Best of Sarasota

The Best of Sarasota 2024: Editors' Picks

Here are our favorite new finds from a year full of them. 

By The Editors May 1, 2024 Published in the May-June 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

Sarasota is booming, and we’re flush with exciting new restaurants, shops, services, attractions and more. Here are our favorite new finds from a year full of them. 

Food & Drink

Best New Spot to Stew At 

Everything about dining at Hong BBQ & Hot Pot feels like a party: the music blasting into the parking lot, the bright red interior with intricate wood accents, Chinese lanterns hanging everywhere and, oh, don’t forget the robot that doubles as a busboy. But beyond the good vibes, the food is fantastic. Flavorful broths and a seemingly infinite array of dippables keep you going back for more. Thankfully, this spot is all-you-can-eat. Be ready to test the limits of your waistband. 445 Cortez Road, Bradenton, (941) 213-9972,

Best Restaurant for an Oil Change 

When Sarasota Ford announced it had teamed up with José Martinez of the famed Longboat Key restaurant Maison Blanche to open a restaurant inside the dealership, we found ourselves scratching our heads. But the result, Le Mans Kitchen, is terrific, with French-inspired cuisine that is almost too good for its setting. While the restaurant isn’t open to the general public, anyone can have their car serviced at Sarasota Ford, and what could be better than an order of braised short ribs while you wait for your oil to be changed? 707 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 366-3673,

Best New Bread 

It’s not often that you choose a sandwich shop specifically for its bread, but at Focaccia Sandwich + Bread, pillowy focaccia reigns supreme. Sure, the sandwich fillings are superb, like the avocado sandwich made with “porchetta bacon,” avocado, oven-dried tomatoes and a green goddess dressing, but it would be just another sandwich without the olive oil-soaked bread that owner Nick Sammelman bakes fresh every morning. 2300 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 924-2268, 

Best New Way to Teleport to Mexico 

Chefs Gino Calleja and Jose Rojas cut their culinary teeth in Sarasota’s ever-expanding dining scene. While they each found success on their own, together they are unstoppable, as seen at their new Gulf Gate restaurant Kolucan. There, Mexican cuisine is treated with reverence and elevated to heights we have not before seen in Sarasota. One example, the tostada Veracruzana, sings, with large chunks of tuna tumbled with pickled cabbage and serrano chilies and then piled onto a crispy corn tortilla. 6644 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, (941) 921-3133,

Palm Avenue Deli

Image: Tim Robison

Best New Spot for a Nosh

With downtown hits like Kojo and Bar Hana as its sisters, it was no surprise that Hi Hospitality’s latest venture, Palm Avenue Deli, knocked our socks off. The slick interior mashes New York deli with American diner, with a menu that reflects the décor. Tuck into a Reuben sandwich made with house-braised corned beef, or keep it simple with a hot dog or a grilled cheese. No matter what you choose, you’ll leave very full and very happy. 1297 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 263-3742,

Best Places to Get Your Grocery On

This year saw loads of new grocery store openings—so many that we can’t name just one favorite. We were excited to see Trader Joe’s open its second location at The Shoppes at UTC, while Detwiler’s Farm Market opened its sixth store in West Bradenton. And Publix opened so many new locations that we lost track of them. It’s never been easier to get your hands on great goods.

Best New Burger and a Beer

Until this year, 3 Bridges Brewing was attached to the Venice restaurant Off the Wagon. That all changed when owners Corey and Scott Harper set out to open their own spot with their own food. 3 Bridges, named for, well, Venice’s three bridges, features several delicious beers brewed in house, alongside fun handhelds. We love the smash burgers, which are made even tastier with a cold pint. 1765 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice, (941) 445-4067

Best New Place to See and Be Seen 

Sarasota has never done tapas quite right—that is, until Beso entered the downtown restaurant scene last June. Located inside The Mark, this spot offers amaro-based cocktails to pair with your albondigas (meatballs), pan con tomate or papas bravas. But beyond the drinks and dinner, it’s the overall vibe that captures the Spanish spirit. Well-heeled Sarasotans flock to this swanky bar for happy hour, late night bites and everything in between. We love it. 30 S. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, (941) 279-2999, 

