Sarasota Vacation Itinerary + Best Tips For Your Visit
Look no further for the best all-encompassing Sarasota vacation itinerary for spending up to 6 days in Sarasota, Florida!
Sarasota is known for its year-round warm temperatures and attracts a plethora of visitors looking to experience unending outdoor fun.
With its soft, powdery white sand beaches and a multitude of family-friendly attractions, there are many reasons to fall in love with Sarasota, Florida.
In this post, you will learn all about what to do, where to stay, and how to plan the absolute best vacation in Sarasota.
With this Sarasota itinerary, you’ll have plenty of time to experience the best Sarasota restaurants and attractions while discovering our best tips for your visit!
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Best Time to Visit Sarasota Florida
Found in the United States, Sarasota is located on the Gulf of Mexico on the southwest coast of Florida.
The beauty of Sarasota, FL is that it can be enjoyed year-round and is visited by thousands of vacation-goers throughout every season.
The best times to visit Sarasota are during the months of March to May when temperatures average in the low 80s.
Another popular time to visit is between September and November when crowds and prices are more manageable, and when temperatures are in the mid-80s.
The mild, comfortable temperatures and predictable weather during these months make it a great time to enjoy the beaches and watersports, as well as experience all of the best things to do in Sarasota.
For those looking to get away during the summer months, Sarasota offers the same great attractions but with higher temperatures (90+ during the day) and humidity levels.
If visiting during June, July, or August, be sure to learn how to beat the Florida heat while there.
Additional planning tip: Be mindful that Florida’s Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to November 30, with the peak of the season being the first week of September.
And psst…check out these related posts before your trip!
- Best things to do in Sarasota with Kids!
- Sarasota Kayak Tours: A Complete Guide + Best Tips!
- Complete Florida Packing List & Must-Have Vacation Extras
Sarasota Vacation Itinerary Ideas
Below you can find suggested Sarasota vacation itinerary ideas from one to six days.
The itinerary suggestions are based on our personal experiences and is filled with insider tips for visiting Sarasota for the first time.
No two Sarasota vacations will be exactly the same, however, so use these itinerary suggestions as a guide.
You’ll need to adjust your itinerary as needed to account for weather, where you stay, how much time you spend at each attraction, and the varying interests of your travel party.
Also, be sure to consult our Florida packing list before your trip to be sure that you pack the correct clothing, accessories, and necessary Florida extras for when you plan to visit!
*All of our top recommended restaurants, landmarks, and attractions are bolded. Their physical locations fit into the flow of this itinerary. If you choose to substitute a restaurant or attraction in their place, be sure to adjust the timing of your itinerary accordingly.
Sarasota Vacation: Day 1
- Arrival Day!
- Check in to your Sarasota accommodations and get settled in.
- In the evening, drive to Bayfront Park. Park your car there and spend time strolling along the seaside and through the park.
- From Bayfront, walk to Owen’s Fish Camp and enjoy local seafood for dinner.
We never recommend planning too much to do on the first day of a family vacation. Arrival day (Day 1) should consist of checking in to your lodging and getting acquainted with your immediate surroundings.
Get to know the local area before venturing out to explore and experience the sights and attractions that draw you away from your overnight accommodations.
Determine where you will get your morning breakfast and coffee. Are there late-night bars and restaurants nearby? Do you have access to the amenities that you’ll need throughout the week?
Finally, check out the onsite pool and work-out facility, or nearby beach and park trails in order to establish what to do during your downtime, and where to get in your daily exercise.
Downtown Sarasota & Bayfront Park
Downtown Sarasota is located directly on Sarasota Bay and is a lively area filled with restaurants, shops, and galleries. It is also home to Bayfront Park, an awesome, clean park with walking trails, a children’s splash pad, panoramic ocean views, and amazing sunsets.
Enjoy your evening here by parking at Bayfront Park (free!) and strolling around the paved trails. You will be in awe of the beautiful luxury homes, cars, and yachts that line the Bay.
Afterward, walk .4 miles (8 minutes) to Owen’s Fish Camp for dinner.
