Sarasota is one of Florida’s arts and cultural capitals, famous for Siesta Key beach and the Ringling Circus. It is also home to an opera house, two symphonies, a world-class ballet company, many art galleries and even a fun gay scene.
We visited Sarasota as part of our big Florida road trip and loved it. There are so many things to do here to keep you busy, whether you visit exclusively or as an 'add on' to a trip to Orlando, which is just a two hour drive away.
1) Beach time at Siesta Key Beach (pictured above)
Sarasota actually has an official gay beach called North Lido, which is lined with pine trees making it quite secluded. But the famous beach which the city is famous for is Siesta Key Beach – also the name of that famous MTV reality show.
Siesta Key beach is rated as one of the best beaches in the US by Dr Beach and also by TripAdvisor. The reason? The water is clear, clean, and the sand is powdery white, like icing sugar as it is comprised of 99% pure Quartz.
Also, an added bonus, being west facing, the sunsets here every evening are stunning!
2) Watch a drag show at the gay bars
There are two main gay bars in Sarasota. The first is Purple Rhino, which has hilarious drag shows every evening and an infamous drag “Bingo Bash” on Sundays.
Oasis is the other main gay bar of Sarasota, which has sexy stripper boys gyrating across the bar and a drag show on Friday evenings by the city’s resident drag queen: Beneva Fruitville.
Other LGBTQ nights in Sarasota include the monthly Drag Queen Bingo Bonanza at the McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, the Opulence gay night at The Starlite Rooms on Fridays and the Sunday LGBT+ Coffee Hour Special at the Clever Cup Coffee Shop.
To find out more, check out our gay guide to Sarasota.
3) Try homemade rum at the Siesta Key Rum Distillery
Another claim to fame is the Siesta Key rum, popular throughout the States. The distillery where it’s made can be found right here in Sarasota.
We visited it and took their free guided tour, which went through the history of the rum, the many accolades they have won and the best part, the tasting session at the end.
Our favourite was the hand crafted Toasted Coconut Rum, which we highly recommend trying.
Handy tip: the bottles are super strong and literally smash proof (as the enthusiastic bar lady demonstrated by smashing it down on the bar table), so you can easily transport a few souvenir bottles back home.
4) Learn about the circus at the Ringling
The Ringling is a large complex which used to be the headquarters of one of the Ringling Bros – one of the largest circuses in the US in the late 19th and early 20th century.
At its peak, it was a massive mini-city that moved around the US performing at different cities every day.
It comprised of thousands of people working as performers, cooks, animal keepers, general staff, several tents, lots of equipment – enough to fill around 16 train coaches and 4 flat cars.
At one of the circus museums in the Ringling the entire circus has been recreated in miniature form so you get an idea of how big it once was.
This replica alone is worth checking out and damn impressive: created by Howard Tibbals and comprises 42,000 pieces, built over 60 years, making it the largest miniature circus model in the world.
Handy tip: the Ringling is free on Mondays (otherwise entry is $25 pp).
5) Visit one of the many gay events
Despite its small size, Sarasota has numerous LGBTQ festivals and exhibitions taking place throughout the year.
In January to March check out the outdoor international “Embracing Our Difference” exhibit and competition.
In terms of Pride events, there is on in March called Manatee Pride (a neighbouring county north of Sarasota), the Harvey Milk Festival in May and the Sarasota PrideFest in October.
There is also the Fabulous Independent Film Festival in September.
6) Bayfront Park and Marina
The Bayfront Park and Marina is one of the coolest spots in Sarasota to hangout.
It is located near the Ringling Bridge in the downtown area, near the iconic “Unconditional Surrender” statue. This area has been decorated with paved walkways, parks, lots of green spaces and cool bars to hang out.
Some of the best include O'Leary's Tiki Bar & Grill where there are live performers every day and Marina Jacks which also has live music (ticketed) shows.
The Nomadic Boys are gay couple Stefan and Sebastien, who quit their jobs in London in 2014 to travel the world.
Their visit to Sarasota was part of their big road trip around Florida. For more inspiration, check out their romantic guide to Sarasota.