Known as one of Florida’s cultural hotbeds, Sarasota has plenty of unexpected things to do in addition to its beach, architecture, arts, and circus roots.

Sarasota is an eclectic blend – new with old, sport with culture, art with commerce. Known as Florida’s Cultural Coast, this stretch of sand and city 60 miles south of Tampa on the Gulf of Mexico is home to both Pinecraft, where Amish and Mennonite snowbirds go for the winter, and the sleek, midcentury modern homes, the architectural gems designed by Paul Rudolph. Nestled among the more well-known attractions, like the Ringling Circus Museum, are hidden gems that make Sarasota all the more loveable. We’re pulling back the curtain to show off a few of our favorites.

Mote Marine Aquarium

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

Voted one of the top 10 best aquariums in the US in TripAdvisor’s 2014 “Traveler’s Choice Awards,” Mote is an independent marine research institution that focuses on how to sustainably fish, play, and work in the world’s oceans, as well as how to conserve and protect them. With two touch tanks and a 135,000-gallon shark habitat, Mote Aquarium gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with a variety of marine animals and fish.

Towles Court Artist Colony

These galleries, working studios, and cafés that make up Towles Court Artist Colony are housed in a colorful collection of bungalows and cabins. Wandering beneath the mossy oak trees and sculpture gardens (where you may see an impromptu tai chi class), you’ll see interior and graphic designers, art therapists, event planners, and more. The formal galleries and artist studios showcase ceramics, jewelry, photography, painting, and fiber arts. Step into one of the studios to take a class or commission a piece. Call before visiting because of unset hours, but on the third Friday of each month, the studios and galleries open their doors for an art walk from 5 to 9 p.m.

Asolo Repertory Theatre

As the largest professional not-for-profit theater south of Atlanta, Asolo Repertory Theatre draws more than 100,000 patrons each season. Asolo has a partnership with the Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, which is ranked among the top 10 programs in the country. Third-year students join Asolo Rep’s mainstage company, which means you might just see one of America’s next star actors on stage. You’ll see a mix of commissioned works, classics, and Tony-winning dramas on the two main stages, as well as performances by The Sarasota Ballet.

Sarasota Classic Car Museum

Recognized as the second oldest continuously operating classic car museum in the US, it boasts a collection of antique, exotic, European, and classic cars that spans the twentieth century. Highlights include a 1965 Mercedes-Benz that belonged to John Lennon and a Rolls Royce that belonged to John and Mable Ringling. John was one of the five Ringling brothers, who owned and operated a circus you may recognize – “The Greatest Show on Earth” that called Sarasota home.

Siesta Key Beach

Recently named the number one beach in America by TripAdvisor, Siesta Key Beach is a delightfully quirky beach experience. If you happen to be between lifeguard stations 3 and 4 an hour before sunset on a Sunday, you’ll be treated to the phenomenon that is the Siesta Key Drum Circle. Locals and visitors are welcome to enjoy and participate as the beat moves them.

Stay

Zota Beach Resort

Modern and stylish, this beachfront resort has a compelling draw – the secluded vibe of a private island but with all of the upscale shops and restaurants of nearby St. Armand’s Circle at your fingertips. Relax on the resort’s white sand beaches, soak up the sun by the zero-entry pool, or head to the chic wine bar for a drink.

Lido Beach Resort

Three hundred feet of private, white sand beach that overlooks the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico draws guests to this luxury resort. For what you’d expect, park yourself under one of the resort’s beach umbrellas for the day, or take advantage of the two beachfront pools. For something a little more out there, pop into the Beachside Tiki Bar for one of their handcrafted cocktails, like the Honey Badger Sour, a fittingly unexpected beverage before you venture out for any of Sarasota’s other eclectic amenities.

The Resort at Longboat Key Club

Tennis and golf lovers, this resort is your paradise. The award-winning tennis center has 20 Har-Tru courts, and the resort’s golf courses are consistently ranked among the country’s finest. The secluded setting on a barrier island includes 410 acres of lawn and beach – plenty of room for the many activities the resort offers. Families will want to take advantage of Camp Loggerhead, which offers morning, afternoon, full-day, and Friday-night care for kids.