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Sarasota Holidays 2017/2018

Famous for its gorgeous beaches, lively culture, fine dining and enviable location on Florida's Gulf Coast, Sarasota has a wide range of attractions for visitors – and thanks to the state's subtropical climate, it's warm and sunny all year round.

Sarasota was just a small town when it was officially incorporated in 1902, but it underwent massive changes over the course of the 20th century. The Ringling family, best known the incredible circus empire they built across the USA, invested heavily in the area and helped to build it into the thriving city it is today, and plenty of mansions, estates and museums bear witness to the Ringlings' impact on Sarasota.

While many people come to Sarasota for some well-deserved beach time – and there are miles of pristine white-sand beaches if that's your thing – it's also incredibly popular as a foodie destination. Seafood is the local specialty and there are dozens upon dozens of restaurants to choose from.

And though the pace of life here is a bit more relaxed than Miami's, there's still plenty of nightlife to enjoy, from cocktail bars to jazz clubs and live music – as well as a packed programme of festivals throughout the year to get stuck into.

Things to do in Sarasota

Sarasota's museums, galleries and nature attractions means there's plenty of fun for all ages and interests.

First and foremost, Sarasota's beaches are the city's biggest natural attraction – from the dog-friendly Brohard Beach to the picturesque sands of Coquina Beach and Lido Beach, there are dozens of seafront paradises waiting to be discovered.

The Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is a great educational experience for the whole family, offering the chance to get up close to sharks, manatees, sea turtles and more than a hundred other species. The aquarium also offers regular eco-boat tours where visitors can see marine life in the wild.

The John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art houses a fantastic collection of art from around the world, including paintings by the Old Masters and an extensive array of outdoor sculpture to admire. The nearby Circus Museum delves further into the Ringling family's remarkable story, and its fascinating collection explores the history and legacy of the circus.

For all lovers of the natural world, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a must-see: with a butterfly garden, a miniature mangrove swamp, a banyan grove and much more to discover, it's a relaxing day out for everybody. Meanwhile, Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a great destination for kids – from pink flamingos to alligators and birds of prey, there's a whole world of wildlife for everyone to enjoy.

Where to eat in Sarasota

Sarasota's seafood is world-famous, and you won't want to leave the city without sampling the local stone crab, grilled mahi or tuna tacos. Many of the top restaurants can be found around the waterfront, especially in the Laurel Park and Downtown neighbourhoods.

If you like to get up close to your food, head to Walt's Fish Market and Restaurant in South Trail. As the name suggests, it's a fully-functioning fish market as well as a restaurant, so it's the perfect place to pick up some local shrimp, crab or snapper if you fancy cooking at home. There's a full-service tiki bar too!

Indigenous in the Towles Court district is the place to go for fancy yet relaxed dining in a homely setting. Chef Steve Phelps is regarded as something of a genius with fish dishes, and his cobia tatare, shrimp Bolognese and daily specials attract diners from all over Florida and beyond.

Fancy a break from seafood? Try Capital Grille, an upmarket steak house in University Town Center. While there are a few fishy dishes on the menu (such as lobster mac 'n' cheese) it's a steak place first and foremost, and the dry-aged delights on offer are sure to leave you satisfied.

Where to shop in Sarasota

Sarasota is a trendy town and shopping opportunities abound wherever you are. Whether it's picking up the latest fashions or buying some souvenirs for friends at home, you'll have plenty of options for spending cash.

St Armand's Circle is one of the city's top shopping destinations and home to some great independent shops like Foxy Lady and Little Bo-Tique, as well as plenty of bigger brands. With a focus on fashion, luxury and jewellery, you'll find plenty going on and some great places to eat and relax – there's even a selection of spas if you need a holiday from your holiday!

Westfield Sarasota Square is a more traditional mall with a huge variety of shops and entertainment on offer, from movie theatres to home décor. It's the perfect place to pick up any items you need and get a bit of retail therapy in on the side at stores like Victoria's Secret, H&M and PacSun.

If you're really looking to max out your credit card, head down to Westfield Siesta Key, home to a number of high-class stores including Macy's, Chico's, Ann Taylor and Talbots, alongside big brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Francesca's Collections.

Nightlife in Sarasota

While you won't find too many all-night parties in Sarasota, there's still plenty of options for evening entertainment – whether you want to sip a cocktail and watch the sun go down or enjoy some live performances.

The Five O'Clock Club is a long-established blues and jazz bar and one of the city's best spots for live music. It's been open since 1955, and despite its big reputation it retains its homely, neighbourhood feel, making it a great spot if you're in the mood for a laid-back night of great drinks and great music.

Beach Club tends to attract a younger crowd, with a mix of live music and DJs and regular themed events. With a big dance floor and a selection of drinks deals to help things along, it's the perfect place to dance the night away while enjoying a cocktail or two.

If you're in the mood for something different, McCurdy's Comedy Theatre and Humor Institute provides laughs aplenty from big-name performers and talented newcomers alike. Established in 1988, it also offers a full drinks and food menu, along with three spacious rooms for performances.

Discover more about what's going on in Sarasota and nearby Bradenton with our fantastic Secret Florida Guides.

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