Sarasota is perfect for the ever-curious adults who are constantly looking for anything eccentric. The city is practically filled with unique charms. And that’s on top of its famous beaches. Clearwater is ideal for the adventurous, be it family or individuals. The city’s draws are made to be explored and conquered.
Sarasota is a perfect spot to visit for those who prefer to steer clear of mainstream destinations. The gulf city in Southern Florida is both outlandish and underrated. It boasts a rather interesting blend of circus history, eccentric millionaires, and the US’ best beaches. If you want to be surprised and fascinated at every turn, head to Sarasota for a different take on a vacation city.
What Makes Sarasota Unique?
Sarasota and the famous Ringling family will always go hand in hand, especially when it comes to the city’s reputation. The Ringlings have made their success through their iconic circus show business, as well as their eccentric taste. John Ringling decided to make Sarasota their winter escape after Charles died, and the Florida real estate bubble burst.
When the Ringling brought with them their name and fame to the city, it also helped the city’s economy. Sarasota gradually developed into the fascinating thing it is today. You can still see the Ringlings’ legacy of eccentricity. You can visit the iconic 66-acre (26.7 ha) estate where they have put all their best collections, especially their lavish mansion.
The famous Ringling Estate is the city’s most famous tourist destination. It is filled with art, history, and all sorts of bizarre finds perfect for the ever-curious type of traveler. You can visit a few different areas, such as the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and the extravagant mansion of Ca’d’Zan.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
This is perhaps the richest and most expensive collection in the entire city. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art best showcases the family’s fascinating reputation. It houses art pieces of different kinds, from different eras in history. You can find classical art architectural pieces and even furniture.
The museum was opened in 1927 and features around 15,000 artworks, most of which were acquired and donated by John and Mable Ringling. However, many of the pieces are mere replicas of the real thing. The museum is perfect for art lovers as they can check out a wide range of art, from European to non-Western art.
The Circus Museum best explains the eccentricity of the family and is the most fascinating place you’ll find in Sarasota. It houses a collection of memorabilia from the family’s circus business. The museum also features various items representing the industry’s development over the years. You can check out around 44,000 items and pieces, such as wagons, tents, pictures, and records.
Perhaps the Ringlings’ most ambitious and grandest project ever. The Ca’d’Zan Mansion is extravagant and masterfully built, with all the European romance it evokes. Mable Ringling had the mansion built so that the family had a winter estate in the city. The project cost around 1.6M USD, at the time. Imagine how much that would cost today.
Ca’d’Zan has a total area of about 36,000 sq. ft (3,344 sq. m), all inside the same Ringling Estate in Sarasota. The mansion has a staggering total of 41 rooms, 15 bathrooms, and five stories. Its interiors are lavish and intricate as you could expect. Mable Ringling herself saw to it that everything is thought of down to a tee.
Florida’s Most Beautiful Beaches
Everybody knows how extremely gifted Southeast Florida is when it comes to beaches. But the Southwest Florida–Gulf of Mexico area isn’t bad as well. In fact, on Sarasota’s coasts, you can find some of the country’s best beaches. With a 35-mile (56 km) white-sand stretch, you can easily have a good beach trip.
Sarasota Bay features six keys or barrier islands each having quirks and twists of its own. This provides beach bums and visitors with diverse beach scenes and experiences to enjoy. Here are three of the famous keys and beaches:
Lido Key has to be the most famous and most visited stretch of sand in all of Sarasota thanks to its famous beaches each offering its twists and quirks.
The key is divided into three distinct sections, first is North Lido Beach. It is the key’s quiet and less crowded side, especially with all its rugged charms and small parking space.
Another one is Lido Beach, the more touristy crowded part. Expect to see swaths of people, events, as well as several amenities and facilities around.
And South Lida Park, the third area, is the best spot to visit if you want great views.
Siesta Key is a favorite among locals also boasting three different sections. These areas offer varied scenes and experiences on the coasts of Southern Sarasota. Siesta Beach is saturated with tourists and activities perfect for a day out at the beach. The area offers tennis courts, playgrounds, and many other features.
