9 Sarasota Outdoor Attractions Your Family Will Love

Ranked among the top small cities in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler, Sarasota features a water-lovers location, award-winning beaches and natural beauty. Many know this city as the former home of the Ringling Brothers Circus, however visitors today flock to the area for its beach vibes and culture. Looking for things to do? Read about the top Sarasota outdoor attractions for your family vacation.

Sarasota Outdoor Attractions: 9 Spots for Family Fun

sarasota outdoor attractions lido key

Start at Lido Key Beaches

Kick off the vacation with a trip to one of the beaches in Lido Key. One of the most popular spots is Lido Beach, which has ample parking, restrooms, outdoor showers, playground equipment and a heated swimming pool open Tuesday through Sunday.

For a more private beach day, pack up the gear and visit North Lido Beach. This beach offers lots of warm sand and benches for relaxing with loved ones. Due to its natural environment and nesting birds, there are no amenities — just lots of place to unwind and enjoy the view.

To the south sits South Lido Park, which is surrounded by four bodies of water: Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, Brushy Bayou and Sarasota Bay. In addition to admiring water views, visitors can walk a nature trail, picnic under Australian Pines, canoe and play volleyball. Other amenities at South Lido include restrooms, grills, playground equipment and an observation tower.

Learn About Life at Mote

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium dedicates its time to ocean conservation and preservation. Home to 100-plus species of marine life, the working aquarium features two touch tanks, a shark habitat, manatees, sea turtles and more. Other exhibits include coral reef creatures, Florida Bay, alligators, crocodiles, caimans and otters. Those with kids should plan to visit the Exploration Gallery, and for an additional fee dig for treasures at Fossil Creek. Guests even keep what they find!

sarasota outdoor attractions tigers family

See Big Cats and Bears

Open Wednesday through Sunday, Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary provides care and home to large-animal rescues. The sanctuary serves as a long-term home for large animals as well as educates visitors about conservation.

Exhibits include several types of tigers, lions, bears, primates and birds. While exploring, visitors can attend a daily show, which places them up-close with exotic birds, big cats and Chance the chimpanzee. In addition, kids will love the onsite petting zoo where they can see goats, llamas, emu and chickens.

Go Wild

Ranked as one of the top Sarasota attractions for families, Sarasota Jungle Gardens delights parents and kids alike. Explore, learn and play as exhibits showcase plants, insects and animals. Sarasota Jungle Gardens houses more than 200 animals and offers shows every 20 minutes that are suited for all ages.

Animal exhibits include large birds, lemurs, tortoises, reptiles and more. Located on the north side of the park, check out the Butterfly Garden to see lots of butterflies, flowers, palms and ferns. Other fun activities include hand-feeding flamingos, exploring the petting zoo, and holding snakes and lizards.

Play at the Park

One of the largest state parks in the area, Myakka River State Park houses hammocks, prairies, wetlands and pinelands. Visitors will also find a river and two lakes that offer water recreation, including boating, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Those looking for hiking options should hit the trails that loop nearly 40 miles through the area.

Other fun activities include bicycling, birding, camping and learning about the Sarasota area at the interpretive exhibit. To add to the adventure, book a one-hour boat tour on some of the largest airboats in the world. The park offers both boat and tram tours that head into the backcountry for a scenic cruise full of wildlife and natural attractions.

sarasota outdoor activities gardens

Photo: r chelseth

Visit the Botanical Gardens

Relax and reconnect with nature at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, located on the Sarasota Bay. Showcasing 15 acres of tropical plants, the gardens provide an outdoor oasis for all visitors to enjoy. While visiting this favorite among Sarasota outdoor attractions, see the tropical conservatory, towering bamboo, a fern garden and koi pond.

Families with children should stop by the Ann Goldstein’s Children’s Rainforest Garden, one of the attraction’s latest additions. Children can climb the 100-year-old Banyan tree, see waterfalls, walk the rope bridge and try hands-on activities. Tour options include self-guided and guided and accommodate groups larger than 10 people. Those planning to tour the gardens should also bring a camera, insect repellent, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses.

Catch a Baseball Game

Spring welcomes baseball fans to watch the Baltimore Orioles train at Ed Smith Stadium. In 2010, the MLB team moved its operations to Sarasota bring baseball to more than 640,000 fans. The stadium features lots of seating, an on-site lounge and architecture that represents the area. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for The Bird, an Oriole bird mascot that has delighted fans since 1979.

sarasota outdoor attractions shopping

Shop Local at Siesta Key Village

For a local shopping experience, visit Siesta Key Village. The village houses more than 75 shops, restaurants and businesses and is situation on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Shop for souvenirs and gifts at Siesta Beach Treasures, Siesta T’s and Hurricane Rita’s Gifts.

Visitors will also find places for groceries, flowers, jewelry, beachwear, fashion and more. Restaurants in the Siesta Key Village range from Old Salty Dog and European Food and Deli to Arnie’s Patio Grill. In addition, a large collection of businesses operate in the village and include Realtors, spas, nail salons, banks and medical providers.

Tour St. Armands Circle

Spend the day shopping and dining at St. Armands Circle, an island shopping destination off the mainland. Visitors will find more than 130 stores, selling everything from apparel to jewelry, shoes and souvenirs. Retailers are located throughout four quadrants and include specialty stores for the whole family.

St. Armands also houses a large collection of restaurants. For a sit-down meal, stop by Tommy Bahama or Columbia Restaurant. Then enjoy sweet treats from popular names such as Gigi’s Cupcakes, Kilwin’s Chocolates and the Fudge Factory. In addition to shops and restaurants, guests can also make appointments for massages or skin care treatments at one of the onsite spas.

Need more vacation ideas? Check out the top free things to do in Siesta Key and Sarasota.

Looking for a place to stay? View available Sarasota vacation rentals.