Downtown Sarasota and the best things to do in Sarasota

Unique and best things to do in Sarasota in 2024

Beth Luberecki
Published: July 10, 2024

If you haven’t been to Sarasota lately (or ever), it’s time to plan a trip to this sophisticated city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of Tampa. And we know all the best things to do in Sarasota when it comes to new attractions, hideaway bars and opening-soon hotels sure to make a splash.

There are all kinds of new things to see, do, and eat in Sarasota right now—with even more on the horizon. Of course, perennial favorites things to do in Sarastoa remain just as appealing as ever, too, starting with the area’s incredible, inimitable beaches.

For beach-lovers, the best things to do in Sarasota revolve around the sugar white sands, calm waters and delightul swimming year round (Image courtesy of Visit Sarasota County).

Here’s our itinerary for a 2024 visit to Sarasota that hits all the new highlights to keep you busy, entertained and having fun from morning till night.

2024’s most exciting things to do in Sarasota

This year is shaping up to a banner one in this streth of Gulf Coast Florida, with so many new and improved things to do in Sarasota on the calendar.

Beautiful banyan trees are among the wonders that await visitors to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota (Image courtesy of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens).

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens already has a lot going for it at its Downtown Sarasota campus, where you can find an orchid-filled conservatory, an imaginative children’s rainforest garden, and all kinds of epiphytes and tropical plants. But the 15-acre site really flexes its green thumb with the debut of Phase One of its Master Plan.

Visitors can now park in the new Living Energy Access Facility (LEAF), which also includes a gift shop and nearly 50,000 square-foot solar array, then enter through a new welcome center with a gallery and theater to help acquaint guests with the site. The completely solar-powered new restaurant The Green Orchid incorporates fresh produce grown on its rooftop garden into its dishes.

The improvements at Selby Gardens are just one of the the many things to do in Sarasota this year, where many more big things are happening in 2024.

Divers participate in research and conversation projects with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota Bay (credit Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium).

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s new Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) at Nathan Benderson Park is under construction with an anticipated completion date of late 2024. 

The new site will include exhibits totaling more than one million gallons of water showcasing Atlantic and Pacific coral reef species, manatees, sea turtles, sharks, and other marine creatures. Until that new facility is finished, you can still visit with more than 100 marine species at Mote’s original aquarium on City Island, long one of the best favorite and best things to do in Sarasota.

There’s always something going on at The Bay Park, Sarasota’a premier waterfront pay (Image courtesy of The Bay Park).

There’s still more to come at The Bay Park, but what’s been completed on the 53 acres of land along Sarasota Bay is already living up to the project’s mission of creating “one park for all.”

Wander along the pathways at Bay Park and you’ll find spots for watching the sunset, an expansive lawn for gathering, an eye-catching concession area, swings and other fun seating options, and the cleverly designed Ibis Playground with its larger-than-life winged creatures.

Stroll the Mangrove Bayou Walkway at The Bay Park to learn more about this unique coastal Florida environment (Image courtesy of The Bay Park).

Another of the best things to do in Sarasota awaits at this park. Take your time to stroll the Mangrove Bayou Walkway to learn fun facts about the plants found in this special zone; other signage at the park offers details about environmental features that help keep local waterways healthy. You can also rent kayaks at the park or join a guided tour to experience it by water. Future projects include a marine-life-friendly Sunset Pier, a “food village,” and additional event and gathering spaces.

The Bobby Jones Golf Club is also going through a transformation that’s expected to be concluded in early 2024. In an effort to both restore the almost 100-year-old site and conserve the land it occupies, the City of Sarasota decided to actually cut back on the 45 holes that used to be there. When the site reopens, the public can enjoy a renovated version of the club’s original 18-hole course, along with a new nine-hole short course, a driving range with 65 hitting stations, and a more than 100-acre nature park with trails for strolling.

Things to do in Sarasota: the best places to eat and drink right now

Pop in for Polynesian vibes and postcard-pretty cocktails at Bar Hana (Image courtesy of Bar Hana)

From the moment you walk into Bar Hana, you’re transported to an island state of mind. Leaf-print wallpaper, wood accents, greenery hanging from the ceiling, and plenty of tiki-style touches create a totally tropical vibe, as does the cocktail menu featuring drinks like the Blue Hawaii and Frisky Flamingo. You might feel like you’re in Polynesia, but you’re actually in the heart of downtown Sarasota. And if good booze served up with good vibes are on your wishlist, visiting Bar Hana is definitely one of the best things to do in Sarasota.

After a cocktail at Bar Hana, head next door to Kojo for nori tacos, bao buns, and sushi.

Tropical flavor infusions are on tap at Calusa Brewing’s recently opened taproom (Image courtesy of Calusa Brewing).

If beer’s more your thing, Calusa Brewing recently opened a new taproom serving up its popular local brews. (Calusa’s Zote IPA is my personal favorite.)

In the evenings, dining partner PigFish offers classic fish sandwiches and other eats made with sustainably sourced ingredients that go well with a cold beer. One of the founders of the new spot is Chef Steve Phelps, a two-time semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef South and the man behind the much loved Indigenous restaurant in Sarasota’s historic Towles Court district.

Stop by for sangria, small plates and seductive Spanish vibes at new Sarasota restaurant, Beso (Image courtesy of Beso).

For a romantic meal or a fun evening with friends, head to new tapas spot Beso. The well-designed, two-level space with lots of windows overlooking a lively stretch of downtown Sarasota features a broad range of small plates for sharing and sampling. The wine and cocktail menu includes expected offerings like sangria and a range of less common options to try.

A visit to Rise Up Cafe is an ideal way to start your morning or end the day with a sweet treat. The recently revamped spot operates with the mission of inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity for all and provides job training and experience for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. You can’t go wrong the with the coffee and beignet special in the morning or a custom-made ice cream sandwich later in the day created with the cookies and ice cream of your choosing–absolutely one of the best things to do (read: and also eat!) in Sarasota, since you’re supporting a worthy cause along the way.

Things to do in Sarasota: the best places to stay in the city and at the beach right now

The rooftop at Art Ovation Hotel offers a prime lookout over downtown Sarasota (Image courtesy of Art Ovation Hotel).

If you haven’t made a trip to Sarasota in a few years (or more), you’ll have a lot of new-to-you hotel choices. Book a room at Art Ovation Hotel, and all kinds of restaurants, bars, arts venues and best things to do in Sarasota are just steps away.

The Sarasota Modern offers stylish rooms and the hip Wink Wink Modern Lounge, while The Westin Sarasota boasts killer views from its guest rooms and rooftop bar. 

Gulf front on gorgeous Longboat Key, the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort and Residences is due to debut in spring 2024 (Image courtesy of St. Regis Longboat Key Resort and Residences)

For a swanky stay closer to the beach, mark your calendar for the opening of the St. Regis Longboat Key Resort and Residences, scheduled to arrive on the scene in spring 2024. Guests staying in the 166-room luxury hotel will have access to a saltwater lagoon, heated infinity pool, beachside cabanas, a spa, and a fitness center with Gulf of Mexico views. On-site dining options will include the upscale CW Prime steak and seafood restaurant and St. Regis Piano Bar as well as more casual beachside spots.

Next: 7 of the best breweries in Tampa

Beth Luberecki is a longtime freelance writer and resident of Florida who enjoys exploring the state with her husband and teenage daughter. Her work has appeared in media outlets including Forbes Vetted, FamilyVacationist, USA Today Travel, and Washington Post’s Express. Learn more about her at bethluberecki.com and on Instagram at @bethlubereckiwrites.

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