When most people think about Siesta Key and the surrounding areas, they think “spring break destination”. Spring break conjures up images of college kids drinking, partying, and acting like they’ve never been taught manners. Yes, Florida’s Gulf Coast definitely attracts a young crowd with lots of nightlife hotspots, and gorgeous beaches.
Gulf Coast Family Activities
SURPRISE! There’s also a ton of great places to eat and fun gulf coast family activities! Big kids, little kids, and those who are kids at heart, too.
Crystal Clear Water Beaches
Why do many New Yorkers like myself enjoy visiting the West Coast of Florida? It’s the beaches! There’s something about the aquamarine Gulf of Mexico. And the powder-like sandy beaches! They lure people in from around the world, not just from New York. The result of the popularity of the water and sand: overcrowding (and sometimes red tide)! However, if you plan your days well or stay at a property with private beach access, the beach is definitely family friendly!
Which beaches provide some of the best experiences?
- Manasota Beach – located in Englewood, not far from Venice, Florida and even though the sand isn’t as powder-like as Siesta Key, the water is just as beautiful! If you pack snacks and plenty of water, you can spend hours there with your family.
- Anna Maria Island Beaches – there’s multiple beaches to choose from and all provide gorgeous powder-sand beaches and the clear blue waters everyone loves. For a true beach vacation experience, renting a house right on the beach is possible on Anna Maria Island!
- Siesta Key Beach – the most famous of all the beaches in Sarasota, mainly thanks to a TV show based in the area, it’s always a great spot for families. There are multiple entry spots other than the public parking entrance at the main public beach. If you arrive early enough, the smaller access spots often have smaller parking areas and less congestion on the beach. There’s even one close to Siesta Key Village, which is great for snack and meal breaks for families!
Multiple beaches stretch along the west coast of Florida. Many can provide a great experience for adults. However, when visiting with family I find the best beaches are the ones with close access to food places, and spots to get out of the sun for short periods of time.
Best Outdoor Family Activities Around the Sarasota Area
Even with amazing beaches, you do need a bit of a break from them, right? However, on a gorgeous day no one wants to stay inside. In the Sarasota area there’s tons of family-friendly outdoor activities to enjoy beyond the beach. Get out and enjoy all that Florida’s West Coast has to offer!
TreeUmph! Adventure Course
Ever wondered what it would be like to fly high above the world going from one tree to the next? At TreeUmph! you can enjoy aerial adventure games, which includes flying from one tree to another like a bird! If part of your group isn’t ready to soar high above the world, there are aerial courses closer to the ground.
Sun Outdoors DAY PASS
Want to get away from the beaches for a day, but still want to enjoy the sun and water? Spend the day at Sun Outdoors! With a DAY PASS, you can enjoy the heated pool, Mega Waterslide, Splash Pad, along with tasty treats from the Poolside Bar & Grill!
Myakka Elephant Ranch
There’s something majestic about elephants, isn’t there? Learning more about them, and having the chance to interact with them is something you’ll never forget. Myakka Elephant Ranch is a nonprofit organization that provides visitors the opportunity to book experiences with their elephants:
- VIP Rise and Shine: spend an hour with us helping feed the elephants treats at breakfast time, learning more about them and even help bathe one Asian elephant.
- Elephant Care Workshop: learn about how the elephants are cared for, and even learn how they use their trunks to grab treats from you, followed by the chance to touch and even help bathe both an African and Asian elephant.
- the Elephant Spa Encounter: Two hours spent helping care for the elephants, followed by an educational encounter where you can learn just about everything ELEPHANT!
- Elephant Educational Encounter: enjoy 45 minutes learning all things ELEPHANT, with a great opportunity to touch an elephant and take a photo with an elephant!
- All of the experiences require pre-purchased tickets.
Myakka River State Park
Enjoy hiking, biking, fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking surrounded by arching palm trees, live oak trees and the gorgeous unspoiled wetlands, prairies, and more. Spending a day with your outdoorsy group of travel mates couldn’t be more enjoyable than exploring Florida’s oldest and largest parks, Myakka River State Park.
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
Founded in 1987, this facility is non-profit. It provides a permanent home for exotic animals, as well as a way to educate the public on conservation and animal care. The admissions fees go towards caring for the animals, so take a couple of hours to check out all the animals and learn more about them in a fun setting on a beautiful day.
Just to be clear, Sarasota’s Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary has absolutely no affiliation with Carole Baskin’s Tampa facility.
Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium
The Gulf Coast has a unique aquatic environment worth learning about at MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium! Plus, who doesn’t love checking out Manatees, stingrays, otters and turtles? One of the highlights of the aquarium is the turtle hospital. Sea Turtles are an important part of the area, and Mote is dedicated to helping the turtle population remain strong and respected by visitors, and natives of the Sarasota area.
Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy in Sarasota
Fun. Art. These are the two main concepts behind Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy. The eclectic paintings, sculptures and mixed media conjure up happy mojo feels. It’s a place to recharge your batteries, and to simply enjoy the visuals! All you’ll find yourself doing is smiling, laughing and appreciating the artists behind the whimsy.
