Experience a laid-back vacation in Sarasota, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southwest Florida. With its vibrant arts scene, family-friendly vibe, and beautiful beaches, this city is a great spot to visit with kids. After you book your Sarasota vacation rental, immerse yourselves in the area’s rich circus tradition, soak up the sun, and get close to local wildlife with these 12 fun activities for the entire family.

1. Visit the Beach

Sarasota sits near some of the best beaches in the United States. Start with a visit to Siesta Beach, which features soft white sand and pristine water. Turtle Beach, with its gentle water, is another great choice for families. Lido Beach provides plenty of space for your little ones to run and Nokomis Beach is a fun place to learn how to surf.

2. Visit Mote Aquarium

Give your kids a glimpse of the fish that live near Sarasota at the Mote Aquarium. Head right for the Shark Zone, where you can watch enormous sharks swim in the 135,000-gallon tank. While you’re there, stop by the Ray Tray touch pool to feel stingrays as they swim underwater. Examine a coral reef through a large observation tank, observe crocodiles and alligators, and watch sea turtles glide through their habitat.

3. Check Out The Ringling

Step into a world of whimsy at The Ringling, a massive complex that’s home to a fascinating circus museum. Examine miniature dioramas of historic circuses, look at colorful marquees, and check out a cannon that once shot performers into the sky. The Ringling also houses an art museum and a spectacular mansion, both of which are open to tours.

4. Hike the Celery Fields

Spot Sarasota’s many bird species on a hike through the Celery Fields. This large wetlands area is home to a variety of species, including sparrows, marsh wrens, and purple gallinule. The onsite Nature Center hosts regular children’s workshops, so your kids can learn more about the local birds and wildlife from experienced staff members.

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5. Spot Wildlife in Sarasota Bay

Rent kayaks and take the family on a wildlife-spotting trip around Sarasota Bay. Look for the bottlenose dolphins that swim in the warm waters, and in the winter months, look out for manatees. The waters of the bay are usually calm, so you can paddle comfortably with small children. In wavy conditions, stay close to the shore to look out for water birds and sea turtles.

6. Take an Eco-Tour

Take a guided eco-tour in Ted Sperling Park. These Kayak tours leave every day from the park’s boat launch, so it’s easy to set sail with kids. Along the way, informative guides provide an entertaining commentary about the local area. Most routes travel through the park’s spectacular mangrove forest, so you can float through fascinating tunnels.

7. Explore Sarasota Jungle Gardens

Meet exotic animals at the Sarasota Jungle Gardens, one of the city’s top family attractions. Feed flamingos, hold a baby alligator or watch jungle birds roller skate across a table. Once you’ve watched the daily show, check out the adorable animals in the petting zoo and marvel at the colorful creatures in the butterfly gardens.

8. Play Arcade Games

When you’re rained out of a beach trip, look no further than Livingston’s Amusements. This fun, family-friendly entertainment center has everything you need to stay busy for an evening or afternoon. Give your kids quarters and let them loose in the arcade, or play Bazooka Ball with older kids. The center also has indoor bumper cars and a high-speed go-kart track.

9. See Jungle Cats

Get an unprecedented look at large jungle animals in the Big Cat Habitat. This sanctuary houses a variety of cats, including tigers and lions. Watch the daily Big Cat Encounter show, which demonstrates the animals’ amazing abilities. As an extra bonus, your admission fee goes directly to helping the animals, which are often rescued from dangerous situations.

10. Wander Through the Children’s Garden

Get lost in a fairyland in the Sarasota Children’s Garden. Little ones can explore the fanciful gardens, climb staircases into tree houses, and explore a kid-sized pirate ship. Encourage your kids to wear their favorite fairy or pirate gear, or come in costume to play the resident dragon. Check the garden’s schedule to learn about story hours or other events during your visit.

11. Go To the Circus

Attend a performance at The Circus Arts Conservatory, one of Sarasota’s most fascinating spots. The Conservatory hosts a variety of shows throughout the year, so you can watch professional acrobats defy the limits of human performance. Watch tightrope walkers balance high above the crowds, or marvel as trapeze artists fly through the air. Kids love the Conservatory’s youth performances, which feature the youngest students in action.

12. Stroll the Bradenton Riverwalk

Spend an evening with a family on the Bradenton Riverwalk, which sits just north of Sarasota. Wander down the pedestrian zone by the river, stopping to play on the local playgrounds and watch skaters at the skate park. As you pass the local amphitheater, look out for live musicians. A variety of restaurants along the riverwalk serve casual meals in family-friendly settings. After dinner, stroll down to the local sand volleyball courts to watch local athletes in action.

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