Sarasota – the ideal winter home for Canadian snowbirds!
Beyond Sarasota County’s beautiful Gulf Coast beaches lies a haven of arts and culture, eclectic events and exquisite dining. This is one of the main reasons Sarasota is so popular with snowbirds. It is SO much more than a beach.
The recent growth in areas such as Sarasota’s Rosemary District, Newtown, and the southern City of North Port means there are a variety of new ways to experience the destination - whether it’s for the first time or the tenth.
Sarasota County encompasses nearly 40 miles of shoreline and includes the City of Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Englewood, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Osprey & Nokomis, City of North Port, and the City of Venice.
Known as Florida’s Cultural Coast®, Sarasota has the only professional ballet, professional opera and professional orchestra on Florida’s West Coast, alongside more than ten theatres, 13 stages and the State’s Art Museum, The Ringling.
Famously renowned as the historical winter home for the Ringling Bros. Circus, visitors can check out The Ringling Circus Museum, and for live circus entertainment they can head to the Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus performances at select times throughout the year.
Sarasota County is home to two state parks in Sarasota County, Myakka River State Park and Oscar Scherer State Park, offer bountiful opportunities to commune with nature. Camping, kayaking, and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the County.
Surrounded by both fresh and saltwater, there are a variety of outdoor activities including, kayaking the mangroves, a tour of Sarasota Bay on a Cruisin’ Tiki, searching for shark’s teeth at Caspersen Beach and gathering for Siesta Key Beach’s sunset drum circle.
The City of Sarasota has one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in the state of Florida, with fresh and local fare as the cornerstone of most dining Sarasota options. With this, there are a variety of restaurants and Chefs who focus on farm-to-table, sea-to-table, gluten-free, vegan and locally sourced / sustainable sources.
Enjoy a walk around St. Armands Circle and delight in more than 100 shops and restaurants set just steps from the sandy white shores of Lido Beach or stroll Dearborn Street in Englewood, Venice Main Street in Venice or the five districts around Downtown Sarasota. The Mall at University Town Center opened just steps from Nathan Benderson Park with Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Dillard’s as anchor stores. The mall joins Westfield Southgate Mall, Westfield Sarasota Square and Ellenton Premium Outlets to offer numerous choices for shoppers.
With attractions such as Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, home to more than 100 marine species and features touch pools, working labs, and interactive exhibits, and Sarasota Jungle Gardens, featuring 150 native and exotic animals on display from parrots and iguanas to alligators and primates, Sarasota County offers various opportunities to get up close with wild animals. It doesn’t stop with marine and jungle creatures though. Be sure to look up Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary and Sarasota Sea Lion Preserve as well!
Local Snowbird Community
Sarasota has a large, vibrant community of Canadian and American winter residents who spend 1 – 6 months in the area, providing endless opportunities to socialize with other snowbirds who have similar lifestyles and interests.
Many are repeat visitors who have been spending their winters in Sarasota for years, and some have bought condos or homes in the area.
Local businesses, restaurants and attractions also appreciate and cater to snowbirds who make up an important part of the local economy.
Several condo complexes, golf and country clubs and residential communities cater to the snowbird demographic, so there are plenty of options to stay in communities with lots of winter residents and activities that are geared to this demographic.
However, if mingling with other snowbirds isn’t your scene, you can certainly find many options in Sarasota to live privately and just do your own thing. It is a sophisticated city with beautiful homes and many condo options - downtown, at the beach or inland at peaceful country club communities.
Getting to Sarasota
Snowbirds have a variety of convenient options to travel to and from Sarasota:
Non-stop flight from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) to Toronto, Canada (YYZ) via Air Canada. The frequency is daily in the winter/spring.
Nonstop flights from Tampa International Airport (TPA) to Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto via Air Canada, Westjet and Air Transat. TPA is about 1 to 1.5 hours north of Sarasota County and is an easy drive via Interstate 275.
It is quite common for Eastern Canadian visitors to drive to Sarasota County. Whether via I-77 S, I-75 S or I-95 S, the drive takes about 22 hours from Ontario & Quebec.
Sarasota County’s peak season is Jan-April. It is usually sunny, between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit and there usually isn’t rain or high humidity yet (high humidity and afternoon showers begin in late May and continue throughout the summer and fall).
