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Sarasota is a coastal city located in southwest Florida known for its retirement community and popular beaches. It’s about an hour south of Tampa and an hour north of Fort Myers. There’s a ton to do both in the city of Sarasota and in the surrounding area and keys. I had heard a lot about this area, but hadn’t visited until recently when I took a weekend trip with 3 of my friends from college. We spent 3 nights and 3 days in the area, and here’s everything we did to help you plan your own weekend in Sarasota!
Disclaimer: This blog post is written in partnership with Allegiant Airlines. Thank you Allegiant for working with me! As always, all opinions written here are my own.
How To Get To Sarasota
As mentioned in the intro, Sarasota is located on the west side of Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s located in the southern half of the state, about one hour south of Tampa and one hour north of the Fort Myers area. There’s a small regional airport right in Sarasota, but my friends and I flew Allegiant Air into Punta Gorda and drove north in our rental car.
I highly recommend having a rental car for your weekend in Sarasota. Although the downtown is quite walkable and there’s trolleys / shuttles, it’s easiest to have your own car to access the beaches and nearby towns.
Where To Stay In Sarasota
Sarasota is a popular spot for long-term rentals. Ever heard the term “snowbirding”? Sarasota has prime real estate for this, in addition to long-term condo rentals, Airbnbs, etc. My friends and I opted for a hotel during our time in Sarasota and stayed in the Westin. The Westin in Sarasota is in a prime location and is extremely upscale. We loved the amenities provided by this hotel, including the valet parking along with the rooftop pool and bar area. Also, each guest gets a complimentary glass of champagne upon arrival which was a sweet bonus!
The Westin also operates a complimentary shuttle for guests to some of the nearby beaches and St. Armands Circle. We just used our car, but this is a nice option if you need it! There were a few hotels and condominiums in this area; I recommend staying near Bayfront Park in downtown Sarasota. The Ritz was also located right next door… if that’s your vibe.
Where To Eat In Sarasota
Coffee / Breakfast
Located in downtown Sarasota (off Main Street), I highly recommend checking out Breaking Wave Coffee! This coffee shop was so wonderful. First, there’s free, high-speed WiFi that works both inside and around the tables out front. Second, the coffee was really delicious. And third, and most importantly, the avocado toast here was to-die-for. Seriously some of the best I’ve ever had.
I did a lot of research on coffee shops in the area, so although I didn’t visit, here are a few honorable mentions…
- The Overton: Highly recommended on a few other blogs, although according to Google, it’s currently closed.
- Project Coffee: Mostly vegan menu in a feel-good atmosphere.
- Perq Coffee Bar: Serves espresso, specialty coffee & light bites offered in a modern space with industrial & retro decor.
In St. Armands Circle, there are two main breakfast joints. And they happen to be right next to each other. The first is Blue Dolphin Café, which is your classic breakfast restaurant. We were in the area on a Sunday morning and there was a large crowd of people waiting out front here, so arrive early or put your name in advance.
My friends and I ate at the Green Zebra Café during our weekend in Sarasota. This café was perfect for a quick bite and offered sit-down service or take-away. It was also nice and healthy! We all ate acai bowls, smoothies, avocado toast, and breakfast wraps – I highly recommend it.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to grab lunch in downtown Sarasota, look no further than First Watch. This restaurant had a great breakfast / brunch menu too, but I highly recommend it for lunch because of their two-in-one soup, salad, and sandwich deals.
On our second full day in Sarasota, we ate lunch in Siesta Key Village. This street of bars, shops, and restaurants is a popular place to visit after the beach. The restaurants here all have outdoor decks and are very casual beach bars, perfect for after the sand. We ate at MVP (My Village Pub) right in the middle of the strip, although we didn’t love the food or service. There’s tons of other options in this area though, so be sure to check it out. Daiquiri Deck seemed to be a fan-favorite.
Pro-tip: Right across from MVP is Meaney’s Mini Donuts. This place is a local hit so be sure to try some! They are small enough to be a little sweet treat and each order comes with 6.
I have two recommendations for dinner, although one is a must and really takes the cake. It’s Whitney’s LBK. Located at the end of Longboat Key near Whitney’s Beach, this spot is a MUST! The outdoor sandy area has a few palm trees, picnic tables, and fire pit – making it the perfect spot for a happy hour. The boho-inspired, groovy interior décor is just as fun! We ate dinner outside here and enjoyed the live music. The vibes were just immaculate, the service was impeccable, and the food here was amazing! I had one of the best spicy margs I’ve ever had and couldn’t recommend the fish tacos more. Don’t miss it!
Since St. Armand’s Circle really is the dining / shopping hub of Sarasota, we also chose to eat dinner here one night. I did a lot of research and was torn between Café L’Europe and the Columbia Restaurant. We ultimately decided to eat at the Columbia Restaurant because it’s apparently the oldest restaurant in Florida! It opened over 100 years ago and had a fabulous Cuban-inspired menu. Try their 1905 salad! It’s famous for a reason.
