Sarasota, long a magnet for culture vultures and art aficionados, is also a great place to visit with kids.
At the Sarasota Children’s Garden, kids can don a tutu or tiara from a costume collection before taking on a pirate ship or a tower of rainbow-colored tires.
At the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, pint-sized patrons might prove nonplussed by the circus impresario’s collection of Old Masters paintings. But they’re driven to flights of fantasy by the world’s largest miniature circus and the elaborate wagons and costumes on display.
Young ones more interested in facts and formulas than fairy tales flock to G.WIZ. At the science museum, visitors push, pull, twist and turn interactive exhibits to learn about electricity or sound waves.
“I love the machine village; I remember it from when I was a kid,” says Jen Wohlforth, the museum’s director of operations and a Sarasota native. “Kids often don’t realize that everything there is powered by people. When they have that ‘aha’ moment, it encourages them to ask questions and seek their own answers.” (Note: G.WIZ is currently closed for renovations. Check www.gwiz.org for updates.)
Sea life both creepy (a chartreuse moray eel, sizable sharks) and cute (tiny seahorses, manatees named Hugh and Buffett) reside at The Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory. Children can get their hands wet here, petting a stingray or panning for sharks’ teeth.
“Most of the exhibits are centered around things you would actually find here,” says Samantha Levell, 16, a volunteer at the aquarium. “Like the open-top grassflats exhibit, which pretty much replicates what you would see in Sarasota Bay.” A new sea lions exhibit is open until spring 2013.
Other winged creatures can be spotted at neighboring Save Our Seabirds, home to pelicans, hawks and other rescued and injured birds under the care of the nonprofit organization. One swan was relocated from a pond at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, where it was endangering aircraft.
The circa-1940 Sarasota Jungle Gardens oozes with vintage charm, harkening to the Florida roadside attractions of yore. Kids can get up close and personal with alligators and other creatures during the reptile show, feed flamingoes and pose for photos with a colorful bird on their arm.
When it’s time for sun and surf, there are few better places than Siesta Beach, recently named America’s best beach by Dr. Beach, coastal scientist Stephen P. Leatherman.
For food, kid-friendly dining options abound. An 1850s-era railroad depot relocated from Indiana serves as the setting for the Rosemary District’s Station 400, which serves breakfast and lunch and offers choices for children like PB&J and pancakes.
Downtown Sarasota institution Caragiulos lets kids play chef. All the fixings for the Kidzza Pizza Mia are brought to the table, where 10-and-unders can assemble their own pie. They even get extra dough to play with while waiting for the finished product.
Many area hotels also roll out the welcome mat. The Longboat Key Club & Resort’s Kids Klub programs feature crafts and games for guests 5 to 12. Children’s programs at the Ritz-Carlton include beachside camp sessions and Kids Night Out events where participants might gather around a beach bonfire or party in their pajamas.
Which means that Mom and Dad can squeeze in a little time to lounge by the pool or grab that tropical cocktail they’ve been craving.
If You Go
69 South Palm Ave., Sarasota
1001 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota
5212 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
5401 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota
Longboat Key Club & Resort
220 Sands Point Rd., Longboat Key
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota
The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota
Sarasota Children's Garden
1670 10th Way, Sarasota
Sarasota Jungle Gardens
3701 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota
Save Our Seabirds
1708 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota
400 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota