Moving to Sarasota? Here's What You Need to Know Before You Go.
If you're looking for a relocation destination with year-round sunshine, you should include Sarasota in your cross-country move shortlist. This charming city has long been a popular destination for retirees, and it has been attracting many younger people, middle-aged adults, and families with children in recent years. Find out why Sarasota is a great place to start a new life.
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Overview of Sarasota
Sarasota is the seat of Sarasota County and the core city in the Sarasota Metropolitan Area. It's currently home to about 56,000 residents, who have a median age of 46.5 years old and a median household income of about $43,400. Retirees account for about one-third of the population. The city's population is 64.1% Caucasian, 18.2% Hispanic, and 14.6% African American.
With a total population of more than 600,000, Sarasota, Manatee, and Charlotte Counties form the seventh-largest and third-fastest-growing market in Florida. Over the past five years, this area has grown about four times faster than the national average. It's also one of the most affluent areas in the state. Besides being a thriving market, Sarasota draws many tourists and relocators because of its beautiful beaches, rich cultural heritage, abundance of attractions and activities, and world-class amenities.
Geography of Sarasota
Located about 61 miles south of Tampa on the southwestern coast of Florida, Sarasota lies along Sarasota Bay and includes several barrier islands that separate the bay from the Gulf of Mexico. The islands that are within the boundary of the city include Lido Key, Otter Key, St. Armand's Key, Casey Key, Bird Key, Coon Key, and parts of Siesta Key. Lido Key and Siesta Key are known for their amazing beaches. Sarasota covers an area of 25.9 square miles, of which 14.9 square miles are land and 11 square miles are water.
History of Sarasota
The first permanent European settler arrived in the Sarasota area in 1851. William H. Whitaker was deeded about 144 acres of land on Sarasota Bay. He built a log cabin at Yellow Bluffs, but it was burned down by Seminole raiders in 1865. Nevertheless, the new settlement grew rapidly in the following years, seeing the construction of a syrup manufacturing plant, winter resort, Baptist church, post office, school, and orange plantation.
In 1885, a large number of Scottish colonists arrived in Sarasota after a company in Edinburgh purchased 60,000 acres of land in the area and chose the settlement as the key point for its development project. However, they experienced hardships and became disappointed with their new land. By 1886, the population of the colony had diminished to only three families and several individuals.
Soon, a successful businessman named John W. Gillespie arrived in Sarasota and decided to make an attempt to revive the settlement. He established steamship connections with Tampa, constructed the DeSoto Hotel, and laid out what was probably the first practice golf course in the country. Sarasota became an incorporated town in 1902, and Gillespie was chosen as its first mayor. After it was incorporated as a city in 1913, it began attracting a large influx of tourists.
Times were tough during the recession in the 1970s, causing many businesses in downtown Sarasota to close. Nevertheless, the city began prospering again during the early 1990s following a major economic shift. Today, Sarasota boasts one of the finest downtown areas in Florida.
Climate in Sarasota
While it experiences comfortable temperatures all year round, Sarasota is vulnerable to hurricanes. The best time for outdoor activities is from December to February, when temperatures are pleasant and precipitation is minimal.
In spring, average temperatures in Sarasota range from the high 50s at the beginning of the season to the high 80s in late May. As such, you'll need to wear a mix of cool- and warm-weather clothing. Rain shouldn't be an issue during this time of the year, but you may need an umbrella occasionally.
Like other parts of Florida, Sarasota experiences hot and humid summers, with average temperatures ranging from the mid-70s to low 90s. The hurricane season begins in June and lasts until November, so you can expect heavy rains and strong winds, as well. You can prepare yourself for the extreme and inconsistent summer weather by drinking a lot of water and bringing an umbrella whenever you go outdoors.
Autumn weather is even more unpredictable. You may be able to enjoy outdoor activities without having to worry about rain or experience the worst of the hurricane season. Temperatures are typically pleasant throughout fall, ranging from the low 60s to mid-70s.
