Sarasota is a guaranteed highbrow visit between its museums, art culture, and high-end shopping, with winter being no exception. The town sparkles (literally) for the holiday season with bright and colorful boat parades and the lighted gardens at Historic Spanish Point. The arts community comes together this time of year for special exhibits and festivals celebrating sand sculpting and chalk drawing.
Activities & Attractions
Sip a Seasonal Brew
Big Top Brewing, located in Sarasota, puts out as many as 150 small-batch brews a year. In fact, every Tuesday and Friday, they release something new, and, as the temps begin to fall, the brews get heavier. Unlike most breweries, however, which turn to stouts and porters for the winter months, Big Top opts to create around the next big trend in beer: milkshake IPAs. This style uses lactose to create a fuller-bodied, creamier, dessert-like flavor that you don’t normally find with traditional hop-heavy IPAs. Come in for a Peach Milkshake or Sour Cherry Milkshake while they are still available.
See Vintage Circus Art
Beginning October and running through early January, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is offering a special exhibit called “Tour du Monde” in its Circus Museum. The exhibition showcases a selection of vintage circus posters, used to draw Western audiences in the nineteenth century with colorful, abstract, and sometimes outrageous scenes of exotic peoples and impressive spectacles.
Spot Some Right Whales
Throughout the month of December, more than 100 right whales (about 25 percent of the world’s population) can be seen of the coast of Florida as they head to warmer waters, making it the best time to try to catch a glimpse of these giant, majestic animals. Whale watch tours are available from Island Pearl Excursions, launching into Sarasota Bay from Anna Maria Island (just north of Longboat Key), but you can also see them on a private charter with Key Sailing, a popular sailing charter out of Siesta Key (just south of Lido Key).
Linger Among Illuminated Gardens
For the holiday season, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – a 15-acre botanical garden and living museum on Sarasota Bay – transforms itself for Lights in Bloom. More than one million lights transform the gardens and walkways into sensory light tunnels, filled with flowers, rainforest butterflies, dragonflies, and more. Nightly visits from Santa and his elves, children’s arts and crafts activities and games, plus live entertainment, round out the tropical holiday experience.
Festivals & Events
This day-long Manatee Beach sand-sculpting competition lets competitors take part in free clinics (held on the Thursday and Friday before the competition) in sand sculpting, then tasks them with creating their masterpiece, while raising money for Keep Manatee Beautiful.
Sarasota Country Music Festival 11/1–3
If you are a music enthusiast, you’ll love this first annual music fest offering three days of barbeque, beer, and live music (expect everything from classic country to blues).
Tea with Bertha 11/13
Dawn your Sunday best and head over to Historic Spanish Point – Sarasota’s premier history museum – for an old-fashioned tea with Mrs. Bertha Palmer (actor-portrayed, of course!) for whom the elaborate on-property gardens are named. She shares tales of her adventurous life in the 1900s, and how she made her mark on the Historic Spanish Point.
Sarasota Chalk Festival, 11/15–18
Held in Venice each year, just 25 minutes from the downtown, this chalk festival draws out hundreds of talented artists to decorate the city. Last year, more than 500 hundred international artists showed up to create under a special theme – this year, it’s “garden of wonders.”
Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade, 12/14
Since 1986, the southernmost stretch of Sarasota Bay under the famous John Ringling Causeway has been home to some of the largest parading boats in Florida, including mega-yachts wrapped to the gills with Christmas lights. Centennial Park is one of the best places to watch thanks to its free parking and lack of crowds.