When I travel, food is pretty much a priority. I am who I am! Food is life for me. I need to know I’m going to have lots of unique options for not just my main meals but also snacks and treats. For me, vacation means eating all the things. I know I’m not the only one creating a vacation itinerary with local eateries baked into the fun! If you’re heading to West Coast Florida, let me offer some help choosing emerald coast restaurants (what I like to call the Emerald Coast is the entire Gulf Coast, not just Destin and the Panhandle). Believe me, there’s no lack of amazing gulf coast eateries you’ll want to enjoy alone, or with even the pickiest eaters in your travel party.
Emerald Coast Restaurants In and Around Sarasota
When traveling with family, specifically my teenagers, I have one picky eater. Now, there’s no way I’m going to base all of our dining options around his pickier palette. But, I do enjoy hitting some places that provide a wide variety of options so everyone finds something with minimal aggravation thrust upon me!
Leaning into local diners, or even chain restaurants helps alleviate some of the mealtime stress when out-and-about exploring west coast Florida’s Sarasota County. There’s so much to do and see, planning meal breaks sometimes means heading to places that offer options the whole family is used to, to avoid “hangry” situations! Diners and chain restaurants provide familiar options so everyone can find something to eat BEFORE a full-on meltdown happens, destroying the rest of your busy day you spent months planning!
Crager’s Family Diner
When traveling around Northern Sarasota, and you find yourself suffering from hunger pains, a fantastic local neighborhood spot that won’t let you down is Crager’s Family Diner. It’s located at 7218 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243. When driving around the area, you’d probably drive right by this old style diner thinking it wasn’t even open – but it is! Burgers, breakfast and everything in between is available to eat at the diner, or you can carry-out if you wish. However, sticking around means you experience great customer service with your meal!
Gecko’s Grill & Pub
Gecko’s Grill & Pub provides a familiar menu and a great atmosphere, especially if you want to watch some great games during some downtime on your gulf coast family vacation. There are currently six great locations offering lunch and dinner in a casual dining atmosphere, so you don’t have to worry if your kids are a little excited and full of energy. It’s a family-friendly restaurant offering plenty of great food options.
Fruitville: 351 N Cattleman Road, Sarasota
Hillview (Southside Village): 1900 Hillview Street, Sarasota
Twelve Oaks Plaza (SR70): 7228 55th Avenue E, Bradenton
Stickney Point & 41: 6606 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Braden River Plaza (SR64): 4310 SR 64 E, Bradenton
Clark Road: 5585 Palmer Crossing Circle, Sarasota
The great part about heading to Gecko’s is you know the food will be good, and the whole family will be able to find at least one thing they’ll enjoy without making the whole meal stressful.
The Cheesecake Factory
When enjoying The Mall at University Town Center (UTC) in Sarasota on maybe a rainy day, a tried and true meal time spot is The Cheesecake Factory that basically offers a bonafide BOOK as a menu, if your hungriest and pickiest eaters can’t find something to eat without complaining, you need to trade that family member in and cut your losses. KIDDING. But really, everyone knows the extensive menu and you can’t go wrong when you need something familiar during a rainy and busy day of traveling in Sarasota.
Gulf Coast Eateries in Historic Downtown Venice Beach & Venice
Sarasota County extends pretty far North, but it also extends South all the way down to Englewood, which means Venice, Florida is another great area to explore! And if you’re exploring, you need to eat. Luckily, there’s a mix of chain restaurants, along with smaller eateries you can enjoy in-between your visits to the amazing beach and downtown Venice area.
Again, when traveling with family, you have a variety of taste buds to juggle and looking for a diner is always a great idea. Down in Venice, one great chain diner that always serves large portions and has amazing customer service is Metro Diner located at 2053 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice. Metro Diners have locations throughout all of Florida, as well as Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Caroline, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Even though it’s a chain, it’s still serving up all the diner staples everyone loves like chicken sandwiches and all the breakfast favorites we all grew up with! Definitely experience Metro Diner for yourself.
Exploring Historic Downtown Venice Island can have you losing track of time! Plus, it can definitely make you hungry. If you’re looking to enjoy a great meal with excellent service, TJ Carney’s at 231 West Venice Avenue in the heart of downtown Venice Island hits it out of the park. The menu offers everything from French Onion Soup and Lobster Bisque to Pan-Blackened Red Snapper! Head there for lunch for burgers and salads, or a flatbread pizza.
If you want to join locals and fellow travelers for some fun, there’s also trivia nights, Karaoke, live music, and more. Don’t just head there for the food, make it a complete experience and make tons of memories with your family!
Gelato is my family’s treat of choice no matter what the temperatures are outside. We’ll eat it every day throughout the year, so during a vacation we tend to seek out local places offering gelato. Ciao Gelato located at 317A West Venice Avenue, Venice offers up amazing flavors of not just Gelato, but also sorbets, pastries and espresso. After a great meal over at TJ Carney’s, walk down the avenue to Ciao Gelato for some award winning after dinner desserts.