Winter is the most comfortable time in Sarasota, with average temperatures ranging from the low 50s to mid-70s. There are also significantly fewer rain showers during this season. However, it can get a bit chilly after the sun goes down, so you may have to put on a light jacket when you go out in the evening.
Living in Sarasota
Sarasota has a tranquil and laid-back feel that's uncommon for a city of its size, partly because of its mature population. It's the ideal place to experience coastal living in Florida. With its year-round sunshine and stunning beaches, it's widely regarded as a paradise, especially for retirees and families. Despite its small-town atmosphere, the city has an abundance of modern amenities, quality services, housing options, and recreational opportunities to ensure a high quality of life for its residents.
Sarasota is also a wonderful place to raise a family because it has many good schools with a wide range of youth development programs. Its warm weather also makes it possible for kids to engage in outdoor activities throughout the year, which enhances their overall well-being. There are numerous family-friendly attractions and activities in and around the city. These recreational opportunities, along with the wide availability of fresh local produce, make it easy for you and your family to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Another benefit of living in Sarasota is that you'll be able to experience its rich cultural offerings. The city is home to many historic sites, museums, art galleries, music venues, and performing arts centers that provide virtually endless opportunities for artistic and cultural exploration.
Transportation in Sarasota
Getting around in Sarasota is a breeze, thanks to its excellent public transportation system. The Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) offers efficient bus services throughout the county and connections with the Manatee County Area Transit. While it doesn't serve Sarasota, Amtrak has a bus service that runs from Sarasota Station to the nearest Amtrak station in Tampa.
When you need to drive out of town, you can take one of the major roads that connect to nearby towns and cities. Located about five miles from downtown Sarasota, I-75 is the only major highway in the area. It runs north to Tampa and south to Miami. The city is also served by two U.S. Routes, which are U.S. Route 41 and U.S. Route 301. U.S. Route 41 enters Sarasota from the south and then heads west on Bayfront Drive before going north again, paralleling the coastline. U.S. 301, on the other hand, runs parallel to I-75.
The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has been the area's main airport since 1941. Serving over 1.3 million passengers every year, it offers flights with five airlines to locations primarily in North America. For a wider selection of national and international flights, you can use nearby airports such as Tampa International Airport, St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, and Southwest Florida International Airport.
Economy of Sarasota
Sarasota attracts many job-seekers because of its strong job market. It has an impressive unemployment rate of 3.1%, which is significantly lower than the national average of 3.9%. Job growth in the city is expected to be much higher than the national average over the next 10 years. One of the most appealing aspects of working in Sarasota is that you don't have to pay state income tax, since Florida is one of the few states with no income tax.
The economy of Sarasota is relatively diversified. Its main industries include health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and retail trade, which collectively employ more than 40% of its working population. The city is home to many large companies offering plenty of employment opportunities, including Sarasota Memorial Hospital, L-3 Aviation Recorders, APAC Customer Services, Capgemini, and The Zenith.
Education in Sarasota
If you're moving to Sarasota with your kids, you can rest assured that they will receive a good education. The city has 15 public elementary schools, five public middle schools, and six public high schools, all of which are operated by the Sarasota County Public Schools. This school district has consistently earned an “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education. The top public schools in Sarasota include Alta Vista Elementary, Bay Haven School of Basics Plus, Brentwood Academy, Phillippi Shores Elementary, Southside Elementary, Sarasota Middle, Riverview High, and Suncoast Polytechnical High.
If you're planning to pursue higher education in Sarasota, you'll also have plenty of options. The city has four institutions of higher learning, including New College of Florida, Keiser University of Sarasota, Ringling College of Art and Design, and Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. In addition, it's home to the satellite campuses of Eckerd College and Florida State University College of Medicine.
Top Attractions Around Sarasota
With its beautiful beaches and white buildings fronting azure waters filled with sailboats, Sarasota is one of the most picturesque cities in Florida. Besides great scenery and wonderful photo opportunities, the city offers a wide array of attractions to provide quality recreation and entertainment for people of all ages. Check out the most popular attractions around Sarasota.
