Staycation in Sarasota: Florida’s Hidden Gem

Nestled along Florida’s west coast sits Sarasota County, a lesser known gem in the crown of Florida’s beautiful must-see spots. While most visitors stop in Tampa or Orlando, one of the most beautiful and lesser-known destinations in Florida is found somewhere in-between. In fact, Dr. Beach’s Best Beach in America this year is located nearby! Bypass the big parks and tourist traps and take a solo trip to one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

Venice Beach for Starters

Set your alarm, pack your swimsuit, sunscreen and a favorite bucket and head to Venice Beach, Florida — the shark tooth capitol of the world. Don’t worry about coming face-to-face with toothy live marine marauders, however. An early-morning stroll along the shoreline and a sharp eye will reward you with small, weathered, black shark teeth. It’s an incredibly relaxing and rewarding way to greet the sun along Florida’s Gulf Coast, and you’ll literally net one-of-a-kind additions to your collection of found treasures.

It’s easiest to find shells and shark teeth early in the day, and you’ll also find the best parking spot! Venice is located about 90 minutes south of Tampa and a 2-hour drive from Orlando. It’s north of Port Charlotte, and west of Interstate 75.

Back In Time For Lunch

Cool off with an old-fashioned ice cream soda at Soda Fountain of Venice, a diner with a 1950s feel. The relaxed atmosphere welcomes beachgoers in shorts and cover-ups. For a cool pick-me-up, try the Tan and Tan (a coffee ice cream soda served with coffee ice cream), or order their signature Cuban sandwich — no trip to Florida’s complete without eating at least one.

Take U.S. 41 South to Tamiami Trail North to Venice Avenue. The Soda Fountain is located at 349 West Venice Avenue in Venice, Florida. Visit their website for a $2 coupon (you can use it at either the Soda Fountain or the pizzeria next door).

Masterpiece Circus

While John Ringling was busy earning a fortune from his circus, his massive investments in oil and real estate helped finance one of the most wonderful — and least-known — wonders in Florida: the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. While the 66 acres boast magnificent gardens and sculptures, not to mention a magnificent view of the bay, the museum itself houses sculptures, paintings and furniture from some of the most notable European works of art, including baroque-period pieces.

The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. Take exit 213 West from Interstate 75 to 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Bus transport is also available through the Sarasota County Transit, with hourly stops at the museum. Museum admission is $25 for adults, and $20 for seniors 65 and older with identification. On Monday, admission is free. Call (941) 359-5700 for more information.

Sunset Dinner

Because nothing beats a Florida West Coast sunset, enjoy the seafood fare and amazing view at Marina Jack’s The Dining Room. Watch the sun over the water while you say goodbye to the day, and enjoy a dozen fresh gulf coast oysters or blackened shrimp and scallop fettuccini while you toast your day in Sarasota.

The Dining Room is located on the second floor of Marina Jack’s at 2 Marina Plaza, Sarasota. Lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch is served at The Dining Room; for dinner entrees, prices range from $30-45. Call (941) 365-4232 for reservations, which are recommended.

Between Ft. Myers and Tampa, and west of Orlando, Sarasota offers plenty to love about Florida without resorting to amusement parks and crowded lines. For the single traveler, it’s a city that offers the best of Florida without the hassle.