Florida’s gulf coast offers some of the best beaches in the US, especially in Sarasota. In addition to award-winning beaches, there are endless things to do for kids in Sarasota, making it a top family vacation destination.
From exploring the wonders of the deep to whimsical gardens, there is an adventure with your family’s name on it. This post is in partnership with Visit Sarasota. As always, opinions are my own. This page contains affiliate links.
The thrills of finding seaside treasures paired with the calm ocean waves can make leaving the beach difficult. Kids and parents are often quite content with spending days on end enjoying the pristine beaches of Siesta Key and Lido Key.
That is why we have come up with the perfect one-day Sarasota itinerary that is full of family fun. We have hand-picked some of our favorite things to do with kids in Sarasota to give families an opportunity to experience some of the best things Sarasota has to offer while leaving plenty of time for beach relaxation.
We have also included a comprehensive list of more family-friendly activities to add throughout your visit to Sarasota.
The Perfect, Kid-Friendly, One Day Itinerary In Sarasota
A perfect family day means spending less time in the car and more time together. While planning this itinerary, we scouted out the best attractions all within minutes of each other. Many of which families can walk to visit.
The first stop on the list is Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. Park in the parking lot as there are many local attractions and restaurants all within walking distance.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
Marvel at sharks, sea turtles, manatees, and endless undersea curiosities. One remarkable thing about Mote is it is more than an Aquarium. It is a real laboratory where actual scientific research happens. With a focus on learning, there is an abundance of hands-on exhibits, educational displays, and special presentations.
Keep in mind Mote has multiple buildings that you get admission into with your ticket. Follow the paths or ask an employee who is always willing to help get you to where you want to go.
Many kids love to learn through hands-on experiences. That is one of the reasons Mote has so many great touch pools and displays that allow kids to feel and touch gently. One of Sophie’s favorites was being able to touch starfish, sea urchins, and stingrays.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The staff is extremely knowledgeable with tons of interesting facts about the creatures. Did you know sea urchins use plants to camouflage themselves or that a starfish has one eye at the end of every arm?!
After touching, there are hand washing stations next to the touch pools.
Manatees and More
Across the street from the main aquarium is another building that is home to the manatees, sea turtles, sea otters, and crocodiles. Follow the sidewalk with manatees and sea turtles painted on it until you arrive. Your admission ticket will get you into this portion of the aquarium.
During our visit, there was a special exhibit that had just opened called ” Savage Ancient Seas.” Guests are transported back into prehistoric times to take a closer look at the creatures who lived in those ancient seas. Massive skeletons hang from the ceiling while the displays tell the story of life back in those times. This exhibit is perfect for the dinosaur fan in the family.
Shark Feeding at Mote
Try to plan your visit for Monday, Wednesday, or Friday around 11 am to watch the trainers feed the sharks. A fun lecture reviews how they train the sharks, why they are in the tank with other fish, and how they care for the sharks.
Lunch at The Old Salty Dog
After an exciting morning at the aquarium, walk across the street to the Old Salty Dog. Located on the water, kids will enjoy watching the boats, pelicans dive for fish, and be on the lookout for dolphins. The Old Salty Dog is a Sarasota staple serving a variety of entrees, including a wide selection of kid’s meals. Fun fact: The kid’s meals are served on a frisbee, which the kids can keep afterward! Instant souvenir.
Tip: Another great restaurant within walking distance is the New Pass Grill and Bait Shop. New Pass Grill is more of a carry-out window with picnic tables situated along the bay with great views.
Sea Life Encounter Cruise Through Sarasota Bay Explorers
Embark on an adventure with Sarasota Bay Explorers. While they offer a variety of cruises, a unique one they offer is the Sea Life Encounter Cruise. This cruise is ideal for those future marine biologists in the family because an actual biologist joins you for an hour and 45-minute cruise through Sarasota Bay. The biologist points out the sea life while answering all the questions curious minds want to know.
The views from the bay are breath-taking as the captain takes you under bridges, through distinct parts of the bay, and by the bird rookery. This cruise includes a stop on Big Edwards Island with a guided nature hike.
But Wait, There’s More
During your cruise, the biologist throws out a net into the bay and drags it across the floor for a few minutes. Then it is brought up to examine the contents. Each creature retrieved is counted then placed in a container. The containers are passed around for everyone on the boat to look at and gently touch if possible. Later everything is released back into the wild.
: Get your tickets before visiting Mote Aquarium as they have a booth right outside the entrance. They do sell a few snacks like bottled water and chips onboard for a dollar. Bring cash for the snacks and to leave a tip afterward. There is a primitive bathroom on board with no baby changing station.
St. Armands Circle
About a five-minute drive from Mote Aquarium is St. ArmandsCircle. This plaza is full of shops, restaurants, and spas. We recommend parking closer to nearby Lido Key beach so that you can easily walk between the two. St. Armands Circle is known for its unique luxury shopping experiences, but they also have plenty of shops to grab that perfect Sarasota souvenir. Family-friendly restaurants and places to grab a sweet treat can also be found throughout St. Armands Circle.
