Sarasota, FL is one of our new favorite family beach vacation destinations. There is so much to do that you could easily stay for a week and still not do everything. A few days of exploring and we found 7 affordable things to do with kids.
We recently visited Sarasota, FL for a quick 2 night getaway. Located only 2 hours away from where we live in Naples, it was an easy beach getaway, especially with kids. I’d visited Sarasota many times when we lived in St. Petersburg, and even worked in Sarasota for a few months.
Even though I’d been to Sarasota countless time, this was my first time vacationing in the county that holds the title for the #1 beach in America. Not only was Siesta Beach in Siesta Key selected by Dr. Beach as the #1 beach in America for 2017, it’s one of the only beaches to be chosen twice! The beach first won the award in 2011.
It’s always fun for me to see which beaches Dr. Beach will pick, so it was especially exciting for me to stay at the resort where Dr. Beach himself stayed to make the announcement this year. We stayed at Tropical Beach Resorts on Siesta Key and loved it (review coming soon). The ambiance of the family focused resort transported me back to simpler times when high rise condos didn’t monopolize the coast line.
7 Affordable Things to Do with Kids During your Beach Vacation in Sarasota, FL
1. Morning Walks on Siesta Key
Even though we are Floridians, we don’t like to spend all day at the beach. We like to get out on the sand bright and early for the sunrise. Not only is the lighting perfect for pictures, but it’s the best time of the day to pick up seashells.
We woke up early both mornings to walk the coastline of Siesta Key. The crescent shape of the beach makes it unique in the fact that there are no rip tides. The water is the calmest I’ve ever seen which makes it perfect for swimming with kids.
The tidal pools also make this an ideal spot for kids that don’t want to venture into the waters of the gulf coast.
2. Mote Marine
Price: $22 for adults, $16 for kids, 2 and under free
Tip: Reciprocity with zoos and aquariums is amazing. Learn more about it here, and check out all the places you can visit for 50% off or free with a Mote Marine membership. It’s $110 for a family of 4 , which is worth it if you plan to visit any of the other locations on the reciprocity list.
Fun story- I actually used to work at Mote Marine! I worked for Sarasota Bay Explorers located outside of Mote Marine. I worked as a marine biologist eco-tour guide and first mate for the educational eco-tour boat rides. Even though I’ve been through Mote Marine many times by myself, it was a completely different experience to walk through with my little brother and two kids.
We had fun exploring the different tanks, all of which hold marine species found in the Sarasota regions. The facilities are truly educational in the fact that every single exhibit has a scientific explanation in kid friendly terms. My kids kept asking me to read to them!
The shark exhibit is a must see, mostly because Mote Marine is the research home of Eugenie Clark, The Shark Lady, who first started researching sharks out of Mote in 1955!
3. Sarasota Bay Explorers
Price: $29 for adults, $25 3-12. Get a coupon here.
While this cruise is pricey, it’s completely worth it. For everything you get to do, I feel like it is a good deal. I’ve been on it multiple times and 100% believe it is worth every penny since you get to see sea life up close. The boat has an educational license to trawl for sea life. This means they throw a big net out and catch all sorts of cool stuff for you to see. Then they throw it all back!
If you have the time and the money, I’d highly suggest going out on the Sarasota Bay Explorers sea life encounter cruise. We missed it this time due to a rain storm, but I’m looking forward to trying to take the kids another time. I know they would love it!
4. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
I may have a new obsession with botanical gardens. I love visiting them when I’m in a new region because it’s amazing to see all the different flora. Even though I live in Florida and can see many of the plants from Marie Selby Botanical Gardens at home, I still enjoyed it because this garden showcases the plants so well. These air plants are all over my yard at home, but they look so much cooler here!
My favorite part was the kid area. There is a huge play space devoted to kids that is themed like a jungle, complete with swinging bridge to a tree house. Want to know something really unique about it? It’s completely wheelchair accessible because there is a lift that will take you to the top of the tree house.
Behind the jungle area is another outdoor play area with games and tents full of toys and dress up clothes.
Once it gets too hot, you can head inside to a play area that has puzzles, books, and lot of other toys.
With so much to do, I could have easily stayed at the botanical gardens for an entire day!
5. The Ringling
The Ringling is not just a circus museum, but an art museum too. We breezed through it because we were so tired (my pregnant ankles were painfully swollen from a full day of walking). Even though we didn’t get to take our time, we still enjoyed the art. Robert especially enjoyed the Barouque art. Funny, right?
While he loved the art, he was hesitant in the circus museum because he’s not a fan of the circus. After a little coaxing I was able to convince him to walk in and give the circus museum a try. The interactive activities were a hit with him! He couldn’t stop trying to perfect his balancing act on the high wire.
Next we played on the playground to expel some extra energy. I’m always a fan of places that offer playgrounds for kids.
We walked by Mabel’s rose garden….
We didn’t buy tickets for the Ca’ d’ Zan, the Ringings home, we had a fun time admiring it from the outside. I’d like to go back and tour without the kids one day. While I think they could handle it and maybe even enjoy it, I’d like to take my time looking around and make sure to really pay attention to a guided tour instead of focusing on the kids. It’s an extra $10 to tour the home.
6. St. Armand’s Circle
St. Armand’s Circle is on your way to Mote Marine. I highly suggest you stop for lunch or dinner here at least once on your trip. There are many different stores and restaurants to choose from. And it’s even fun to walk around the circle and learn circus history.
7. Lido Key
While I prefer Siesta Key for swimming, I love Lido Key for the marine life.
When I worked for Sarasota Bay Explorers, we would do nature walks on Lido Key to learn identification of marine life. You can walk along the bay side and find sea stars, sea horses, conchs, banded tulip snails and many more interesting creatures.
An added bonus is that the free park also has a playground, grills and picnic tables.
Have you been to Sarasota? What is your favorite thing to do there?