What to do in Sarasota Florida and a review of The Ritz Carlton Sarasota
A weekend in Sarasota is brought to you in partnership with Visit Florida
After Miami Beach and Naples, the final stop in my Florida luxury road trip was Sarasota. In all honesty, I knew that Sarasota existed but I did not even have a visual. And guess what? It was the greatest surprise of the trip – and a place I really really liked. Here is how our long weekend in Sarasota went:
Getting to Sarasota, Florida
In my particular case, I drove up from Naples and the drive took around 2 hours. I created this Google Map for you below, and you can also explore the area a bit more.
There is also a local airport (Sarasota-Bradenton Airport – SRQ) which offers direct flights to over 10 US destinations (from NYC to Chicago, Boston, Atlanta etc and Toronto in Canada).
Where to stay in Sarasota, Florida
During my 3-night stay, or a long weekend in Sarasota, our choice was the Ritz Carlton Sarasota, the city’s grand dame, but one that had a recent facelift too. Whereas I wasn’t crazy about its Naples sister hotel, this really was a great base for us.
It is a much smaller hotel than our previous one (266 rooms) and it felt that way. We thought service at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota was incredibly friendly (and a special hats off to the valet and bell team who were always incredibly funny and helpful).
On this part of the trip, I stayed with my friend Lauren and we shared a twin room with Marina (side water) views. The rooms at Ritz Carlton Sarasota have been refurbished (and looked perfectly fine), but the bathrooms had only a semi refurbishment – have a look at the photos below.
The bathrooms had Asprey toiletries (one of my favourites), but they also had shower curtains. I had not seen a shower curtain at a luxury hotel in many many years (until Naples the previous couple of days and now in Sarasota).
Everything was in good working order. One thing worth noting? The Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge – we had Club Access (our room was in that same floor) and we seriously were impressed. The quality and presentation of the food was excellent – and the service really was great.
Only on our last night we realised that we could have proper cocktails (or a gin & tonic), but that is OK as the hotel bar was also really lively and we enjoyed our time there.
The Ritz Carlton Sarasota has an official AAA 4-diamond rating and it is a fair classification. That means 4 stars for us in Europe 😉
Pool and Beach at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota
The hotel has a small waterfront pool – and waterfront does not mean a beach. Sarasota is on the water and its beaches are located elsewhere. Just bear with me as it is worth the wait.
The pool was small and was on the crowded side (we used it on the afternoon of the day we arrived) but we were then told at the lounge, and by the bell team that the Ritz Carlton Sarasota had a residence in Lido Key Beach and a beach club, which all guests were very welcome to use.
To make it easier to understand the geography (which is quite unique), I found this map on this Sarasota Welcome Guide website, which really helps. Basically, Downtown Sarasota is in the ‘mainland’ and there are various road-connected islands (or keys) which are located minutes from the downtown area.
The Beach Club has a pool area and a separate beach area (but sun loungers in the pool area are much better… We used the Club on two separate days and had decent meals there too – the menu was very sandwich and salad focused but again, service was good, and so were the cocktails.
It took around 14-17 minutes to drive from the hotel to the beach club.
Exploring the beaches around Sarasota, Florida
The Sarasota area and its Keys were home to some quite incredible waterfront homes – they came in all sizes and I believe that more and more, you will see luxury home rentals being a real alternative for accommodation in the area. And when you see some of the photos, you will understand why.
As you leave Downtown Sarasota, you will take the bridge and you will get to St. Armand’s Key, and you will not be able to miss St. Armand’s Circle, which is the retail and dining centre of the various keys. And before you get excited, the drive between keys is minutes.
We stopped to check out the shops – some are quite cute, others appealed to a completely different demographic, but there are great signs of ‘renovation’ but in a nice way. There was a fabulous swimwear shops and I also got to find out that the famous Tervis Tumblers (which are headquartered in the area) are. Everyone was crazy about them! We did not try any of the restaurants on this occasion.
With regards to the beaches, our ‘home beach’ was Lido Key (at the Ritz Carlton), but we went for walks to get those steps up and also to see what it was like. There is a fair number of older condo buildings (not very high either) which don’t make for the most appealing view, but if you look towards the sea, you will forget everything.
There are quite a few sun lounger areas, but they are attached to smaller hotels and condominiums, but there are a few places where you can rent some.
Longboat Key was, without a doubt, the surprise of our long weekend in Sarasota. This key is ‘thinner’ than the others and you basically have a road with houses on each side and then water. One side has the beach, the other has waterfront access (but no sand) and as we got there at sunset one day, it was my ‘Sarasota moment’. And I loved that there were houses there, right on the beach, and people just walked to and from…
I loved loved loved this part – and I know some of my readers have to as I received a good 10 messages from British families telling me that they discovered this place a few years back and every year they return. You are only 15 minutes from downtown Sarasota.. but it feels you are in paradise. It was simply beautiful. And a must visit if you are planning a weekend in Sarasota.