Terrain & Landscape
Barrier islands hug Sarasota County’s 40 miles of coastline. The barrier islands, many called “keys,” each have their own personality. The beaches along the coasts of these areas range from calm and tapered to lively and expansive.
Hike, paddle, bike, fish or sit back in a natural paradise. Wetlands, lakes and a river interconnect throughout Myakka River State Park, one of the state’s oldest and largest parks, and Oscar Scherer State Park offers 1400 acres and 15 miles of trails to explore- either on bike, by foot, or on a tram or boat tour, along with access to the Legacy Trail. The Celery Fields offers exceptional opportunities to observe more than 270 species of birds nesting and foraging in their natural habitat. On the west coast of the county, there are beautiful sunsets, mangrove tunnels and world-renowned soft, white sand.
From the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the lush landscape and wildlife that call this sub-tropical destination home, Sarasota County offers nature lovers and eco-friendly travelers ample opportunities to explore the outdoors by land and by sea.
Running through the heart of downtown Sarasota is Main Street, and branching off this main drag are colourfully named streets such as Pineapple, Orange, Lemon and Palm. More shops and colourful bungalows turned into bakeries, galleries, salons and yoga studios surround central downtown and are divided into five districts: Burns Court, Towles Court, Rosemary District, Historic Palm Avenue and Gillespie Park. Even more is waiting to be discovered at Bayfront Park, Southside Village and other nearby locales.
Accommodations & Where to Stay
Snowbirds spending part or all of the winter in Sarasota have a variety of accommodation options to choose from, including hotels, luxury hotels and resorts, boutique hotels, vacation rentals, condos, campgrounds and RV parks.
Rent a condo for a week or a month, or just book a last-minute escape at a full-service luxury resort. No matter where you stay, you'll be minutes away from a beach, attractions, shopping districts and much more.
Accommodations are on the rise in Sarasota County. Since 2018, Sarasota has welcomed more than 1,000 new rooms, and some of the new hotels include, The Westin, Art Ovation, Embassy Suites, The Sarasota Modern and Carlisle Inn. If you want to try tiny living, try Tiny House Siesta for a truly unique option.
Sun N Fun Resort is an award-winning luxury resort, widely recognized as one of the premier RV resorts in the world. As the crown jewel of Florida’s sun-drenched coast, they provide Sarasota vacation rentals and an active, social winter lifestyle with over 150 activities. The resort also features an amazing array of amenities, including a mega-slide, an indoor fitness pool and wellness center, an Olympic-size outdoor heated pool, and two bark parks.
Venice and Venice Beach, once a fishing and farming community, has blossomed into a vacation destination, where families play in the surf, hunt for prehistoric shark teeth, shop through historic downtown, bike around the Venetian Waterway Trail and “catch the big one” at the Venice Pier.
Sarasota County has a plethora of options for snowbirds to winter in a vacation home for a month or longer. Gulf Coast Holiday Homes & Condos, Florida Rental By Owners, Coldwell Banker Vacations and PepperTree Bay all have great options. But, once you’ve been here and have fallen in love and want to stay permanently– you’ll need a realtor to help discover your forever home!
There are many things to see and do in the area, so you won’t run out of options no matter how long you stay or how many times you come back. Here’s a list of some of the top attractions:
- The Ringling - The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida, is home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States. Spend a day or two exploring the 66 acre estate of John and Mable Ringling which also includes the Circus Museum, Ca' d'Zan, The Historic Asolo Theater, Bayfront Gardens and more.
- Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium - Explore the secrets of the sea through touch pools, viewable working labs, and high-tech interactive exhibits that showcase the world-renowned research of the adjoining Mote Marine Laboratory. See more than 100 marine species – most found in Florida waters – including sharks, manatees, sea turtles and fish of all shapes and sizes.
- Marie Selby Botanical Gardens - It is the only botanical garden dedicated to the study and conservation of epiphytes - or air plants - like orchids, bromeliads and gesneriads. Activities include a children’s rainforest garden, tropical glass house conservatory and 15 acres of lush grounds with two historic homes, including the Museum of Botany & the Arts. On-site dining, a plant shop and year-round special events offer numerous reasons to return frequently.
- Sarasota Jungle Gardens - Pose with a parrot, hold a snake, see crocodiles, alligators, ring-tailed lemurs and many other rescued animals among our beautiful gardens.
