Sarasota is only about 14 square miles in size. When we talk about must-visit neighborhoods, we’re referring to the postcard-perfect barrier islands that are included in Sarasota’s boundary; of these Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Siesta Key and Longboat Key are the most notable. These lush, subtropical spots are known for their blindingly white sandy shorelines and picturesque views. There are beach town amenities—casual come-in-your-bathing-suit restaurants along with sophisticated dining and a surprisingly plush retail scene.
Familiar to generations of Floridians as a prime family vacation spot, there’s a full palette of resorts and beach condos available for rent on this 8-mile-long barrier island. The cool, white quartz sand snuggles up to the calm, warm Gulf while the interior teems with exotic flowers and birds (check out the rare and spectacular five-foot-tall Florida Sandhill Cranes, with their fiery red crests). Each spring, gifted artists gather to compete in the Siesta Key Sand Sculpture Contest. If you’re looking for a little privacy, try the smaller, less-crowded Turtle Beach and if you’d rather be on the water than off it, you can parasail, sailboard, fish or snorkel.
The northernmost of Sarasota’s barrier islands, Longboat has a full complement of high-priced homes along with miles and miles of white sand beaches. Rent a boat at Cannons Marina, play a few rounds of golf at Islandside golf course, or just do what beach vacations were meant for: nothing.
The area’s main cultural attractions are on the mainland in Downtown. The Sarasota Orchestra, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Ringling Museum of Art, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and the Ringling College of Art and Design are in the heart of Sarasota. In between relaxing beach outings and evenings out, this is where you’ll fill up on the history and culture that distinguish Sarasota from other Southwest Florida cities.