Best Multi-Generational Sourdough 

Bread Bandits owner Jules Thuet is a sixth-generation baker—and it shows. The glass case at the front of the shop is overflowing with sourdough boules, baguettes, croissants, buns and so much more. Even better, they’re all amazing, thanks in part to the bakery’s sourdough starter, which has been in Thuet’s family for more the 100 years. 3546 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota, (941) 413-5112, 


Best New Collab

Sarasota had been whispering about Calusa Brewing’s new taproom for years, and when it finally arrived in 2023, it came with a flagship restaurant, PigFish. With the restaurant’s emphasis on sustainable seafood sandwiches with gourmet flourishes, it’s no wonder the line at this spot extends toward the door. But don’t worry, that line moves quickly, especially with a pint of Calusa’s Zote IPA in hand. 5377 McIntosh Road, Sarasota, (941) 552-8846,,

Best New Spot for Spot

Dog owners and canine lovers unite over a pint at Boo's, the Rosemary District dog bar. Nearly 10,000 square feet have been dedicated to Fido via indoor and outdoor play areas. And while the inside dining area is dog-free, you can scoot in, order a drink and head back out to play in no time. You’re required to register your pup ahead of time so the Boo's team can confirm proper vaccinations, but an easy online form takes care of that in a jiffy. 1314 10th St., Sarasota, (941) 960-2669,

The Fox Mercantile in Cortez
The Fox Mercantile in Cortez

Image: Tim Robison

Shops & Services

Best Rebirth

In 2022, when Jan Holman closed her beloved Sea Hagg antique store and retired after 25 years in business, locals mourned the loss of her unique, nautical-themed finds. Turns out, retirement didn’t suit Holman, who last year revived the Sea Hagg brand through a new Cortez vacation rental called Sea Hagg Inn & Gardens. The property has been decked out with fishing nets, mermaid statues, rudders and more—all arranged with Holman’s signature flair—for an experience guests are sure to remember. 4419 123rd St. Court W., Cortez, (941) 778-6696

Best New Shop

When Holman shuttered the Sea Hagg in 2022, she sold the building, too. Lucky for us, in its place came The Fox Mercantile, a shop, café and event space. Owner Ashley Petrone—who also owns the Joie Inn on Anna Maria Island—knows how to style a space, outfitting the store with on-trend pillows, throw blankets, tableware, art and more. A “feast table” seats 30 for private events, and a cheery yellow-and-white striped trailer is parked in the courtyard to serve up caffeine and snacks. 12304 Cortez Road, Cortez,

Best New Spa

You know that moment in The Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to technicolor? That’s what it’s like walking into the updated spa at The Ritz-Carlton—only instead of a yellow brick road, you’ll find lots of bright white marble, coastal colors, textured wallpaper and updated treatments with a renewed focus on wellness. It’s all quite a change from the dark wood and old-fashioned vibes of years past. (For much more on the new spa, click here.) 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, (941) 309-2000,

Best Rebrand

Sarasota’s new 76 Flyer bus route transports visitors from Sarasota Bradenton International Airport to downtown hotels with the greatest of ease. The entire route takes less than 45 minutes, even in busy rush hour traffic. Even better, the new route is part of a greater rebrand of the Sarasota County transit system, once called SCAT (a running joke among residents, since “scat” also refers to animal poop) and now called Breeze. After testing the 76 Flyer ourselves, we’ve noticed that our newly revamped transit system is, in fact, a breeze.

Best New Boat Ride

Driving to Anna Maria Island from the mainland can be a nightmare even during slower months, so why not ditch the car and hop on the new Gulf Islands Ferry instead? The water taxi service runs from Thursday to Sunday and stops at the Bradenton Riverwalk, the Anna Maria Island Pier and the Bridge Street Pier. The trip from Bradenton to the island may not get you there that much faster than driving (it typically takes about 50 minutes), but the water views and gentle breezes are a marked improvement over sitting in traffic.

Best Comeback

The Sarasota Family YMCA caused panic attacks when it announced in 2019 that it was shutting down its two local fitness centers, only for those centers to eventually be rebranded as CoreSRQ and remain open. Then, last year, the facilities became part of the Y again, this time joining YMCA of Southwest Florida. Confused? We were, too. But the merger appears to be going smoothly, and the YMCA seems poised to be part of the Sarasota community for the long haul.