The Ringling is home to one of the most impressive collections of art and cultural objects in the United States. Constructed in the early 20th century, this 66-acre estate once served as the residence of John Ringling, one of the creators of “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Today, it consists of two museums, a splendorous Venetian Gothic mansion called Ca' d'Zan, the stunning Bayfront Gardens, and The Historic Asolo Theater.
The main museum in The Ringling is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which is widely regarded as the greatest circus museum in the world. It's filled with vivid colors and showcases a huge collection of circus memorabilia and art. The other museum is the State Art Museum of Florida, which features a multi-faceted collection of art that includes works by European, modern, and Asian artists.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is worth a visit even if you aren't particularly interested in horticulture. It's one of the best places to go for a stroll in Sarasota. You can enjoy a nice walk on a wooden boardwalk that runs through mangrove forests or relax in one of the many tranquil sitting areas that dot the grounds. Some of the interesting plants you'll see include orchids, bamboos, bromeliads, cycads, and magnificent banyan trees that are nearly 100 years old.
If you're bringing your kids, they'll have a great time at the butterfly garden, koi pond, and children's rainforest garden, which features a waterfall, hanging bridges, Amazon village, and an adventure trail. There's also a gift shop selling a wide array of souvenirs.
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary is another great place for a day out with the family. This facility is home to more than 150 animals, many of which have been rescued from unfavorable conditions and nursed back to health. Besides big cats such as lions, tigers, and ligers, you'll also see bears, camels, apes, monkeys, huge tortoises, and birds. There's a petting zoo where your kids can get up close and personal with sheep, goats, and donkeys. To provide additional entertainment, the sanctuary also hosts two animal shows every day: “Big Cat Encounter” and “Parrots in Paradise.”
Myakka River State Park
If you're an outdoor enthusiast or a nature lover, you should spend a day or two at Myakka River State Park. Located about 15 miles southeast of Sarasota, this 37,000-acre park is one of the largest and oldest parks in Florida. The scenic Myakka River and two lakes offer excellent opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. If you're an avid hiker, get on one of the many trails on the eastern side of the park. For a more relaxing adventure, you can enjoy a ride on the Safari Tram Tour or one of the two largest airboats in the world.
Siesta Key Beach
Siesta Key Beach is the most popular beach in the area around Sarasota, and for good reason. Located just a few miles south of the city, it has been named the nation's best beach in many polls. Unlike most other beaches, which are made of coral, this beach features quartz sand that's crushed into a white, fine powder, making it soft and cool to the touch.
Siesta Key Beach is an ideal beach for families as its shallow waters extend far out from the shore. Besides enjoying a nice cool dip in the clear, turquoise water, you can also play beach volleyball or relax with your family at a picnic table or playground. There are lifeguards on duty every day.
Sarasota Classic Car Museum
If you're a car enthusiast, you can satisfy your passion with a tour of the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. Known as the second-oldest continuously operating classic car museum in the United States, this 60,000-square-foot facility boasts an impressive collection of approximately 100 vintage cars. Notable exhibits include muscle cars of the 1950s to 1970s, John Ringling's Rolls-Royce cars, Paul McCartney's cherished Mini Cooper, and “futuristic” vehicles that didn't make it to the streets. You'll also find interesting rotating exhibits and a gift shop that offers a wide selection of nostalgic items.
Best Restaurants in Sarasota
Sarasota has long been a seafood haven. While most streets have at least one beach-themed restaurant and almost every establishment offers a catch of the day, you can also find many restaurants serving innovative dishes prepared with locally sourced ingredients. The following are some of the best restaurants in Sarasota:
If you're looking for an unforgettable fine dining experience, head down to Indigenous Restaurant in downtown Sarasota. Helmed by two-time James Beard Award nominee Stephen Phelps, this restaurant serves creative American dishes made with locally and regionally sourced produce in a cozy, sophisticated setting. Standout items include the Chilled Butternut Squash Soup, Pork Belly, Wild Mushroom Bisque, Parmesan Beignets, Shrimp and Red Peas, and Mote Marine Sturgeon but the menu does change seasonally. The wine list is short, but it's packed with notable wines. There's also a second “captain's list” that consists of small-production wines.
