Meet many of the marine creatures that live in Sarasota Bay on naturalist-led tours aboard the Sarasota Bay Explorer, a 40-foot pontoon boat. (Mercifully, there’s a shade cover.) Kids love it when the knowledgeable guide lowers a trawler net to collect puffer fish, sea horses, crabs and more, and then passes them around. You also disembark briefly on an uninhabited spoiler island in the middle of the bay, great for playing pirate. The Sarasota Bay Explorer leaves from the dock behind Mote Marine Laboratory.
Get up close and personal with pelicans, blue herons, owls and lots more injured seabirds that have been rehabilitated but are unable to be returned to the wild. This quiet, shady haven is right across the parking lot from Mote Aquarium. Tip: If you visit Mote first, show them your ticket and get half-off admission to the bird sanctuary.
A visit to Mote is fun any time, but mark your calendar for the Teach-A-Kid Fishing & Ecology Clinic Sept. 23 at Mote's Aquaculture Park; kids 5-16 will get great fishing tips from professional guides and experienced anglers and learn about sustainable fishing at the same time.
Up in Cortez Village behind the popular Star Fish Company dockside restaurant, Capt. Kathe Fannon leads hands-on eco-tours, fishing charters and trips to nearby sandbars, where she anchors so you can have a swim. Along for the ride is her cuddly cocker spaniel first-mate, Pup-Pup—always a hit with the young ’uns.
Selby’s Children’s Rainforest Garden, with its kid-sized caves, canopy rope bridge, waterfall, research station and more, was an instant hit with local families when it opened in late 2013. Selby hosts lots of family-friendly activities, including the monthly Little Sprouts Club for preschoolers and their caregivers; the popular Summer Camp Lookout; and Splashin’ Saturdays in June and July, with water activities, crafts and games. Be sure to check out the Kids Corner adjacent to the Selby House any time, a room chock-full of nature-themed games, books, puzzles and toys. (941) 366-5731; selby.org
This leafy little oasis is great for exploring at a pint-sized pace. Time your visit for its daily organized art and gardening classes, with a different theme each morning. We particularly like Magic Nature Box at 11 a.m. Fridays; it’s a gentle way to introduce the wonders of Mother Nature to your little ones. Note: The Children's Garden will be closed Aug. 21-Sept. 11, 2017 for maintenance and remodeling.
Siesta Beach Drum Circle
How long has it been since you took the family to this wonderfully chaotic happening, which takes place on the beach an hour before sunset every Sunday afternoon? Since the multimillion-dollar renovation of Siesta Public Beach, the drum circle has moved south a bit closer to the new refreshment stand. Don’t worry; follow the thumping and you will find it.
These perennially popular one-mile fun runs take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays on Siesta Public Beach and Wednesdays at Brohard Beach in Venice. A one-time $1 registration fee gets everybody a popsicle and ribbon, and a free T-shirt after you complete four runs. (You can register on site.) Note: the last runs for this summer are Aug. 8 and 9. scgov.net/parks
The bay waters that border this 30-acre living history museum are calm and shallow, perfect for the two-hour kayak and paddleboard eco-tours SUP Sarasota is offering by appointment from noon to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays all summer. Check out Historic Spanish Point's Summer Adventure Camps, too, for paddleboarding, fishing, nature and even archaeology.