Spending 3 days in Sarasota is the perfect way to chill out on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s so beautiful and so super relaxing, but close enough to Tampa and St. Pete for when you really crave that big city traffic.
Every time I go to Sarasota, I say I’m going to live there. Those powder white beaches! That sunshine! Those Amish pies! Actually, maybe it’s a good thing I’m so far away from such key lime-y indulgences. In the meantime, Hotels.com and I have teamed up to show you how to spend just a few days here at a time.
3 Days in Sarasota
Actually, 3 days in Sarasota is the perfect length of time to spend here. You’ll be able to do all the “things to do in Sarasota” but still have enough down time to spend relaxing on the beach. Beaches that are regularly voted as the best in the country, I might add.
These 3 days in Sarasota allow you some museum-hopping, some time spent in nature, a lot of pie-eating, and even a healthy dash of swinging upside down by your knees above a net (if you want it to). You’ll eat delicious seafood, meet some adorable marine life, and totally think you’re actually in Italy for a hot minute.
You’re going to love it. And when you’re ready to co-purchase a beachfront condo, hit me up! I’m packed and ready to relocate.
Where to stay during your 3 days in Sarasota
Wow, Sarasota, Florida has a lot of really cool places to stay. Besides being located smack in the middle of the Retiree Coast, these Sarasota hotels are pretty posh. It was hard to choose, but I was able to narrow it down to these three awesome recommendations for where to stay in Sarasota:
Mid-Range: Zota Beach Resort, Longboat Key
Look, if you’re going to visit the city with the best beaches in the country, you should probably stay somewhere near those beaches. Sarasota is famous for its keys: Lido Key, Siesta Key, and the crème de la crème, Longboat Key.
The Zota is a beachfront resort on Longboat Key with an outdoor pool, beautiful rooms, and even beautiful-er views of the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to free WiFi and its own private beach, it also offers free parking (a huge factor in my book!) and free cancellation. You’ll have to drive to all the non-beach places you’ll want to go but Longboat Key is perfect for a relaxing vibe.
Mid-Range: Art Ovation
The Art Ovation Hotel is so posh its actually pawsh. It’s located right in a prime downtown location, just over the bridge from St. Armand’s Circle and the Keys. But you’ll see all that when you head up to their rooftop bar and pool. (This is why we vacation, people!)
Its location will allow you to walk to many of the places around town and you can still park your car for free when you do (yay!). It has an awesome gym, sun loungers, and a 9.4/10 rating on Hotels.com. It’s pretty much a Gulf Coast unicorn.
Treat yourself: The Ritz-Carlton
I mean… it’s the Ritz. This place is a dream. Just look at this property–you’ll definitely feel more like you’re on a remote Caribbean island than in the middle of Florida.
It’s in a great location, right in the center of Sarasota (yet still somehow has its own golf course). Actually, pretty much anything you want in a hotel, the Ritz Carlton Sarasota probably has it.
It has its own private beach, four restaurants and four bars, a free area shuttle, two outdoor pools, and a full-service spa.
How to get to Sarasota
Sarasota is located smack dab in the center of Florida’s western Gulf Coast and is easily accessible by both plane and car.
3 days in Sarasota: by Air
Sarasota has its own airport (SRQ) that is served by:
- American Airlines
- Air Canada
- And United Airlines
However, being located just slightly over an hour’s drive from Tampa, flying into Tampa International Airport (TPA) is also a great option. Tampa’s airport is served by many more airlines with many more direct flights and may just be a better option for you (if not the only option). Check out your flight options to Sarasota here.
I’ve done my fair share of research on flying into both, and the airfares aren’t all that different when comparing TPA and SRQ. So, cost may not be a huge factor in deciding which airport to fly into for your 3 days in Sarasota.
Also, the cost of renting a car at Tampa airport vs. Sarasota airport are just a few dollars apart. Really, this couldn’t be easier. However, note that if you fly into one airport and leave from another, you’ll have to pay extra rental car fees for doing so.
3 days in Sarasota: by land
If coming from the Tampa Bay area, the drive to Sarasota should be just over an hour (depending on the day and time obviously).
Plus, you get to drive over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge which is really fun. (If you like roller coasters and bridges. Not fun if you’re afraid of heights. And bridges. But don’t worry, you can totally get to Sarasota from Tampa without going over the Skyway, but it could potentially take you much, much longer.)
Besides Tampa, 3 days in Sarasota also makes a great long weekend trip away from:
- Naples: 2-hour drive
- Orlando: 2.25-hour drive
- Fort Myers: 1.25-hour drive
- Miami: 3.5-hour drive
3 Days in Sarasota: Day 1
Day 1 of your 3 days in Sarasota will showcase some of the city’s most famous landmarks as well possibly the best pies you’ve ever had in your life. (This is why we aren’t going to the beach today.)