Your experience of the Gulf Coast won't be complete without having a meal at a waterfront restaurant. Located about 18 miles north of Sarasota in Bradenton, Tide Tables attracts many seafood lovers from near and far because of its fresh, succulent seafood, and amazing views of the Intracoastal Waterway and scenic waterfront of historic Cortez Village. Some of the restaurant's must-try dishes include the conch fritters, fresh gulf grouper sandwich, combo basket, scallops basket, and fish tacos. For dessert, order the famous homemade key lime pie.
For more exotic fare, head to Main Street for Selva Grill for Latin fusion dishes with a focus on Peruvian and Asian-influences. The menu is rich with fresh and colorful ceviches, salsas, seafood, and meat dishes, accented with exotic herbs and vegetables. The Selva Lounge offers custom cocktails, a late-night menu, and on weekend nights, a DJ. Guests can try menu items like Tropical Ceviche, Short Rib Spring Roll, Hawaiian Swordfish with Crab Stuffed Mussels, and Selva's Famous Skirt Steak, with a refreshing mojito on the side.
Situated on Main Street, Lila is one of the best places to go for a healthy meal. In this restaurant, vegetables take center stage, while meats play a supporting role. Most of the ingredients are sourced from local farmers and suppliers. You can start your meal with a kale and apple salad or grilled Brussels sprouts and then have a bowl of green French lentils or homemade fettuccine with cauliflower as the main dish. Lila also has an in-store bakery, so don't forget to take home a specialty cake.
Owen's Fish Camp
Situated in downtown Sarasota, Owen's Fish Camp is the definitive Florida seafood shack, offering the freshest and most delectable seafood in a casual environment. Right outside the restaurant, you'll find an old banyan tree Thomas Edison gave to Sarasota developer Owen Burns, which is an attraction in itself. The most popular items on the menu include the Pan-Fried Lump Crab Cake, Camp Basket, Cornmeal Crusted Catfish, Lobster Cobb Salad, Seared Sea Scallops with Braised Pork, and Fried Soft Shell Crab BLT. The restaurant's cozy backyard garden is the ideal place to enjoy a small concert during sunset.
Annual Events in Sarasota
Sarasota is a fun, vibrant city that always has something interesting going on, whether it's a small flea market or the hugely popular holiday parade. With its extensive lineup of annual events, the city provides virtually endless entertainment and social opportunities for its residents. Some of the most anticipated annual events around Sarasota include:
Sarasota County Fair
Started more than 80 years ago, Sarasota County Fair is one of the oldest annual events in the city. This 10-day festival takes place at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds on Ringling Boulevard every March and draws more than 130,000 attendees annually. It features a wide array of agricultural and animal exhibits, arts and crafts displays, live music performances, circus acts, amusement rides, pie-eating contests, a science fair, an auction, and much more. Admission fees are low, so you can have a fun day out with the whole family without burning a hole in your pocket.
Taste of the Suncoast
Taste of the Suncoast is a food sampling event where dozens of local restaurants donate their delicious food to raise funds for the All Faiths Food Bank and to fight hunger in the community. You'll get the chance to taste an extensive array of dishes, such as clam chowder, meatball sliders, grouper tacos, crab cakes, chili, gourmet dishes, and baked goods. Other than food, the event also features several alcohol beverage stations, a cigar station, two silent auctions, and live entertainment. Taste of the Suncoast is a six-day event and takes place at Westfield Southgate Mall.
Shark's Tooth Festival
For a more unusual experience, take a short drive south of Sarasota to attend the Shark's Tooth Festival. This event is held every April in Venice, the “Shark's Tooth Capital of the World.” This city is known as the shark's tooth capital because of the incredible number of shark teeth that wash up onto its pristine beaches. The festival attracts fossil collectors from across the Southeastern United States, who display and sell shark teeth and prehistoric fossils. In addition, there will be over 100 artists offering a wide variety of original artworks, food vendors, and live music performances.