For the outdoorsy and adventurous, Crescent Beach is the perfect getaway. The area features tidal pools and coral reefs for snorkeling. The last stop is Turtle Beach, it is like Lido Key’s North Lido Beach. It is quieter, more chilled, and sparsely populated.
Venice Beach evokes beauty just like its Italian namesake. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches in Southern Florida, if not the entire US. Beautiful seashells are easy to find around Venice Beach, as well as a coral reef just offshore. The beach also has picnic tables and a waterfront cafe sporting gorgeous views of the sea beyond.
Sarasota has become a quiet haven for many US millionaires. The city has seen an interesting rise of wealthy migrants over the years. The city has ranked at the top of the US metropolitan areas survey. According to their latest report, Sarasota has the highest number of moneyed residents.
The survey has counted around 17,000 true millionaires in the city, living in the many upscaled residences. This data is actually higher than most cities in the entire US. Plus, 2,450 of them reportedly have a net worth of 5M USD or more.
Some of the city’s high-profile residents are big entertainment names such as Jerry Springer, Stephen King, and Rosie O’Donnell. Big names in the sports industry are also on the list, such as Terry Bradshaw, Dick Vitale, and Maria Navratilova.
Conditions in Sarasota play a huge part in why millionaires prefer to set up homes there. Sarasota’s gated communities and luxury condominiums allow a low-profile life in the city. It even has several exclusive country clubs.
Parks and Museums
Part of the city’s interesting list of draws is its many parks and museums. These spots showcase how culturally and historically rich Sarasota is. They provide not just mere beauty and excitement to the city but also entertainment and education.
On top of the Ringling Estate’s museums, Sarasota has many more to offer. Here are some of the most recommended spots:
Myakka River State Park
Adventurous tourists and outdoorsy types will surely enjoy Myakka River State Park. The expanse’s diverse landscape provides plenty of opportunities for a quick adventure. It features a boardwalk that takes you around the park showcasing its lush condition.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium rescues, rehabilitates, and conserves marine life. It took in marine animal species regularly by the thousands. It even took in endangered species like manatees and turtles. The aquarium protects over 100 different species of marine animals. Which are then categorized into different sections.
A tour around the laboratories and the many sections of the aquarium is on offer and comes in a variety of packages. It also shows visitors how the animals are being taken care of by the volunteer as well.
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
On top of the already eccentric Circus Museum, Sarasota also has the Classic Car Museum. The center showcases cars from different eras. Each of them represents the development of the automobile industry. You can check out hundreds of cars that are unique from each other.
The museum’s 60,000 sq ft. (5,574 sq. m) area houses a wide selection of cars each iconic in their own right. Some of the museum’s popular displays are the Rolls-Royce collection of the Ringlings and John Lennon’s Mercedes-Benz
Clearwater is small and simple yet it offers so many adventures around. From the skies to the seas, Clearwater offers unique and fun experiences in an underrated city. You can have adventures around its beaches and fun in its famous cosmopolitan districts. The city can feel like a simple smooth and fun getaway from the bustle of a much bigger city.
What Makes Clearwater Unique?
Without going to Clearwater’s signature beach, a trip there wouldn’t be complete. The main beach in the Clearwater region is Clearwater Beach. This is where many locals converge as dusk falls to take in one of the region’s breathtaking sunsets.
The beach is known for its beautiful waters and warm sand, and it has even been named one of Florida’s top beaches. This isn’t the place to go for a sedate, tranquil day at the beach because it’s situated in a highly touristic and active neighborhood.
Families, couples, locals, and tourists may all find entertainment at the beach. You can partake in coastal pastimes like fishing or even take a stroll along the sand. If you want to escape the crowds during spring break, do your research before you visit because it’s also a very popular location with students.
Beyond the sand, there are resorts, eateries, pubs, and cafés; everything is close by. To make yourself more comfortable, you can also hire chairs and umbrellas at the beach. This is a lovely site to watch the sunset, aside from the very warm crystal blue waters and silky white sand. Additionally, you can search for shells; if you’re particularly fortunate, you might even see some dolphins playing in the ocean.
One of the sights in Clearwater that you really must see is Pier 60. It is a fishing pier, as the name implies, and something of a Clearwater mainstay. While this pier is well-known for fishing and has plenty of neighboring gear shops, the true excitement happens when the sun sets.