And obviously, we went to Siesta Key Beach (located on Siesta Key, but you have to access it via another bridge from downtown Sarasota).
It has been considered one of the best beaches in the USA – and it certainly was beautiful. The hotel had given us some chairs to borrow (and we took them with us), but after going for a walk, we thought it was simpler to head back to the Beach Club as it had sun loungers. We found some chairs to rent (not beds) at Siesta Key (for reference).
Before this trip, I had no idea that there were beaches like these in this part of Florida. So please go for a weekend in Sarasota (at the very least!).
Sarasota has a life of its own, and is a city with quite a bit of cultural offerings – I had planned to visit the Selby Botanical Gardens and the Ringling Museum, but the beach got in the way. And when we actually went back to Sarasota early one afternoon, we had one of the usual June thunderstorms, so we went back to the hotel.
I did managed to get some photos, and I just wanted to give you a visual.
As a city, I really quite liked its vibe – above is the area by Main Street and below is the waterfront area.
Where to eat and drink in and around Sarasota, Florida
I have to say, we ate very well in the area, during our weekend in Sarasota. We had two lunches at the Ritz Carlton Beach Club and the other lunch, which was the first lunch as we drove from Naples, we stopped at Libby’s, which is a Sarasota institution and actually currently closed for renovations (since July 1 2018) and will open very shortly. I do not know if the menu will change, but I really liked my grilled cheese and Lauren loved her chicken and waffles.
Libby’s is located at Osprey Avenue, in Southside Village, across from Morton’s Gourmet Market, which is also worth a visit (the wine selection was very impressive).
This area, which was really nice and home to a low-rise shop parade of a couple of blocks, was also home to Veronica Fish & Oyster, where we had one of our dinners and the first time I was served a whole grilled fish in America. (Dinner for two was around $150)
We had a dinner at Euphemia Haye in Longboat Key (after that glorious sunset) and it was also a great recommendation. The restaurant itself was super quaint and the food was really nice. The caesar salad was one of the best I ever had in the USA and our dessert was also exceptional).
It is considered a ‘fine dining’ experience, but upstairs it has the ‘Haye Loft’ where you can go for a lighter bite (and a very lively bar) and also for dessert (you need to pre-book). Dinner around $200 for two, including 2 glasses of wine.
We had a meal at the Ritz-Carlton’s Jack Rusty restaurant – the seafood was excellent and the setting was lovely.
We really really enjoyed the bar too – and I had one of the best cocktails I ever had: the Siren. I took a photo of the recipe for your benefit too 🙂 (Dinner for two was around $150 inc drinks)
Sarasota was the most unexpected surprise of this trip to Florida. Southwest Florida really surprised me – and I cannot recommend it enough. It is easy to get to from the UK (and the USA) and I loved how simple it was. I really enjoyed my weekend in Sarasota and I look forward to returning and exploring some more.
Until the next time
PS. On a subsequent trip, I also visited the Florida Keys for the first time.
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Disclaimer and Fact Box: this trip was funded and sponsored by Visit Florida. My collaboration with Visit Florida also included a live social media campaign, which allowed those who follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to be able to join me during the trip. I loved every minute and opinions are all mine (and I promise you, it was great). You can access the Instagram Story highlights here too.
Find out more about Florida by visiting Visit Florida‘s website – it has a good collection of resources and can help you plan your next trip. Start here for ideas on what to do and see in Sarasota, accommodation and shopping, of course. You can also visit the Visit Sarasota website.
I would also recommend following Visit Florida on Instagram – it will give you a good flavour of what to expect as the state really is so diverse.
How to get to Sarasota, Florida and how much it will cost to do it Mrs. O style:
– Fly there – I flew with AA and BA in business class and fares start from £1800 direct from London Heathrow. My flight was £2750 due to the dates we chose. You can also fly to Sarasota Bradenton Airport or use Tampa International which is just an hour away. My friend Lauren was able to fly direct to Sarasota from Boston with JetBlue.
– Sleep – I stayed at the Ritz Carlton Sarasota on our weekend in Sarasota. Rates for a double room start at $210 + tax excluding breakfast for a city view room. A twin marina view room with Club Level Access starts at $320/night + tax. Valet parking costs $28 per day. A $35 resort fee applies as well (it also includes a scheduled shuttle service to St. Armands Circle, Beach Club on Lido Key and Golf Club. If you self-drive, valet parking at the Beach Club is complimentary).
– Getting around – I used Uber pretty much everywhere around town and also hired a car with Avis.