Sarasota Jazz Festival
If you're a fan of jazz music, you mustn't miss the Sarasota Jazz Festival. Held at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota in March every year, this week-long festival consists of four major concerts featuring accomplished national and international jazz musicians, 13 regional bands performing different genres of music on four concurrent stages, high school jazz bands, and film and theatrical presentations. More than 110 musicians will be participating in this event, delivering a total of 48 performances. The event also includes the 10-Stop Jazz Trolley Pub Crawl, which takes you to some of the most popular night spots in the city.
Sarasota Holiday Parade
The Sarasota Holiday Parade is the event that kicks off the holiday season in Sarasota. Taking place in early December, this spectacular event draws tens of thousands of people to downtown Sarasota every year.
While it focuses on a different theme every year, the two-hour parade typically features brightly decorated floats, several marching bands, drill teams, and circus wagons, as well as entries from community organizations, schools, and local businesses. The big finale is the arrival of Santa Claus, who will be appearing with Mrs. Santa Claus. Traditionally, the parade runs west along Main Street, starting at the intersection with Gulfstream Avenue.
Best Neighborhoods in Sarasota
Sarasota is made up of many neighborhoods with different characteristics and features. Some of them are more suitable for retirees and families, while others cater more to the younger set. However, certain neighborhoods have gained a reputation for offering an overall higher quality of life. Check out this list of the best neighborhoods in Sarasota.
If you fancy living in a historic district, Laurel Park is the place for you. Situated in downtown Sarasota, this neighborhood has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It's home to many historic houses that date as far back as the 1920s, but it also has modern duplexes and apartment complexes. Its residents run the gamut from retirees and young families to professionals and artists.
As you walk along the tranquil brick-lined streets in this neighborhood, you'll see a wide array of architectural styles, from Mission Revival to Mediterranean Revival. In addition, you'll be within walking distance to the numerous shops, restaurants, and entertainment spots in the downtown area.
Named after Sarasota's first mayor, Gillespie Park is one of the fastest-growing residential areas in the city. Located just north of downtown Sarasota, it offers an interesting mix of housing options, including renovated 1920s bungalows, 1950s ranch-style homes, apartment buildings, and a small number of newly built homes. At the center of this neighborhood, you'll find the sprawling Gillespie Park, which features a lake and a refreshing fountain. This area has a diverse population that includes property owners and renters. It's also just a stone's throw away from the shops on Main Street.
Situated east of I-75 on the Sarasota-Manatee county line, Lakewood Ranch is a large neighborhood that consists of seven villages. Its residents are made up of people from all walks of life, ranging from young professionals to empty nesters. Half of this 8,500-acre residential area has been set aside for recreation areas and open spaces, including parks, pools, playgrounds, and hiking trails. There are several village centers in the neighborhood, so you'll have plenty of shopping and dining options to choose from.
Additionally, Lakewood Ranch is committed to becoming a green community. All its newly constructed buildings comply with Florida Green Building Coalition standards.
Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores
Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores is another community in Sarasota that's filled with historic homes, but it also has modern mansions and moderately priced homes. Due to its proximity to the Ringling College of Art and Design and New College of Florida, this neighborhood is popular among college students and professors. It's also home to many wealthy families and professionals. Its residents often gather at its bayfront parks to watch the sunset. Indian Beach-Sapphire Shores also provides easy access to many shopping and dining spots.
If you're looking for a neighborhood with a laid-back feel, consider staying in Siesta Key, home to the finest beaches in the country. This stunning island has a wide selection of housing options to suit different preferences and lifestyles, from condominiums to bungalows.
For a quieter environment, check out the Turtle Beach area at the southern tip of the key, which has plenty of tropical foliage and resembles an old-time Florida resort. At the northern end of the island, you'll find a compact downtown area with a number of restaurants offering fresh seafood, cold beers, and relaxing beach music. However, you have to be prepared for a large influx of tourists during winter.
With its comfortable weather, award-winning beaches, excellent amenities, and virtually endless recreational activities, Sarasota is undoubtedly one of the best places for relocation in Florida. It has everything you need for a comfortable and fulfilling life. If you're looking for a reputable long-distance mover to transport your stuff to your new location, feel free to contact us.