Positioned on the south-west coast, Bradenton and Sarasota are the perfect destinations for lovers of all things surf, sun and sea. Surrounded by waterways and with a sub-tropical climate, their close proximity enables them to be known by federal law as a combined statistical area, making it easy to hop between the two.
Next door neighbour to Tampa, Bradenton has been developing at a rapid rate for the past decade, both commercially and industrially. It’s now home to various offices including Tropicana Products, Champs Sports and the headquarters of popular American department store Bealls. Connected to St Petersburg via the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, it’s a great location for those looking to visit more than one area of Florida during their stay.
Sarasota is a little bigger, renowned for its beaches and School of Architecture. Separated from the Gulf of Mexico by several small islands, it benefits from a relaxed holiday atmosphere that actively encourages local investment in the art, film and culture scene.
A multicultural hub with a thriving sense of independence, the Bradenton and Sarasota area is the perfect place to detox, seek inspiration and experience the less commercial side of Florida. With plenty of new discoveries to be made, this guide to the area will help you navigate the vast array of sights, sounds and places just waiting to be explored.
The quickest way to get to know Bradenton is by foot, and a walk around the Village of the Arts will stimulate even the least creative of minds. A non-profit community organisation that encourages residents to set up home businesses, studios and galleries, the artistic atmosphere is palpable to anyone who walks the gloriously unique streets. No matter when you visit, there is sure to be an event or workshop to get involved in – from the Halloween Festival of Skeletons to jewellery-making classes, the community’s packed schedule is sure to get your trip off to an imaginative start.
Where to eat
As to be expected from an area with such a strong artistic ethos, natives of Bradenton and Sarasota often like to dine in independent and unique surroundings. The Arts & Eats Restaurant and Gallery in Bradenton is one such place. Its dishes are as vibrant as its Day-Glo exterior, incorporating influences from all over the world. From Indian chickpea curry and Caribbean jerk pork to Italian goat’s cheese ravioli and New York steak, it’s no wonder that this restaurant is popular with tourists looking for a taste of home. When you’ve finished eating, stick around for the open mic or take a stroll around its backyard ‘park’ – this restaurant has a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere that will be hard to leave.
On the Sarasota side of the tracks, European inspired dishes are the order of the day. Abel’s Ice Cream offers late-night weekend indulgence to answer any sugar craving, boasting a menu of shakes, scoops and banana splits in a multitude of unusual flavours. For something a little more filling, Puerto Rican cuisine is presented beautifully at Sofrita Mamas. With delicious eats like Cuba Riquenos (hot-pressed pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and bread) on quick turnaround, it can be easy to go straight for the main, but beware – not leaving room for their caramel egg custard flan is a serious mistake.
- Arts & Eats Restaurant and Gallery, 1114 12th Street West, Bradenton
- Abels Ice Cream, 1886 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota
- Sofrito Mamas, 935 N. Beneva Road, Suite 613, Sarasota Commons Plaza, Sarasota
Where to shop
When bargain hunting in Bradenton, expect to roll your sleeves up and rummage. While chain shopping options are available in the form of De Soto Square Mall, quirky fashionistas are better off at Retro Rosie’s – a vintage menagerie of stock specialising in original 1950s and 60s clothing. Just a few blocks away from the Village of the Arts, the staff are knowledgeable, friendly and keen to tell you what does and doesn’t suit, creating a fun and personable shopping experience.
If the desire to thrift is infectious, the Red Barn Flea Market should definitely be your next stop. Open seven days a week, the 80,000 square feet of farmer produce, entertainment and prepared food shopping has been owned by the same family since 1981, offering it a homely feel that directly benefits the local community.
For those who really can’t tear themselves away from the American classics, the Mall at University Town Center in Sarasota features a wide array of fashion, dining, gifts and entertainment stores to cater for every need. Positioned just off the I7, it’s well connected to the beach and nearby golf clubs should you need to drop off any unwilling family members.
- Retro Rosie’s, 817 Manatee Avenue, Bradenton
- Red Barn Flea Market, 1707 1st Street, Bradenton
Where to party
With a fairly limited club scene, evening entertainment in the Bradenton and Sarasota area is best found in the form of bars or concert venues. The Big Top Brewing Company in Sarasota displays its patriotism with pride, offering a wide selection of year-round beers as well as other rotating favourites. The Key lime wheat and Intercoastal amber are both worth a try, embodying the spirit of the region.
Beer is also readily available in Bradenton at the Lost Kangaroo pub. Famous in the area for its animal-friendly entrance policy, it offers beers for every tolerance and budget, ranging from the light (4% summer ale) to the very heavy (16% anniversary ale).
If cocktails are more like your tipple of choice, the Daiquiri Deck in Sarasota is set to be your idea of (affordable) paradise. Whatever your favourite flavours or spirit, its team will blends it for you into a delicious slushy concoction, accompanied by a large choice of bar snacks. Surrounded by colourful decor and live music, this bar and restaurant is the very definition of cheeky Floridian fun.
- The Big Top Brewing Company, 6111 Porter Way, Sarasota
- Daiquiri Deck, 5250 Ocean Boulevard, Sarasota
Where to go
If you’re on a family holiday with children who bore easily, Tree-Umph adventure course in Bradenton may well be the answer. A veritable maze of bridges, bungee swings, foot bridges and Tarzan ropes, don your harness and get ready to fly through the air in a guaranteed afternoon of fun. With tickets starting at $29.95 for adults and children going free, it’s an affordable way to tire the kids out before bedtime.
Similarly unique is the Bradenton Beach Horses experience. Few areas in Florida accept this sort of livestock on their sandy shores, so make sure to take advantage of the quiet surroundings and hop astride one of the firm’s calm and friendly horses for a dip in the sea. With opportunities to learn how to ‘Horsesurf’ and ‘Horseski’, rest assured that this isn’t a normal trot up and down the beach.
If you’re after something a little more laid-back, a stroll around Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens will be sure to impress. Whilst admission can be a little on the pricey side ($19 per person), taking the tour-guided option with a member of the highly knowledgeable staff will ensure value for money. Sarasota is also home to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. Open 365 days a year, it includes a 135,000 gallon tank full of marine species, a retro-themed diner and various child-friendly activities, including feeding sessions with the manta rays.