Planning a Vacation to Sarasota, FL: All You Need to Know

Beaches, museums, shopping, great food, arts & culture. The city of Sarasota in Florida (USA) appears to have it all. If you’re planning a vacation to Sarasota, FL, here’s a guide that’ll help you make the most of your trip. Who knows? You might move here too. I did.

sarasota bayView of the Sarasota Bay from the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

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How to get to Sarasota, FL?

Driving – The major Interstate Highway that’ll take you to Sarasota is Interstate 75 (I-75). This is a North-South route that runs across Southern Florida to Michigan. As long as there are no traffic incidents, this is your best option.

Another route is via U.S. Route 301, a ‘branch’ of U.S. Route 1. If you decide to take this road instead of I-75, be careful of speed traps and animal crossings (mainly at night).

As always, we recommend downloading an offline version of the map of where you are traveling. Having an offline ‘copy’ of the map will come in handy when you don’t have cellular coverage or data for any reason. Google explains here how to do it.

By Train – The closest Amtrak Station is Tampa’s Union Station. From there, you can take Amtrak’s Thruway Connecting Service (a Motorcoach) via Fort Myers and stop in Sarasota’s Bus Stop.

By Bus – Sarasota is serviced by Greyhound, and here is a link with the address of its bus station location.

By Plane – Sarasota has an airport (SRQ), but it tends to be pricy to arrive/depart to and from this airport. Only a few routes from Canada and New York are within what I consider competitive prices for flights. This might start changing soon, with Southwest Airlines adding routes, but for now,  I’ll suggest you arrive at Tampa Internation Airport (TPA – my favorite airport in the world!), which is about one hour away from Downtown Sarasota.

By Ship – If you are thinking about making Sarasota a pre or post-cruise destination, the Port of Tampa Bay is where you want your cruise to arrive/depart.

How to get to Siesta Key?

The same way as described before, but add about a 15-minute drive (without traffic) from Downtown Sarasota.

Is there red tide in Sarasota, FL?

You might have heard about red tide, but what is red tide? Red tide is a discoloration of seawater caused by a bloom of toxic red dinoflagellates. This doesn’t happen often, but it is not only bad for visitors, but locals, business owners, and of course for marine life. Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium has a beach condition reporting system that is extremely useful. You should check it if you’re planning to go to any of the beaches in the Gulf. Click Here to Access It. 

Should I book a car for Sarasota, FL?

I’m going to say yes. Renting a car in Florida doesn’t tend to be overly expensive, and public transportation is not Florida’s strong forte. I must say, though, if your trip revolves around Siesta Key or another ‘beachy’ area, driving around can interfere with what you thought was going to be a relaxing vacation.

In this case, I will still suggest you rent a car but that your overnight stay is close to where you want to spend most of your time. If you’re going to the beach, take advantage of the Siesta Key Beach Breeze trolley, which is free. This trolley is managed by the local bus service (Sarasota County Area Transit), and you can click here for more information.

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How many days to spend in Sarasota, FL?

After you finish reading this article, you’ll realize there are lots to do. The minimum recommended stay for you to experience at least a bit of everything would be a 3 day/2 night stay. However, a 5 day/4 night is about perfect.

If you’re planning a couples getaway or a romantic staycation in Sarasota, don’t miss The Most Romantic Things to Do in Sarasota.

Van Wezel Sunset SarasotaView of the Sarasota Sunset from the Van Wezel Performing Arts 

Where to stay in Sarasota, FL?

Downtown Sarasota

University Parkway/Lakewood Ranch

Near Sarasota-Bradenton Airport

Another option is to stay on an Airbnb. Click here to receive up to $50 off your first trip after signing up.

Where to stay in Siesta Key?

I covered Siesta Key more in-depth, including where to stay and other beaches in the area in the following article: How to Experience Siesta Key Like a Local.

What are the Must-Sees in Sarasota, FL?

Visiting during Summer? Don’t forget to check The Ultimate Sarasota Bucket List. 

For more information about things to do and events, make sure to check

What to pack for Sarasota, FL?

In Sarasota, the weather fluctuates from ‘balmy’ during Early Spring and Late Fall to warm and hot during the summer. During ‘winter,’ there are rare occasions where it’s cold, but it is never the norm.

Because of this, never forget sunblock, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, and ‘hot weather appropriate clothes.’ Also, if you’re going out for dinner, don’t think people will be in flip-flops, tank tops, and shorts. Locals and visitors alike tend to put a bit of effort into how they look when going out, so don’t forget that when packing clothes.

If you’re going more for a beach vacation, I would recommend you to take a look at What to Pack for Siesta Key (With a Downloadable Checklist)

Wondering what makeup to bring for a Florida vacation? Click here.

Farmers American Breakfast Jack Dusty The Ritz Carlton SarasotaFarmers American Breakfast – Jack Dusty at The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota

Where to eat in Sarasota, FL?


  • Station 400
  • First Watch
  • Der Dutchman
  • Blue Dolphin Cafe
  • Another Broken Egg
  • Jack Dusty’s
  • Sun Garden Cafe


  • Boca Sarasota
  • Duval’s Fresh Local Seafood
  • Brick’s Smoked Meats
  • Yoder’s Restaurant
  • The Rosemary
  • La Mucca Ballerina
  • Cafe in the Park


  • Indigenous
  • State Street Eating House + Cocktails
  • Boca Sarasota
  • Columbia Restaurant
  • Duval’s Fresh Local Seafood
  • Clayton’s Siesta Grille
  • Antoine’s
  • La Violetta


  • State Street Eating House + Cocktails
  • Boca Sarasota
  • Cask & Ale
  • M.A.DE. Restaurant
  • Sarasota Farmers Market


Wineries, Breweries, and Distilleries in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota Wineries

There are no wineries or vineyards (excellent wine shops, though!) in Sarasota. The closest wineries are Fiorelli Winery in Bradenton (40 min. from the city center) and Bunker Hill Vineyard & Winery in Parrish (50 min. from the city center).

Sarasota Breweries

Sarasota’s top three breweries are Big Top Brewing Company, Calusa Brewing, and JDub’s Brewing Company. Motorworks Brewing, Darwin Brewing Co., and Naughty Monk Brewery are not in Sarasota but still close enough for you to visit them if you like (25 min. from the city center).

Sarasota Distilleries

The only distillery in Sarasota is Drum Circle Distillery, the makers of Siesta Key Rum. Now in Lakewood Ranch, there’s also Loaded Cannon Distillery.

Is there something else you would like to know regarding vacationing in Sarasota? Leave a comment below.

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If you're planning a vacation to Sarasota, FL here's a guide that'll help you make the most of your vacation. Where to stay, what to do, where to eat & more. #sarasota #florida