Home to numerous beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, Sarasota, Florida is a wonderful place to visit for a relaxing family vacation. With a small, easy to access airport that has daily flights from major carriers, it’s also a convenient place to visit. On a recent press trip to the area, I had the opportunity to experience a few great things to do with kids in Sarasota.
Sarasota is known for its beautiful beaches, the thriving arts scene, and the Ringling Circus Museum. Wondering what to do in Sarasota with kids? Here are a few of the things I saw, as well as a few that I didn’t have the chance to experience.
Things to Do in Sarasota With Kids
Disclosure: This things to do in Sarasota post is part of a hosted stay. All opinions are my own.
I didn’t visit the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium during my visit, but I’d love to return in the future with my kids. This not-for-profit facility showcases over 100 species of marine life, including manatees and sea turtles. You’ll find numerous exhibits, including a shark zone and a touchable ray tank. It’s a great place to visit when the weather isn’t cooperating with your beach plans, because the exhibits are indoors or with covered viewing areas outdoors.
Each day, there are several animal presentations to see, including manatees, river otters, and sea turtles. A shark exhibit takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Check the online schedule in advance if you definitely want to attend one of these, to make sure your visit coincides with the exhibit time.
Tickets are sold both in person and online.
One of the highlights of my trip to Sarasota was kayaking with Kayaking SRQ at Ted Sperling Park in Lido Key. If you are looking for outdoor things to do in Sarasota, you’ll definitely want to do this! The park, which is located near the Lido Beach Resort, offers a free kayak launch. If you have your own, you can launch from there, or you can book a tour or rent a kayak.
We took the two hour mangrove tunnel tour with Kayaking SRQ. Guests have the option of booking a private tour or joining a scheduled tour. Children are welcome on the tour, and tandem kayaks are available, which makes it easier with kids. The first thing you’ll do in the tour is search for manatee, cormorants, and osprey. During our tour, we didn’t see any manatee, but we did see several cormorants, as well as a beautiful osprey who swooped down among our kayaks to grab a fish. I enjoyed this part of the tour, especially because it was so fun to search for the different animals.
After that part of the tour, we headed to the mangrove tunnels, which was the highlight for me. The tunnels are so beautiful and so unique, that I had to stop to take several photos. It’s such a different way to kayak – in a single file line, through some very narrow tunnels. It’s such a unique spot, and so worth the trip. I definitely want to return with my family.
If you do plan to do this trip, I’d recommend bringing some waterproof bags to hold your belongings. I had a waterproof pouch around my neck to hold my phone. That’s how I was able to get photos. A waterproof camera is another option, but make sure it has something that floats attached to it.
I wish I had the opportunity to check out the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, but unfortunately I didn’t. These gardens include a number of family-friendly activities, including a children’s rainforest garden and a plant scavenger hunt. There are also family events offered at select times. Check the website in advance.
Strollers are allowed, if you have young children. Tickets are available onsite. The Selby Botanical Gardens is open every day, except for Christmas Day.
I wasn’t prepared for how absolutely amazing the Ringling Museum is. I know that it would have some exhibits focused on the circus, but I didn’t expect to see so many great things.
This museum, founded by John and Mable Ringling (of the famed Ringling Brothers circus) is actually more like three museums in one. Kids will absolutely love the Circus Museum, which includes an amazing room filled with a miniature circus. There are also numerous exhibits, including a clown car that you can get it. I could have watched the miniature circus for a while – there are so many neat little details to explore. This is the part of the museum that kids are most likely to enjoy.
Beyond the circus museum, the Ringling also includes a fantastic fine art museum – the Ringling Museum of Art. While kids may not want to explore the entire art museum, there are specialized kids’ programs offered that can help introduce them to art appreciation. You can see the kids’ programs here.
The Ringling also offers an outdoor play space. If the weather is nice, it’s the perfect spot to get out your kids’ energy during your museum visit. There’s also a gorgeous rose garden that is great to explore.
Your museum ticket will allow for admission to both the Circus Museum and the art museum. If you choose, you can also add on a tour of Ca’ d’Zan, John Ringling and his wife Mable’s beautiful 56-room home. Even if you don’t tour the house, you can explore the exterior, which sits on the Sarasota Bay. If your kids are young, I’d probably still with just the circus museum. But, if you are traveling with older kids, or without children, it’s definitely worth visiting the entire property. I would definitely recommend visiting the Ringling during your trip to Sarasota with kids.
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary
The Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary is a nonprofit animal sanctuary that houses over 150 animals. Animal lovers will especially love to see the live animal demonstrations. While you are there, you’ll see a variety of exotic animals, including tortoises, lions, primates, and birds. There’s also a petting zoo.
Tickets are available online and in person. You can save time in line by purchasing tickets in advance online.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Another animal attraction in Sarasota is the Sarasota Jungle Gardens. This attraction includes Alligator/Crocodile exhibits, a Flamingo feeding area, Butterfly gardens, and more. There are also animal shows scheduled throughout the day. Tickets are available online or in person.
If you want to explore nature on your trip, you may also want to add a trip to the Myakka River State Park to your Sarasota family vacation. There, you can hike, view wildlife, ride bikes, and take a boat tour. Camping is also offered.
St. Armands Circle
This upscale shopping area in Sarasota is a great place to visit. It offers lots of places that kids will want to check out, including ice cream, macaron, and shaved ice shops. There are also lots of different restaurants offering pizza, seafood, burgers, pasta, and more.
St. Armands Circle also features a number of popular chain shops along with independent boutiques. You’ll find shops like the Sunglass Hut, the Black Dog, Crazy Shirts, and Tommy Bahama.
Visit the Beach
Of course, no Sarasota family vacation is complete without a trip to the beach. I’d recommend staying at a resort with beach access, and then take small drives to the various attractions listed here. We have reviews of both the Lido Beach Resort and the Resort at Longboat Key Club, which I’d definitely recommend. Siesta Beach, located on Siesta Key, is also an extremely popular beach. It’s made of 99% pure Quartz sand, which is so unique. There are hotels located in that area as well.