Downtown Sarasota is the civic and cultural center of Sarasota, home to the Sarasota Opera, Florida Studio Theatre, an arts cinema and more. It’s also home to some of the city’s best shops, restaurants and galleries. And it’s beautifully situated on Sarasota Bay, with a popular park where children cool off in a splash park and people and pooches stroll past docked yachts and charter boats or stop by a lively tiki bar.
Upstairs at Marina Jack, you can feast your eyes on Sarasota Bay while savoring Chef Dabney’s signature bouillabaisse or potato-crusted grouper. Downstairs, enjoy more casual fare at the open-air dining room with live music most nights. 2 Marina Plaza, (941) 365-4232, marinajacks.com
Locals love Pho Cali Vietnamese Noodle House, where the authentic fare includes an extensive appetizer and noodle soup menu with vegetarian specials. 1578 Main St., (941) 955-2683, phocali-sarasota.com
The Bijou Cafe enchants with romantic ambiance, and a menu reflecting chef/owner Jean-Pierre Knaggs’ French and South African heritage. Signature dishes include roasted duckling and a dreamy potato gratin. 1287 First St., (941) 366-8111, bijoucafe.net
Owen’s Fish Camp serves up exceptional Southern grub and seafood in a cottage beneath a banyan tree in Burns Court. The Low Country boil for two is a sure bet. 516 Burns Lane, (941) 951-6936, owensfishcamp.com
Selva’s Nuevo Latino cuisine pairs the zesty flavors and textures of Peru and Asia. Start with ceviche and progress to the Peruvian-style bouillabaisse. A sexy, happening lounge scene, too. 1345 Main St., (941) 362-4427, selvagrill.com
Put your Amazon app away and visit a real bookstore. At Bookstore1, you can browse the aisles, curl up in a comfy chair and attend author talks and signings. 1359 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 365-7900, sarasotabooks.com
Circus City Architectural Salvage keeps hunters happy with aisles of furniture, sculpture, vintage toys, circus memorabilia, yard art and home accessories made from salvaged stuff. 1001 Central Ave., Sarasota., (941) 866-2500; circuscitysalvage.com.
Artisans’ World Marketplace searches out hand-crafted artisanal products from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania—the creations of fair trade partners under strict international guidelines. 128 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 365-5994, artisansworldmarketplace.com
At Rue SRQ, Natalie Rue Morgan has a discerning eye for hot new designers and trends, from python handbags to French bulldogs. Looking for a slim Jean Striped clutch, an emerald cocktail ring from Wild Lilies or a creamy Clu bomber jacket? They’re here. 1439 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 373-6333, ruesrq.com
Stroll Historic Burns Square. In this charming enclave of 1920s bungalows, shops and restaurants, you can take in a foreign flick at Burns Court Cinemas, enjoy jazz at Burns Court Café, and treasure-hunt in the boutiques, galleries and antique shops. burnssquare.com
Beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens shelters more than 20,000 plants and some of the rarest orchids in the world. There’s a Tropical Conservatory and kids’ rainforest garden, too. The Garden Shop offers plants and gifts. 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731, selby.org
Downstairs at The Gator Club, the joint is jumping with live rhythm and blues, top 40 and reggae. The upstairs bar is more tranquil, with 180 varieties of whiskeys. 1490 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5969, thegatorclub.com
Join the runners, walkers and cyclists making their way over the John Ringling Causeway bridge. This 60-foot-high span commands spectacular views of downtown Sarasota and Sarasota Bay. And you can get bait (and beer) at Hart’s Landing beneath the bridge and fish from the T.J. “Tony” Saprito Fishing Pier. 920 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 955-0011, hartslanding.net
Art Center Sarasota is celebrating its 90th birthday this year. This season features seven juried exhibitions and, with three separate galleries, there’s plenty to see. 707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 365-2032, artsarasota.org