These two Florida gulf gems sit on either side of Tampa Bay from each other, but where Sarasota has its eye on arts and culture, Clearwater Beach turns to classic beach options. Here’s your guide to choosing your ideal beach adventure.
The Biggest Thrills
Clearwater Beach: Sky Surfing
Take to the air on a bright yellow “motorcycle of the sky” with an affable instructor for an hour-long flight, and catch views of dolphins and whales from hundreds of feet in the air. If the aerial adventure piques your interest, you can also learn to fly the aircraft yourself at Sky Surfing’s flight school.
Sarasota: Ocean Pro Dive Shop
Come face-to-face with curious fish on guided tours of shipwrecks, reefs, and rock formations along the Sarasota coast. The truly adventurous can try their hand at spearfishing with comprehensive classes, outfitting, and tutorials from Ocean Pro’s experts.
Best History Lesson
Clearwater Beach: Armed Forces History Museum
An often-powerful and always-fascinating journey through military history awaits you here among exhibits exploring World War I, World War II, and current conflicts that span the globe. Take two friends or family members on a World War II–era M8 Reconnaissance vehicle ride for an authentic experience you won’t get anywhere else.
Sarasota: The Ringling
Discover 130 years of rich history for the Ringling Bros. Circus, founded by five of the eponymous brothers in 1884. Phenomenal art collected by eldest brother John mingles with a miniature circus performance, vintage costumes, and even a close-up look at a full-sized train used in the brothers’ early acts.
Best Fishing Spots
Clearwater Beach: Pier 60
One of Florida’s premier fishing spots has the reputation for a reason, as the $1-admission-fee, free-fishing-permit pier is dotted with bait shops, outfitters, and prime real estate for you to cast out, with the added perk of keeping your catch. You can also try to snag a ferocious tarpon at twilight and enjoy live music, performers, and artists from the famed Sunsets at Pier 60 as you reel.
Sarasota: Intracoastal Waterway
Crevalle Jacks are a challenging-to-catch, hard-fighting fish, and chances are you’ll encounter many in the waterway’s lagoon. Pilot a course near the Blackburn Road Flying Bridge, and drop anchor for water teeming with jacks, snappers, and even lemon sharks.
Clearwater Beach: Ruth Eckherd Hall
Visitors rave there are no lousy seats in this 73,000 square-foot performing arts center nestled near Sandal Cove. With acts that range from Monty Python icons John Cleese and Eric Idle to blues legend Joe Bonnamassa, it’s the ideal place to grab a comfortable chair to catch a concert or comedy show.
Sarasota: Sarasota Opera House
Currently working its way through all the performances of legendary composer Giuseppe Verdi, the venue boasts 1,200 seats, excellent acoustics, and a truly intimate way to watch classic and contemporary opera. Catch Puccini’s famous La Bohème through October 4th for a truly world-class take on one of opera’s most famous shows.
Best Way to Unwind
Clearwater Beach: Caladesi Island State Park
With three miles of nature trails that feature native wildlife, jaw-droppingly gorgeous white sand beaches, and winding kayak rides through sturdy mangroves, Caladesi is the perfect place to kick back for a morning, an afternoon, and an evening. Bring a camera to the 2008 “Best Beach in America” to catch the local wildlife, too.
Sarasota: Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The simulated rainforest garden is a hit with kids, while the towering banyan grove and butterfly garden are the ideal settings for a bit of rest from the hustle and bustle of Sarasota, plus some deep, appreciative sniffs of naturally perfumed air.
A 700-foot private beach, lagoon pool, and the four-diamond Carretta on the Gulf restaurant give you plenty of reasons to stay on property, but a short trip to Pier 60 and Caladesi Island State Park also await.
Opening in February 2016, Opal Sands promises 230 opulent beachfront rooms, waterfront dining, and cocktails at their beach bar and a host of retail shops located right on the property, plus easy access to the region’s finest attractions.
Home to warm service and a 300-foot private white sand beach, Lido Beach Resort offers some of the best views in the region, plus quick access to the ocean, the aptly named Manatee River, and the well-maintained hiking trails of Lakewood Ranch.
Tucked into the southern end of stunning Longboat Key, the spectacular resort boasts 45 holes of award-winning golf, 20 pro-caliber tennis courts, and a marina for craft of every size. Venture away from the resort to find the Mote Marine Laboratory and Museum, or to walk for miles along the pristine beaches of Longboat Key.