From the incredible beaches of Longboat Key, Lido and Siesta Key to the cultural offerings throughout the city, Sarasota continues to be a favorite destination for young and old.  If you are lucky enough to live there, you’ll find that Sarasota offers a big city panache with small town charm.  Most recently, Siesta Key was vote #1 beach by Trip Advisor for 2017.  Sarasota is easily accessible from most Southern cities via air with a nice selection of discount carriers to the Tampa or St. Pete-Clearwater airport. If you’re up for a quick weekend visit, Sarasota delivers from the minute you step off the plane.

Friday

If you want to splurge (and why not?), there are a ton of gorgeous places to stay. Some of our favorites are The Ritz Carlton, Hyatt Regency and the brand new Westin Sarasota. If you like smaller more boutique hotels, then consider Hotel Indigo or Aloft Sarasota.

Westin Presidential Suite rendering | Image: Westin Sarasota

If you’re looking for luxury, Sarasota has a number of hotels that will make you drool. As you can see, the Westin offers views that are out of this world. Image: Westin Sarasota

Aloft, with its minimalist feel and contemporary bent, is a favorite of our staff. Image: Aloft Sarasota

To get your bearing, take a walk on Main Street downtown. Not only is the weather fantastic, the city is pedestrian friendly in every way. To quench your thirst, head toward the waterfront to Marina Jack, one of our favorite places overlooking the bay. Marina Jack is a casual place to grab a beer or cocktail and enjoy some of Sarasota’s incredible seafood. If that’s your preference, try out their baked oysters Rockefeller and tuna sliders. You can’t go wrong with their happy hour, every weekday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with featured appetizers for $5 and special drink prices. Another reason to go is Marina Jack offers live music — you can enjoy jazz, blues, rock and acoustic guitar.

Marina Jack meal | Image: Facebook

Sarasota is all about great patio dining. Marina Jack should be your first stop with its great menu and live music. Image: Facebook

Another place we scooped from one of our Sarasota insiders is Indigenous. Not only is it a perfect spot, it is one of the many chef-owned and -operated restaurants in Sarasota. If you like farm-to-table, then you’ll love hook-to-fork. A yummy appetizer is their delectable Parmesan beignets with honey, thyme and pears. Chef Steve Phelps opened Indigenous in 2011 and is committed to bringing the finest cuisine to Sarasota. Known for his knowledge of fish, you’ll find delicacies like roasted garlic clam toast and lemongrass shrimp. The minute you book your trip, be sure to make your reservations for this hot spot.

Image: Indigenous

Indigenous Chef Steve Phelps is known for his fish knowledge and delicious execution. Image: Indigenous

What could be better for your next stop then a visit to Jack Dusty’s at the The Ritz-Carlton? As with every Ritz visit, the service is impeccable, the surroundings gorgeous and the drinks made with extra punch.

If you don’t want to hang out at The Ritz, head to The Gator Club on Main or The Five O’Clock Club on Hillview. You’ve gotta love the tagline of The Five O’Clock Club: “The neighborhood club with the national sound.” It opened in 1955 and continues to be voted the best live music venue in town.

Time for a good night’s sleep, right?

Saturday

Grab coffee at your hotel and head downtown to Main and Lemon Avenue to the Sarasota Farmers Market. There you will find locally grown produce and a variety of products. Your first stop at the market should be a visit to Java Dawg Coffee. Armed with your daily caffeine, visit Christine Nordstrom, the owner and chef of Sift Bakehouse. Her stand is one of the most sought-after with homemade scone, biscotti and the best cookies in town. The Sarasota Farmers Market is a gathering place for foodies and dogs, and you’ll find an amazing selection of food, fresh flowers, olive oil, fresh seafood, produce and local musicians playing tunes. It reflects the heart and soul of Sarasota.

Javadawg | Image: Facebook

At Java Dawg, two thing are true: the caffeine keeps giving and the donuts are divine. Image: Facebook

You may want to sit down and have brunch, and there’s no better place than C’est La Vie, One of Sarasota’s Saturday favorites. With a huge selection of coffees, they also offer pastries and a full breakfast. How can you resist the Montpelier with chicken, tomato, bacon, Parmesan cheese and pesto, or the quiche Epinard  with goat cheese and spinach.

Image: C'est La Vie

To speak to your inner francophile, head to C’est La Vie for the best quiche and pastries in town. Image: C’est La Vie

Time to make some decisions about how to spend your day. Shopping? Culture? Or one of the best beaches in Florida?