Enjoy Amazing Eats and Treats Around Siesta Key
The show stopping gem of all gems along the Sarasota County gulf coast is Siesta Key. The beaches provide the white powder sand that makes your toes feel like they’re on clouds, and the crystal aquamarine waters like you’ve never experienced before. People flock to Siesta Key beaches every day, as well as Siesta Key Village. It’s a huge hotspot for people of all ages, and thanks to the popularity of the area, the food options are mind blowing! There’s no way to cover all of them, so I’ll focus on just the sweet spots our family enjoys whilst in the Siesta Key area.
Places to Eat in Siesta Key Village
When you’re staying right in Siesta Key, and may not have a car readily available, there’s plenty of places to enjoy right in Siesta Key Village. I actually like that there aren’t waterfront eateries, because when red tide hits I prefer avoiding the odors when enjoying delicious meals, but still being close enough to head down for a quick beach visit. Siesta Key is beautiful even when red tide blooms, especially the sunsets. Granted, the prices are higher since it’s a tourist area that attracts people from not just all over the United States, but also the world, the local places can charge a bit more than the surrounding area eateries can charge.
Even with the higher price tags, the food is always worth it where we choose to eat!
Flavio’s Brick Oven Pizza & Bar Siesta Key
We’re an Italian family, so we’re big on Italian food. Flavio’s Brick Oven Pizza & Bar Siesta Key has some of the best food and service in the entire village. It also gives a nice little Italian lesson for the kids! Their menu is written in Italian, but provides descriptions written in English that explain what the meal is. However, if you need help with any part of the menu, the waiters are helpful and friendly.
You pay a handsome price, and the portion sizes are a bit uneven. Baked dishes are a bit smaller, but for a pasta dish they’re a good size. The quality and freshness of everything is worth the money. The garlic sauce that comes with the Mozzarella in Carrozza should be sold in stores, or at least to restaurant patrons. Everyone leaves this place with full, happy bellies.
Interested in getting away from the crowds, but still experience all that Flavio’s has to offer, Flavio’s On Main is located at 1766 Main Street, Sarasota.
After a full day at the beach, head to Ocean Boulevard and score a fresh fired pizza for yourself and your family. You can even head back to your hotel, or condo, and have Ripfire Pizza delivered using Door Dash or Bite Squad.
Everything at Ripfire is made in house using Caputo flour for their doughs, and San Marzano tomatoes in the sauce! Fresh Grande Mozzarella, imported Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and fresh basil and parsley are all incorporated into their pizzas, proving that fast food doesn’t have to start out frozen.
Want something lighter when your family wants pizza? There’s salad options, too!
Curly Cream Hand Rolled Ice Cream
Gelato isn’t all we eat as a treat when traveling around Florida, and many other places around the country. We’re also big on ice cream – and hand rolled ice cream provides not just a treat, but a show, too! Watching the team at Curly Cream Hand Rolled Ice Cream creates each order, you get to watch a great show! It’s like a science project every time.
There’s tons of options at the Siesta Key Village location, along with tons of toppings to choose from. Kids love the entire experience, and then gobble up the ice cream with smiles on their faces as you walk around Siesta Key Village.
Made In Rome Organic Gelato
Now, let’s not forget that Gelato truly is our treat of choice! There’s no way anyone should walk by Made in Rome Organic Gelato without stopping in and ordering one of the many 100% pure certified organic gelato flavors! Beyond this place being family-owned and that the gelato is organic, they cups and spoons they use are made of 100% recyclable corn fiber.
Service is fast and friendly, and they do pack a lot into those recyclable containers, or you can get a waffle cone! There’s also milk shakes, and you can get your after dinner shot of espresso (or a double shot if you need it to get you through long vacation nights).
This place will not disappoint your taste buds.
Pizza Place with Multiple Local Restaurants
If you want pizza that’s more like the pizza you’d find in the New York and New Jersey area, you’ll want to try Solorzano’s Pizzerias located in multiple spots throughout Sarasota:
- Gulf Gate
- Siesta Key
- Longboat Key
- University Parkway
The pizza is good, the prices are decent for the area, and they deliver! There’s even a gluten free pizza option, so there’s that!
Low Key Ice Cream Shop Off of Siesta Key
If you feel like getting away from the huge crowds and have a car, head off of Siesta Key and over to Abel’s Ice Cream located at 1886 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota. It’s not far from the Best Western and Tiny House Siesta!
All of their over 40 ice cream flavors are made right in Florida! Along with the piled high ice cream cones, and amazing root beer floats, they offer dairy-free ice cream. Let’s not forget the Sweet Shop USA hand-made chocolates, too. It doesn’t stop there, though. If you want to enjoy locally roasted coffee and Sarasota’s Tropical Shores Popcorn, you can buy it all at Abel’s.
Friendly and patient staff offer suggestions, and small tastes of the ice cream flavors. They want to make sure you leave happy with your treat purchase.
Mix Up Your Meal Locations
Traveling is always something you should look forward to, and if you plan your itinerary in advance, the fun really can be packed in! However, NEVER forget to include meal breaks throughout your vacation. Mix up your meal locations with local eateries, chain restaurants, and even work in time to stop for great ice cream and gelato treats so you can keep that energy up for all those fun vacation activities.
Food and travel go together like nachos and guacamole. Plan to experience the local spots and immerse yourself in the communities you’re visiting, but make sure to include restaurants everyone in the travel party will enjoy so you aren’t listening to constant complaining!
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