With this new age of social media has come a growing amount of travel envy. Travel bloggers post beautiful pictures from far away places you have never been to and maybe never even heard of before. The result: more people then ever are filled with the need to escape to see the world and discover their own slice of the globe.
To me traveling isn’t always about going to popular destination with a lot of hype. It's more about discovery and adventure of the unknown. That is why on my last trip to Florida I was determined to see a side of Florida I had yet to discover, and boy did I find some magical spots!
Having been to Florida many times before and only last year discovering Tampa (which I love) I was excited to visit the beautiful beach town of Sarasota. I had heard many great things (there are a lot of people in Tampa who live in/are from Sarasota), about this small, posh, Central Florida beach town and needed to find out for myself if the rumors were true!
Sarasota is a small town with a population of approximately 53,000. Located on the southwest coast of Florida on the southern tip of the Tampa Bay area it's about an hour drive from the Tampa airport. Although you may not suspect it, Sarasota is known internationally for having the best beaches in the US! With their crystal blue water and white sand I can totally see why.
New to Sarasota (and where I stayed while in town) is the new Westin Sarasota. The rooms are clean, bright, and modern, and the hotel itself is an easy walk to many great attractions including Selby Gardens, downtown Sarasota restaurants, and their famous ‘Unconditional Surrender’ statue. I was so excited when I arrived I ran immediately up to their rooftop, which has both a great bar and a large pool, to check out their amazing view and enjoy a glass (or two) of rose during the sunset hours.
When in Sarasota there are so many great places to eat. Even before I checked in I went to Columbia Restaurant- a small Cuban/Spanish cuisine chain that started in Tampa (it happens to also be the oldest Spanish restaurant in the US). For over 50 years Columbia has had their location in Sarasota and when you walk inside today its still packed with patrons. It may be their table side demonstration of how they make pitchers of mojito, their awesome food, or their wrap around patio that keeps people coming back. Although I enjoyed all of those things for me it was also a great spot to hang out and people watch!
After you are done eating at Columbia you have to walk to Lido beach. An entrance to the beach is located only a 5 minute walk from the Columbia restaurant and takes your through a nice stretch of town with plenty of clothing stores, ice cream shops, and restaurants. It's here that I really experienced that posh, quaint, beach town vibe Sarasota is known for.
A few other great activities I would definitely recommend include checking out the Ringling Brother Museum and Selby Gardens! The Ringling Brothers, if you are not familiar, owned the largest traveling circus company in the US during the 19-20th century which was a huge source of entertainment at the time. Although the Ringling Circus had its last show in May 2017 you can still see memorabilia about and from the circus at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota.
The Ringling campus, which spans about 20 acres, also features Florida’s state art museums with over 10,000 pieces ranging from ancient antiques, paintings, and sculpture to more contemporary prints and photographs. While there you MUST also tour John and Mable Ringlings home, all of which was custom designed by Mable Ringling herself and features the most beautiful stain glass windows. Another MUST - a visit to the pink archways of the museum courtyard - its a dream!
Selby Gardens is another beautiful spot to check out when in Sarasota. An easy walk through the manicured greenhouse and garden reveals a variety of beautiful plant species, artwork, and plenty of places to take photos. In the middle of the gardens there is also a giant tree jungle gym for the kids with multiple levels. It kinda made me wish I was five again so I could join in! It looked so fun!
Before you leave town you have to visit the best beach (RANKED!) in the US - Siesta Key Beach. The sand at this beach is made up of mostly mineral quarts which causes the beach to appear a cool white and feel as fine as baby powder. To add even more appeal Siesta Key also features a really cute lifeguard station, which you are totally allowed to climb up on and watch the sunset from. I honestly wish I had brought a picnic because I didn't want to leave! The sand and water was so nice and the sunset that night was so purple, pink, and all kinds of beautiful.
If you happen to rent a car while in Central Florida I would also tell you to day trip (it's about an hour drive further south) to Englewood, Fl. One of the funnest activities I did on my last trip was a ‘Riding the Waves’ Barrier Island Eco Tour. Essentially, you are given a two person pontoon boat and get to drive up and down the bay with an instructor/leader. It was so fun to be out on the water, in the Florida sunshine, and to top it all off we saw an entire school of dolphins! A day and activity I will definitely never forget.
If you head out to Englewood there are two places close by in the town of Punta Gorda that I would also definitely recommend: Fisherman's Village - a market pier with numerous pastel colored building filled with numerous boutiques and restaurants, and Peace River Seafood and Crab Shack - a super popular and delicious crab shack with huge portions! YUM!
I had such a wonderful time discovering this new side of Florida and had one of the most magical trips yet. If you have any questions about any of the activities or spots mentioned above feel free to leave me message in the comments below! Until next time - Arrivederci!!