Siesta Key beach

5 Days in Sarasota Itinerary

Planning a 5-day itinerary in Sarasota, Florida, can be both exciting and overwhelming with so many options to choose from. But worry not, as we’ve just done it and can recommend you what we did and where we went. 

To set the record straight, this was supposed to be a 6-day itinerary for Siesta Key. We booked a very early flight from Baltimore (BWI) to Sarasota (SRQ). Unfortunately, our flight was delayed a few hours and then we also had an issue with our rental car. So by the time we got there, most of the day was gone.

The dates we were on this trip were December 25th to the 30th. We were trying to escape the cold Baltimore weather to our favorite state, sunny Florida. 

The temperatures for Florida were about 30 degrees higher than what we had back home. However, there was a once-in-a-decade storm (second time that year). So, it was still cold for the first day or two in Florida (that is why you will see the kids wearing coats), but it got a lot warmer after that. While Baltimore had around 20-25 degrees F, the temperature for our first day in Florida started around 55. Not common for Florida but not that bad from our point of view.

Sarasota is known for its beautiful beaches, including the famous Siesta Key beach that won multiple times as one of the best beaches in the US and in the world. 

If you are looking for a laid back vacation on the beach, just look at those sections in this guide. Without a doubt, your vacation will be great.

For most of our family vacations, we are trying to combine some kind of activities for the kids. Luckily, in addition to great beaches, Sarasota has a lot of lush botanical gardens, and vibrant arts scene, making it an ideal destination for any family vacation or even couple and solo trips. 

From exploring the stunning Siesta Beach to immersing in the world of circus history at the Ringling Museum, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this charming Floridian city.

When planning your trip, read below on when is the best time to go, where to stay and how to get there.

Day 0 – Late Start, Child’s Play, Yaso 

This was supposed to be the first day. However, after a long delay for taking off, we arrived at the rental car counter in SRQ, we got our car, loaded everything and the car just wouldn’t start 🙁 

The rental agency (Hertz), obviously gave us another car and we had to unload and load everything back again. 

We arrived at the hotel only around 4pm. The hotel we booked was Hampton Inn and Suites Sarasota-Bradenton-Airport. Which I got to say, was great in every way, location, price, family friendly, rich breakfast, nice pool. Definitely recommended. 

After being stuck on the airplane and the car all day, we decided to take the kids to a nearby playground to blow off some steam. Luckily, there are a lot of great playgrounds in Sarasota.

We went to Payne Park Playground and the kids had a blast.

Payne Park Playground

It wasn’t easy finding a restaurant opened for dinner as it was Christmas Day and most places were closed.

If you travel during one of the big holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.), make sure you will not rely on the information on Google maps and call the places you want to go. After calling a few places without answer, we found Athens Family Restaurant Breakfast Lunch & Dinner which had great greek food.

Day 1 – Ringling Museum and Ca’ d’Zan

For our first real day in Sarasota, the weather was still not as good. So we looked for things to do in Siesta Key when it’s raining

One of the most recommended things on most lists is The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

Circus exhibit in Ringling Museum

Now the word museum might confuse you to what’s inside. This is a fun museum with a lot of unique stuff you will not see anywhere else related to the Ringling Circus. 

There are a lot of things that kids will find fun. There are many exhibits to play with.

It is located very close to the airport. So if you arrive early enough to Sarasota, this is a great place to start. 

Ringling Museum

–Pro tip: arrive as early as possible. Our kids usually wake up around 6am so we tend to go to places as they open. The museum is very famous and very touristic. If you arrive around noon, prepare yourself to stand an hour or more in line to get in.

There’s a lot to explore, including the Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan (John Ringling’s residence), and Circus Museum with interesting displays and exhibits. 

Ca' d'Zan Ringling house

The entrance fee is $25 for adults, and discounts are available for children under 17, active military members, and seniors. 

Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, it’s advised to give yourself at least 3 hours to explore the complex. 

You can contact the museum at (941) 359-5700. 

– Another pro tip: Since the Ringling Museum only opens at 10am, and it takes several hours to cover everything. Make sure you pack some sandwiches, snacks and water. Especially if you are traveling with kids. That way you can have a late lunch outside in one of the best pizza places in Sarasota.

For the afternoon you can have a relaxed walk around the waterfront. Or instead, what our kids like to do, throw rocks in the water ?

kids throwing rocks to the sea

Day 2: Lido Key and Shopping on St. Armands Circle

The next day the weather got much better so we decided to head to the beach. There is a large selection of amazing beaches in Sarasota and we chose to start with Lido Key Beach.

Our hotel had breakfast included so most days, we didn’t have to search for the best breakfast in Siesta Key. But on the way to the beach, we stopped at Madison Avenue Cafe and Deli for coffee and sweet pastry. They have a large selection of sandwiches, wraps, etc. for a very reasonable price. 

More importantly, they had books that kept our kids busy so we could enjoy the yummy coffee.

From there we headed to the beautiful Lido Key Beach. The beach has no entrance fee and is open daily from dawn to dusk. There are a lot of free parking lots but they do tend to get full as the day progresses. 