Parkside in the Rosemary District
Parkside in the Rosemary District

Image: Tim Robison

Best New Outdoor Mini-Mall

Parkside, in the Rosemary District, has slowly been rolling out the openings in its largely food-and-beverage-based compound over the past year. While its anchor tenant, Arts & Central, has opened with much fanfare, there’s much more to come, with plans for a pizzeria, an ice cream shop and much more. Those businesses will join Rabbit Rabbit, which is located in the historic Parkside Lofts building and calls itself a “lifestyle concept shop,” with artisanal products ranging from home décor to accessories, gifts and more. 1371 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota, (941) 216-2262,

Best New Destination for Pickleball Fanatics

Pickleball might be the hottest sport in America, with millions of people picking up the tennis-like game because of how fun and accessible it is. As interest has skyrocketed, so has the number of places to play the game—and no facility is more impressive than The Pickleball Club in Lakewood Ranch. The indoor facility includes 12 courts with cushioned playing surfaces, a café, locker rooms and more. 1300 Sarasota Center Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 271-4444,

Good-bye, greige: homeowners are embracing color these days.
Good-bye, greige: homeowners are embracing color these days.

Home & Real Estate

Best Color Trend

Was it Pantone’s choice of in-your-face “viva magenta” as its color of the year, 2023’s Barbiecore pink wash, or did everyone just get bored of greige? Whatever the reason, homeowners and design industry folk are craving color. Ditching a clean slate approach that appeals to the masses, risk-takers started laying the color on thick with paint, pillow covers, window treatments, patterned textiles, wallpaper, art and furniture that pop.

Best New Data Point

The local housing market swung closer to healthy in the last year, with housing inventory returning to pre-Covid-19 levels. The months’ supply of inventory, or MSI, is a metric used to assess the market; one that favors neither buyer nor seller is roughly 5.5 months. The latest numbers show we’re headed there, and then some. Sarasota condos and townhomes have graduated to 6.7 MSI, finally giving buyers the edge, and single-family homes in both Sarasota and Manatee counties reached an MSI that hasn’t been seen since March 2019. Shoppers now have more options and more time for negotiations, and bidding wars are fading.

Best New Affordable Housing Development

A new initiative provides 10 long-awaited affordable housing units for veterans. Although it isn’t offering as many as are needed (roughly 100 veterans are threatened with homelessness citywide), “when we house 10 vets [out of 100], that’s 10 percent of the problem,” says Jon Thaxton of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the nonprofit spearheading the project. “And if you’re one of them, it’s 100 percent a big deal for you.” Replicating the project elsewhere is part of the plan.

Best Use of a Barn

Both yee-haw and metropolitan, Florida is part Southern and part not. But wherever you come down on that debate, home gawkers in the Sunshine State love the barndominium concept, which is exactly what it sounds like: a barn converted into a home. Part modern chic and part laid-back luxe, these structures are all the rage in Texas, Georgia and now Sarasota.

Bobby Jones Golf Course
Bobby Jones Golf Course

Image: Tim Robison

Travel & Outdoors

Best Way to Camp if You Don’t Already Love Camping

Keep your leaky tents and saggy air mattresses—we’re going camping in style. Glamourous camping, or glamping, has finally come to Sarasota via Timberline Glamping Sarasota at Oscar Scherer State Park. Four permanent “glampsites” offer safari tents with bed frames, real mattresses and even air conditioning for balmy summer nights. Pack your s’more fixin’s and plan for plenty of outdoor adventures in the park, then tuck yourself into luxurious sheets and wonder why you ever thought a sleeping bag was acceptable. 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, (941) 777-3114,

Best New Park

Not so long ago, Bobby Jones Golf Club was a forlorn place, its landscape and facilities falling into disrepair because of neglect and a lack of clarity about its future. But the city-owned club has come roaring back to life, with a new course that’s been redesigned to suit the modern game, as well as an attached nature park that gives even non-golfers a reason to visit. 1000 Circus Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 365-4653,

Best New Ban

If we should be able to breathe easy anywhere, it should be by the shore. Citing safety and environmental impacts, the Sarasota County Commission created a new ordinance to ban cigarettes in county-owned spaces last year, following a similar ban at City of Sarasota beaches and parks. From now on, smoking will be banned in all county parks and on all county beaches, including beach access points, natural areas and playgrounds.

