by hand and talking to the resident parrots are just two of the fun things to do at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. There’s an interesting shell museum, a gift shop and café in their 10 acre grounds.
Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
3701 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota, FL 34234
Sarasota Opera one of the foremost opera companies in the United States, celebrating its 58th season. The building dates from the 1920s and was formerly the Edwards Theatre, once playing host to Elvis Presley. It’s since been extensively renovated and is open to the public for tours – a fascinating behind the scenes experience.
Tour opening hours: Mondays when the opera is in season, at 10.30 am
61 N Pineapple Ave, Sarasota, FL 34236
In addition to visiting these amazing Sarasota museums and tourist attractions, take time to explore the other sights in this great Florida county. There are some incredible Sarasota beaches – one of them was even voted best beach in the USA by TripAdvisor and Dr Beach.
You’ll also want to check out the wide range of Sarasota restaurants, from farm to table to gourmet dining. Fans of culture will love the art galleries on Palm Avenue in downtown Sarasota, while antique lovers will enjoy the colourful Burns Court area. You may find our guide to other Sarasota attractions helpful.
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In association with Visit Florida and Visit Sarasota
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