The name “Sarasota” is thought to be derived from a Spanish term for “a place of dancing” — an apt name for this Florida Gulf Coast city just south of the Tampa Bay area. With a lively arts scene, gorgeous beaches, and a burgeoning business center, Sarasota is a magnet for people looking to relocate. If that sounds like you, and you’re thinking about moving to Sarasota, read on to learn about what it’s like to live here.
But before we get into the nitty gritty about living in Sarasota, Florida, let’s take a virtual spin around Sarasota’s downtown and beaches:
SARASOTA AT A GLANCE
- Perched along the Gulf of Mexico about an hour south of Tampa, the city of Sarasota covers around 15 square miles of land in Sarasota County.
- Its population estimate of nearly 55,000 is part of the Sarasota-Bradenton-North Port metro area’s almost 860,000.
- The median household income in Sarasota is a little more than $56,000, but Longboat Key, a lovely stretch of beaches just off the Sarasota coast, boasts a median income of a little more than $108,000.
1. EXPERTS AGREE: SARASOTA IS A SENSATIONAL PLACE FOR BOTH RETIREES AND FAMILIES
Beautiful beaches, warm weather, and enviable recreational and cultural amenities earn Sarasota a spot on “best of” lists almost every year. In the most recent 2021 edition, U.S. News & World Report honored the city as the best place to retire in the U.S., naming the superb offering of restaurants in Sarasota among its many attractions. And Sarasota isn’t just for retirees. In fact, it’s the top place to live in Florida for all ages, beating out ritzy Naples to the south and bustling Tampa Bay to the north and landing among the top 10 places to live in all the United States.
And people are paying attention: Based on PODS customer moves for 2022, Sarasota had the highest growth rate in Florida and the entire U.S.
2. SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN THE WORLD ARE IN SARASOTA
While the entire Gulf Coast is abundant with award-winning beaches, Sarasota’s more than 35-mile stretch of sand and surf boasts some particularly stunning gems. Six keys (barrier islands) hug the coastline, all with gleaming-white, sugar-soft sand and glorious sunsets, but each with its own distinctive vibe. And like many Florida beach towns, Sarasota’s keys quiet down quite a bit in late spring when the snowbirds head north for the summer.
Here’s a closer look at each one:
- Longboat Key: This 12-mile island features resorts, beach cottages, and seaside hotels, plus established residential areas with lovely homes alongside the intracoastal canals that lead out to the open Gulf. A quaint downtown district bustles with restaurants, shops, and beach bars.
- Lido Key: Easily accessible from downtown Sarasota, Lido Key offers three main beach areas. North Lido Beach is somewhat secluded, with limited parking and no amenities. Lido Beach is a popular destination for tourists and locals looking for a relaxed but lively setting, with restrooms, concessions, and a public pool. And at the tip of Lido Key, South Lido Park offers views of downtown Sarasota and the Gulf of Mexico, plus a picnic area and a nature trail.
- Siesta Key: Two bridges from the mainland lead to 8-mile-long Siesta Key, where you’ll find a bustling area of shops and cafes in the village area. And the three beautiful Siesta Key beaches? They consistently rank among the best in the U.S. and the world. Siesta Beach has a park and tennis courts, along with a playground for the kids. At Crescent Beach, adventurers enjoy climbing along the Point of Rocks surrounding the tidal pools and coral reefs. And at Turtle Beach, boat docks and picnic areas make it a family favorite.
- Venice Beach: Sharp-eyed beach strollers may find a treasure or two on this gorgeous beach, which sits atop a fossil layer, 30 feet deep and filled with fossilized sharks’ teeth. Besides these ancient relics, Venice Beach offers pavilion-shaded picnic tables and a waterfront cafe. The nearby Brohard Paw Park welcomes furry friends to the county’s only dog-friendly beach.
- Casey Key: Tucked between Sarasota and Venice, Casey Key is a narrow island that’s home to Sarasota County’s oldest public beach, Nokomis Beach, and the area’s most coveted real estate. The exclusive island is home to many celebs. Head to the North Jetty Beach Park for bird watching, fishing, hiking, and picnic spots — and stay for a spectacular sunset from your perch on paved rocks stretching out into the gulf.
- Manasota Key: This 11-mile barrier island is the very definition of a hidden gem. Four beaches attract visitors with lush mangroves and dunes: Manasota Beach, Blind Pass Beach, Stump Pass Beach, and Englewood Beach. Go for a hike along the trails of Stump Pass Beach, a state park. And at Englewood Beach, picnicking and beach volleyball are among the main attractions.
3. LOOKING FOR THE BEST PLACES TO LIVE IN SARASOTA, FL? TRY LAKEWOOD RANCH, VENICE, AND DOWNTOWN SARASOTA
We’ll be honest, the flood of newcomers is driving up competition and home prices in Sarasota. If you’re local to Florida, you’ll find these prices to be overvalued, but if you’re moving from a northern city like New York or Boston, maybe not. The typical home value in Sarasota in September 2022 was over $495,000, a 31.9% increase over the prior year.
