Destinations and Attractions, Recommendations

Seeking Out Sights Near Sarasota

Recently my boys and I had the pleasure of visiting the Sarasota area. This was not actually a trip we had planned to take, but after researching things to do around the campground we were visiting, we realized how nearby the city was and decided to check it out. This was an excellent decision, and we enjoyed the area so much that we decided to head over for a second day trip.

Here is a quick report of our adventures there.

Day One

On our first day down we actually hit up the town of Bradenton before heading to Sarasota itself. Bradenton is a cute little beach town, and while it wasn’t our favorite place ever, it definitely did have some charm.

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The South Florida Museum Entrance.

South Florida Museum

The reason we chose to visit Bradenton was to see the South Florida Museum, which is included in both the ASTC and NARM reciprocal programs that we are a part of. Because of this reciprocity, we were able to visit the museum free of charge, something that never ceases to please me.

The museum was a small but well-put-together little place, and I’m glad we made time to see it. Historical exhibits told the history of southern Florida, and even included information on what was going on in Florida during the age of the dinosaurs.

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In awe of the giant shark jaw.

One of the best parts of this attraction was the small aquarium area. This included a touch tank which allowed us to feel animals such as snails, crabs, starfish, and sea urchins. This was one of my favorite parts, as I’d never had the opportunity to touch a sea urchin before, and was surprised by the way they felt.

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Watching manatees eat.

The highlight of this museum however, are the manatees. The South Florida Museum is a manatee sanctuary, and they have definitely done their part to help this wonderful species. Additionally, the museum is the permanent home of the famous Snooty the manatee. This big guy is absolutely adorable, and well worth taking a look at. In fact, I highly recommend making an effort to visit the manatees during their feeding time in order to listen to a very informative talk about the creatures.

Overall, I recommend this museum. However, it is important to note that this is a half-day attraction at best and more geared toward slightly older children. Our kindergartener was not as entertained as I had hoped, and he usually enjoys museums. Therefore, we will probably wait until he is 8yo or so to visit again.

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Beach day fun in the sun.

Bradenton Beach

Right next door to Bradenton is the little town of Bradenton Beach. This is where we went after our time at the South Florida Museum in order to squeeze in some beach time before dinner.

The beach was just as lovely as I expected, and it boasted white sand and plenty of shells for collecting. That said, there were a good number of broken shells washed up on the beach, and these made it a bit painful to walk back and forth from our little camp to the water.

Despite the shells, we had a great time at Bradenton Beach and will return next time we are in the area.

Nancy’s Bar-B-Q

After our time at the beach, we were famished. Therefore, we immediately began looking for some good grub. We came across Nancy’s Bar-B-Q in Sarasota, and boy am I glad we did.

Nancy’s is without question one of the best barbecue joints I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. It’s up there with barbecue places we’ve tried in Memphis and Austin, and that’s saying something. In fact, this place was so tasty that we chose to eat there again the second time we visited the area.

We ordered in such a way that we had some of each meat on the menu, as well as sides of mac & cheese and scalloped potatoes. We did this so we could decide which things we liked best, but honestly, it was all too good to narrow it down to just one favorite. Therefore, I think it goes without saying that you need to try this place if you plan to visit Sarasota in the future.

Day Two

Our first day in the Sarasota area was so fun we decided to visit a second time before we moved to another campground. The second day was somehow even more fun, and an experience I’d have again in a heartbeat.

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Driving a clown car.

The Ringling

We chose the Ringling museum on a whim. We were going through the many museums included in our reciprocal memberships and came across this gem, which is included in in the NARM, ROAM, MARP, and SERM programs. We receive benefits of the NARM program, which meant we got free admission. Little did we know just how much fun that free admission was going to bring.

The Ringling is both an incredible art gallery—featuring art collected by John Ringling himself, along with his wife Mable—and a two-part circus museum. Additionally, the beautiful, well-kept grounds are home to two restaurants, a super cool playground, several gardens, and a gorgeous historical house (known as Cà d’Zan).

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One of the beautiful works at The Ringling.

We started our day in the art gallery. I felt this was a good plan because the morning is when our five-year-old tends to have the most patience. There is a wide variety of art included in the gallery and some of it is very thought-provoking. We were even able to keep the little guy entertained by asking him questions about the art and discussing the stories behind various pieces.

All in all, it took us about 2 hours to see all of the art. I didn’t expect it to take quite so long, but found that the experience was well worth the time spent there.

After a quick bite, we headed over to the circus museum. We started in the new wing and found tons of interesting stuff there. One of the highlights was the incredible miniature circus featured there. However, the costumes, props, and information regarding the history of the circus and the lives of circus performers were also very fun to look at.

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Checking out the miniature circus.

With so much time spent walking calmly around museum exhibits, our son was getting pretty restless. Therefore, we headed over to the playground to let him run off some energy. My husband purchased some very affordable espresso beverages from the cafe and we sat back while our wound-up little dude enjoyed a really wonderful playground.

The playground included some neat swings that were very hammock-like, fun spinning seats, a clubhouse, and a really fast slide. Additionally, it sat right under a banyan tree, meaning there was plenty of shade and an almost magical feel to the place.

Our time at the playground lasted until closing time. Unfortunately, this meant we had to skip the second half of the circus museum, as well as a walk around the beautiful grounds. However, we aren’t upset about having an excuse to visit again, that’s for sure.

We finished off our day with dinner at Nancy’s again and headed home tired and happy.

I would definitely recommend this museum to anyone who happens to be in or near Sarasota. It is absolutely gorgeous and far exceeded our expectations. That said, it is important to go in ready to entertain young children when visiting the art galleries. Additionally, it’s probably best to give yourself two days to see everything in this awesome place.

Final Thoughts

What we saw in Sarasota is a mere fraction of what the city has to offer. Because of this fact, I can’t wait to visit the area again and experience more of the fun that lives there.

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