The Sarasota area is culturally and naturally rich, providing visitors with a plethora of activities from which to choose – whether you're a museum-goer, a hiker, or a traveler who just prefers a day or two lounging on the sand.
While the city of Sarasota is home to many attractions and has established itself as a destination in and of itself, the towns and cities within driving distance of this pretty west-central city each have their own amenities to offer as well. Within an hour or two's drive from the downtown area, visitors to Sarasota can find themselves in a number of interesting places, ranging from cosmopolitan Tampa to little towns like Venice or pretty Port Charlotte and the Gulf Islands, all just a stone's throw from the Sarasota vicinity.
One of the fastest-growing regions in Florida, the Tampa Metro Area is booming! With a vibrant downtown area, a large body of water on which to play, and beaches just around the corner, this part of central Florida attracts a wide variety of visitors.
Fast Facts about Tampa: The total area of Tampa is approximately 171 square-miles and more than 34% of that is water. As a matter of fact, Tampa is surrounded by two bodies of water - Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay, both of which empty into Tampa Bay and, eventually, the Gulf of Mexico. That makes it the perfect area for boating, fishing, and other watersports.
As of the 2000 census, the population of the city of Tampa was 303,447, making it the third most-populated city in Florida. However, the bustling Tampa Bay regional metro area, which also includes the surrounding towns of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is home to a whopping 2,400,000 residents.
These nearby towns boast pristine beaches and plenty of other amenities like top-notch restaurants, upscale lodging, and high-end retail establishments for superb shopping.
Things to Do: One might be hard-pressed to fit in everything there is to do and see in Tampa in just one day. In the city itself, you'll find the wonderful Florida Aquarium; the Tampa Museum of Art; the Museum of Science and Industry; the Henry B. Plant Museum; and the area's most visited attraction, Busch Gardens Tampa.
In addition, the area is the spring training locale of a number of major league baseball teams, so there's often a sporting event or two to be enjoyed. Additional sports opportunities are also available on the nearby University of South Florida campus.
Beaches: Tampa itself has four city beaches which can be quite busy on a pleasant day. In addition, however, you'll find myriad beaches at the nearby coastal towns of Clearwater, St. Pete, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, and the beaches of the barrier islands, like Redington or Madeira.
Less than 20 miles south of Sarasota are the beach communities of Venice, South Venice, Nokomis, Laurel, and Osprey. Part of Sarasota County, this area boasts miles of white-sand beaches and warm waters that welcome visitors all year long.
Fast Facts about the Venice area: The five communities collectively referred to as Venice cover approximately 80 square-miles and are home to some 90,000 residents. Venice is one of the few cities on Florida's west coast that is not separated from the Gulf by a barrier island, so it has direct access to the beach.
Things to Do: One of the nicest things about Venice is its lovely historic downtown area. Boasting the style of the Italian Renaissance, the buildings here are quite attractive and the city deems that any new construction must match this original architecture. Here guests can browse the shops and eat in small, family-owned restaurants.
The town of Osprey is home to the Oscar Scherer State Recreational Center, where visitors can swim, fish, canoe, boat, bicycle, or hike in the park's 462 acres. Guests can also head to historic Spanish Point, a 30-acre site featuring archaeological exhibits of 4,000 year-old Native American artifacts, a pioneer home, chapel and cemetery. Venice also has a symphony, opera guild, and theatre company.
Beaches: The Venice Municipal Beach is known for its collection of shark's teeth and attracts divers with a coral reef that's located about a quarter-mile off shore. Nokomis Beach, in comparison, is more family-oriented and is a favorite fishing location. Caspersen Beach is famous for shelling and is the annual site of the local Shark's Tooth and Seafood Festival. If you're a dog-lover, you'll want to check out Venice's Brohard Paw Park, adjacent to the only area in the county where dogs can roam free on the beach.
Travel south from Sarasota and you'll come to a number of other notable places to visit. For example, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf Islands (which includes Boca Grande, Don Pedro Island, El Jobean, Englewood-Cape Haze, Little Gasparilla Island, Manasota Key, Palm Island, Placida, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda) are lovely and just about 45 miles away, an hour's drive from Sarasota.
Fast Facts about the Charlotte Harbor area: The area known as Charlotte Harbor is about 700-square-miles in size and home to around 150,000 residents. It is very much a natural area, with nearly 84 percent of the land designated as "preserved", including 365 miles of canals; 190 miles of saltwater and 175 miles of freshwater. Here you'll find lots of state and regional parks, hiking trails, and other amenities designed for nature lovers. The area has been designated one of the top ten sailing destinations by SAIL magazine and is also known for its fine golf courses.
Things to Do: As the Charlotte Harbor vicinity tends towards the natural, activities are more nature-based than cultural. For example, kayak tours are quite popular with visitors as are dolphin cruises and chartered fishing excursions. In addition, biking and hiking at locations such as the Cape Haze Pioneer Trail Park in Rotonda or Cedar Point Environmental Park in Englewood are favorite pursuits of locals and visitors.
However, the area is not totally void of culture. Port Charlotte has an active Arts and Humanities Council that sponsors various cultural programs, and the town also boasts the Charlotte Players and Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. Attractive Punta Gorda is ripe with historic homes and galleries and many other towns boast similar amenities.
Beaches: If you're looking for beaches sans crowds, this is where you want to be. Here you'll find lots of white sand and gentle waves, but more wildlife than people. Check out Port Charlotte Beach Park, Stump Pass Beach State Park in Englewood, or Don Pedro Island State Park in Boca Grande.