Sarasota’s central location on the Gulf Coast makes it the perfect home base for day trips around the region. Idyllic scenery, historical spots, and outdoor activities are in no short supply.
But this area is ripe with things to do, and you don’t want to waste a precious vacation day on a dud.
Today, we’re hitting five top spots to explore so you won’t regret your decision.
Let’s hit it!
Why Sarasota, Florida, Is a Top Travel Destination
Year-round, beach bums, art fanatics, and world travelers flock to sunny Sarasota, Florida. This lively destination features stunning scenery, gorgeous weather, and vibrant nightlife. Whether you’re looking for outdoor adventure or a rich cultural scene, you’ll find it here.
Located on the Gulf Coast, it’s no surprise that the city’s white-sand beaches are a significant attraction. Palm trees and glistening turquoise waves might make you forget you’re on the mainland.
That said, you can hop off to the islands any time. Siesta Key and Lido Key are just offshore and accessible by car or boat.
Around town, you’ll see many Gilded Age influences, especially in the architecture. Places like the Ca’ d’Zan mansion and the Circus Museum speak to the opulence of the past. Both are on the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art, where you can enjoy masterpieces by world-renowned artisans.
Outside, this area’s natural wonders speak for themselves. Parks and nature preserves are plentiful. Bird watchers, hikers, and paddlers will be in heaven. You’ll discover even more when you leave downtown.
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Check Out These Great Day Trips Around Sarasota
While Sarasota offers several exciting opportunities within city limits, you’ll find countless day trips outside town. Here are five picks you might want to explore while in the area.
#1 St. Pete Pier
Some places drive piling into the ground and call it a pier. But in St. Petersburg, it’s much more than a fishing spot. In fact, this city has built an entire district around theirs.
The famous St. Pete Pier stretches out over Tampa Bay. And while you can certainly cast a line from the fishing deck, there’s plenty more to do. Restaurants, green spaces, and exciting attractions are plentiful, and thought-provoking sculptures dot the landscape.
Both kids and adults will love learning about the estuary’s unique ecosystem at the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center. Here, you can check out local frog and toad species at the Ribbit Exhibit, sign up for a squid dissection, or join a Sandbar Snorkeling Expedition.
On weekends, the Marketplace comes alive. You’ll find everything from locally crafted artwork and clothing to herbal remedies and Caribbean rum cakes.
Little ones can run amock on the splash pad or playground. Take a step into the past at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Or simply grab takeout from one of the many on-site restaurants and enjoy a picnic on the lawn.
About an hour away, St. Pete Pier is a great day trip from Sarasota. But if you’re just passing through town, it’s still an excellent place to stop and stretch your legs.
#2 Fort De Soto Park
Another spot to explore near St. Petersburg is Fort De Soto Park. Dating back to the Spanish-American War, this former stronghold covers five islands and over 1,100 acres of waterfront real estate.
Snorkeling, kayaking, and canoeing are popular pastimes. You might spot manatees, sea turtles, and other wildlife swimming among the mangroves. The serene waters of the back bays ensure you won’t have to fight too much of a current.
Back on land, you might walk, bike, or roller skate along the park’s paved nature trails. Pick up a permit and hunt for treasures with a metal detector.
If you’re a bird watcher, you can see hundreds of species at any given time. There’s even a dog beach and Paw Playground for your four-legged friends.
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Pinellas Byway will get you to the fort on Mullet Key. A self-guided tour leads you past Army barracks, the Captain’s Quarters, and an observation tower. Then, jump on the ferry to venture to the more remote islets.
Of course, Fort De Soto is a great Sarasota day trip. But if 24 hours isn’t enough time, overnight camping is also available on the island.
#3 Marie Selby Botanical Gardens Historic Spanish Point
You could visit the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens campus in downtown Sarasota. However, the one at Historic Spanish Point is a unique experience. It’s a lush greenspace, archaeological site, and museum rolled into one.
Explore the grounds, or sign up for a guided tour. Be sure to plan ahead, as you’ll need to reserve your spot a few weeks in advance. They also offer boat tours focusing on local ecosystems, maritime history, and some of the area’s notable early residents.
Check out the Butterfly House to surround yourself with colorful species such as monarchs, giant swallowtails, and zebra longwings. The flowers they feast from are abundant throughout the exhibit.
Walking through the gardens, you’ll see orchids, bromeliads, and other air plants. Check out the exotic blooms in the Tropical Conservatory and learn about your favorite flora in the Museum of Botany and the Arts.
Depending on when you visit, Michaels on East might be serving food on-site. Call ahead to see if they’ll be operating. If not, you can grab a bite in Sarasota before heading out on this day trip. Fortunately, it’s only 20 to 30 minutes from town, so you won’t go without a good meal.
Pro Tip: Check out Selby Botanical Gardens’ calendar of events for yoga classes, art lessons, and more!
#4 Historic Walking Tour of Downtown Venice
Much of Florida’s Gulf Coast caters to the modern tourist. You’re never far from high-end resorts, five-star restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. But historic downtown Venice lets you slip into the past and experience life in the Roaring 20s.
The entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places, so you know it’s authentic.
You’ll have your pick of docent-led walking tours throughout the area. In spring, you can book one through the Venice Museum and Archives. Their architectural historian will guide you past dozens of preserved locales, such as the Schoolcraft building and the Hotel Venice.
Ghost hunters can search for specters with Venice Florida Tours. You can taste local food and wine with Key Culinary and Sarasota Suncoast. In addition, the Venice Area Historical Society guides visitors through the 1926 train depot. With so many good options, it’s hard to go wrong.
The city is about 20 miles south of Sarasota, so it’s ideal for a day trip. Depending on traffic, it’ll take between 30 and 50 minutes to make the trek by car.
#5 Imagine Museum
Back in St. Petersburg, feast your eyes on some of the finest glassworks in the world at the Imagine Museum. This establishment features masterpieces from contemporary artists around the globe.
Included with the price of admission is an audio tour, so you’ll be able to take in the creativity at your own pace. In the theater, you can watch movies on the secrets of glassblowing. Throughout the building, spectacular pieces are on display that might make you rethink the limits of this craft.
And although you may hesitate to take children into a museum full of breakables, they have interactive games and scavenger hunts for kids of all ages.
On select Fridays, they host Sunset Markets. Vendors set up outside and sell an assortment of handmade items. The museum also offers extended hours every other Saturday and lowers the price of admission. Be sure to hit the gift shop on your way out to pick a piece or two you can’t live without.
If you’re taking a day trip from Sarasota, you’ll only be about 45 minutes away.
Explore more with The Greater Sarasota Area Bucket List.
So Many Exciting Day Trips Around Sarasota
Florida’s Gulf Coast is brimming with hidden gems. Historic towns, verdant gardens, and outdoor adventure seem to appear around every corner. Whatever you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it here.
Sarasota is no exception, offering endless day trips for eager explorers. If you plan a visit, give yourself an extra day or two to venture into the surrounding areas. You won’t want to miss a thing!
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