Sarasota, located an hour south of Tampa on Interstate 75, is a place where people go to leave their troubles behind. Some of the priciest real estate in Florida is located here, and the people who buy houses here demand high-class shopping and dining, which the city is more than happy to offer to them. There are so many great sights to see, ranging from the famed Ringling Museum to the very walkable downtown area, featuring many specialty boutiques and sidewalk cafés. Give Sarasota a chance and you’ll fall in love. Let me tell you what to see and do in this growing city.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Ranola is a nine-room boutique hotel located right in the middle of the downtown area. Privately-owned, this hotel exudes lots of charm. Each room offers full kitchens with stove and refrigerator as well as Keurig coffee machines. The Royale Suites are over 600 square feet and offer separate living and sleeping spaces, as well as a champagne bar. (118 Indian Pl., 954-951-0111)
Hotel Indigo Sarasota is located in the Rosemary District, within walking distance of Sarasota Bay. Stop by the H20 Bistro for something to eat and drink in cheerful, bright surroundings. The rooms are bright as well, influenced by the coastal color schemes so popular in Florida. All rooms offer oversized beds and hardwood floors. Make it a point to relax in the spa’s unique wading pools. (1223 Boulevard of the Arts, 941-487-3800)
Hyatt Regency Sarasota is right on the bay, and after staying here you may not want to stay anywhere else. Rooms are offered in standard, deluxe and suite sizes, and if you have allergies, rest assured that by requesting a hypo-allergenic room, you will sleep well and breathe easy. All rooms are designed in “Florida chic” style by Lilly Pulitzer, and the suite, should you choose to reserve one, is two stories and features over 1000 square feet of space for you, your friends, or loved ones. (1000 Boulevard of the Arts, 941-953-1234)
WHERE TO PLAY
It used to be the case that Sarasota’s gay community had to travel to Tampa to party, but now this small but thriving community has multiple nightlife options available. Sarasota’s LGBT pride celebrations have grown as well: Sarasota Pride, traditionally held in October, brings thousands of people to J.D. Hamel Park for a fun daytime festival. In recent years, Sarasota Pride has even incorporated a parade that crossed the famed Ringling Bridge for the very first time.
Hands-down, the place to party in Sarasota is Throb Nightclub (2201 Industrial Blvd.). Open seven days a week, this venue offers theme nights every night of the week, ranging from RuPaul’s Drag Race parties every Monday (in season) to Revolver Wednesdays, featuring some of the Suncoast’s hottest male dancers, to the Diva Drag Contest on Sundays, hosted by Conundrum and featuring music by DJ Greg Anderson. Barrel 87 (6587 Gateway Ave.), open Tuesdays through Saturdays, is a beer and wine bar featuring theme nights such as “Wild Wednesdays,” karaoke night on Thursdays, and “Sexy Saturdays.” Ivory Lounge (1413 Main St.), normally a straight venue, offers a gay night every Thursday called “Cream Thursdays,” organized by local promoter Joshua Beadle. Cream Thursdays offers dancing, high-energy music and performances by female impersonators.
WHERE TO GO
Sarasota is well-known for its shopping. Take a stroll down the Main Street Merchants area in downtown and shop at the various boutiques, mom-and-pop shops, and art galleries. For even more high-end shopping, visit St. Armands Circle. The poshest of the posh shop at the various designer stores around the circle and on the surrounding streets, and take time afterwards to enjoy a lunch at one of the many high-end bistros. For the person who loves to shop until they drop, but don’t want to break the bank, consider the state-of-the-art Mall at University Town Center. It was the only mall built in the United States in 2014 and features over 100 retailers, anchored by Dillard’s, Macy’s, and the Suncoast’s only Saks Fifth Avenue.
If you’re looking for some fun in the sun, go to nearby Siesta Beach on Siesta Key. It’s been voted one of the most popular beaches in Florida by USA Today, and it’s easy to see why once you step foot on the warm sand and see thousands of sunbathers enjoying the rays and the water. On your way from downtown, make sure you stop at the Unconditional Surrender statue near the waterfront. A recreation of the iconic “V-J Day in Times Square” photograph in which a sailor plants a passionate smooch on a nurse, it is one of Sarasota’s most iconic landmarks.
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens are located on Sarasota Bay, and its main house, Payne Mansion, built in the Colonial style, is a popular venue for weddings. The conservatory feels like you’ve stepped into a tropical rainforest. There are dedicated gardens to epiphytes, ferns, bamboo and bromeliads, and there’s even an area where you can get up-close and personal with entire families of butterflies. The Ringling Museum of Art offers numerous exhibits in multiple artistic disciplines, such as paintings, sculptures, and historic artifacts. There are even art collections relating to the circus life in their Circus Museum (it is the Ringling Museum, after all!).
Sarasota has a very sizable Amish community, which began generations ago when Amish communities from Ohio and Pennsylvania chose Sarasota as a winter vacation spot. You definitely can’t miss a home-cooked meal at Yoder’s Restaurant (3434 Bahia Vista St.), which has served the Sarasota community, Amish and “English,” for 40 years. Want to take in a show afterwards? The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, located right on the water, brings in entertainment acts from all over the world every week of the year.
Learn more about Sarasota by visiting their tourism website, Visit Sarasota County, which is located at visitsarasota.org.