Best New Preservation

It took decades and millions of dollars, but eventually it happened: Local nonprofits and government agencies worked together to figure out a way to protect 100 acres of undeveloped land near the historic Cortez fishing village. A collaboration between FISH (the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage), the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program and a whole host of other entities, the FISH Preserve protects vital bayfront land and one of the area’s major mangrove communities.

The kids’ section of Bayfront Park reopened earlier this year with a shipwreck-themed playground, lots of new structures to climb and scamper on, and tons of whimsical details.
The kids’ section of Bayfront Park reopened earlier this year with a shipwreck-themed playground, lots of new structures to climb and scamper on, and tons of whimsical details.

Image: Tim Robison

Best New Destination for Kids

Bayfront Park has been a magnet for children and families for decades, but let’s be honest: The playground and splash pad were showing their age. Thanks to a big investment by the City of Sarasota, that’s not the case anymore. The kids’ section of the park reopened earlier this year with a shipwreck-themed playground, lots of new structures to climb and scamper on, and tons of whimsical details. 5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota

Selby Gardens' multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of the downtown campus offers almost 200,000 square feet of new facilities and amenities.
Selby Gardens' multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of the downtown campus offers almost 200,000 square feet of new facilities and amenities.

Image: Ryan Gamma

Arts & Entertainment

Best Transformation of a Major Landmark

That would be what Marie Selby Botanical Gardens has done with phase one of its master plan. The multimillion-dollar renovation and expansion of the downtown campus offers almost 200,000 square feet of new facilities and amenities, including the LEAF structure, a new plant research center, a new welcome center and both a lily pond garden and a glades garden. Did we mention the gift shop and restaurant? If you haven’t yet been, go now. 1534 Mound St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731,

Best New Event Destination

The post-Covid itch to get out and mingle is in full force, and The Ora event venue is filling a local need for more spaces where that can be done in style. Weddings, conferences, lectures, galas and more are a cinch in the 30,000-square-foot building—one of the area’s largest. It’s anchored by a 9,500-square-foot ballroom that can seat up to 1,000 guests, but groups as small as 20 can play, too. A very cool plus? Projection mapping customization can turn walls and objects into animated, immersive visual experiences. 578 McIntosh Road, Sarasota, (941) 343-2107,

Best New History Center

The Sarasota African American Cultural Center worked for years to open inside the historic Lenoard Reid House, a 1920s home that the center moved to the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Orange Avenue, and it’s finally open for tours and visits. The center was created to host special exhibits about Black history, as well as performances, guest speakers and more, and celebrates the contributions Black residents have made to Sarasota’s culture and history. 2529 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota,

Best New Holiday Spectacular

Did you happen to catch A Brave New Wonderland, the collaboration between hometown daredevil Nik Wallenda and the Circus Arts Conservatory at the holiday-themed Big Top at UTC? Thousands did, oohing and aahing at the circus acts (acrobats, dogs, jugglers and, of course, the famed high-wire performances) and holiday storytelling brought to life. If you didn’t make it, guess what: It’s coming back this holiday season.

Best Return to the Past

More than 20 years ago, Embracing Our Differences, the annual exhibition of billboard-sized artworks and quotations highlighting diversity and our shared humanity, first partnered with museums and the city of St. Petersburg on an exhibit in that city. In March, the organization returned to St. Pete with its international exhibit in Poynter Park, expanding its outreach beyond Sarasota and Manatee counties. In our ever-divided world, that can only be a good thing.

Robert Plunket
Robert Plunket

Image: Tim Robison

Best Second Act

Readers of Sarasota Magazine have become more than familiar with author Robert Plunket’s wit and intelligence through his many articles for the publication over the decades. Over the past year, the whole world has learned about Plunket, too, thanks to the reissue of two of his novels by the publisher New Directions. My Search for Warren Harding, originally published in 1983, was rereleased last year, earning Plunket rave notices in publications like The New Yorker, while Love Junkie, from 1992, comes out in May. He’s one of the greats.

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