Sarasota's 10 Best Places to Take the Kids

By staff July 1, 2006

Skating and blading may roll in and out of fashion, but Stardust Event Center just keeps rolling along. Every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., kids have a blast rolling or blading around the self-contained rink. The 24,000-square-foot arena also hosts numerous birthday parties, with both parents and kids rockin' to the beat. And Stardust's skating club can turn your roller girl into the next Michelle Kwan. 2571 12th St., Sarasota. (941) 365-6888.

Pirate's Cove Family Fun Center combines the fun of Chuck E. Cheese with outdoor sports like miniature golf, batting cages and gasoline-sucking go-carts. The five-acre "entertainment complex" has adrenaline for sale at every edge (some of the edges are a bit rough, but the kids don't care). There's even laser tag inside, along with the ubiquitous coin-fed amusements for game boys and girls unwilling to venture outside. 5410 U.S. 41, Bradenton. (941) 755-4608.

Since 1973, Florida Studio Theatre has been a local theater success story, and that's true for its children's programs as well as its sold-out theater seasons. Every summer, kids from seven to 12 can discover confidence and their inner voice in three-week sessions offering acting, voice, improvisation and dance training, all focusing on nurturing the individual artistry of each child. At the session-ending final performance, standing ovations prevail. 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-9017.

Burned out on children's meals consisting of fatty burgers and fried cheeses? Watch your kids jump for joy at the choices at Sweet Tomatoes, which may actually encourage them to eat jicama. The buffet is a favorite with vegophiles, but all kids love the chance to build their own salad masterpiece-just don't expect them to bypass the pizza and ice cream machines. Best of all, adults can find plenty to love at this chain, too. The Landings shopping center, 4994 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 922-4908.

As we drive our kids to organized sports, it's easy to forget that just running is both fun and invigorating. On summer Tuesdays at 6 p.m., the Manatee Track Club conducts its Fun Run on Siesta Key Beach, which starts with a one-mile jog for children followed by timed races for their parents. Every kid gets a ribbon for finishing and a frozen treat to ward off summer heat. And afterwards, the swings, slides and climbing apparatus can burn up any excess energy. (941) 921-4419.

G.WIZ excels at offering kids hands-on interaction with scientific exhibits, including a number of brand-new ones; but it also offers an excellent alternative to run-of-the-mill summer programs. Your child can discover the excitement of science, nature and art and still spend plenty of time jumping on the outdoor playground. 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. (941) 309-GWIZ (4949).

If you don't want to drive to Tampa or Orlando water parks, the ever-expanding Selby Aquatic Center at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA is the ticket. For just small monthly or day fees, kids can enjoy a premier aquatic sports facility, and even the crankiest tots will laugh with glee on the twin water slides. Ideal for the under-10 set, the park also features a wading pool with a slip-free wet deck for toddlers. 8301 Potter Park Drive, Sarasota. (941) 922-9622.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens has delighted generations of children and adults with its variety of wildlife and natural settings. This home to reptiles, birds and other interesting critters was originally a banana grove listed in the city records as "an impenetrable swamp." The "jungle" plays host to thousands of tropical plants, trees and flowers from all over the world, which complement the delightfully un-zoo-like environment. (Love the bird and reptile shows!) 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 355-5305.

Remember when you borrowed books at the library or even read them there? Sure, it's nice to hang out at the plush kids' sections at Barnes and Noble or Borders, but it's hard to walk away without spending $50. The reading garden at Fruitville Public Library is free and fun. Sit on a bench and enjoy the sunshine or under an umbrella in the garden, where you can stroll along a brick path and listen to water trickling down stone. 100 Coburn Road, Sarasota. (941) 861-2500.

Having a top-ranked art and design school in town is great-especially when it develops programs for locals. That's what the Ringling School of Art & Design has done with its summer offerings for young people. Four sessions allow teens to learn from top pros about the basics of art, drawing, illustration and painting; they can also pursue computer-aided studies in Photoshop or Web design. 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 955-8801.

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