Owen’s Fish Camp is an awesome beach-bungalow-style restaurant with a casual, laid-back atmosphere, and an amazing menu. When there, be sure to try the market-fresh oysters and jambalaya while sipping cocktails on their outdoor patio.
Additional planning tip: As of January 2021, Sarasota’s iconic Unconditional Surrender statue has been moved to Bayfront Park (between O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill and Marina Jack). Be sure to grab a photo op of this iconic statue!
Sarasota Vacation: Day 2
- Head to Lido Beach for a beach day!
- On your way there, grab donuts and coffee at the Five-O Donut Co.
- Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach.
- Head back to your hotel and relax by the pool.
- Take a Tropical Sunset cruise with LeBarge Tropical Cruises.
- Afterward, wind down with live music, dinner, and drinks at nearby O’leary’s Tiki Bar And Grill.
The highlight of Day 2 during your Sarasota family vacation is spending the day at the gorgeous Lido Beach.
The sugary-white sand and clear turquoise water found here are what draw families and vacation goers to Sarasota year after year.
Along with bringing your vacation beach essentials, plan to pack a picnic lunch to eat under the shaded pavilions, or to purchase and enjoy snacks from the Seabreeze Concession.
The full line-up of amenities offered at Lido Beach includes:
- Year-round lifeguards
- Public restrooms and outdoor showers
- (Free) 400 car parking lot
- Concessions and gift shop
- Handicap-accessible observation deck
- Beach umbrella and chair rentals
- Shaded picnic tables and pavilions
Families may also enjoy these additional amenities at Lido Beach:
- A heated swimming pool (for a small fee)
- Playground equipment
Additional planning tip: Lido Key Beach is just a short walk to St Armand’s Circle where there are cafes, restaurants, and shops that you may want to explore.
Sarasota Vacation: Day 3
- Spend the day outdoors!
- Take a morning guided kayak tour of the Sarasota mangrove tunnels.
- Head to lunch at the Old Salty Dog (City Island location).
- Visit the Mote Aquarium, which is next door.
- Check out the fishing piers behind MOTE and watch boats pass by.
- Tour the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
- Drive 1 mile from the botanical gardens to Mandeville Beer Garden for dinner, craft beer, and a fun atmosphere (large kid-friendly outdoor garden area).
Sarasota Mangrove Tunnels
The Sarasota mangrove tunnels are so unique to this area, that you just have to experience them while you’re here.
Mangroves are an amazing collection of tangled shrubs and roots that form interconnected tunnels perfect for kayaking or paddleboarding through.
Once inside the mangroves, you’ll see the Florida ecosystem at its finest as you’ll get to see fish, crabs, jellyfish, and native grasses beneath the crystal-clear waters.
Dolphin and manatee sightings are also very common when on the outskirts of the mangrove tunnels, which ends up being an exciting addition to your adventure.
Though you can go kayaking in Sarasota without a guide, I recommend utilizing a tour company, such as top-rated Kayaking SRQ Tours and Rentals to assist with your experience.
SRQ provides the kayak, paddle, and lifejackets for both kids and adults, as well as fits you with a double kayak if you have kids who are too young to paddle on their own.
Additional planning tip: You do not need any kayaking experience to do these excursions. All of the tours start with a short paddle lesson and the entire tour takes place in protected bodies of water (for easy paddling).
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Mote Marine Aquarium is a must-do during your Sarasota vacation!
The aquarium features over 100 species including sharks, manatees, sea turtles, seahorses, and stingrays. There are also octopuses, sea jellies, anemones, and corals.
Similar to our visit to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Minnesota, our kids loved the up-close animal encounters and touch pools at Mote Aquarium.
Additional planning tip: Nice to know is that you can visit Mote Aquarium rain or shine as all of the exhibits can be viewed from undercover spaces.
Sarasota Vacation: Day 4
- Spend the day on Siesta Key!
- Start off by grabbing donuts at Meany’s Donuts.
- Lounge and play on Siesta Beach (Grab an award-winning sandwich at Anna’s Deli if you have time).
- Spend the evening in Siesta Key Village browsing the shops on Ocean Boulevard.
