An Insider’s Guide to Sarasota, Florida

Thanks to gorgeous spring weather—and spring training—this is a perfect time to pay a visit to sunny Sarasota, Florida. We sat down with our in-the-know TSG Sarasota editor, Susan Doane, for a conversation about what to do and see when visiting her hometown.

Sandy beaches, gorgeous golf courses, and sparkling water make Sarasota an ideal getaway. While the high season is November through March (when the Orioles are in town for spring training), more and more visitors are realizing it’s an excellent year-round destination, with plenty of events, activities, and attractions happening throughout the year to make the trip well worth it.

Sarasota’s beautiful beaches are at the top of Susan’s list. “Anna Maria, Lido, and Siesta Key, which was voted the number one beach in the country for the powder white sand are all gorgeous,” she says.

Left: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Right: Ca d’Zan.

In addition, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, located close to downtown on Sarasota Bay, is home to a stunning collection of tropical plants. Susan recommends spending an afternoon strolling through the garden highlights, which include the Tropical Conservatory, the Banyan Groves, the Towering Bamboo Garden, the Fern Garden, the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden, and more.

Finally, Ca’ d’Zan, the palatial former winter home of American circus owner, developer, and art collector John Ringling and his wife, Mable, which is located right on the bay; The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida; and the Circus Museum, are all Sarasota gems worth exploring.

Susan recommends booking a stay at the Mainsail Beach Inn, located on Anna Maria Island. A 30-minute drive to downtown, it’s a luxurious resort located right on the beach, complete with Gulf-view rooms.

The interior and view from a room at the Mainsail Beach Inn.

Opportunities to get out on the water and fish, paddleboard, or kayak abound. Because of its estuaries, Sarasota has some of the best fishing in Florida, so Susan recommends looking into fishing charters and rentals. “Inshore you can catch redfish and trout, and offshore you can catch bigger fish like grouper and pompano. We’re also known for tarpon in the summertime,” says Susan, whose husband is an avid fisherman. If you’re looking to purchase equipment while in Sarasota, Susan recommends Compound (4063 Clark Road), which sells rods, reels, flies, and lines, as well as paddle boards and apparel.

Susan recommends heading to the statue-filled St. Armands Circle for an upscale shopping experience. Located near Lido beach, it’s a popular place to stroll and browse the boutiques. Susan recommends popping into Influence (474 John Ringling Boulevard), a store owned by two sisters that carries the latest trends for women and men, as well as The Met (35 South Boulevard of the Presidents), which, in addition to carrying fashion-forward attire perfect for an evening out is also a day spa and salon. For fun resort wear, Susan suggests Terra Nova (351 St. Armands Circle). “They carry dresses, cover-ups, shorts, and tops that are bright and colorful and perfect for the beach,” she says. If you’re looking for something for the home that will remind you of your stay in Sarasota, Susan says to stop by FantaSea (378 St. Armands Circle), which is has beautiful, coastal-inspired home décor.

Left: Patricia and Peter Estes of Pecky. Right: The exterior of Pecky.

Downtown Sarasota is also home to a number of great galleries and shops perfect for an afternoon spree. Susan’s favorites include Lotus (1451 Main Street), which carries beautiful basics and on-trend pieces, and their recently opened sister store located across the street, which has an assortment of athleisure wear and yoga clothes. For accessories and beach-ready attire, Susan recommends Treat (530 S. Pineapple Avenue), where owner Nicole Pepe-Dorn’s beloved dog Zaida is a friendly presence among the pretty jewelry, handbags, and scarves. For the home, Pecky (100 Central Avenue, Suite 1026)—named for Pecky cypress, which owners Patricia and Peter Estes are fond of—carries gorgeous furnishings and accessories, and according to Susan it’s the perfect place to find a hostess gift.

Clockwise from top left: A cocktail at Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar / Beer and oysters at Jack Dusty / Open-air seating at Social Eatery & Bar / A seafood dish at Beach Bistro.

For an excellent crafted cocktail in a lovely setting, Susan recommends Jack Dusty (1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive) at the Ritz-Carlton, where you can sit on the patio and unwind with a specialty drink or craft microbrew after a day spent sightseeing or on the beach. You can peruse the menu for the restaurant/lounge, which is named after an old term for a naval store clerk, here, but consider yourself warned: it will make you thirsty.

For dinner: Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar (481 North Orange Avenue) is Susan’s pick for dinner in downtown Sarasota. The restaurant features seasonal, sustainable, locally sourced fare, and has an impressive wine list. “Be sure to save room for the chocolate soufflé with spiced crème anglaise!” Susan says.

Another place to put on your reservations wish list, according to Susan, is Beach Bistro (6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, FL) on Anna Maria Island, right across from the Mainsail Beach Inn. A cozy and romantic restaurant located on the waterfront with a critically acclaimed wine list, it’s the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion. Susan recommends enjoying their famous Bistro Bouilliabaisse while you watch the sun set.

For lunch: Louies Modern (1289 North Palm Avenue), a contemporary bistro housed in the modern Palm Avenue Garage downtown that serves tasty American fare, is one of Susan’s favorites. The kale Caesar salad is her go-to order at the award-winning spot, which also offers dinner Monday through Saturday and brunch on the weekends.

For brunch: Another delicious downtown option is Social Eatery & Bar (1219 First Street), which Susan recommends for brunch or dinner. “It’s a wonderful spot for relaxing at an outdoor table with a cocktail and your friends,” she says of the Italian-American restaurant that focuses on local and fresh comfort food.

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