Best Romantic Things to Do in Sarasota FL

WHY GO: Are you trying to figure out the best romantic things to do in Sarasota, Florida? And, how did this city on Florida’s mid-west coast get so buzzy anyway?

Sure, the Ringling Museum has been drawing fans from all over the United States for decades. And, the city has always been the gateway to Siesta Key, Lido Beach, and Longboat Key.

But lately, there seem to be more live theaters and top restaurants. And greater Sarasota is still growing by leaps and bounds. 

The Ringling Mansion and Museums Sarasota FL

If you haven’t been to the Sarasota area in a while, and all you remember is taking your kids to the Mom and Pop Sarasota Jungle Gardens, it’s time to revisit.

I’d wager you’d be surprised at the amount of growth –a bit too much growth, some locals might say – as the city spreads eastward towards communities like Lakewood Ranch.  

However, with this growth comes more theater, more arts, and top chefs establishing a foothold in anticipation of boatloads more to come. So, discover what to do in Sarasota FL right now with the Getaway Mavens suggestions below.

Want to check out great things to do in Central Florida? Check out our Things To Do In Orlando Besides Theme Parks post. Or, how about romance on Florida’s East Coast?

Singer Island off of West Palm Beach is our intriguing option, but we adore all the things to do Vero Beach too. Sarasota is one of the 5 Best Romantic Getaways in Florida.

Most Romantic Things To Do in Sarasota FL

TOUR: The Ringling  

Have you been watching HBO’s The Gilded Age? Then, you’re in for a treat. John Ringling purchased two massive rooms from the Astor Mansion on 61st & 5th in NYC, that were slated for demolition in 1926, and installed them in the Art Museum he left to the people of Florida.  

Entrance to The Ringling Museum Sarasota FL

Plan at least half a day if you want to do this complex justice. The Ringling – a 66-acre fusion of world-class art museum, Circus emporium, John and Mable Ringling’s waterfront mansion (Ca’d’Zan), and spectacular gardens – is the #1 attraction in Sarasota for very good reason.  

Start in the John M. McCay Visitor’s Pavilion. If you have the time, purchase a ticket that allows you to access the Art Museum, Circus Museum, and Ringling’s mansion, along with the multiple gardens.  

Astor Mansion NYC room at Ringling Art Museum Sarasota FL

Ringling, whose name is synonymous with “The Greatest Show on Earth,” made his fortune in circus entertainment, railroads, oil, and other entrepreneurial endeavors.

He and his wife collected Greek and Roman antiquities and Medieval and Renaissance Art and then built a 21-gallery palace around a sculpture-studded central courtyard to house it all. The building is just as monumental as the art within, and one of the coolest  

Ca'd'Zan John and Mable Ringling seaside home Sarasota


Ca’d’Zan, the Ringling’s seasonal home, is a spectacular study in Italianate, almost Moorish, architecture.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the first floor, where docents are posted in various rooms. It’s no wonder that the patio outside, overlooking the water, is a popular wedding venue.  

Pay your respects to John and Mable Ringling – who left this property to the people of Florida to enjoy. They rest eternally here in a graveyard just behind their beloved Ca’d’Zan.

Ringling Circus Museum at The Ringling Sarasota

Ringling’s masterpiece – his traveling circus – is represented on site in its own “Big Top” Museum. At the moment (Feb. 2022), the second floor is undergoing renovations, but the ground-floor exhibits are open.

You’ll find the Ringling Museum Complex across the street from the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. If you’re into old, premium automobiles, it’s just a 3 minute walk away.

VISIT: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens  

Visiting the gemlike Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of the best things to do in Sarasota. You can tell how beloved this very accessible bayside attraction is by its membership, friendly volunteers, and by numerous visitors on a midweek February day.

Waterfall at Marie Selby Botanical Garden Sarasota

There’s a Bonsai exhibit, manmade waterfalls, and vistas out to marinas and Sarasota downtown.  

Pathways curl around roots of massive Banyan Trees and through various gardens and tree outcroppings. The Children’s area features terraced boardwalks and elevated gazebos from which to observe the goings on below.  

Water view Myakka River State Park Sarasota

EXPLORE: Myakka River State Park  

Oak trees, dripping with Spanish Moss, line the trails and pathways of otherworldly Myakka River State Park. In many ways, Myakka is Old Florida ying to the state’s mushrooming development yang – and one way to experience what vacationers to this tropical land did in the mid-1900s.  

While the main attraction is an hour nature cruise on the lake, you’ll want to walk on several trails throughout this 58 square mile park to see a variety of flora and fauna. The park is a bonanza of Pinewood, Prairies, and Wetlands.  

Birds airplane Spanish Moss at Myakka SP Sarasota

The pathway closest to the boat dock brings you to a small inlet, where you’ll see an abundance of alligators and a variety of birds – some rare.  

This is also a favorite spot for landscape artists. Branches dripping with air plants (aka Spanish Moss), patches of marsh grass, strutting Egrets, water views, and the sporadic appearance of a seaplane, make for a picturesque composition.  

Spanish Moss trees Myakka River SP FL

As this small lake isn’t fed by streams or springs – but by rain alone – its depth in some places is just two feet in drier years (like 2022). During your narrated cruise, there is a possibility that your pontoon boat will get caught in the mud.  

In that situation, a brave soul will arrive in a dinghy called “Lil’ Help,” and push the bigger boat out. I say “brave soul” because the water is inundated with alligators. These guys seem to be used to it, however.  