- Enjoy “Big G’s Happy Hour”, live music, and dinner at Siesta Key Oyster Bar (located in Siesta Key Village) or visit one of the many other amazing Siesta Key restaurants!
- Grab a waffle cone at Big Olaf Ice Creamy, or a drink at the Daquiri Deck afterward (also in the village)!
- Watch the sunset at Sunset Point (Siesta Key Beach Access #2).
Siesta Beach, also known as Siesta Key Beach, is the most popular beach in the Sarasota area. Likewise, it was rated the #1 beach in America by TripAdvisor users in 2015, 2017, and 2020.
This is such a phenomenal place, that we’ve also created an entire Siesta Key family vacation itinerary that you don’t want to miss!
The full line-up of amenities offered at Siesta Key Public Beach includes:
- First aid center with lifeguards on duty year-round
- Public restrooms and showers
- 800 car public parking lot
- Full-service snack bar and gift shop
- Picnic areas with and without cover
- Gazebos and shelters that can accommodate 60-120 people.
Families can also enjoy all the following sporting activities at Siesta Key Beach:
- Playground equipment
- A tennis court complex
- Volleyball courts
- A 20-station fitness trail
Additional planning tip: Here’s a complete breakdown of where to park when visiting Siesta Beach, as parking can be tough.
Oh, and don’t forget to check out our much-talked-about article on the Best Beach Bags for Moms!
Siesta Key Village
Siesta Key Village is a hip hub of beachy bars, restaurants, shops, and sport rental outfitters (for the beach and land). The Village is located in the center of the island, only a few city blocks from the ocean.
Spend time here strolling the sidewalks, shopping for souvenirs, and taking in the sights while enjoying the company of other tourists.
You will run into several options for fun bars and restaurants and live music, which is why visiting Siesta Key Village is at the top of the list of the best things to do in Siesta Key!
Sarasota Vacation: Day 5
- Spend the day touring the rest of Sarasota…or hanging at the beach!
- In the morning, spend time touring The Ringling. You will not be disappointed!
- Next, travel south and stop for lunch at the Sunnyside Café (Trip Advisor Travelers’ Choice 2020 winner!).
- Hit up the Sarasota Jungle Gardens for some animal fun.
- And/or take an afternoon Sarasota City Sightseeing Tour via trolley to learn more about this awesome city.
- Finally, end the day by heading to St. Armand’s Circle for an awesome dinner at Shore. This modern and trendy restaurant is a perfect way to wind down your vacation.
With its history dating back to 1927, The Ringling honors the legacy of Mable and John Ringling, the “King of the American Circus”.
Even if you’re not into history or art, the Ringling Museum is a spectacular sight to see.
The grounds are set right along Sarasota Bay and are covered with the most beautiful trees and plants that Florida has to offer.
Kids will absolutely love the Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center where they can view the world’s largest miniature circus model, walk on a high wire, stand on a horse’s back, and squeeze into a clown car.
Our favorite part is exploring the gardens (complete with koi fish, turtles, and blue herons) and taking in the grandeur of the Ca’d’Zan mansion and terrace.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Family-owned Sarasota Jungle Gardens is an awesome and affordable experience when visiting Sarasota with kids.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens is home to more than 200 exotic animals including parrots, macaws, flamingos, primates, snakes, iguanas, alligators, crocodiles, and other reptiles.
There are 1.2 miles of paved jungle trails suitable for both strollers and wheelchairs, most of which are shaded. Seating for the outdoor animal shows is on shaded bleachers as well.
Unlike a typical zoo experience, there are many chances to ‘hold’ the animals at Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
We’ve seen visitors hand-feeding flamingos, holding a parrot, and getting their photo taken with an alligator.
*Click the image to get our exclusive FREE Family Vacation Packing List that is both customizable and printable!
Sarasota Vacation: Day 6
- Take a day trip to experience more of Florida’s finest!
It’s hard to vacation in Florida and only stay in one spot. After all, the US state of Florida offers so many amazing destinations and attractions to make for a perfect family vacation.
If you have more than a few days to spend in Sarasota, consider taking a day trip to its surrounding cities or beachside communities.