- Sarasota Ski-A-Rees Water Ski Show Team – A Sarasota tradition for over 50 years, this nationally-recognized, award-winning water ski team offers free shows every Sundays at 2:00 pm from February – May and October - November.
- Two spring training teams and stadiums – February/March are great months to catch some MLB Spring Training Baseball. The Baltimore Orioles spring train at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, and the Atlanta Braves train at CoolToday Park in North Port.
- Visit a State Park - Sarasota County is home to one of Florida's oldest and most scenic parks, Myakka River State Park. East of Sarasota, this expansive piece of natural Florida encompasses acres of shady moss-covered oak trees, riverine forests, wetlands, and prairies with walking trails and birding vistas. Myakka's treetop canopy walk opens a panorama of bromeliads, lichens, birds and wildlife. And don't miss a ride on the old-timey Myakka airboats to spot the alligators, the real "stars" of Myakka.
- Historic Spanish Point - Nestled far back off Tamiami Trail in sleepy Osprey lies a verdant oasis rich with history. The 30-acre parcel of waterfront land has been inhabited by humans since 300 A.D. Although there are no longer any full-time residents, there are plenty of inquisitive visitors every day eager to learn about its long and varied history.
- Take a guided tour of Sarasota County – Whether you want to simply explore, Sarasota Walking tours will explore our Scottish roots, Around the Bend Nature Tours will take you into the wild, Sarasota Suncoast Tours and Discover Sarasota Tours offer fun insights into the secrets of Sarasota, SRQ Fun Trolley Tours offers changing themes for their tours (micro-brewery tour anyone?). If you are a foodie, eat your way around Sarasota with Key Culinary Tours. If you want to get out on the water – Fun Boat Tours offers nature, sunset and sandbar adventures.
- Sarasota Classic Car Museum is the second oldest operating classic car museum in the country. Here, you can travel back in time and step into the future of man’s greatest invention.
Culture & Entertainment
If you’re looking to take in the arts and culture during your winters away, Sarasota has so much to offer. The city has many theatres, a concert hall, opera, ballet and a symphony orchestra. There are also many galleries.
There are nine performing art organization less than a mile from the center of Sarasota (downtown at Main and Pineapple): Sarasota Opera, Florida Studio Theatre (5 stages), Urbanite Theatre, Sarasota Contemporary Dance, The Players Centre for Performing Arts, Sarasota Orchestra, McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and the Key Chorale.
There are 81 and counting pieces of art in the City of Sarasota’s Public Arts Collection.
The Circus Arts Conservatory leads the way in cultivating and enriching circus legacy on Florida's Gulf Coast.
As Florida Gulf Coast’s first and only professional ballet company, The Sarasota Ballet company is currently under the direction of Director Iain Webb, and the company presents seven productions. The Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is one of the few schools in the United States specializing in the Cuban training style, which is renowned for its athleticism, passion and grace. The school presents 5 amazing performances throughout the area.
The Center for Architecture Sarasota provides seasonal architecture trolley tours from October-May as well as lectures, films, home walking tours and gallery exhibits meant to engage the public about architecture and design in Sarasota.
Art galleries can be found throughout Sarasota County including Art Center Sarasota, Art Uptown, North Port Art Center, Madeby Gallery at Ringling College of Art + Design, Linda Richichi, Venice Art Center, Clyde Butcher Fine Art Black & White Photography , Art and Antique Center Sarasota ,Marietta Museum of Art & Whimsy and Chasen Galleries -to name a few!!
Food & Dining
Sarasota is home to award-winning and legendary restaurants. Sarasota County is brimming with culinary experiences. From outdoor dining, fresh, local seafood to authentic Amish cuisine and new restaurants popping up monthly, Sarasota hosts the most restaurants per capita for small cities.
Michael’s on East, winner of AAA’s Four Diamond Award for almost 30 years, recognized by Wine Spectator with a Best of Award of Excellence for the past two years and named to Florida Trend’s 2018 Golden Spoon Hall of Fame, is Sarasota’s iconic fine dining restaurant. Expert service staff attend to every detail, and it’s not uncommon for the owners to stop by the tables to welcome guests. Seasonal produce and locally sourced seafood and meats are mixed with flavours from around the world to create a carefully curated menu. The wine list contains many selections pulled from their wine cellar of more than 12,000 bottles. Michael’s Piano Bar entices guests with classic tunes Tuesday through Saturday evenings.
