Most mornings, Ernest “Doc” and Eloise Werlin Park, underneath the John Ringling Causeway Bridge on the mainland side of Sarasota Bay, is less of a park and more like a free outdoor gym. Young women in yoga pants and loose T-shirts stretch before jogging up onto the bridge, and men and women of various ages attach resistance bands to the park’s playground equipment to pound out one last drop set.
For a lower-impact experience, Werlin Park is an ideal jumping-off point for a long downtown stroll. Park in the shadow of the bridge to take in sweeping views of the barrier islands and urban skyline, and then start walking back toward downtown. The wide sidewalk curves along Sarasota’s bayfront, letting you gawk at enormous yachts and spy tiny crabs in the mud that anchors the bay’s mangroves. Dodge the joggers around Bayfront Park, then continue along the waterfront down to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.
Around there, the walk gets decidedly less pleasant, as cars whir along U.S. 41, so hop back north to wander the residential neighborhood of Laurel Park. (Be safe and cross at the Orange Avenue light.) The vibe here is changing rapidly. Pick a street at random, and you’re likely to encounter at least a few new homes under construction or a few of the old cottages being gutted.
Follow the city’s Alderman Multi-Use Recreation Trail, a paved path that hops a creek and allows for locals to put in a canoe or kayak, then turn north toward the main downtown commercial district. You’re due for a snack.
One advantage of walking downtown is that you’ve got excellent food and drink options around every corner. Strolling near Main Street, you’ll smell bread baking and meat smoking, and your stomach will rumble. Refuel with a cold coffee or munch on a sweet pastry as you walk. Before making the final push back west to where you left your car, pause in the shade in the charmingly redesigned Paul N. Thorpe Jr. Park, located where Lemon and Pineapple Avenues collide, or sit for a spell in nearby Five Points Park.
As the day has grown sunnier, most of the workout crew at Werlin Park has moved out and young moms and dads with curious tykes have moved in. The kids search for footholds on small climbing structures and scamper along ropes stretched between metal beams. Like the rest of us, they need their exercise, too.
Laurel Park: This splotch of green space at 1725 Laurel St. has benches, a community bulletin board and a playground for kids.
Burns Court: An easy detour from Laurel Park is the must-see Burns Court Historic District of 15 tiny concrete block and masonry bungalows built in 1924 and 1925 in the Mediterranean Revival style by Owen Burns. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
Hart’s Landing: A combination bait shop, kayak rental office, boat tour departure point, restaurant and hangout.
Watershed Phone Tour: The Science and Environment Council offers audio tours you can dial into with your phone. One stop located inBayfront Park describes how accelerating sea level rise threatens Sarasota.
Federal Building: This neoclassical structure at 111 S. Orange Ave. was built in the early 1930s as part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration. Today it houses some of the City of Sarasota’s administrative offices. Check out the beautiful mosaic of the city seal laid into the floor.