Start your first day in Sarasota at the Ringling—a kind of hard to explain but super interesting place. The Ringling is so-called after its former owners, John and Mable Ringling. John Ringling was one of the five Ringling Brothers of circus fame. During the 1920s, he was one of the richest men in America.
Today, the Ringling is a vast complex consisting of many sites. The whole place is designed in a style that reflects the family’s outright obsession with all things Italy. It’s fancy and it’s weird. And at times even a bit creepy. At the Ringling you can visit:
Ca’ d’Zan is the Ringling family’s opulent waterfront mansion. Their borderline unhealthy obsession with Venice, Italy had a huge hand in the design of this place. (There’s even a gondola they used to ride around in.)
The name Ca’ d’Zan means “John’s House” in a Venetian dialect. This is what you get when you’re super duper rich.
You can tour this eye-catching mansion inside and out to see how the circus-half lives. It’s been extravagantly restored after falling into disrepair for a time. And during this low period in its life, it was used as the rundown mansion of Miss Havisham in the 1998 version of Great Expectations.
The Ringling Brothers Circus Museum
The Ringling Brothers Circus Museum is… strange. And creepy, in a clown, circus-y kind of way, as you’d expect. But it’s also huge. Decades of animal abuse and clown costumes aside, this is still an interesting place to visit.
You can learn all about the history of the circus in their learning center, but my favorite part is the actual circus museum with a warehouse of historical train cars, cannons, props, posters, etc. (Though being in there alone is solidly frightening.)
Museum of Art + Sculpture garden
The Ringling Museum of Art dates back to 1925 when John Ringling just wanted to start a fancy art museum. Today, the museum comprises 21 galleries in a Renaissance-style palace surrounding a sculpture garden with casts of famous Italian works. Go figure.
Bayfront Gardens + Rose garden
These two gardens are full of unique plant life, romantic statuary, roses, Banyan trees, walking paths, and much more. You can take guided garden tours or just roam the property on your own. You’ll also see the final resting places of Ringling family members.
Needless to say, there’s a lot to see at the Ringling. Budget around 4 hours to see everything.
Yoder’s Restaurant and Amish Village
After all that walking and mega calorie burning, it’s time to replenish. Head over to Yoder’s Amish Restaurant for lunch (and pies on pies on pies).
Yoder’s Restaurant has been serving up delicious home cooking in Sarasota since 1975. They’ve been featured so many times they basically live on the Food Network. Their pies are famous and damn well worth every bit of publicity.
My favorite: the pressure-fried chicken + peanut butter cream pie. No joke, I have driven to Sarasota from Clearwater, Florida specifically to eat lunch here.
Take your time here; you’ll be stuffed to the max when you leave. And after lunch, walk around Yoder’s Amish Village. There’s a farmer’s market, a gift shop, and more. (Then get another pie to go because there are way too many to choose from and they’re all amazing.)
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Look, I know we already saw some cool plants at the Ringling, but after lunch at Yoder’s you’ll need to take it easy for the rest of the day. Make your next stop the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
One thing I love about Florida is its botanical gardens. Because the weather and climate here is so ideal, almost anything will grow in Florida. All kinds of tropical flowers, the most interesting trees, plants in all colors, flamingos (!!!), and so much more.
The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens bill themselves as a living museum, right there on Sarasota’s bay-front. This 15-acre botanical garden features more than 20,000 plants including 5,500 beautiful orchids.
Dinner at Indigenous Restaurant
I know, I know. It’s too soon after Yoder’s to even think about food already. But after the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, head back to your hotel for a bit. Relax, take a shower, chill out to a point where you feel comfortable eating again. And when you do, head to Indigenous.
Indigenous works closely with local farmers and fisherman to offer only the highest quality cuisine that changes throughout the year according to seasonality. Indigenous is often called one of the best restaurants in Florida and I simply love the simplicity of their menu.
3 Days in Sarasota: Day 2
Day 1 of your 3 days in Sarasota was all about history, mystery, and pie, but Day Two is going to remind you that you’re in sunny, beachy Florida!
Mote Marine Aquarium
Start Day 2 at the Mote Marine Aquarium—an independent, nonprofit research aquarium run by world-class marine scientists committed to conservation. Also, I used to volunteer here at their Dolphin and Whale hospital. 🙂
The AZA-accredited Mote Marine Aquarium features more than 100 species of marine animals including a shark habitat, manatees, otters, sea turtles, fishies, and jellyfishies (to name a few). They also host a lot of events like:
- Full moon kayaking tours
- Coffee with a scientist
- Interpretative bay walks
- And so many more
St. Armand’s Circle
After your morning at Mote, grab lunch somewhere at St. Armand’s Circle.