What To Do In Sarasota
Visit the Ca’ d’Zan House and Ringling Museum
Aside from the beaches in Sarasota, this is my number one recommendation. My friends and I enjoyed a few hours here on Friday evening during our weekend in Sarasota and were blown away! This property was once owned by the Ringling family, the same ones that ran the Ringling Brothers Circus. The Ca’ d’Zan here was the private home of the family, built in the 1920s in Spanish- style. The grandness of the home and its prime location on the water really reminded me of the Great Gatsby. The grounds cost $5 to explore and stay open until 5:30 pm. We opted for this ticket option since we were a bit short on time and just wanted to explore the property.
Pro-tip: The Museum of Art and Bayfront Gardens are free to the public on Mondays.
If you have more time, I recommend exploring the event spaces here, touring the inside of the home, and seeing the art museum. We were able to walk along the exterior of the art museum, admiring the Greek-Romanesque statues, gardens, and archways. I can only imagine how stunning the inside must be! This ticket cost $25 for adults. I totally would’ve loved to see it if we had more time.
Enjoy Siesta Key Beach
Did you know that Siesta Key Beach has been rated the #1 best beach in the USA time and time again? I didn’t! We thoroughly enjoyed a full beach day at Siesta Key, which is a must during your weekend in Sarasota.
Fun fact: Siesta Key beach is unique in that the sand is made from quartz. This makes it super white and soft. Plus, it stays cool year-round – even under the blazing summer sun!
Siesta Key is huge, with tons of beach access points. Since we’re not residents, we enjoyed the public beach area closer to Crescent Beach. If you’re visiting and have a rental car, I recommend looking for free parking! If you plug 948 Beach Road into your GPS, it will bring you to a giant parking lot right on the beach. There’s also public restrooms, showers, and a beach bar / snack shack right here.
Pro-tip: Although this parking lot was quite massive, spots fill up quickly. Try to arrive early!
Spend time in Siesta Key Village
About 5 minutes down the road from the beach is Siesta Key Village. I mentioned this area above in the lunch recommendations section, so be sure to browse this strip during your weekend in Sarasota. There’s tons of shops, ice cream places, casual beach bars, and restaurants all right here.
Happy Hour at the Ritz Carlton
If you have small children, are sober, or are on a tight budget, this is probably not the recommendation for you, but hear me out – enjoy some time at the Ritz in Sarasota without having to break the bank by staying!
This is one of my favorite travel hacks – I’ve been taking full advantage of nice hotels lately for remote work, coffee shops, and hotel bars. I’ve met super fascinating people at nice hotels around the world and always enjoy the complimentary WiFi and other amenities.
Although the Ritz is extremely expensive, the drinks here were average priced (IMO – coming from the northeast). A glass of wine was about $13 and my lemon drop martini was $16. Anyone is welcome in Jack Dusty’s restaurant right off the lobby of the Ritz. We didn’t want to spend money to eat here but really enjoyed our drink on the back patio. There’s fire pits, string lights, and heat lamps scattered among the couches. The back patio also has an amazing view of the harbor.
Shop in St. Armand’s Circle
I’ve mentioned St. Armand’s Circle a few times now for restaurant recommendations, but it’s the perfect place to shop and walk around! This area is huge with dozens of shops, so you can really spend quite a bit of time here. We loved browsing in Apricot Lane, Shore, and Rochelle’s.
If shopping isn’t your thing, the neighborhoods off this circle were so picturesque. We really enjoyed walking through the palm tree-lined streets and looking at the mansions. I highly recommend a stroll in this area during your weekend in Sarasota.
Pro-tip: Parking in the circle is metered / pay by app, but was free after 8 pm for dinner and was also free on Sunday. I recommend getting breakfast here and shopping on a Sunday!
Visit Lido Key
Located about a 5 minute drive from St. Armand’s Circle is Lido Key Beach. Lido Key is another barrier island off the coast of Sarasota and is another popular, sprawling beach area. Although we didn’t have a formal beach day here, it was nice to drive by and spend time in the area. There’s tons of street parking here too.
We didn’t have time for these activities during our weekend in Sarasota, but if we had more time, I would’ve liked to spend more time on Longboat Key and the other nearby keys. Outdoor sports are super common in this area, including tennis, pickleball, golf, fishing, and water sports. I think kayaking through the mangroves would’ve been great too!
About 40 minutes south of Sarasota is Venice, FL. Venice has a charming downtown with shops and restaurants as well. Plus, it’s only 20-30 minutes by car from the Punta Gorda / Fort Myers airports.
That’s all for my recommendations for Sarasota! We had such a fabulous girls weekend in Sarasota. Thank you again to Allegiant Airlines for allowing us to fly non-stop from the Boston area to Florida to escape the tundra-like temperatures this winter! If you’re looking for another girls trip recommendation, check out my guide to a girls weekend in Savannah, Georgia.
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