Big Olaf Creamery: A Top Thing To Do In Sarasota with Kids
What is a vacation without a little ice cream? We polled the locals who guided us to Big Olaf Creamery for some of the best ice creams in Sarasota. Located in St. Armands Circle, we found ourselves indulging in delicious creamy cones that were the envy of those passing by. Keep in mind that Big Olaf’s is a cash-only establishment.
Lido Key Beach
Catch the sunset at nearby Lido Key Beach. A quick walk from St. Armond Circle will have you on the beach with your toes in the silky sand. The beach itself is large, offering plenty of space for everyone to enjoy the picturesque sunset. Once you visit Lido Key Beach, it is easy to see why so many families return year after year.
If you are visiting during the day, there is a hiking trail and foot showers at the public access points for Lido Key Beach.
Dinner At The Columbia
Dine at the oldest restaurant in Sarasota that has been owned by the same family since they opened in 1959. While the original restaurant can be found in Tampa, which opened in 1905, this Florida staple has been serving up traditional Spanish dishes. Start your dinner out with the Original “1905” Martini or one of their famous sangrias. Sample a variety of their tapas or select one of their many delectable entrees.
More Great Things To Do With Kids In Sarasota
Save Our Seabirds
This attraction is right next to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. The birds here have been injured, treated yet unable to return to the wild. It provides a tremendous educational opportunity to learn about the local birds and what we can do to help in conservation efforts. Kids will love venturing down their Birdwalk.
Rainbows and Unicorns Tour
Discover Sarasota Tours has developed the ideal tour for the perfect for the little girls in your family. Start your journey with cookies and lemonade with Princess Jenny before she takes you on a magical tour of Sarasota’s magical places. This tour is one of 18 different unique tours that Discover Sarasota Tours offers.
Sarasota is known as a circus town after John Ringling built his winter home here. After his passing, the estate was turned into a museum that receives thousands of visitors each year. Ringling has a few different areas. The Art Museum, The Circus Museum, The Ca’D’Zan, and the Bayfront Gardens. Families will love visiting the gardens and taking in the sights at the Circus Museum.
Payne Park (Circus Park)
Have a circus-themed afternoon by heading over to Payne Park after a visit to the Ringling. This park is home to a big-top play structure that all kids will love. Known as the Circus park kids, imagination will go wild as they explore the fun, unique features of this one-of-a-kind Sarasota park.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Children’s Rainforest Garden is a must while visiting Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. With a 100-year-old Banyan Tree as the centerpiece, the garden is full of caves, swinging bridges, waterfalls, and more. The best part is this was designed with kids in mind so that they can play and explore freely.
Families will enjoy visiting this fun Sarasota staple that is known for their great animal shows. Come feed flamingos, hold a parrot, and get your picture with an alligator. Be sure to stay for their Jungle Bird Show.
LeBarge Tropical Cruises
A cruise boat adorned with palm trees and mermaids is always a hit with the kids. Explore Sarasota Bay during one of their many site-seeing cruises. The Dolphin and Manatee Watch Cruise is a crowd favorite while the sunset cruise offers live entertainment. All of the cruises have a full bar and light snacks available.
Big Cat Habitat
This large animal rescue is full of exotic animals, including lions, bears, chimpanzees, and more. Visitors are always welcome, but keep in mind the habitat is not open on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Sarasota Children’s Garden
Discover a world of wonder during a visit to the Sarasota Children’s Garden. This darling garden has plenty of activities and events planned with kids in mind. From rock hunts to storytimes, there is always something magical happening at the Sarasota Children’s Garden.
Mixon Fruit Farms
Take a ride on the Orange Blossom Express that takes you into the orange groves and beyond. Take time to visit their new play place, visit the butterfly garden and go shopping in their gift shop. Don’t forget to take a few oranges back with you. They make lovely snacks throughout your visit.
Tips For Planning The Perfect Sarasota Itinerary
- Check the weather forecast for the week, especially if planning a scenic cruise. Nothing is worse than having your tour canceled because of strong winds or rain.
- Look for attractions and restaurants that are close together. Traffic can get cumbersome during peak times and with construction.
- Bring sunscreen, a hat, water, and anything you may need for the beach.
- Include a little downtime if needed, even if it is a half-hour car nap for little ones.
- Bring Cash. A few places are still cash-only.
- Download the Parking App, ParkMobile. This way, you can pay for parking from your phone without having to come back to put money in the meter.
This list is just a sample of a few things to do with kids while visiting Sarasota, FL. With endless attractions, beautiful sunsets, and sandy beaches, it is easy to see why families return year after year. To start planning your next Sarasota vacation, head over to Visit Sarasota.