When Sarasota’s Siesta Beach topped the country’s best beaches list in 2011, the Florida city got plenty of attention as a sun and fun destination. The snow-white sand and gentle Gulf of Mexico waves do make it an ideal beach town for families, but geeks like us tend to get restless after a few days in a beach chair. In the Sarasota area, however, we found plenty of side trips to engage our brains.
Some top picks:
Swing through the trees
If you’ve tried ziplining, you might think you know what Tree-Umph! Adventure Course is all about. No way. This jungle gym in the treetops gets progressively harder as you go, combining wobbly bridges, hanging nets, bungee swings and Tarzan ropes to test your mettle. A lower-key kids’ course lets younger climbers in on the fun.
Meet manatees (and more) at Mote Marine Laboratory
This research institute doubles as an educational attraction where families can see sharks, fish, and marine mammals, with touch tanks, baby animal nurseries, and rehab rooms where injured animals rest up before they’re released. (Add a boat tour of Sarasota Bay, and you might see dolphins in the wild, too.)
Join the circus (for a day)
Sarasota became the winter home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1927, and circus life remains part of Sarasota’s culture today. Learn aerial skills with Circus Sarasota, or leave the flying to the pros and take in a performance of the circus or its youth troupe, Sailor Circus. The Ringling Circus Museum, part of a complex including the spectacular Ringling Museum of Art, displays wagons and costumes as well as a 3,800-square-foot miniature circus model that took 50 years to complete.
Paddle (with) your kids
Kayak and canoe trips abound: Overhanging mangrove trees create shady tunnels around Lido Key that are best explored by kayak, while Oscar Scherer State Park offers canoe rentals for spotting otters in South Creek. On Wednesdays, park rangers lead guided paddling tours.
Feed a tiger
Visit bears, tigers, lions, and ligers–yes, they really exist, and they are phenomenal–at Big Cat Habitat, a refuge for rescued exotic animals. Don’t miss the opportunity to feed the residents, or the show that displays the sanctuary’s animal performers in action.
About those beaches…
Mix up your relaxation on the powdery, 99.9 percent quartz beaches with some action: At the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota‘s Beach Club (which provides complimentary transportation to guests of the resort three miles away) counselors lead kids and families in beach games, races, and shell-seeking.
Other beach diversions include the Crystal Classic sandcastle competition Nov. 15-18, where professional sand sculptors decorate the beach while vying for top honors.
GeekMom’s visit was hosted by Visit Sarasota.