Sarasota is booming, with a rapid influx of new residents throwing themselves into the city’s cultural life, and an equally explosive list of new restaurants, bars, arts offerings and more that are catering to all those newcomers and longtime residents alike. Here are some highlights from a year of profound change for Sarasota.

Food & Drink

Best New Date Night Destination

Step into Kojo, and it’s hard to believe it’s owned by the same team behind Speaks Clam Bar. While Speaks recreates the vibe of boisterous Italian-American clam bars, Kojo is an elegant, sexy space with a menu that encompasses flavors from Japan, China and Korea, with a little Italy thrown in, too. The mushroom rice pot, finished tableside, is pure oozy mushroom goodness, and the sushi is simple and perfect. Order a cocktail,
and don’t forget to order the matcha doughnut holes for dessert. 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 536-9717, eatkojo.com

Best New Dinner and a Show

At Meliora, the food is just part of the experience. If you’re lucky, snag a seat at the chef’s counter in the rear. From there, you get to watch chef Drew Adams direct a team of meticulous cooks who crank out detailed plates, like the restaurant’s already famous raw scallops, which are sliced and lathered with an addictive scallop cream. It’s a mesmerizing performance. 1920 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 444-7692, meliorarestaurant.com

Best New Use of Eggplant

Ka Papa isn’t just one of Sarasota’s best new options for vegan diners. It’s one of Sarasota’s best new restaurants, period, thanks to owner Kim Fraederich’s creativity and her skilled touch with ingredients like mushrooms and eggplant, which is cooked until it’s so tender it barely hangs together and then dressed with grapefruit, sesame seeds, radish slices and cilantro. 1830 S. Osprey Ave., Suite 104, Sarasota, (941) 600-8590, kapapacuisine.com

Best Restaurant Rebrand

Taste of Asia closed last fall and was reborn as Stiks, a fast-casual reinvention that still focuses on the terrific Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese dishes that made Taste of Asia a favorite in the first place. Now you place an order at a counter and bring your food to the table yourself, or order online with a simple pickup system that makes it a breeze to grab dinner on the way home. 4413 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-2742, stiksfood.com

Best Use of Spam

For a fun taste of the Pacific, swing by L&L Hawaiian Barbecue and order some Spam. The canned pork product is a staple in the diet of Hawaiian islanders, and appears in L&L’s saiman (a ramen-like noodle soup) and its musubi, in which a slice of seared Spam is bundled with a hunk of sticky rice à la sushi. 5445 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, (941) 315-9008, hawaiianbarbecue.com

Best New Gas Station Cuisine

The new Rogers Market attached to a Marathon is likely the swankiest gas station you’ve ever set foot in, with a sleek black, white, gray and yellow color scheme; gleaming subway tiles; and a grow wall overflowing with flowers. The food offerings are as considered as the look, with meaty options like brisket and ribs paired with roasted vegetables, plus plenty of sandwiches and other quick items. 1135 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota, (941) 953-3551, rogers.market

Best New Smoothie Shop

Thanks to Dream Earth Bowls, eating healthy has never been easier. Its signature smoothie bowls are jam-packed with good-for-us stuff like açaí, blue spirulina and granola. Since its  opening in 2019, we have been able to find these chilly treats at the Sarasota and Lakewood Ranch farmers markets. But now, thanks to their newly opened storefront, we can satisfy our smoothie bowl craving seven days a week. 1058 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (239) 672-5612, dreamearthbowls.com

Best New Sweets Shop

At Kookies & Kream, nostalgia has never been sweeter. Each massive half-pound cookie and one-pound cookie bar is inspired by some of our favorite childhood snacks—think Oreos, Little Debbie snack cakes and frosted animal crackers. Once inside, we’re zapped back to the ’90s as we find ourselves surrounded by a rad, colorful decor and toys that would have made us the coolest kids on the block. 39 S. Beneva Road, Sarasota, kookiesandkreamsarasota.com

Best New Frozen Treats

For an alternative to your usual ice cream run, head to Vampire Penguin, which makes delectable mounds of soft, fluffy shaved ice (or “snow”) with flavors that range from traditional (chocolate and vanilla) to creative (one is made with the spicy Mexican seasoning Tajín), and toppings like boba, marshmallows, graham cracker crumbs and more. 4976 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-8155, vampirepenguinsrq.square.site

Best New Dining Destination

Waterside Place is poised to become the area’s next great destination for food lovers, with a new brewpub (Good Liquid Brewing Co.) and a new Korean steakhouse (Korê), plus plans for a pizza place from one of the owners of Napulè (Osteria 500), a doughnut shop (Duck Donuts), a coffee shop (O & A Coffee and Supply) and more. The neighborhood is also home to a Sunday farmers market. 7500 Island Cove Terrace, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 755-0512, watersideplace.com