Here are some of our favorite Florida attractions and their driving distance from Sarasota:
- Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Orlando – 1 hr. 48 min. drive
- Busch Gardens theme park, Tampa Bay – 1 hr. drive
- Universal Studios theme park, Orlando – 1 hr. 55 min. drive
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Clearwater – 1 hr. 15 min. drive
- Anna Maria Island – 40 min. drive
- Fort De Soto Park, St. Petersburg – 56 min. drive
Where to Stay in Sarasota
Our favorite places to stay in Sarasota include Lido Beach Resort, in Sarasota, Tropical Breeze Resort, on Siesta Key, and The Resort at Longboat Key Club (especially if you’re into golf).
If you don’t necessarily want to stay oceanfront, our top recommendations include Embassy Suites by Hilton Sarasota, The Westin Sarasota, and finally, Homewood Suites by Hilton Sarasota.
For current deals and further inspiration on where to stay in Sarasota, browse and book here:
Sarasota Vacation: Getting There
The closest airport to the city of Sarasota is the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. In fact, the airport is only 5 miles from the heart of Downtown Sarasota.
All major rental car companies such as Alamo, Avis, Enterprise, and Hertz are available at the Sarasota-Bradenton airport.
Other nearby airports include St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and Tampa International Airport; both a 1-hour drive from the airport to Sarasota.
Taxis and ride-hail companies such as Uber and Lyft are available from the airports as well.
How to Get Around
Sarasota’s attractions are spread throughout the city and local area, so it is best to have or rent a car for your Sarasota FL vacation.
Be mindful that traffic does get heavy during high tourist seasons, so do plan accordingly and bring along your patience.
Sarasota County’s bus service (SCAT), as well as taxis and ride-hail companies, are another way to get around the city, however.
Tips for Visiting Sarasota
- During the hot summer months, plan your outdoor activities for the morning or after dinner when temperatures aren’t as hot.
- If you spend time outdoors during the afternoon, wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing, put on sunscreen, and bring along plenty of water.
- If you’re looking to avoid crowds, the best time to go to the beach is either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Most of the tourists hit the beach between 10 am and 2 pm, and then everybody starts leaving between 3 pm and 5 pm.
- If visiting during the months of April to October, always have a travel-size umbrella handy for the frequent, unexpected rain showers that pop up.
- Traffic congestion is an issue in Sarasota. Expect heavy traffic and for it to take twice as long to get places during the winter tourist months.
- Sarasota is a popular location for Major League Baseball teams to hold their spring training. If you come in the spring, check out the spring training schedules to catch a practice or game!
Sarasota Vacation: Conclusion
Hopefully, this itinerary and tips have provided fun inspiration for a Sarasota family vacation.
My hope is for you to have an amazing and carefree experience!
Before you go, don’t forget to read these amazing family packing tips.
Last, consult our top tips on flying with kids, and road-tripping with kids (depending on how you plan to get there) to keep the kids calm and happy while traveling!
*All photos courtesy of VisitSarasota.com unless otherwise noted.
Are you anxiously planning your Sarasota vacation? What part of the trip are you most looking forward to?Jen
If you like our 6-day Sarasota Vacation itinerary, click here to read our Related Posts:
Siesta Key, Florida:
- The Ultimate Siesta Key Vacation Itinerary + Tips For Your Visit
- 11 Best Things to Do in Siesta Key While on Vacation
- Siesta Key Parasailing: A Complete Guide for Kids & Adults
- 11 Restaurants in Siesta Key That You Must Try!
The surrounding area:
- 11 Best Things to Do on Anna Maria Island
- 11 Fun Things to Do in Tampa Bay (+3-Day Itinerary)
- The Ultimate Orlando Family Vacation Itinerary
*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*
I regret not going up to Sarasota when we were in Naples all summer. I heard the Ringling is cool and didn’t realize there was an aquarium up there. Kayaking, sunset, beach bars are such standard gulf of mexico activities! I need to get up there. Also thanks for the hotel tips. I guess the chain hotels are more in the city?
Yes…all of the chain hotel brands are in the downtown area, however, there is a Holiday Inn that is located directly on the end of Lido Beach. We haven’t stayed there, but the reviews look good.