St. Armand’s circle is a small retail district between downtown Sarasota and the Keys/Gulf of Mexico. Here you’ll find a park in the center surrounded on all sides by retail shops, restaurants and bars, monuments and memorials, and sunshine, palm trees, and an ocean breeze. (Check out more to see at St. Armand’s circle here.)
Check out this map of St. Armand’s Circle and choose from a number of restaurants like:
- Cha Cha Coconuts—a self-proclaimed Floribbean eatery
- Crab & Fin Restaurant—upscale seafood joint
- Blue Kozina—highly rated Greek cuisine
- Shore St. Armand’s—an Oceanside diner serving unique dishes
After lunch, have a walk around St. Armand’s Circle. No surprise here, John Ringling is the founder of St. Armand’s Circle and his influence is everywhere. (In case you haven’t had enough fancy naked statues yet.) The park in the center is surrounded by memorials to circus performers past.
Also found in St. Armand’s Circle is the Wyland Gallery, an art gallery highlighting the artwork of Wyland–premier marine life artist famous for his ginormous murals, and others.
On your way back over the bridge, check out the Unconditional Surrender statue—the way larger-than-life statue resembling the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo from Times Square on V-J Day. (Though the sculptor Seward Johnson says he actually based his statues on a lesser-known photo taken at the same moment by Victor Jorgensen.)
Because the statue is in such a high-traffic area, it’s best to park in the lot behind it (for free) and walk over to it for a better view. And to recreate it with your honey, obviously.
Siesta Key Beach
Next, head a little south and over another bridge to Siesta Key—ranked as the #1 beach in America by both TripAdvisor and Dr. Beach. And this is a country that has Hawaii as a member, don’t forget that!
Siesta Key is so loved because it’s wide, it’s white, and it’s oh so cool. Siesta Key’s sand is 99% quartz making it powdered-sugar white and so reflective that it’s never hot underfoot. Mix that with the crystal clear (yet somehow still perfectly turquoise) water off Florida’s Gulf Coast and you may just spend the rest of your 3 days in Sarasota right here.
You’ll find plenty of public parking, concession areas and restrooms, free beach yoga in the mornings, and plenty of opportunity for a sun-filled siesta. Plan to spend a few hours here.
Dinner at Owen’s Fish Camp
After you’ve been revived on the beach and freshly showered, head to dinner at Owen’s Fish Camp. Owen’s is located in the historic Burns Court and has some of the highest Sarasota restaurant reviews. This cozy place is always jammed (you may have to wait in a line since they don’t take reservations #worthit) and the fish is always fresh.
JDub’s Brewing Company
After dinner, head over to JDub’s Brewing Company for delicious local craft beers to end your super chill second day in Sarasota.
You can try many of their beers here straight from the source and even take a tour of the brewery. Personally, I’m a fan of the Poolside Kolsch and their Passion Fruit & Mango Wheat Ale. (I like my beer like I like my vacations—tropical.)
3 Days in Sarasota: Day 3
The last of your 3 days in Sarasota is going to be full of adventure, quirks, and maybe a little stomach-turning, but in a good way!
Myakka Canopy Walkway
After breakfast, head over to the Myakka Canopy Walkway to see Sarasota from a whole ‘nother angle—from above!
The Myakka Canopy Walkway and Observation Tower was completed in 2000 and is the first public treetop trail in North America. It’s like a nature walking trail, but elevated. Twenty-five feet above the ground, to be exact. The observation tower is 74 feet up!
From here you’ll have awesome views of the treetops, the surrounding wetlands, eagles and other birds of prey, and lots of local plant and wildlife.
Tito Gaona’s Trapeze Academy
I know that after your first day in Sarasota you were all like, “I wanna be in the circus!” And you’re in luck because Sarasota’s circus history permeates through so much more than just its museums.
At Tito Gaona’s Trapeze Academy (named after the famous flying trapeze artist) you can take a flying trapeze class yourself—even if you’ve never done anything like it before. Classes last two hours (different times depending on the day and time of year) and, I’m telling you, it’s so. much. fun. I thoroughly became addicted to trapeze after my first class.
The best thing about flying trapeze classes? No prior experience is necessary! You will leave with the coolest feeling of accomplishment ever. Don’t just go to a circus museum; actually see what it feels like to be in the circus. Your mom did always say you belong in a circus, am I right?
Mangrove Tunnel Kayak Ecotour
Okay, I get it. Flying from your knees with the greatest of ease is not everyone’s cup of tea. If that’s the case, keep your feet firmly on the… bottom of your kayak instead. This mangrove tunnel kayak tour is one of the most popular in Sarasota. Also, you’ll get to stay upright (hopefully).
Kayaking in Florida is one of my favorite pastimes. There’s so much to see with so little effort. On this tour you’ll get to experience so much of the natural plant and wildlife that live among the mangroves (including manatees!).
You can kayak either solo or tandem and you’ll have a knowledgeable local guide leading the way. Click here for booking information.