The sugary white sand and clear water made our morning walk along the shore unforgettable with a lot of picture opportunities. 

Pro Tip: Bring sunscreen, a beach umbrella, and beach chairs to fully enjoy the beach experience.

In the early afternoon we went again to St. Armands Circle. First to get an amazing ice cream at Gelato-go Bakery Sarasota (where I accidentally left my backpack :-(). 

We spent our afternoon exploring the elegant shopping scene at St. Armands Circle. Most shops open between 10 AM and 9 PM, but hours may vary.

Strolling through the charming streets, we found a great selection of unique boutiques, art galleries, and outdoor cafes. We also enjoyed the beautiful landscaping and live music playing in the background.

For dinner, we chose Daiquiri Deck. They are open from 11 AM to midnight.

Day 3: Nature and Wildlife

For the first part of our third day we headed to Myakka River State Park for a morning filled with nature and wildlife.

Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park is open daily from 8 AM to sunset. The entrance fee is $6 per vehicle, and seniors receive a 50% discount. You can contact them at +(941) 361-6511 for more information. The park is a haven for diverse wildlife and offers various activities like hiking, birdwatching, and airboat tours.

We recommend taking a guided airboat tour to explore the park’s waterways and spot alligators, birds, and other fascinating creatures. Don’t forget to stop by the Canopy Walkway to enjoy a panoramic view of the park and its surroundings.

For lunch, we dined at The Old Salty Dog. This large iconic restaurant is right on the water. They have great food and a wide selection of items for kids. Kids’ meals come in a frisbee plate they get to keep. 

Old rusty dog frisbee

Once we were fueled up, we made our way to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium to learn about marine life and conservation efforts.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

The aquarium is open daily from 9:30 AM to 5 PM, and the admission fee is $24 for adults and $18 for children (ages 3-12). Seniors get a 10% discount on the regular adult admission price. You can call them at +(941) 388-4441 for any inquiries. This attraction features numerous marine species, interactive exhibits, and engaging presentations.

Don’t miss the chance to see the manatees, sea turtles, and sharks in their habitats. Participate in their interactive programs and learn more about marine research and conservation efforts, making this visit an educational and enjoyable experience.

touching star fish

Highly recommended is the Eco Boat Tours that leave from the Mote Aquarium. The boat tours around the bay showing the amazing houses, explain about marine life and also scope a lot of animals from the water for the kids to see and touch. (The animals are released back to the water).

On the way back to our hotel area for dinner, we stopped at the Unconditional Surrender Sculpture for a memorable photo.

Day 4 – Sharks Day

The fourth day was all about sharks. The beaches south to Siesta Key are known for their shark teeth. There are many places where you can easily find teeth like Turtle Beach, Venice Beach and Caspersen Beach. 

We decided to go to Venice. It was about a 40 minute drive from Siesta Key and morning traffic was not bad at all. And there is plenty of parking space (again, if you are not too late into the day). 

Looking for shark teeth

There are places around where you can buy or rent a special shovel called “Florida Snow Shovel”. This is basically a long stick with a colander at its end. It helps you scope the sand and leaves you with just shells and hopefully, some shark teeth.

Since our kids are small, we decided to skip this shovel and just look for teeth on the sand. 

Surprisingly enough, a 20 minute search yielded about a dozen of small to medium shark teeth. We were not able to find those really large shark teeth you see people post here and there.

shark teeth

Pro tip – there are no chairs or sun umbrellas to rent there. So if you are not that thrilled to sit on the sand in the sun, be sure to bring your own.

For lunch, we went to Sharky’s On the Pier. There is no way around it. If you are in that area you have to go there. Although it has some touristic vibe, it still feels somehow authentic and more than that, fun. 

That place is huge. It can hold a lot of people (you can see that from the parking lot that is always full). It has over 11K reviews on Google, with over 20K pictures. 

The menu has a large selection of items including a lot of things for kids for a reasonable price. 

As you can expect, this is not a fine dining place. It doesn’t have gourmet food but it is decent. You mainly go there to say you have been to Sharky’s and buy trinkets or other items at their gift shop. 

Day 5: Finally, Beach Day on Siesta Key

We start our day with a delicious breakfast at Sun Garden Café. We recommend trying their Frittata Del Giorno or their Bananas Foster French Toast (Yummy). 

After breakfast, it was time to head over to the stunning Siesta Key Beach.

Siesta Key

Immediately when you reach the beach, you will understand why it was chosen so many times as one of the best beaches in the world and #2 in the US.

The water is crystal clear and the sand is white. In fact, the sand in Siesta Key is different from what you are used to. It feels more like powdered sugar than sand.

This award-winning beach is perfect for soaking up the sun. The beach offers public facilities, lifeguards on duty, and a concession stand for snacks. 

It’s open from 6 AM to Midnight, making it convenient for any schedule. The beach is free to enter, but parking can fill up quickly, so try to arrive early. Remember to pack sunscreen and beach towels!

Pro tip – Obviously, you can start your Sarasota trip here. However, if you do, you might find it difficult to go somewhere else and not return to the beach day after day.

For those who are looking for some additional excitement of snorkeling and watersports. Siesta Key Watersports offers a variety of activities to choose from, such as scuba diving, snorkeling, jet skiing, and parasailing. To arrange your adventure, call them at (941) 921-3030, and expect to spend around $60-$100 per person for most activities. Their operating hours are from 9 AM to 6 PM daily. Don’t forget your waterproof camera to capture those breathtaking underwater moments! Be sure to ask for a map and any other guidance on recommended snorkeling spots.

As the sun begins to set, it’s time to explore Siesta Key Village, a charming area full of shops, bars, and restaurants. Enjoy a stroll through the village before settling down for dinner at The Cottage. Indulge in their Seafood Paella or the Coconut Curry Mussels. After dinner, find your perfect spot along the Siesta Key shoreline to enjoy the magnificent Gulf of Mexico sunset. With the sun slowly dipping below the horizon and the sky ablaze in colors, it’s hard not to feel at peace. 

Make sure you bring a light jacket or blanket, as temperatures can drop after sunset. Snap some photos and create unforgettable memories with us on this fantastic beach day on Siesta Key.

One thing I regret missing was the famous Drum Circle of Siesta Key. It happens every Sunday at Sunset but we were already on the plane back home in the afternoon.

Best Time to Visit Sarasota Florida

The best time to visit Sarasota largely depends on personal preferences and the kind of experience you’re seeking. However, the city’s pleasant climate and diverse events make it a year-round destination worth exploring.

sarasota weather per month

Many people choose to go there during the winter, like we did for winter break. If you are anywhere on the east coast, this will give you a chance to escape the freezing temperature and experience a little bit of summer. Obviously, at a price that is much lower than going to Mexico, Jamaica or even California.

The most popular season will be the springtime, around April. That is when the temperatures are not extremely hot like the summer and you are not in the hurricane season. 

How to Get to Sarasota

Unless you are physically located in Florida, most chances are you will arrive by air to one of the nearby airports. 

Getting to Sarasota by Air

The best way to get to Sarasota by air is to land at Sarasota airport – code SRQ. This is how we did it. 

This airport quickly became one of my favorite airports in the world. It is small and accessible. No need for ground transportation to get your luggage or shuttle buses. Everything there is quick and without long lines (which nobody likes on vacation).

There are quite a few airlines that land in SRQ:

  • United Airlines –  (This is what we used)
  • JetBlue
  • WestJet
  • Southwest
  • American Airlines
  • Air Canada
  • Delta

If you can’t get to SRQ from your home airport, the other closest airport to Sarasota is Tampa. Which is only one hour away and is a much larger airport.

Pro Tip – this is something most people don’t know but if you are traveling with little kids, you can ask the flight attendant to see the cockpit when you board the plan. Most times, they would be happy to let the kid sit in the pilot seat.

A kid as a pilot

Getting to Sarasota With a Car

That option will probably fit best if you are already in Florida. Unless you are planning to be in a car for a long time since Florida is quite far from most states.

From within Florida, Sarasota is located pretty nicely from many large cities.

  • Tampa: 1 hour drive
  • Naples: 2 hours drive
  • Fort Myers: 1.5 hours drive
  • Orlando: 2.5 hours drive
  • Fort Lauderdale:  3 hours drive
  • Miami: 3.5 hours drive

If you are driving, make sure you are aware of the tolls along the way. 

Pro tip – pick up a Visitor Toll Pass to help you save a few bucks on tolls. It is completely free for visitors.

If you are coming from Tampa, you have the option to drive over the amazing Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This is a great experience and I really recommend it. 

Be sure to check the bridge status here. It will be closed in dangerous weather conditions like heavy wind, fog, etc. 

In any case, there is a way to get from Tampa to Sarasota that is not using that bridge.

The bridge has a toll that costs around $2 or a SunPass

Renting a Car in Sarasota 

We rented a car from the Sarasota airport SRQ. Since the airport is not that big, there is not a wide selection of rental car agencies but you will definitely find what you need. We used Hertz and it was fine.

On the plus side, since the airport is small, you get your keys from the rental car counter, and just walk across the street to get to your rental car. 

It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Where to Stay in Sarasota

Deciding where to stay in Sarasota is a task on its own. Sarasota has many different options depending on your type of trip and your own preference. 

Here are things you would want to consider:

  • Location – important as always
  • Budget – again, no surprise. Always a parameter to consider
  • Family friendly 
  • Pool – nothing like coming from the beach and going into a pool
  • Pet friendly 
  • Airbnb/Hotel – there are cons and pros for each

We ended up staying at the Hampton Inn and Suites Sarasota-Bradenton-Airport. Location was great. Right across the airport. 10 minutes to Ringling Museum. 15 minutes to Lido Key and 20 minutes to Siesta Key beach. 

For 5 nights during winter break it cost us around $800 including breakfast. It is family friendly and it has a pool. I am not sure about the pet friendliness because it wasn’t a need for that trip.

For special trips, you might want to check the more luxury hotels in Sarasota. For example The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Those hotels are much more affordable than other places in the US.