Bird Watching Boardwalk Myakka River SP

Before leaving the park, be sure to walk out on the Bird Watching Boardwalk. While you may not see wildlife as close as you would on the boat or on trails, it’s the best way to get an overview of the lake – and some nice pics.  

If you leave late in the day, revel in those spectral oak trees. The afternoon sun, filtering through the misnamed Spanish Moss (“which is neither Spanish, nor moss,” according to the boat pilot), is worth the price of admission.  

Lido Beach white sands Sarasota FL

BEACH: Lido Key Beach  

Even at the height of the prime season, you’ll find ample room on the soft white Lido Beach at the southern end of Longboat Key.

There are several access points, but the one from St. Armand’s Circle offers outdoor showers for sandy bodies and feet.  

Lido Beach in Sarasota FL

BE AWARE: Sea Turtle Nesting And Hatching

Sarasota County is home to the densest loggerhead sea turtle nesting in the Gulf of Mexico. From early May through October, both Loggerheads and Green Sea Turtles lay their eggs in the sand, hatching later in the season and making a run for it towards the lapping waves. The best place to watch this is on Siesta Key in Sarasota.

DO: Sunday Drum Circle, Siesta Key

Salute the setting sun with dozens of other sunset aficionados, with the beating of drums and other forms of merriment on the public beach in Siesta Key.

Likeminded folks converge on the sand about an hour before the sunset for the Sunday Drum Circle year round. Bring a hand-drum, or just your enthusiasm. It’s all good. Namaste.

St. Armands Circle Sarasota FL

SHOP: St. Armand’s Circle  

You won’t find many “Big Box” stores in this area of Sarasota, right across the bridge from downtown. (Park around St. Armand’s, and you can just walk onto Lido Beach). The circle and its offshoots are lined with restaurants, shops, and art galleries.  

Most of these establishments aren’t “downtown trendy,” but more modest in scope. Actually, I was reminded of an older Florida when it was kind of cool to be casual here.  

VISIT: Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary

Even though it’s billed as a wild big cat preserve, the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary harbors other animals as well.

So, yes, you’ll see Lions, and Tigers, and Bears there, as well as primates, birds, and sweet docile creatures in the petting zoo.

Tube Dude Art Gallery Sarasota FL

Sure, Sarasota has some funky art galleries. But Tube Dude stands out for its colorful twisty bendy sculptural stick figures. Evidently, his style is well-received, especially around here. We saw plenty of Tube Dude mailboxes on our drives around Sarasota.  


Visit Sarasota for its live theaters, and you’ll be confronted by an embarrassment of riches. There’s the 1,736-seat Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall; the historic Asolo Theater at the Ringling; the Florida Studio Theater (FST); Urbanite Theater of Sarasota; Westcoast Black Theater Troup; Sarasota Opera House, and so many more to name.  

Sarasota FL Restaurants 

EAT: Kojo  

This hot new downtown Sarasota restaurant, KOJO, was an instant favorite. Service is friendly, and attentive, and the food is inventive.

Start with a craft cocktail (my choice – Lychee Martini), and continue with the truffle oil Tuna Pizza (crowned with a colorful bloom) and the addictive Szechuan Chicken Wings.

Tuna PIzza KoJo Restaurant Sarasota FL

Presentations can be cool, like the Tea Smoked Chicken emerging table-side from its swirling glass bell jar, juicy and flavorful. So far, KoJo is winning raves – and if it continues the way its going, will continue to do so.  

EAT: Selva  

This Peruvian-American fusion downtown Sarasota restaurant is so excellent, owners had to open up a second location out west near Lakewood Ranch in University Town Center (the larger one).  

Selva excels in ceviches (there are 9 on the diner menu), and all surf and turf options.

My fantastic Tuna Tartar tower was stacked alternately with cubes of fresh fish and watermelon. A twist on the traditional ceviche if there ever was one.    

Good Liquid Brewing Co outdoor patio Lakewood Ranch FL

EAT/DRINK: Good Liquid Brewing Co., Lake Wood Ranch  

That Good Liquid Brewing just established this outpost in Lakewood Ranch is evidence that the population is growing eastward and taking downtown’s best with it.  

The elevated pub food is excellent – especially when paired with a sunset over the Lake. The place was humming on a random February weeknight; apparently, locals have been waiting for this place to open and have started coming in droves.  

ICE CREAM: Main St. Creamery  

The Pennsylvania Dutch know their dairy. So it’s no surprise that Main St. Creamery, the purveyor of Yoder’s Ice Cream, has some of the best ice creams in Florida. The lines outside, on any given night, attest to its silky smooth deliciousness.  

Sarasota Downtown sidewalk dining

EAT: Locals Love  

Sarasota has an overwhelming number of good restaurants. Too many to post here. Lately, though, people have been buzzing about Owen’s Fish Camp, Duval’s, Screaming Goat Taqueria, and G’s Southern Kitchen west of downtown.

More and more are cropping up every week – especially in developing communities like Lakewood Ranch (see Good Liquid Brewing above).  

Far view of downtown Sarasota FL on the waterfront

Where to Stay in Sarasota FL  

There is no shortage of lodging in Sarasota. You’ll find everything from the Ritz Carlton to Mom and Pop hotels, and all room types in between.

Boutiques – like Art Ovation (Autograph Collection, and Hotel Indigo, have made a splash.

And beach resorts – like Longboat Key Beach Resort, and Lido Beach Resort, have stood the test of time.

Add airbnb and VRBO to the mix, and you’ve got a cornucopia of highly recommended places to choose from.

Romantic Weekend Getaways In Florida


  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

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