School is out, the heat is on, and you’re looking for something to entertain your kids that doesn’t involve staring at a screen for hours a day while punching buttons and snacking on Doritos. Fortunately, the Sarasota-Manatee area offers a plethora of options, some appealing to the creative side, some to the nature lover, and others aimed at keeping the young ones active and cool, whether in the water or in the AC. Pace yourselves; if you and your family follow just two of our suggestions per week, you won’t run out of things to do before Labor Day.
Experience the Arts
Kids can discover the thrill of making someone laugh out loud with Florida Studio Theatre’s Children’s Theatre. The cast performs scenes, makes up songs and tells age-appropriate stories. And those who want to jump onstage can get involved in the action. Shows July 6, 7, 20, 21, 27 and 28; also July 15 as part of the Sarasota Improv Festival. Recommended for ages 4 and up.
Take a voyage Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Just a few performances of this entertaining multimedia musical version of the Jules Verne tale of Captain Nemo and his submarine remain, through July 1 at Asolo Rep.
Sarasota’s own circus daredevil Bello Nock delivers thrills and laughs with his IncrediBello! performances through July 29 at The Ringling’s Historic Asolo Theater. Tickets $15 for adults; $12 for children (12 and under).
Make art at The Ringling; it’s a free opportunity to tap into your child’s artistic spirit. The museum provides the materials; the kids provide the vision. Through July 27 in the Visitor’s Pavilion; all ages invited. (941) 359-5700, ringling.org
Enjoy Animals and Nature
Everybody loves puppies, right? But what if playing with a puppy for an hour—carefully coached by the pros—could help train it for its future as a guide dog? At Southeastern Guide Dogs’ Puppy Kindergarten, kids teach the dogs with sounds, visuals, toys, movements and more, and participants get an education, too, earning a certificate demonstrating success as a puppy teacher. For ages 6 and up; $25 fee helps purchase food and vaccinations. Call (941) 729-5665 or visit guidedogs.org to register for specific dates.
Besides strolling the grounds and admiring the felines and other rescued animals at Big Cat Habitat, kids (and adults) will love the Parrots in Paradise demo and the Big Cat Encounter, where Clayton Rosaire and his lion and tiger friends put on a show (regular guest appearances by Chance the chimpanzee, too). Open Wednesday through Sunday; adult admission $18, kids $8.
More bird shows (and reptiles, too) at long-established Sarasota Jungle Gardens, home to more than 200 animals including flamingoes, lemurs, crocs, gators and an emu or two. There’s also a playground and a café on the grounds.
More than 120 of our feathered friends call City Island’s Save Our Seabirds sanctuary home, and you and your family can learn a lot about their habitats, their needs and what makes them unique. Plenty of native plants on display, too. $10 for adults, $6 for kids aged 4 to 12.
July 21 is beloved sea cow Snooty the manatee’s 69th birthday, and the South Florida Museum and its Parker Aquarium celebrate in style with a big bash and wildlife festival. It’s set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 22 this year, and includes wildlife exhibits, games, activities, food trucks, free cookies and juice for the kids, and, of course, a chance to wish the birthday boy well.
Hop aboard a 40-foot pontoon boat for one of several eco-tours offered by Sarasota Bay Explorers in conjunction with Mote Marine Laboratory. Spot manatees, dolphins and more on the water; stalk pelicans, herons, ibis and egrets with a nature walk on an uninhabited island. Plus, kids get to observe and handle sea horses, stone crabs and other denizens of Sarasota Bay. Ticket prices vary.
More than just an orange grove, Mixon Fruit Farms in east Bradenton also houses a wildlife refuge, providing land and shelter for orphaned and injured birds, reptiles and other animals. Take a tram ride, interact up close with native Florida wildlife, and enjoy an educational show, too.
At Mote Aquarium’s The Teeth Beneath: The Wild World of Gators, Crocs and Caimans narrated training sessions, learn about these scary creatures without being, well, scared. You’ll know how they differ, behave and survive, and also what to do if you do run into one of them in nature.
Explore the Water
You and the kids need to cool off, and the Selby Aquatic Center Water Park at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA branch in south Sarasota is a great place to do it. Depending on your swimmers’ abilities, they can enjoy the park, slides (for those 42 inches tall and above) and diving boards; kids 10 and under must be accompanied by an adult.
Get active on the playground at the Bradenton Riverwalk Family Fun Zone & Splash Pad; get refreshed at the fountain, open every day from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no age limit and no cost.
More water fun at Selby Gardens’ Children’s Rainforest Garden, with Selby’s Splashin’ Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon July 1, 8 and 15. Planned water activities, slides and games geared for toddlers up to 10 years old. And that waterfall feels so good!
You don’t need a Major League team to have major league fun; the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class A team, the Bradenton Marauders, plays all summer long at LECOM Park, with fun promotions like bobblehead giveaways and nights you can bring the family pooch along. milb.com
Our Sarasota County libraries provide a host of summertime opportunities for kids of all ages; one of them is the Lego Club that brings together Lego lovers to build the creations of their dreams. The gathering takes place on Saturdays at different libraries, using the great collection of Lego blocks the library has on tap, and the finished products typically remain on view for a week.
Whether you roll or glide, skating can keep you cool this summer. The Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex offers public sessions daily for all levels of skating abilities; regular admission $10, with children 2 and under free. Skate rentals $5 per person.
Stardust Skate Center offers weekend skating sessions, lessons, and of course, space for special occasions like birthday parties. Admission $8; rental $3.