Of course, the prices will vary wildly, depending on where you want to live. Many consider any of the beach communities mentioned above to be the best places to live in Sarasota, FL, but these come at a steep price. For example, Longboat Key and Siesta Key have typical home values of over $1.24M and over $1M, respectively, with many properties stretching into the multi-millions.
The mainland has plenty of great neighborhood options, too, but for more availability and affordability, you may want to venture outside Sarasota proper. Here are three favorites (plus more to include on your list):
- Downtown Sarasota: Walkable neighborhoods stretch out from all sides of the downtown area, offering side streets filled with vintage bungalows and bayfront condominium towers with majestic views. Being so close to downtown’s charming restaurants and boutiques will cost you, though.
- Venice: Honored as one of America’s top places for living on the coast by Coastal Living magazine, Venice offers a relaxed beachy lifestyle with a dash of elegance. The city was designed as a master-planned community (one of the first in the U.S.), and many of its original 1920s homes have been restored to their former glory — with all the modern conveniences, of course. You’ll find bountiful shopping and dining options on Venice Avenue, just a quick hop away from Venice’s beaches.
Venice, Florida, home prices tend to be more affordable than their counterparts in their namesake Italian city, but back in the States, they’re comparable to Sarasota homes, coming in at just over $492,000.
- Lakewood Ranch: Families can find their niche in one of the 20+ distinctive villages of Lakewood Ranch, among the nation’s most highly rated planned communities. Businesses, golf courses, schools, and every possible amenity are here, along with the renowned Sarasota Polo Club. The typical home value in upscale Lakewood Ranch is about $742,000.
Other Sarasota neighborhoods and nearby areas to investigate include:
- Heritage Harbor
- Manatee River District
- River Forest
- Rosemary District
- Southside Village
- Wellen Park
4. THERE ARE PLENTY OF THINGS TO DO IN SARASOTA (BESIDES GOING TO THE BEACH)
Stunning beaches are, of course, the main attraction for visitors to the Sarasota area, with golfing coming in at a close second. But when the temperature and humidity reach brutal levels in the summer months, locals look for less weather-dependent activities. Here’s a quick look at a few of our favorite things to do in Sarasota:
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Yes, those Ringlings. John and Mable were serial art collectors throughout their lives, with the Museum opening as a legacy to their passion in 1927. Beyond visual art, the museum also hosts regular theater screenings, lectures, and more.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
Naturally, any list of things to do in a coastal Florida town is going to include some semi-aquatic adventures. Mote opened its doors in 1955 and has since grown into one of the largest marine research labs in Florida. A trip to its aquarium will have you encounter everything from manatees to sea turtles, and even a trip into virtual reality. Plus, it’s open 365 days a year — perfect for when you’re looking for something new and Googling “what to do in Sarasota.”
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
Take a right off Fruitville Road and look for the angular, lavender building. The Van Wezel regularly hosts concerts, comedy, musicals, plays, and dances year-round.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The botanical gardens have two campuses: one in downtown Sarasota and the other in Osprey, as part of the Historic Spanish point. The beautiful gardens teem with plant life, history, walkways, and community events.
St. Armands Circle
Another Ringling creation! St. Armands Circle is a luxurious shopping center located on St. Armands Key. Dotted with statuary, abundant palm trees and patios galore, it’s the perfect place to sip on a margarita or three while you watch the sun set.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
This one’s perfect for your list of things to do in Sarasota with your kids. Ever wanted to get face-to-face with a flamingo? This is your spot. The daily animal shows and petting zoos are sure to please the kids, while the plentiful walkways are sure to give parents a relaxing, tropical experience.
UTC Shopping Center
If you’re looking to go on a major shopping spree, the Mall at University Town Center is here for you. The sprawling complex is right off of I75 and just a hop, skip, and a jump from Lakewood Ranch. The best part? The University Town Center covers over 4 million square feet, so it will take you weeks to get to know every little bit of it.
5. SARASOTA HAS SOME AWESOME NEIGHBORS, AS WELL
As much as Sarasota has to offer, there are some pretty amazing places to visit within just about an hour’s drive. Both Clearwater and St. Petersburg boast award-winning white sand beaches with dolphin tours to boot, and Tampa is a hub for live music and sporting events — Go Bucs! Are you into theme parks? Tampa has Busch Gardens and Adventure Island to quench your thirst for adventure. Love to fish? You can charter a boat out of Clearwater (or really any of these cities) and take to the high seas — er, well the high “Gulf.” And for the culture enthusiasts among you, check out The Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
You can learn more about life in these beautiful Tampa Bay cities on the PODS Blog:
|Moving to Florida? Compare moving costs and options with our Florida moving guide or call PODS at 855-706-4758 for a personalized quote.|
6. SARASOTA SCHOOLS ARE OUTSTANDING
Serving more than 43,000 students, Sarasota County Schools consistently earn high ratings, coming in at second place among districts in the state according to Niche. Several individual schools have earned a 9 or 10 out of 10 review from GreatSchools and impressive marks from the prestigious “U.S. News & World Report Best Schools in America.”