Craft beverages: Beer aficionados can enjoy local brews on tap at several establishments, including JDubs Brewing Co., Calusa Brewing, Big Top Brewery and the area’s first micro-brew pub, Sarasota Brewing Company. Drum Circle Distillery distills small-batch rums in copper still pots, named Siesta Key Rum. Winning numerous awards in the past several years, the rum varietals may be mixed or drunk straight. Tours are available at the Distillery on select dates and times. The tasting room is open daily, except for major holidays, and does not require a reservation.
Sarasota is home to large Amish and Mennonite communities, which offer outstanding restaurants options, most notably, Yoder’s Restaurant (you HAVE to try their pie!), and for more pie and amazing brined chicken, head to Der Dutchman Restaurant.
Eating and drinking your way through Sarasota’s culinary scene could take weeks, unless you time your vacation to coincide with one of the area’s food and beverage festivals. Sarasota is home to many memorable dining spots that are uniquely Sarasota!
Festivals & Events
Sarasota is brimming with festivals and events from November through April. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- Sarasota Medieval Fair - November
- Siesta Key Crystal Classic – November
- Sarasota Polo Season – December - April
- Thunder By The Bay - February
- Suncoast BBQ and Bluegrass Bash – March
- Whiskey Obsession Festival – April
- Sarasota Film Festival – April
- Sarasota Chalk Festival – April (Sarasota); November (Venice)
- All The Farmer’s Markets – Year-round
Sarasota is home to many sports organizations so there’s plenty to see while you are there in the winter months.
Rowing - With the recent designation as host of the 2017 World Rowing Championships, the Sarasota-Bradenton area is quickly making its mark on the national map as a hub for rowing events of all kinds. Regattas typically take place February through April at Nathan Benderson Park and are open to the public.
MLB spring training – Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves call Sarasota County home. 2020 will be the first season in Sarasota County for the Braves. And the Pittsburgh Pirates winter in nearby Bradenton.
Polo - Sarasota's rich culture, world-class dining, and luxury hotels have attracted polo enthusiasts from around the world. Matches at Sarasota Polo at Lakewood Ranch are open to the public each Sunday throughout the winter season. Themed tailgates, dress competitions, and exquisite food and beverages round out the full experience.
Fox Lea Farm is one of the few privately-owned equestrian facilities in the state. Hunter jumper, quarter horse, Appaloosa and dressage shows have all been held at this facility. In addition to bleachers and viewing pavilions, an on-site café is open for every event.
Bike Racing - Serving as the country’s oldest continuously running BMX track, the Sarasota BMX Track received facelift including an eight-meter ramp and dual-purpose amateur and Supercross track. In addition to BMX, Strider has become a widely popular activity at the facility with its own specialized track.
Tennis - The Resort at Longboat Key Club is one of the nation’s top ten tennis resorts offering 20 Har-Tru courts and stadium seating for up to 3,500 at its USTA Award-winning facility. In addition to 29 tennis courts, Payne Park Tennis Center, conveniently located in downtown Sarasota, features an additional twelve tennis courts. The Sarasota Open is on the ATP Tour and is held every April.
There are several malls in and around Sarasota - and lots of boutiques in the downtown area and on St. Armand’s Circle.
Enjoy a walk around iconic St. Armands Circle and delight in more than 100 shops and restaurants set just steps from the sandy white shores of Lido Beach.
The Mall at University Town Center opened just steps from Nathan Benderson Park with Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Dillard’s as anchor stores.
The mall joins Westfield Siesta Key, Westfield Sarasota Square and the nearby Ellenton Premium Outlets to offer numerous choices for shoppers.
Fitness & Recreation
Keeping fit in Sarasota County is easy and fun – starting with beach walking on Siesta Key Beach or Longboat Key beach.
The City of Venice was named a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community in 2016 and the Legacy Trail, a bike path connecting communities across Sarasota County offers a Surrey Program for the mobility-challenged from January - March so they may enjoy the trail as well.
Sarasota County is a Runner Friendly Community and offers several 5Ks and half marathons throughout the year.
