Sarasota County is a haven for outdoor lovers. After all, why be cooped up inside when the weather is always so gorgeous outside? As a matter of fact, the county has more than 200 parks, 109 athletic fields, many miles of beaches, and more than 2,000 acres of open space parkland. All are lovingly tended by the county's Parks and Recreation Department and are open to residents and visitors alike.
If you're looking for a place to enjoy nature, Parks and Recreation offers a number of alternatives where you can enjoy walking or hiking tours while observing west central Florida's prolific wildlife.
- Lemon Bay Park and Environmental Center – This 204-acre area consists of pine and scrubby flatwoods situated along the natural bay shoreline. Guests can also enjoy nature trails, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, picnicking, and self-guided tours of an informative environmental center, all at this Englewood location.
- Shamrock Park – Located in Venice, Shamrock Park covers 80 acres and activities enjoyed here include guided bird hikes, butterfly garden tours, and nature hikes. There's also a playground, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a nature center. Shamrock Park is also the trailhead for the 10.2-mile Venetian Waterway Trail.
- T. Mabry Carlton Memorial Reserve – This wet prairie area is a great place to hike. You'll find a few short trails as well as an 11 mile hiking trail that leads all the way to S.R. 72 by Myakka River State Park and another 11 mile equestrian trail which leads to the same place and combines with the hiking trail during the last few miles.
- Philippi Estate Park – This natural area features both historic and environmental attractions including the Edson Keith mansion, nature trails, fishing and observation piers, a canoe and kayak launch, a rose garden, children's playground, picnic area with grills, and a gazebo for concerts and other special events.
Parks and Community Centers
The many parks and community centers in the Sarasota area provide plenty of space for kids and adults to run around and play. They're literally scattered throughout the county. Here are a few to consider when you need some downtime.
- Colonial Oaks Park – Situated on Fruitville Road near Cattleman Road, this is a lovely park with a community center that offers an indoor gymnasium and teen activity room. Outside, there are tennis and basketball courts, a shaded playground, and picnic pavilions with grills.
- Newtown Estates Park – Located in North Sarasota, this park sits at Martin Luther King Way between Tuttle Avenue and U.S. Highway 301. Amenities include a community center that offers a variety of classes, a children's playground, lighted basketball and tennis courts, Little League fields, and a picnic pavilion with grill.
- Bee Ridge Park – This beautiful 10-acre park south of Bee Ridge Road has plenty of outdoor space, horseshoe pits, lighted sand volleyball courts, lighted softball fields, playground, restrooms, picnic pavilions, and an indoor rental space.
- Woodmere Park – Located just off Jacaranda Boulevard in southeastern Venice, this park is especially known for its 2.5-acre "paw park" for dogs and their owners. Those without four-legged friends, however, can enjoy a hiking trail, horseshoe pits, lighted basketball courts, a playground, open-area picnic tables with grills and a shaded picnic pavilion, and a community area with indoor gymnasium.
- Nokomis Community Park – This 17-acre park boasts a community center, playground, tennis courts, covered stage area, picnic pavilion, and an exercise trail. At the south end of the park is Curry Creek, where visitors can go canoeing and kayaking.
- Englewood Sports Complex – This is a favorite location of many Sarasota area kids and their parents. Here you'll find 136 acres of outdoor sports amenities, including 8 Little League fields, 2 senior softball fields, 4 soccer fields, 8 tennis courts, and 2 playgrounds. There's also an 11,000 square-foot indoor gymnasium with a fitness room available for public use.
- Arlington Park Aquatic Center – If you're visiting and don't have access to a pool, you can do a bit of swimming at this one, owned by Sarasota County Parks and Recreation. Located on Waldemere Street in Sarasota, open swimming hours at this 50 meter outdoor pool are frequent, lasting most of the day on weekdays and noon to 5 pm on Saturdays. Daily fees are minimal and an annual pass is available as well. Special discounts are available to those over age 55.