Sandy beaches? Check. World-class museums? Check. Fresh seafood and waterfront dining? You got it! Sarasota and nearby Bradenton are great destinations for every kind of traveler, whether you’re looking for a fast-paced cultural tour or a few peaceful moments laying out in the sun. Start your visit to Florida’s Gulf Coast at Siesta Key Beach, a picture-perfect family beach with some of the softest sand around. And that’s not an empty claim, either—Siesta Key Beach’s sand is mostly made up of quartz, in contrast to most other beaches that have sand derived from pulverized coral. Have fun in the sun and take advantage of the tennis courts and volleyball nets or lay out a towel and catch up on some reading.
When you’re ready for a break from the sun, head over to one of the many museums and cultural institutions that Sarasota and Bradenton have to offer. Learn something new about automotive history at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum full of nostalgic, famous rides. If you’re curious about Sarasota’s wildlife, make your way to the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium. At this public aquarium that doubles as a research center, visitors can get up close to seahorses, sharks, colorful fish, stingrays, sea turtles, and more reef animals.
Getting out on a hike or taking a boat ride is another Sarasota/Bradenton experience that should not be missed. Grab your life vest and take a kayak through the mangrove tunnels, a type of tree that is native to Florida’s subtropical marshy wetlands. There will be plenty of birds to keep you company on your journey, including osprey, wood storks, pelicans, and—if you’re lucky—you might even spot a bald eagle. For a chance to encounter bigger animals, check out the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary. Camels, bears, tigers, monkeys, and more rescued rare species are cared for and rehabilitated here in addition to domestic animals like goats and donkeys. Round out your flora-and-fauna immersion at Lake Manatee State Park, a 556-acre area that’s also open for swimming, boating, fishing, and camping.