Get to know this gorgeous Gulf gem, and one of America’s Top 10 Happiest Seaside Towns 2017. Get the inside scoop on Sarasota, including where to eat, drink, play, and stay. 

This is a city of surprises. Harboring world-class beaches and a top-shelf arts and culture scene (resident opera and ballet companies, plus its own symphony orchestra), Sarasota has beauty and brains in equal measure. Further, a collection of old-school neighborhoods with small-scale homes (not to mention a heralded collection of midcentury modern architecture) makes day-to-day life sweet , easy, and an aesthetic joy. And then there’s that Gulf—provider of breezes, local catch, and a laid-back cultural overlay that keeps life here in an ideal balance.

Sarasota by the Numbers

Population: 55,118
Average July high: 90
Average January low: 52
Median home price: $262,400
Average commute time: 25 minutes
Number of sunny days: 251 days

Best Beaches and Other Attractions

It's a quick and scenic drive (and a popular running and walking route) across the Ringling Bridge to Lido Key, part of the city and home to three beautiful public beaches. Lido Beach, a 3,000-foot strand of powdery white sand, has lifeguards and such conveniences as concessions, restrooms, and a pool. Undeveloped North Lido Beach, with its quiet, bleached sands and grassy dunes, is home to local and migrating shorebirds. South Lido Beach is part of a 100-acre property that touches four bodies of water: Sarasota Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Big Pass, and Brushy Bayou.

Just 15 minutes from downtown lies Siesta Key, with its shallow waters and epic expanse of bone-white, 99-percent-quartz sand, which stays cool even on the hottest sunny day.

Bayfront Park, within walking distance of Main Street and with sweeping views of the sailboat-dotted bay, is a magnet for strollers and picnickers. Bring your inner kid to life at The Ringling, a waterfront museum complex that includes a circus museum with clown cars and cannons that once fired human projectiles, a fine-arts museum with a noted collection of Asian art, and walking trails and garden tours. Visitors can also explore Ca’d’Zan, the former home of Ringling Brothers circus founder John Ringling and his wife, Mable. Set beside Sarasota Bay, the restored Mediterranean Revival mansion is marvelously ornate, inside and out.

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Where to Eat and Drink

Sarasota has a stellar roster of restaurants. At the top: chef-owner Stephen Phelps's understated culinary bravura at Indigenous. The wild-mushroom bisque with truffled rye croutons is a year-round standout, along with Gulf shrimp mains and house-made ice creams. At hip Selva on hopping Main Street in the heart of downtown, Peruvian cuisine goes upscale with a whole list of show-stopping ceviches and updated Pisco cocktails. Owen's Fish Camp brings Old Florida classics such as fried oysters and cornmeal-crusted catfish, not to mention a fish camp cottage with porches and twinkly lights, to downtown.

In St. Armands Circle, Shore Diner has a blue-crab cake with house slaw and Old Bay mayo that's just right with the gin-and-St. Germain house cocktail. Finally, the carefully crafted coffees at Perq Coffee Bar draw a creative crowd from artists to architects to Sarasota's low-key, cool Southside Village neighborhood.

For Tiki fans, O’Learys Tiki Bar & Grill lights up the night and loves Sarasota’s canine contingent as well (it’s also a beloved local hangout). Sunday brunch at the waterfront Ophelia’s on the Bay in Siesta Key adds a raw bar with local shrimp to the typical mix of bloody Marys and benedicts, then mixes it up with lunch favorites like shrimp and grits and a grouper Reuben.

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Where to Stay

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota is a downtown hotel by location but a beach resort by nature. Balcony suites peer over Sarasota Bay just a few blocks from shopping and dining, and hotel guests can slip away to the solitude of the resort’s private beach club on Lido Key or work on their strokes — golf or tennis — at a Golf Club featuring an 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed championship course. For a Gulf Coast getaway still in town, scoot across the bridge to Longboat Key and check into The Resort at Longboat Key Club. The spa offers customized aromatherapy massages that will do as much for your point of view as those Gulf vistas from your room.