Shopping

You don’t have to go far to find some great shop including J.McLaughlin, Eileen Fisher and Sur La Table. If you want to check out some of Sarasota’s best boutiques, don’t miss T. Georgiano’s for hip shoes and clothes, or Scout and Molly’s Boutique. Closer to Sift Bakehouse at the corner of State Street and Main is Pineapple Avenue with some uber chic stores like Malbi with Italian designer glasses, plates and linens.

Sand and Surf

Many say the the beaches in and around Sarasota are the best in Florida. I can’t disagree as the white sandy beaches are loaded with shells, especially sand dollars! Also, the beaches are wide and lend themselves to long walks and amazing sunsets. Here’s where I am all in — unlike so many beach communities, you can walk and within a couple of minutes, there are shops, restaurants and bars. If you want to be more adventurous, there a many bike rentals in the area. A quick recap: free sand and surf, great people watching and fresh seafood.

Image: Allie Couture via Flick CC

The beaches in Sarasota offer great sunsets and are chocked full of shells and sand dollars. Image: Allie Couture via Flickr CC

Culture

We all grew up with the Ringling Brothers Circus, but who knew that the Ringling Family had ties to Sarasota? Mabel Burton Ringling became a resident of Sarasota in 1911 and lived there till her death in 1929. Her husband, John Ringling, purchased 20 acres on the Shell Beach Subdivision to build their winter estate. Their impact on the arts in Sarasota is undeniable and continues to this day to make the city a remarkable place. The Ringling Art Museum in part of the Ringling Estate with an impressive collection with 21 galleries. CA’ d’ Zan is their estate and was designed by Dwight James and his on-site architect Earl Purdy. The mansion consists of 56 rooms and is 36,000 square feet! It was designed in a Venetian-gothic style with gorgeous interior finishes and marble throughout the home. Touring this palatial estate and grounds could take 2-3 hours. It’s certainly something you don’t want to miss when in Sarasota.

Other options to consider are a trip to Maria Selby Gardens along the Bay or the Mote Marine Aquarium.

A view of Sarasota from Selby Gardens | Image: Roger W via Flickr CC

The views from Selby Gardens offer a panorama of the bay and are worth the trip. Image: Roger W via Flickr CC

Image: Mote

Mote appeals to the young and old as it is one of Sarasota’s most popular attractions. Image: Mote

After a quick nap or lounge by the pool, head to St. Armands Circle via an Uber. Designed by John Ringling, St Armands Circle creates an ideal community with shops in the circle surrounded by neighborhoods. The vision was to create a planned community so people could live, shop and work. One thing I truly adore about Sarasota neighborhoods is the mix of historic homes integrated with modern and contemporary new homes. A favorite cousin of mine duly named her charming bungalow the OverDog. In its quaint setting, it is surrounded by gorgeous trees and blooming bougainvillea.

For dinner, consider Columbia or Blu Kouzina, both local favorites. Columbia, which specializes in Cuban style food at affordable prices, receives lengthy accolades — from “One of the Top 25 Restaurants in Florida” by Florida Trend, to “Our Favorite Romantic Restaurant” by Southern LivingColumbia’s Cuban sandwiches and house-made Sangria can’t be matched.

Consider Blu Kouzina if you love Greek food. The owners import their family’s olive oil, prepared with the fresh catch of the day. The delightful open air seating comes at no charge.

Image: Columbia

Sarasota is a melting pot of different cultures as witnessed by the cuisine at Columbia. You can’t go wrong with one of their Cuban sandwiches and a cold beer. Image: Columbia

Once you’re finished, stroll around St. Armands Circle and check out the local shops.  For a late night treat, there is Big Olaf Creamery or Kilwin’s Mackinac Fudge. There are bars galore to be discovered if the spirit (and spirits) move you.

Sunday

Don’t leave Sarasota without a visit to The Blue Rooster. Known for its gospel buffet brunch, The Blue Rooster gets Southern soul food. The brunch menu is too long to list everything, but think cheesy grits, fried chicken, waffles, biscuits, gravy and the best homemade cocktails in town. The clincher is that the brunch is priced at $24.95 for an all-you-can-eat bonanza with reasonable prices for your kids, too.

After a couple of bloody Mary’s, a nice siesta on Siesta Key beach sounds like a pretty good plan, don’t you think?

Sarasota continues to be one of my favorite places visit, especially in the early spring or fall. What’s not to love when it comes to the beach, shopping and the gorgeous Sarasota weather. When you’re ready to plan your Sarasota getaway, check out visitsarasota.com to get started!

Special thanks to Sandi Stuart for her contribution to this article.

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