Lunch at Old Salty Dog
For lunch, stop by the Old Salty Dog, Sarasota’s “Old Florida” favorite. You’re not going to be in a bathing suit for a little bit so go ahead and order the beer-battered hot dog, their signature dish. Sit on their outdoor patio along Sarasota Bay and soak up that chill Florida vibe.
Siesta Key Rum
After lunch, the next stop is the Siesta Key Rum distillery. You can take free tours of the distillery and enjoy free samples in their tasting room. They’re particularly proud of their coffee, toasted coconut, and spiced rums.
This place is a huge hit with visitors and should make a great addition to your 3 days in Sarasota.
Now that you’ve had your fried food and your rum and you’re sufficiently mellowed out, head over to Lido Key Beach, Sarasota’s other favorite beach.
You can park for free here and enjoy huge white beaches, turquoise water, and watching Sarasota’s Amish population fishing from the shores. There’s a facility with restrooms, a park, and not much else. Lido Key is much smaller and less crowded than Siesta Key and it’s a great way to “get away” but still be right in the center of Sarasota.
End your 3 days in Sarasota with dinner at Columbia
If you’ve read any of my other Florida itineraries, you’ll see Columbia restaurants on just about all of them. Actually, yes, all of them. I regret nothing! Finish off your 3 days in Sarasota with a classic Spanish dinner in a Mediterranean-style dining room.
Columbia is a small chain of Spanish restaurants in Florida—the original is in Tampa’s historic Ybor City. This place is famous for its Cuban sandwiches, the 1905 salad, and table-made sangria. (But everything is amazing.) Obviously, I love this place and won’t pass up a chance to eat here.
Thankfully, Columbia has a location right there in St. Armand’s Circle. It opened in 1959 and is actually the oldest restaurant in Sarasota.
Seasonal things to do in Sarasota
Depending on what time of year you visit, you may have an entire range of new things to do in Sarasota. With the spring comes professional baseball, the summer brings adorable baby turtles, and the fall brings one of the city’s biggest festivals.
Check out these seasonal things to do in Sarasota:
Major League Baseball spring training in Sarasota takes place from late February to late March with games starting at either 1:05 PM or 6:05 PM. The Baltimore Orioles, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Atlanta Braves have spring training facilities in (or around) Sarasota as part of the Grapefruit League.
The Baltimore Orioles spring training takes place at Ed Smith Stadium just outside the center of downtown Sarasota.
The spring training facility of the Pittsburgh Pirates is located in nearby Bradenton, Florida—a half-hour drive north of downtown Sarasota at LECOM Park.
The Atlanta Braves play their spring training games at CoolToday Park in nearby Venice, Florida (just a 40-minute drive from downtown Sarasota).
Siesta Key Crystal Classic
In mid-November one of Sarasota’s biggest annual festivals takes place–the Siesta Key Crystal Classic. This festival combines food and retail vendors with an international sand sculpting competition of solo and team competitors.
The Siesta Key Crystal Classic is a non-profit event in which amateur and professional sand sculptors create larger-than-life designs over four days. The event is attended by over 60,000 people during that time.
Public Turtle Walks
During the months of June and July you can join volunteers from the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for free public turtle walks.
During these walks the Mote volunteers scout the area for signs of sea turtle nesting activity. They also discuss sea turtle life history and teach you what you can do to help protect sea turtles and the ocean in general.
These public turtle walks take place every Saturday during June and July at 6:45 AM on Longboat Key.
Sarasota Farmer’s Market
This one isn’t exactly a “seasonal” thing to do as it takes place year-round, rain or shine. However it does only take place on Saturdays.
The Sarasota Farmer’s Market is a non-profit organization and is listed as one of the #1 farmer’s markets in Florida by Southern Living magazine. Stop by for fresh local produce, food and beverages, flowers and plants, and more.
Optional tours for your 3 days in Sarasota
In addition to the mangrove kayaking tour mentioned earlier, there are plenty more great tours to take in Sarasota. Check out these that I’ve personally selected and see if any are a fit for your 3 days in Sarasota:
Sarasota City Sightseeing Tour
This 1.5-hour tour is a favorite among visitors to Sarasota and is a great introduction to the city. This tour takes place on an air conditioned trolley and with a knowledgeable local guide. You’ll see many of the city’s top sights, visit the historical districts, and learn all about Sarasota’s circus history, Amish culture, and more. Click here for booking information.
Taste of Downtown Sarasota
Available only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays is the 3-hour walking food tour of downtown Sarasota. This guided tour stops at 4-5 different family-owned restaurants and includes unique foods paired with wines or cocktails. All reviews of this tour are 5-star! Click here for booking information.
More info for your 3 days in Sarasota
What will you do with your 3 days in Sarasota?
Let me know below!
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