Selby Gardens provides two different campuses: Downtown Sarasota and Historic Spanish Point. Both are equally beautiful, with Downtown Sarasota’s campus providing visitors with tons of gardens to explore and beautiful art located in one of the older structures on the property; and, Historic Spanish Point campus offering up Sarasota region’s only Butterfly House. Visiting both won’t disappoint!
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
One of my favorite ways to support locals as a tourist is finding family-owned attractions, and Sarasota Jungle Gardens is one of my favorite attractions to visit and spend money at. The park is fairly big, and you can spend a few hours enjoying all the various animals on a beautiful Sarasota day. It’s known for their flock of beautiful Flamingos that you can pay an extra fee to feed, but there’s plenty more to see and enjoy, including their daily educational (but fun) shows!
If you head to the park earlier, you can catch the Reptile Show, Jungle Bird Show and the Wildlife Wonder Show during your visit and still spend a great amount of time exploring the 1.2 mile jungle! Take a nice break and have a little lunch, or snack, too.
Parasailing in the Gulf of Mexico
Is there really anything better than flying over a gorgeous body of water with the wind in your hair? Doing it over the Gulf of Mexico’s crystal waters is truly an experience you do not want to miss out on. Siesta Key Watersports can provide not just parasailing adventures, but also jet ski rentals, dolphin tours, and boat rentals, too!
After a long day at the beach, a little dinner, sometimes you just want to have some giggles and maybe even a little fun competition after enjoying a gorgeous sunset on the beach. There’s nothing more fun than a game of miniature golf! Plus, they always have great snacks for the celebration!
St. Armands Circle
Spend a day exploring shops and restaurants at St. Armands Circle. It’s the mecca for all those who love to shop without being stuck inside a mall! Enjoy the open air as you walk from shop to shop, and the wide variety of restaurants to consume all your favorite foods.
It may not be in Sarasota County, but Bradenton Riverwalk is just a short drive to Manatee County and worth the trip! Enjoy outdoor living rooms to relax on comfortable seating, fish for native Manatee River fish off of the fish pier, check out live shows at Mosaic Amphitheater, a skate park, the family fun zone and splash pad and so much more! It’s truly a great way to spend the day when you’ve had enough of the local beaches and want to get away from the overcrowding in Siesta Key Village.
Indoor Activities for Families Visiting West Coast Florida
Rain happens in Florida. It isn’t a regular thing, but depending on when you visit the Sarasota area, you could run into some downpours that last longer than the typical hour. Whenever the rain hits, there’s plenty of options for indoor activities for your family to enjoy.
Jumpin Fun Inflata Park
Bouncing is the name of the game at Jumpin Fun Inflate Park. There’s plenty of attractions to enjoy, including the 250’ long zip rail coaster, AirRider and the Ninja Wall. For a full afternoon of fun on a rainy day, you can’t go wrong with this inflatable park. There’s even a toddler zone for the youngest members of your travel party.
Need a variety of entertainment for everyone’s dramatically different interests? Livingston’s Amusements offers an arcade, go-karts, bumper cars, billiards and if all you want to do is stay out of the rain and eat lots of snacks and drink lots of drinks as your kids play – you’ve found the perfect spot!
The Ringling Museum – Circus Museum
Love the circus? Want to know the behind the scenes secrets and the history behind Sarasota’s most famous family, the Ringlings and the most famous circus, the Ringling Brothers? Head to The Ringling Circus Museum. If you’re there to get out of a rainy period of the day, which is common in Sarasota, and the rain passes – you can enjoy the rest of The Ringling, including the Museum of Art, Bayfront Gardens and for a small extra fee, you can explore the inside of the Ca’ D’Zan, the former residence of John and Mable Ringling.
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
Car lovers, as well as those not even into cars, will love a trip to Sarasota Classic Car Museum. No matter who you are, when you see a classic car it just makes you smile thinking about what life was like when these automobiles were driving around less congested roads all across the world.
The Mall at University Town Center
Shopping, it’s often a favorite activity on a rainy day. What better place to go than one of the best malls in Sarasota, The Mall at UTC. Not only does this mall provide great shopping and restaurants, but there’s often events happening on the property inside the mall and out on the great lawn. If you visit the area around holidays like Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, or the 4th of July – there’s always something happening at UTC Mall.
One of their signature events is the Night Market once a month that features live music and a mix of local farmers, and local makers selling handmade items like art, jewelry and gifts. There are many other events like Cars & Coffee, UTC Fit, and UTC Live on the Green. It’s not just a mall, it’s an experience.
Don’t Forget About Sarasota Bay & the Mangrove Tours
Florida is known for many things beyond the beaches, Spanish moss, and palm trees. Southwest Florida is home to one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world and are definitely something you’ll want to experience for yourself. Plenty of places provide mangrove tunnel tours where they will guide you through the mangrove tunnels on Kayaks.
Explore the only trees that can grow in saltwater!
Indoor and Outdoor Family Activities on Florida’s West Coast
Florida’s west coast may be known for its spring break appeal to college students who want to blow off steam and have some fun, but it’s also a fantastic destination for families throughout the year. Depending on when you go, it’s important to have a wide range of activities on your itinerary. It allows you to switch it up in case of:
- red tide
- overcrowding during certain times of the day
Arm yourself with plenty of family friendly sarasota activities. Stay flexible with your schedule. You’ll enjoy a relaxing experience on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
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