Best New Bar

Dive Wine & Spirits is both a well-stocked liquor store and home to a cozy, somewhat hidden backroom bar that serves up a select pick of unique drinks, plus whatever classics you call out for. Don’t miss the tiki drinks, which are a calling card for the bar. They walk the line between fruity, sweet and bitter, with plenty of boozy oomph. 2881 Clark Road, Units 19-21, Sarasota, (941) 888-0382, diveliquors.com

Best Beer Scene Shakeup

The region’s beer scene has been in major flux recently, with a number of closings, consolidations and openings. Sarasota’s Big Top Brewing Company took over the legendary beer bar Cock & Bull and Lakewood Ranch’s Naughty Monk Brewery, while also building a brand-new production facility on Fruitville Road. Tampa’s Magnanimous Brewing, meanwhile, opened in the old Darwin Brewing Co., whose brand was acquired by another out-of-town brewery, Clearwater’s Big Storm Brewing Co. At the same time, Indiana’s Sun King Brewery & Spirits is in the midst of taking over the old JDub’s Brewing Company space.

Best New Food Trucks

After being forced to leave Bobby Jones Golf Club because of renovations to the property, chef Gordon Gregory took his restaurant G’s Southern Kitchen on the road, serving his colossal wings, exceptional fried chicken sandwich and succulent shrimp out of a mobile trailer. Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen is also a streetside mainstay, offering affordable comfort food while trying to build momentum for the completion of the much-hyped Newtown restaurant that remains half-built. G’s Southern Kitchen: (941) 284-6615, gssouthernkitchen.com; Miss Susie’s Newtown Kitchen: (941) 479-9895, misssusiesnewtownkitchen.com

A selection of wines from Sarasota Wine Co.

A selection of wines from Sarasota Wine Co.

Image: Tim Robison

Best New Wine Store

Joe Levine was surprised that downtown Sarasota didn’t have a dedicated wine shop, so he decided to open one: Sarasota Wine Co. The store has a fun, approachable ambiance, with regular tastings and events and a selection that highlights small, family-run wineries. The store’s “six for $60” promotion allows customers to fill a six-bottle carrier from a section of the store for (you got it) $60. 64 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 343-2289, srqwinecompany.com

Best New Biker Bar

Fit2Run’s new location on Cortez Road has a bike shop and a bar called Spokes, where you can grab a cold beer or seltzer while watching your bike get repaired and chatting with fellow bikers after a long ride. Enjoy a Fit2Run Beach Blonde Ale Light brewed by 3 Daughters Brewery, a seltzer or CBD water. 4951 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, (941) 216-6903, fit2run.com

Shops & Services

Best New Jewelry Makers

Danielle Ferrantino of Driftheory uses elements from Sarasota’s beaches to create her bohemian resin jewelry. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, capture the essence of all that you love about Sarasota in a pair of earrings, necklace or pendant decoration. Sarasota artists Lorrie Dickinson and Karen Chandler, meanwhile, have created a new jewelry line called ChandleRaine. Chandler creates small art pieces and gives them to Dickinson, who sets them into silver or gold as funky pendants on strings of pearls or other semi-precious stones. Driftheory: (941) 894-9049, driftheory.com; ChandleRaine: 728 Gillespie Ave., Sarasota, (941) 266-1396

Best New Salon With a Heart

Mother-daughter duo Dede Caldwell and Sasha Plefka combined their hairstyling and business skills to open Beauty Bridge Foundation, where women of any socioeconomic background can enjoy a salon experience. The 501(c)3 has a beautiful, airy space, and connections with local nonprofits like Harvest House and Selah Freedom. 425 Central Ave., Sarasota, (941) 321-4753, beautybridge.org

Best News for Book Lovers

We already loved Bookstore1Sarasota, but the shop's new location in the bottom floor of The Mark in downtown Sarasota is definitely an upgrade. The shelves are well arranged for idle browsing and stocked with classics and new titles alike, and a small loft provides tables where you can sit and peruse your purchases. Look for coffee offerings in the near future, as well. 117 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 365-7900, sarasotabooks.com

Best New Athleisure Stores

Longtime Sarasota artist Debbie Dannheisser has opened her own store, selling athleisure-style clothing featuring her unique and colorful designs. While she’s used to creating art on canvas, leggings are a new medium for her. Out at The Mall at University Town Center, meanwhile, Athleta recently opened its first local store, with a concierge table in the fitting rooms and a dedicated “At Your Service” desk for picking up online purchases. Debbie Dannheisser Fine Art Threads: 1834 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 350-8839, debbiedannheisserthreads.com; Athleta: 140 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota, (941) 667-2052, athleta.gap.com