Two state parks in Sarasota County - Myakka River State Park and Oscar Scherer State Park - offer bountiful opportunities to commune with nature. Camping, kayaking, and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the County.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club is recognized internationally for its tennis facilities, challenging golf courses, dining, and waterfront oasis.
Golf – All four corners of Sarasota County offer many golf courses, but which one will you play best?
Yoga – From indoors to outdoors, you can do yoga almost anywhere! Not sure where to start? Go downtown with Pineapple Yoga, Cycling and Fitness Studio or head to the island of Siesta Key for Mandala Med-Spa & Yoga Shala.
Epic Equine Experiences offer custom horseback trail riding experiences with a chef-made meal to accompany the adventure.
Spend the winter taking a class or learning a new skill. Sarasota offers a variety of lifelong learning options that are ideal for snowbirds. Whether you’re interested in art, languages, cooking, music or any other topic, there’s a class for you. Here are just some of the lifelong learning opportunities in the area:
- Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Ringling College (OLLI)
- Sarasota County Schools Adult and Community Enrichment Program (ACE)
- Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning (SILL)
- Theatre and Comedy classes at Humor Institute at McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, The Players Centre and Venice Theatre, and art appreciation and studio classes at The Ringling, Art Center Sarasota, North Port Art Center, Florida Studio Theatre Improv and the Circus Arts Conservatory.
- The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension in Sarasota County provides a variety of practical education classes and events for the public, ranging from sustainable living workshops on topics like solar energy, rain barrels, and home canning, to Sarasota-specific wildlife education classes, or fun and unusual lectures like NASA Space Plant Biology: Growing Veggies in Space.
Health & Medical Facilities
While we hope you never have to use them, you can take comfort in the fact that Sarasota has a vast number of medical clinics and doctors specializing in all types of services should you require medical attention over the winter. There are also many dentists and oral surgeons.
Here are just a few of the local health and medical facilities:
- Sarasota Memorial Hospital - Sarasota Memorial is a full-service health system, with specialized expertise in heart, vascular, cancer and neuroscience services, as well as a network of outpatient centers, long-term care and rehabilitation among its many programs. It is the only hospital in Sarasota County providing a Level II Trauma Center.
- AFC Urgent Care Center is available for minor emergencies.
- Doctors Hospital - Doctors Hospital of Sarasota is a full-service, emergency care facility specializing in orthopedics & heart health in the Sarasota, FL area.
- Venice Regional Bayfront Health is a 312 bed, acute care hospital providing a comprehensive array of health care services to the greater Venice Area.
- Siesta Family Dentistry
For snowbirds spending the winter, it’s always nice to have the option to break things up with a little excursion or two. If you’re in the mood to try something different, here are a few excursions available in the Sarasota area.
- Fly high in the trees at Tree Umph! Adventure Course
- Visit a working Dairy Farm just 45 minutes from downtown Sarasota.
- Canoe Outpost promises a canoe adventure into old Florida along the Peace River.
- Prospect Riding Center specializes in therapeutic horseback riding and offers recreational rides as well.
- The Key West Express will ferry you to the Southern-most point in the U.S. in just 4 short hours. Stay for the day or stay for the weekend!
Deals for Canadians
Snowbirds can find the latest local offers anytime by visiting the Deals page on Visit Sarasota’s website.
Interested in taking a cruise while you’re spending the winter in Sarasota? You’ll find plenty of options at these two ports:
- Port of Tampa Bay is the closest cruise port from Sarasota County, being just one hour away. Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean sail from the port.
- Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is ranked second among cruise ports worldwide and is 3 hours from Sarasota County. This port has more homeported cruise ships than any other port. Click here for a list of the 12 cruise lines operating from here.
Cost of Living
During peak season, it will be more expensive to travel to Sarasota County, but there are options for everyone – limited-service hotels are wallet-friendly, and there’s a great guide to budget-friendly activities.
Rentals are available to suit every budget, but you must plan ahead for the winter season. Sarasota rentals can be found on all of the popular rental sites.
Or, you can stay at The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota resort, and enjoy the lap of luxury!
LGBTQ snowbirds will feel very welcome in Sarasota. There are a variety of local groups that are LGBTQ-friendly. They also have a TAG-approved hotel, Hotel Indigo, and a few businesses that cater to LGBTQ visitors. Here’s a guide from a recent influencer group who visited.