With gorgeous beaches flanked by sugar-soft sand perfect for sandcastle-building and wave-free water that makes it easy for even toddlers to swim, Sarasota is a perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
This seaside city on the Gulf of Mexico may now be known as Cougar Town thanks to fans of Courteney Cox’s show on TBS, but it’s got plenty to offer families, too.
Yes, there are lots of retirees here, and yes, the city pretty much rolls up its sidewalks by 9 p.m., but truthfully, when was the last time I partied ‘til dawn? Kids sort of make that nearly impossible (and the older I get, the less it sounds like a good idea anyway).
My family and I recently checked into the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, a boutique hotel with a zero-entry pool that made it easy for my boyfriend, Mark, and I to lounge on one end while my son, Javier, played a few feet away. Cascading waterfalls provided a soundtrack as lovely as the views of Sarasota Bay. Ask for a high floor with a window seat instead of a balcony if you have kids under five. You’ll score a great view without the hassle of worrying about your kiddo heading out to the balcony without you.
After an afternoon swim on our first day, we drove 10 minutes to the Old Salty Dog on nearby City Island for fish shack fare. Though the restaurant was full, it’s big enough that you don’t have to wait long for a table, and there’s a great view of the bay from just about every seat in the house, whether you’re out on one of the decks or tucked inside. We went with the fish tacos, a salad and a pair of sliders for Jav, and overall the food merits a return visit. Back at the hotel, we wrapped the day with fireside s’mores on the pool deck thanks to a handy kit the hotels offers. Our perfect Sarasota weekend was off to a great start.
The next day, we hit the Toasted Mango Café across the street for chocolate chip pancakes and a corned beef hash that Mark swears is some of the best he’s had. We spent the next three hours checking out the Ringling Museum of Art, which was a hit with Javier. The miniature displays of circus life are adorable, and there are plenty of interactive areas where kids can see what it’s like to walk a tight rope or shoot a cannonball. Gardens lead you between buildings, one of which houses a historic theatre brought over from Italy by original circus owners John and Mable Ringling. At the far end of the property is a secret garden and the home they shared. You can walk through on your own and check out the furnishings and original architectural details or lounge on the terrace with jaw-dropping views of Sarasota Bay. Kids can pick up scavenger hunt maps that make the whole experience even more fun, not that Javier needed it. The fact that everything surrounding us was circus-themed was enough to keep him happy and engaged.
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After picking up a couple of fruity concoctions at the Daiquiri Deck on St. Armand’s Circle, we spent the rest of the day at the beach on Lido Key, where the water was calm enough for Javier to splash and swim while we lounged on the shore nearby. A sunset swim in the pool and a soak in the hot tub back at the Hyatt was the perfect end to our day. Too tired to go out, we ordered from the hotel’s Currents restaurant during happy hour when appetizers like flatbreads are half price.
Our last day was stormy, but we spent the morning at the Mote Aquarium anyway. There are plenty of indoor exhibits, and he loved being able to touch stingrays and other sea creatures in the interactive exhibits staffed with retired volunteers. Everywhere we went there was a silver-haired sweetie ready to share his or her knowledge of marine life. My son, wide-eyed and curious, and the patient, kind volunteers willing to answer a 7-year-old’s inquisition, were a perfect match. Don’t miss the interactive theatre where you can help save a dolphin and her calf via a video game and movie experience.
I’ve been to Sarasota several times, but now that Javier got a taste of it, he’s begging to go back. Next time, I think we’re going to make it a kid-free weekend and check out the arts and restaurant scene instead.
What are your fave Sarasota haunts?