Best New Gym

When Bradenton fitness instructor Ray Gardner sets his mind to something, he sees it through. One of his goals has been opening Prosper Bradenton, a state-of-the-art gym that focuses on a holistic health experience and group fitness. Members can participate in high-intensity workout classes, personal training sessions and other bootcamps hosted by Gardner. 7449 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, prosperbradenton.com

Best New Pilates Studio

The yoga and Pilates studio The Yoga Barre opened with lots of anticipation from the Lakewood Ranch community. There’s nothing like it. It’s a warm and welcoming industrial-style space with mats, hammocks hanging from the ceiling and aerial silks in which to try weightless yoga. Join a relaxing class or intense full-body workout called Barrelates (a combo of barre and Pilates) with owner Janette Brown. 4124 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Bradenton, (941) 867-0812, lwryogabarre.com

Best New Botox Getaway

The Laser Lounge Spa delivers B12 shots, dermal fillers and everything else a facelift can, but with injectables. Sound like something your besties might love? The downtown building doubles as a getaway spot with a fully loaded upstairs apartment you can book through Airbnb. Wake up to urban skyline views from its downtown location, and recover from your procedure with friends. 1345 Second St., Sarasota, (844) 527-7772, thelaserloungespa.com 

Best New Mental Health Fitness Class

Downtown Sarasota’s Pineapple Yoga + Cycling Studio has hosted a series of classes with the LoveYourBrain Foundation for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury. The “Love Your Brain” series re-launched in 2021, with new classes, including breathwork, gentle stretching, meditation and group discussion. Classes are free for those affected by a brain injury or concussion in Southwest Florida. 517 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 210-3739, pineappleyogastudio.net 

Best New Dispensaries

If you’re a patient with a state-issued medical marijuana card, there are many new dispensaries in town that you can visit. One is Sunnyside, a Florida brand that offers hang-dried and hand-trimmed flower, pre-rolled joints, vapes, concentrates and topicals. Cannabist, meanwhile, is a sleek shop on Tamiami Trail with an online discovery tool called Forage, available to customers to help them find their ideal strains and products. Sunnyside: 8307 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 259-6362, sunnyside.shop; Cannabist: 6979 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 500-3128, gocannabist.com

Best New Place to Sweat It Out

Gone are the days of sitting in the summer sun in order to work up a sweat. At Perspire Sauna Studio, you can get in a healthy sweat while enjoying a spa-like experience. The national franchise’s new location at University Town Center offers infrared and red light therapy, color-lit sauna rooms, a TV, music and showers for your post-sweat washup. 309 N. Cattlemen Road, Unit 2, Sarasota, (941) 413-3391, perspiresaunastudio.com

Best Health Care News

Sarasota Memorial headed south this year, opening a new Venice hospital that gives south Sarasota County patients easy access to walk-in urgent care and plenty more services. The hospital was also designed to be flexible, with a setup that will allow the facility to double the size of its emergency care center, if needed. 997 U.S. 41 Bypass N., Venice, (941) 952-4250, smh.com

Arts & Entertainment

Best New Arts Hire

It was thrilling to welcome new Sarasota Orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey to town, since the post had been vacant for a while and Covid-19 has played havoc with the orchestra’s schedule. His “welcome” concert, back in October, was a hit. Now, we can count on at least four seasons led by the maestro, who has conducted the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and many other prestigious ensembles. (941) 953-3434, sarasotaorchestra.org

Best New Art Gallery

Arts Advocates has long been a collector and exhibitor of works by Sarasota artists, including our well-known Sarasota Colony luminaries. But when it opened its own space in the Crossings at Siesta Mall, it found a more permanent home and a spot where docent-guided tours could enlighten visitors. It has also offered a series of programs, talks and other events open to the public. 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, artsadvocates.org

Best New Theater Space

Speaking of the Crossings at Siesta Mall, that space has also provided a temporary theatrical space for the long-running Players Centre for Performing Arts, which is in the process of negotiating a new home at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium. In the meantime, the community theater has been presenting shows in the intimate, adapted spot it calls “Studio 1130.” Definitely better than the Banana Republic the site used to be. 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 365-2494, theplayers.org

Best New Arts Honor

Say hello to the Hermitage Major Theater Award and its first winner: actress-filmmaker-playwright Radha Blank, who took the prize in December. Blank receives $35,000, a writing residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat and a development workshop of her play in New York City, thanks to the philanthropy of award founder Flora Major. Local audiences will see new works by inspiring artists for seasons to come, since the multi-year gift totals $800,000. hermitageartistretreat.org

