Is there anything worse for a golfer or meeting attendee than leaving a bewildered spouse back at the hotel surfing the daytime channels with nothing to watch but infomercials for Emeril’s cookware, Judge Judy and Real Housewives of Orange County reruns?
You can forget that problem in Sarasota, Florida.
While you’re out at meetings or chasing birdies and probably making bogeys, your spouse can enjoy watersports galore, museums, art galleries, luxury shopping, biking, kayaking, sailing… and the list goes on and on.
In the past few years downtown Sarasota has undergone a phenomenal renaissance with impressive new hotels, restaurants and art galleries popping up everywhere. It’s a wonderful walking and strolling environment and ideal for a spouse who has several hours to while away while her partner is at meetings or out playing golf.
Five new hotels have opened in downtown Sarasota since 2018: Aloft Sarasota, Art Ovation Hotel, The Westin, The Sarasota Modern and Embassy Suites.
Sarasota County encompasses nearly 40 miles of shoreline and includes the City of Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, City of Englewood, Nokomis, City of North Port, Osprey, and the City of Venice.
After you’ve sunk the last putt of the day and you want to either celebrate or, uh, drown your sorrows, the restaurants, bars and entertainment possibilities are eclectic and fun. You’ll find everything from Italian and Thai food to pub grub and a BBQ joint. For those who want to venture over the bridge (it takes about 10 minutes from downtown) to St Armands Circle, Lido Beach and Longboat Key, there are even more art galleries, shops, restaurants and bars in a scenic and walkable area.
Meetings and Conferences
As some of you know, I’ve been writing about the meeting and convention industry for more than two decades. Many of the same things that make Sarasota a great vacation destination make it ideal for small and medium size group meetings, conferences and incentives.
Hotels with meeting space are available in a variety of settings including beachfront, bayfront, airport, urban and suburban. As mentioned earlier, downtown has debuted five major hotel properties since 2018 (all with meeting and event space) .
The Sarasota area has one of the most diverse special event venue menus in Florida. Illustrating the diversity available is the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, The Ringling Museum, IMG Sports Complex and Sarasota Classic Car Museum.
When the request is for fun and interesting spouse programs, Sarasota is teeming with unique independently owned restaurants, art galleries, upscale shopping opportunities, museums and soft adventure activities.
One of my favorites is the Ted McAnlis-designed Tatum Ridge Golf Links, a Scottish-style links course with 11 lakes and lots of wildlife. I can’t guarantee any birdies on the scorecard, but you’ll see lots of interesting birds in this natural setting.
For fans of Tom Fazio designs, the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota offers play at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, 15 miles from the hotel at the Lakewood Ranch community. It hosted the Florida State Amateur Championship in 2018.
Natural woodlands and native habitat have also been well preserved at University Park Country Club, a 27-hole complex fashioned by Lakeland, Fla.-based designer Ron Garl. Ideal for all skill levels, the course has six tee placements on every hole.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club has 45 palm-dotted holes including the tree-lined Harbourside Golf Course that runs along Sarasota Bay and Links of Longboat Course that borders the Gulf of Mexico.
For a superb municipal golf experience, the Bobby Jones Golf Club is the only golf facility situated within the city limits of Sarasota. Only one of the 45 golf holes has any building development, making it a pleasurable way to spend four or five hours. Donald Ross fans love the British Course, designed by the Scotsman in 1926, which offers elevated dome shaped greens, open fairways and strategically placed bunkers. For novices, juniors and super seniors, the nine-hole, par 30 Gillespie Executive course is a great option.
The Sarasota National Golf Club has been a hit since it opened in 2008. If you play from the tips, you better bring a big stick as the championship tees measure 7,334 yards. Laid out around wetlands and natural areas, the course was designed by Naples, Fla.-based architect Gordon Lewis, who has fashioned several courses in southwest Florida, including Heritage Bay Golf and Country Club and ArrowHead Golf Club in Naples.