Here are a few Sarasota standouts:
- Pine View School is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as second-best overall in Florida, No. 24 in America, and No. 1 in Sarasota County high schools.
- Sarasota Middle School, with around 1,200 students, ranks No. 3 in the county from Niche (only behind Pine View and Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences), thanks to its emphasis on academics and less-than-average student-teacher ratio of 16:1.
- Southside Elementary School and Bay Haven Elementary are the two historic schools built during Sarasota’s earliest days — and they’re both still kicking. Today, Bay Haven is called Bay Haven School of Basics Plus, and it’s a magnet school recognized as a National School of Merit (Blue Ribbon School) and a “Five Star School” (for 19 years!). At Southside, the Panthers’ vision is “to learn, to dream, to laugh, to love every child every day — whatever it takes!”
7. IT’S EASY TO FEEL YOUNGER IN SARASOTA
Despite the glorious Sarasota, Florida, weather, beaches, and slew of recreation opportunities that tend to make anyone feel young, age demographics here skew on the high side compared to the rest of the U.S. At 45, Sarasota’s median age is about 20% higher than the national median age of 37 and 10% higher than Florida’s median age of 41. What contributes to this higher median age? In addition to the many retirees making Sarasota their full-time home, many residents are “snowbirds,” meaning they flock south for the winter months and head to points north when the weather heats up.
|Retiring to Sarasota? Make the transition easier with these top moving tips from retirees who relocated to Florida and Arizona.|
8. SCOTTISH SETTLERS BUILT FLORIDA’S FIRST GOLF COURSE IN SARASOTA IN 1906
It’s no surprise that the first golf course in the state of Florida was built by a real estate developer in Sarasota. Sent from Scotland to manage a struggling colony of about 60 Scottish families, J.H. Gillespie is known as the “Father of Sarasota.” In addition to building the city’s first roads, establishing its first railroad service, and starting the tourism industry with its first hotel, Gillespie constructed two holes for golf in 1886. He officially opened the golf course in 1906.
Today, Sarasota residents and visitors can choose from hundreds of premier golf courses in the area, from The Highlands (of course!) to The Groves, a challenging public course.
9. TOURISM IS NO. 1, BUT ALL KINDS OF BUSINESS IS BOOMING IN SARASOTA
The medical industry is a big employer in Sarasota, as are grocery stores and law enforcement agencies. Tropicana, known for fresh orange juice (this is the Sunshine State, after all), still operates in Bradenton, where it was founded in 1947 by an Italian immigrant who arrived in America with $25 in his pocket.
Sarasota has also earned a bevy of business honors in the past decade. Accolades include: home to several of Yelp’s Top 100 Florida Restaurants, No. 1 relocation destination, and top city in the U.S. to see the most growth from 2021 to 2022.
The top six Sarasota employers include:
- Sarasota Memorial Healthcare
- PGT Innovations (building materials)
- Venice Regional Bayfront Health
- Helios Technologies
- Sarasota County Schools
10. SARASOTA IS A MAJOR CULTURAL DESTINATION
Besides the glorious weather, one reason so many people are making their way to Sarasota is its vibrant arts scene. From the elegance of the Sarasota Opera House, the Sarasota Ballet, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre to Sarasota Contemporary Dance, the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, the Circus Arts Conservatory, and the world-renowned Sarasota Film Festival — to name a few! — creativity thrives here.
And it’s not just about highbrow events. One of the most intriguing neighborhoods in Sarasota is the Towles Court Artist Colony, a downtown district of bungalows on brick-lined streets, founded in the ‘90s as a live-work haven for artists. Today, the colony is vibrant with galleries and studios, salons, cafes, art therapists, teachers, and more. Visitors are welcome, but the best time for newbies to check out the neighborhood is during open studio nights.
11. THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH USED TO CALL SARASOTA HOME
The Ringling name is synonymous with Sarasota. For starters, the Ringling College of Art and Design, opened in 1931, earns the highest accolades, with a renowned program in animation complementing its art and liberal arts curriculum. The school was founded by John Ringling, who, with his four brothers, started the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
On their annual trips to Europe to scout circus acts, John and his wife, Mable, toured art houses and built a tremendous collection of baroque masterpieces now on display at The Ringling, the State Art Museum of Florida.
Adjacent to the museum, Ca’ d’Zan, the couple’s five-story, 41-room Venetian Gothic manor, presides over Sarasota Bay. The name means “House of John” in Venetian dialect, but the home might have more suitably been named after Mable, who was obsessed with all things Italian and wanted her Florida manse to reflect the beauty she’d witnessed on many trips to Italy. Completed in 1926, the home cost $1.65 million, which included a $35,000 Napoleon-style bedroom suite.
The home eventually fell into disrepair but was renovated beginning in 2002. The $15 million facelift restored the opulent beauty of the home, now open for tours and special events as part of the Ringling Museum.
Convinced that moving to Sarasota, Florida, is the right move for you? Whether it’s out of state or just down the beach, check out the PODS Blog for advice on how to get there — every step of the way.
Shannon Jacobs is a Tampa-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS Blog. She has lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.