Best New Art Space With a Mission

Streets of Paradise’s Love~Art~Repeat is the community-focused gallery this town needs—a space that invites all genres and levels of creativity through workshops and exhibitions. Located in the vibrant community of the Rosemary District, it’s also an extension of the nonprofit’s mission to end homelessness. 734 Central Ave., Sarasota, (620) 481-0446, streetsofparadise.org

Best New Block Parties

Yes, people have started getting back together in public, and two of the best reasons to do so are the Fresh Fridays events downtown, with lots of food, drink and live music, and the rebranded RADD Night Market, an evening in the Rosemary District every third Thursday that also offers vendors, live music, art and more, courtesy of DreamLarge. Party on. freshfridayssarasota.com, rosemarydistrict.org/radd-market

Best New Country Music Club

Whether you don cowboy boots, sneakers or stilettos, Joyland’s new 1,800-square-foot dance floor invites everyone’s kicks to join in a line dance or a plain ol’ boogie. The club, which relocated from Bradenton this year, hosts live band performances at least three times a week in an unassuming strip mall where the neighbors won’t complain. 8341 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 210-4110, joylandsarasota.com

Home & Real Estate

Best New Development on Longboat Key

After eight and a half years and more than $100 million in legal wrangling, the waterfront St. Regis Residences and Hotel project finally broke ground where the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort once stood. The plan calls for a 166-room luxury hotel and three six-story residential buildings with 69 luxury condominiums, with prices starting at $2 million. One custom unit sold for $20 million. 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key, (941) 213-3300, srresidenceslongboatkey.com

Best New Home Trend (For Some)

Thought twice about selling your home lately because of its sudden increase in value? With the price spikes we’ve seen, probably thrice. Low inventory, in tandem with a surge of new residents, has led to record-breaking leaps in home prices. The median sales price for single-family homes in 2021 was $395,945 in Sarasota County and $420,000 in Manatee County.

Best New Boost to Affordable Housing

Both county and city commissioners have now voted to green-light accessory dwelling units, despite some who opposed increased density in their neighborhoods. Homeowners can now build an additional living unit on their property with limits on rental prices, adding affordable housing options and giving people more choices when caring for family members who want to stay close to home.

Best New Luxury Condos

Call it a new golden age of luxury high-rise condos. The waterfronts are studded with upcoming projects, including The Edge, One Park, Six88 and the Rosewood Residences. Some have broken ground; others are waiting for construction crews, and many have already sold. Sales show an unprecedented demand for luxury living.

The city of Sarasota recently spent $535,000 to upgrade the Payne Park tennis center’s lights.

The city of Sarasota recently spent $535,000 to upgrade the Payne Park tennis center’s lights.

Image: Tim Robison

Travel & Outdoors

Best New Way to Fly

For decades, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport was a relatively quiet outpost beloved by locals for its easy access and short security lines. That’s all changed in the past couple years. Airport traffic is soaring, in part because of a bevy of new nonstop flights to fun cities like Austin, Texas, and Asheville, North Carolina. 6000 Airport Circle, Sarasota, (941) 359-2770, srq-airport.com

Best New Sports Facility Upgrade

The Sarasota City Commission voted in January to spend $535,000 to upgrade the Payne Park tennis center’s lights in preparation for the Sarasota Open. A pretty penny, perhaps, but they’ll make the courts camera-ready for shooting tennis matches and attract collegiate and pro-level tennis events for years to come, upping Sarasota’s court cred.

Best New Accessibility Upgrade

The City of Venice recently installed a mobility mat on Venice Beach to make the sand accessible to those who use wheelchairs and scooters. The six-foot-wide, 76-foot-long AccessMat leads straight to a 12-foot AccessDeck that overlooks the Gulf. Visitors who haven’t been able to get close to the water can do so now. 101 The Esplanade S., Venice, (941) 486-2626, venicegov.com

Best Environmental News

The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast is doing its part to protect our environment amid a whirlwind of new single-family homes popping up. Part of this includes the acquisition of 228 acres in Old Miakka—land that links Sarasota County’s Old Miakka Preserve and the foundation’s Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve. Home to many species, this now-protected land is an essential part of maintaining water quality. (941) 918-2100, conservationfoundation.com

Best New Biking Destination

The Legacy Trail just got even more legendary. After years of planning and construction, three new segments of the paved trail that cut through Sarasota have opened. We can also expect the North Port Connector—a trail connecting Venice and North Port—to open this fall. friendsofthelegacytrail.org

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