The Sunset Festival starts when the sun sets. Street performers, craftsmen, and live singers start their performances up and down the 1800-foot (549 m) pier. Sunsets at Pier 60 was first a seasonal festival. But has since grown to become the hub of Clearwater’s nighttime beach activities for visitors of all ages.
Pier 60 has free evening events perfect for everybody. You can have live performances, outdoor movies, street entertainers, and arts & crafts stalls.
It also has a playground with inflatables, slides, and a castle tower perfect for children. Bring a blanket and some snacks for a fun time at the family-friendly movie nights. They’re usually held on the sand on the weekends.
Many people can also be seen fishing off the edge of the pier if you visit during the day when it is a little bit more peaceful. It’s a well-known location for capturing fish such as mackerel, snapper, redfish, flounder, and sheepshead.
In Clearwater, it’s fun to tour the area by air. Experience breathtaking views that can only be seen from the air or on a boat with helicopter tours. Additionally, it gives you a brand-new perspective on this picturesque coastal city.
Be sure to bring your camera, though. You’ll see some magnificent sites including Clearwater Beach, the Sunshine Skyway, and even some aquatic life.
Kids will love this family-friendly daytime cruise. Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise is an entertaining tour with dressed-up pirates and two hours of adventure. All while navigating the Gulf of Mexico, with cast members role-playing. There is a lot of running and pretend play. Children can take part in water gun fights, face painting, and even treasure hunts.
Skysurfing, possibly Clearwater’s most eccentric means of exploration, is both exciting and adrenaline-pumping. You will have the chance to ride a type of hang glider into the air, often known as trike flying.
The majority of lessons last an hour, and you will be flying with an expert instructor. They will teach you all you need to know about how to handle the aircraft. You will pass some notable local sights en route to the Gulf of Mexico.
Catch Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Clearwater Marina, and Pier 60. You might even be able to spot dolphins, sharks, and turtles in the waters below while you soar.
Cleveland Street District
There is more to Clearwater than just the beach and the water; two miles away is a downtown area centered on the Cleveland Street District. The Cleveland Street District is perched on top of a 30-foot (9 m) bluff, which provides breathtaking views of Clearwater Harbor.
The Cleveland Street District is well-known for having some excellent food and shopping options. It is also an amazing place to enjoy the Clearwater views in the evening.
Downtown, which has recently undergone significant redevelopment, beautification, and other investment, is flourishing. A variety of residential, business, dining, retail, and entertainment areas are located here as well.
In the evening, a lot of folks come here to roam around and take in the ambiance. Additionally, there is a public art program here. You can also access the famous Pinellas Trail from here.
Sand Key Park
Many enjoyable coastal activities, as well as park amenities, may be found in the well-known Sand Key Park. It is the ideal entry on your agenda for your trip to Clearwater beach. Plus, the fabled views are unmatched. A dog park and a playground are all available in Sand Key Park. The park also has some adorable beach cabanas.
Unlike many beaches in the region, you can find seasonal lifeguards on duty. Knowing that another person is watching out for your children merely adds to your sense of security. Sand Key Park Beach offers a wide range of additional services. This includes beach wheelchairs for the disabled, outdoor showers, and beach umbrella rentals.
Ask about renting kayaks or renting a bike and riding the boardwalk to the nature trail. This is one location where loggerhead turtles lay their eggs if you really want to experience something unique.
Is Clearwater or Sarasota Better?
If you want a jam-packed location full of quirky finds with a side beach scene, Sarasota is the better option. If you look at it, Sarasota has everything you’re going to need from a holiday in an underrated city. From odd museums to a myriad of parks, and beaches, Sarasota is one of Florida’s most unique cities.
But that doesn’t mean Clearwater doesn’t deserve the attention. The city can feel like a true getaway, especially with its world-class beach and a much smaller area. Clearwater’s adventure-friendly draws make it even the perfect alternative for a family vacation.
Is Sarasota Near Clearwater?
With only a 46.6 mile (75 km) direct distance between them, Sarasota and Clearwater sit close to each other. The driving distance is approximately 55 miles (88.7 km), and can only take more than an hour.