Most visitors come to Sarasota fully expecting to sink their feet in white-powder sand, snooze in their beach chairs and go home refreshed. But so many people leave without ever realizing that just beyond Siesta, Longboat and Lido Keys lie some of Florida’s finest outdoor treasures. If you’re planning a trip to Circus City, consider these beach alternatives.
Myakka River State Park
What’s a trip to Florida without seeing a few gators? At Myakka River State Park, you’re guaranteed to see a handful (from as safe a distance as you feel comfortable, of course). Take an air boat tour of Upper Myakka Lake, hike nearly 40 miles of loop trails or get a bird’s eye view from the park’s Canopy Walkway. Three campgrounds with 90 campsites are available for the glamping crowd, and six primitive campsites are available along the trails for those who prefer roughing it.
Nathan Benderson Park
One of the newest additions to Sarasota’s outdoor attractions, Nathan Benderson Park, offers a 3.5-mile trail that circles a 500-acre, world-class rowing lake. As you walk, run or bike the trail, you can see local scullers practicing. It’s just around the bend from University Town Center, which offers high-end shopping and dining options. Benderson Park will also host the 2016 U.S Olympic Team Trials in April and the 2017 World Rowing Championships.
Historic Spanish Point
Step back in time at Historic Spanish Point, where Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer made her homestead in 1910 on this 350-acre estate. You can tour the impeccably restored Guptill house, the sunken garden, the butterfly garden and a jungle walk. The “A Window to the Past” exhibit gives visitors an up-close look at a Native American shell mound. Spanish Point also has a partnership with SUP Sarasota, which offers paddleboard and kayak ecotours through the mangroves in Little Sarasota Bay.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
As you walk through nearly 15 acres and seven greenhouses filled with majestic jungle flora, you’re completely transported. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens attracts around 130,000 visitors a year to see its rainforest garden, banyan groves, koi pond and bamboo gardens. During the holiday season, Selby Gardens lights up at night creating a truly tropical wonderland.
The Ringling Bridge, also known as the John Ringling Causeway, provides one of the most striking views of Sarasota, connecting the city’s downtown to Lido Key. For runners and walkers, it provides a gradual incline and a forgiving decline, with a round-trip distance of nearly three miles. Park near Marina Jack’s and you’ll find an idyllic place to rest at the mid-way point in Bird Key Park.