Guide to Sarasota-Area Attractions

Your guide to local attractions, from Bradenton to Venice.

By Sarasota Magazine December 1, 2015 Published in the December 2015 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Note: Check each attraction’s website for admission fees, hours of operation, and even the occasional discount coupon.




Gamble Plantation and Mansion, 3708 Patten Ave., Ellenton. (941) 723-4536. South Florida’s only surviving antebellum plantation, this former sugar plantation is believed to be where Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin hid until he could escape to England after the fall of the Confederacy. You’re invited to picnic on the wooded grounds, and guided tours are offered Thursday through Monday.




De Soto National Memorial, 8300 De Soto Memorial Highway, Bradenton. (941) 792-0458. The site near the mouth of the Manatee River where explorer Hernando de Soto set foot on “La Florida” in 1539 is now a peaceful, 25-acre riverfront park, with “living history” re-enactments staged December through April, occasional free concerts and holiday events.


South Florida Museum/Bishop Planetarium/Parker Manatee Aquarium, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. (941) 746-4131. The largest natural and cultural museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, it features exhibits about the region’s history and native peoples, a state-of-the-art planetarium, and 67-year-old Snooty the manatee.




Historic Spanish Point, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. (941) 966-5214. A 30-acre bayfront “living museum” once home to Chicago socialite Mrs. Bertha Palmer, it boasts a prehistoric shell midden, pioneer-era buildings, miles of walking paths, and Mrs. Palmer’s own extensive gardens. Many special events are staged throughout the year.


Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. (941) 483-5956. Bird watchers flock to this natural oasis to catch a glimpse of its threatened scrub jays; the park also has 15 miles of hiking and bicycling trails, kayaking and canoeing on South Creek, fishing and swimming in Lake Osprey, and picnic and camp sites.




The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art/Cà d’Zan Mansion/Ringling Circus Museum/Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 359-5700. On its 66 acres of lushly landscaped bayfront grounds are several museums. The Museum of Art, best known for its Baroque paintings, especially those by Peter Paul Rubens, hosts a variety of visiting exhibitions annually. Sarasota’s circus heritage is honored in the Tibbals Learning Center, which houses the world’s biggest miniature circus. John and Mable Ringling’s bayfront Venetian mansion, the Cà d’Zan, is a tribute to their lavish social lifestyle. The Historic Asolo Theater, a restored, 18th-century Italian jewel box, hosts performances and movie screenings. Mable Ringling’s 100-year-old rose garden is a destination in itself. Two good restaurants, too: Muse and the casual Banyan Café. The complex also boasts a James Turrell Skyspace, Joseph’s Coat. And scheduled to open this winter is the Center for Asian Art. Admission is half-price from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; and free altogether to the art museum on Mondays.


Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, 7101 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota. (941) 371-6377. An eighth-generation animal trainer, Kay Rosaire began rescuing neglected and abused big cats in 1987. Today, Big Cat Habitat is home to dozens of lions, tigers, bears, birds, lemurs and more. See the animals up close during regular educational demonstrations and private tours.


Crowley Museum and Nature Center, 16405 Myakka Road, Sarasota. (941) 322-1000. Set on 191 acres of Old Florida pine forest and Myakka River marsh in pastoral east Sarasota County, Crowley is home to several 19th-century structures as well as everyday pioneer tools and furnishings from the Old Miakka General Store. Birders flock to the half-mile boardwalk with its two-story observation tower. Open Thursdays-Sundays October-June; Saturdays and Sundays in the summer.


Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-5731. This 9.5-acre bayfront botanical garden houses a world-renowned collection of rare orchids and some 20,000 other plants, many collected by Selby’s own scientists during international research trips. The new Children’s Rainforest Garden, outdoor concerts, art exhibitions and plant festivals add to the experience.


Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 388-4441. Experience more than 100 species of live marine animals—sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, manatees and more—at this working lab, which has exhibits aimed at increasing understanding of marine life. Enjoy hands-on activities, like the popular stingray touch tank, and peek into the labs to watch marine scientists at work on the important research that takes place at Mote Marine Laboratory.


Myakka River State Park, nine miles east of I-75, 13208 S.R. 72. (941) 361-6511. Visitors can spot alligators, and perhaps deer, wild hogs and an occasional bobcat, too, at Florida’s largest state park. With 38,000 acres, there’s something for everyone. Hike 39 miles of trails, canoe or kayak on the Myakka River, bike, fish, take an air boat tour or ride a horse on a wilderness trail. The treetop Canopy Walk is a must-do. The park’s historic cabins, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, are undergoing major improvements and will reopen to campers this spring.


Sarasota Classic Car Museum, 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 355-6228. The second-oldest continuously operating antique car museum in America, open since 1953, features more than 100 automobiles, including John Ringling’s Rolls-Royces and John Lennon’s Bentley. There’s an antique camera exhibit, too.


Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 355-5305. One of the last of the great Old Florida tourist attractions, Jungle Gardens is a 10-acre oasis of low-key charm and natural beauty that opened in 1940. Wander the tropical gardens, enjoy the bird and reptile shows, and hand-feed the big pink flamingos.


Save Our Seabirds, 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 388-3010. This nonprofit organization, adjacent to Mote Marine Laboratory, has the dual mission of rescuing and rehabilitating wounded wildlife and educating the public about preventing injuries and protecting habitat.




Warm Mineral Springs, 12200 San Servando Ave., North Port. (941) 426-1692. Some claim this South County attraction, home to mineralized waters that are believed to ease all kinds of ailments, is the original Fountain of Youth. Take a dip and see for yourself.


Mad for Festivals


Southwest Florida’s famously mild weather makes our huge variety of street parties, art fairs and outdoor concerts all the more enticing. Here are nine of our favorites.


Bradenton Blues Festival. The fourth annual outdoor concert returns to the scenic downtown Riverwalk Dec. 5 with performances by R&B singer Janiva Magness; harmonica virtuoso Rick Estrin and his band, the Nightcats; James “Super Chikan” Johnson and more.


Chalk Festival. In its new home in downtown Venice and the Venice municipal airport grounds, this popular November festival invites professional chalk artists from all over the world to create jaw-droppingly creative pavement art.


Cine-World Film Festival. This popular movie fest each November brings us a first peek at the newest foreign and independent films. It’s held at the Sarasota Film Society’s Burns Court Cinema, with select showings at Lakewood Ranch Cinemas. (941) 955-3456,


La Musica International Chamber Music Festival. Celebrating its 30th season, La Musica brings acclaimed chamber musicians from Europe and the Americas together to perform chamber works at the historic Sarasota Opera House. This year’s festival is April 4-13, 2016. (941) 366-8450 ext. 7,


Ringling International Arts Festival. If it’s hot and happening in the world of contemporary music, dance and theater, chances are it will appear at RIAF, which takes place each October on the grounds of the Ringling Museum.


Sarasota Film Festival. Sarasota welcomes filmmakers and their fans to a 10-day celebration of movies, with screenings at downtown’s Hollywood 20, plus glam parties, special talks with actors and directors, and more. April 1-10, 2016; (941) 364-9514,


Sarasota Jazz Festival. The joint will be jumping when this lively music festival, now in 36rd year, returns March 6-12, 2016, with performances by nationally acclaimed jazz artists at a variety of venues. (941) 366-1552,


Sarasota Music Festival. This venerable teaching festival brings the best young student musicians and faculty to Sarasota June 6-26, 2016, for intensive training and public concerts. (941) 953-3434,


Sharks Tooth Festival. Venice celebrates its claim to fame as the shark’s tooth capital of the world with this annual festival of all things shark-related (and music, art and food related, too);  it returns to the Venice municipal airport grounds April 8-10, 2016.

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