After Golf & Meetings Drinks & Good Times
Evie’s Tavern & Grill
If you’re looking for some flat-out fun and great deals, Evie’s has two lanes for bowling and a great Happy Hour with All Day/Everyday $11.75 domestic pitchers and $13.75 buckets of 5 domestic bottles. There’s also 69 cents wing day on Tuesday, $5 half-pound burgers on Thursday and fish and chips basket on Friday for $7.95 with $5 Guinness pints and several other specials. 1560 Main Street, Sarasota 34236
The Shamrock Pub
A pub/beer bar, this is a must stop for visitors who also like soccer. The televisions at the Shamrock show some of the best matches around the world. For a nice frosty one after your round, there are 20 taps featuring Irish and craft staples, plus 50 cans, bottles and rarer beers. 2257 Ringling Boulevard, Sarasota 34237
O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill
Set on the bayfront in downtown Sarasota it has live music, a great selection of chilled tropical drinks and beers and a fantastic burger menu. If you want to relax with a beautiful waterside view and wide selection of drinks, sandwiches and seafood choices, O’Leary’s is a great choice. 5 Bayfront Drive, Sarasota 34236
Other great places to unwind and toast your wonderful surroundings include Lynches Pub on St. Armands Circle, Paddy Wagon Irish Pub, Irish 31, Duffy’s Sports Bar and White Buffalo Saloon (a country bar)
You might starve for some good shots on the course, but I guarantee you won’t starve away from the fairways. The restaurant selection is absolutely amazing for a city of its size. The City of Sarasota has one of the highest concentrations of highly rated Zagat restaurants in the state of Florida.
A few of the places I dined at, which I highly recommend are:
Columbia Restaurant St. Armands Circle
Let me put it this way: Columbia Restaurant has been in Florida for 114 years. You don’t stay in the restaurant business that long unless the food and service is exceptional. If you want Spanish and Cuban food prepared to perfection and a chilled pitcher of sangria to wash it all down, this is a great treat after a full day on the golf course. Some of my favorite dishes include the 1905 Salad, Shrimp and Yellow Rice (see above picture), Filet Mignon “Chacho”, Red Snapper “Alicante” and the Spanish Bean Soup. 411 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota 34236
There might be more expensive Italian restaurants in the Sarasota area, but Caragiulos is the by far best value. The quality of food for the price is exceptional. I spent a month in Italy this past summer and I would put Caragiulos’ Spaghetti & Cedar Key Clams up against anything I had in Milan, Venice or Verona. Also superb on my visit to Caragiulos was the Calamari Fritto Misto and you absolutely must top off your meal with their delicious Mini Chocolate Chip Cannolis. Bravo! to Caragiulos, which is celebrating its 29th anniversary this year. 69 South Palm Avenue, Sarasota 34236
Yes there is a real Nancy and yes she and her staff cook up some fab BBQ. Nancy’s has ribs, brisket, chicken, pork with a secret dry rub recipe and a wide variety of intriguing sides like sesame crunch slaw, slow smoked baked beans, cheesy grits and collard greens with bacon. 301 South Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota 34236 and 8141 Lakewood Main Street, #104, Lakewood Ranch 34202
Other highly-touted restaurants include Cafe L’Europe at St Armands Circle, Ophelia’s on the Bay and Mattison’s City Grille.
- If you visit during the summer, take advantage of the SavorSarasota Restaurant Week in early June when dozens of restaurants feature prix-fixe, multi-course lunch and dinner menus from $16 and $32f per person. It typically runs for two weeks, but some restaurants extend through the summer.
You can opt to stay in downtown Sarasota, which has some excellent upscale hotels including the Ritz-Carlton and the new Art Ovation Hotel, across the bridge at The Longboat Key Club Resort, with on-site golf and beach activities, or there are several value-priced budget chain hotels near I-75. I stayed at the Art Ovation in downtown and throughly enjoyed walking to restaurants and entertainment during the evening.
Things To Do Suggestions
Inshore and Offshore fishing
Kayaking mangrove tunnels
Boutique shopping at St Armands Circle
Shopping at the Mall at University Town Center (Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s and Dillard’s)
Spring Training MLB Baseball Games during March (Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves)
Sailing/Rowing at Nathan Benderson Park
Biking on the 10.8 mileLegacy Trail
Electric bike tours
Tennis and Pickleball
Lunch and sunset cruises
The Ringling, the State Art Museum
Sarasota Museum of Art
Nathan Benderson Park
Sarasota National Cemetery
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Asolo Repertory Theatre
Myakka River State Park
Oscar Scherer State Park
Big Cat habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary
Sarasota is three miles north and Bradenton is six miles south of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. Tampa International Airport is about a one-hour drive from the area. Sarasota and Bradenton are easily accessible by automobile via Interstate-75, the main north-south arterial in southwest Florida.
For More Information
If you want a comprehensive overview of the area with hotel listings, events, beaches, cities, and things to do, click to the Visit Sarasota site.