Photo by Bev Woods

Explore Sarasota | Area Attractions | Get Directions

Explore Sarasota, Florida

The vacation spot of choice for both Amish and Mennonites from Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, Sarasota's beautiful white sand beaches and warm sunny weather make it an ideal destination for anyone.

Sarasota before the beach culture

First explored in the 16th century by Spanish expeditions, the Sarasota area was identified on 18th century maps as Zara Zota, perhaps derived from an indigenous name. A sheltered bay, it soon attracted both American and Cuban fishermen to it's prime fishing grounds. European settlers began to arrive in the 1840's, attracted by the both the warm climate and bounty of the bay.

In the 1900's, developers and investors, including Charles Ringling (Ringling Brothers Circus) saw the potential of tourism in Sarasota's beautiful coast and mild weather. Sarasota's waterfront and beaches were developed into the thriving vacation spot that it is today.

Pinecraft - vacation spot for Amish snowbirds

Nestled within Sarasota, Pinecraft is a small neighborhood community of approximately 3,000 Amish and Mennonites. And while some are year round residents, Pinecraft serves as a winter vacation spot for many Amish and Mennonites from Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Amish from Indiana and Ohio travel to Pinecraft on buses of the Ohio company Pioneer Trails. The “Florida Line" runs all months except August, and up to three times a week from February through April. From Pennsylvania many Amish commute on buses of Elite Coach of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, whose “Florida Line Run” has twice-weekly journeys January through March from Pennsylvania cities.

Life is a bit more relaxed in Sarasota - most houses will have electricity and the horse and buggies common in the north are replaced by three-wheeled bicycles preferred by Amish snowbirds. Food, fun and fellowship are the pulse of the community with plenty of places for visiting and catching up on the latest news from the north.

Florida's best beaches

Sarasota lays claim to six beaches, although none of them are the same. Six islands line the extensive coastline, each with a personality and natural beauty unique to its location.

Named number one in the world in 2011 by Dr. Beach, Siesta Key’s beaches are the beach benchmark for which all other beaches are judged. Miles of fine white sand stretch along the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Siesta’s western shore, perfect for blemish-free sandcastles, long walks, or a soft place to soak up the sun. For something different, try the more laid-back atmosphere at Crescent Beach in the middle of Siesta Key, or find fertile ground for shell collecting in the coarser sand at Turtle Beach on Siesta’s southern end.

Lido Key's north end features unspoiled beach backed by a public park, with nature trails from the water to the tranquil Florida pine forest. Head south and you’ll find a popular public beach that’s similar to Siesta, with white sands and many recreational amenities. On the island’s southern tip is South Lido Park, bordered by Sarasota Bay on the east, Big Pass to the south, and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. There, boaters drop anchor in the calm waters of the pass to come ashore and picnic in the park or enjoy the waves crashing on south Lido’s Gulf side beaches.

Longboat Key is a more private beachfront community than many areas of Sarasota, geared more to people looking for a more secluded vacation spot.

Venice Beach is one of the best places in the world to find shark’s teeth, easily sifted from the sand and shells by people of all ages. (Don’t worry; these pointy, triangular fossils -- naturally shed by sharks over their lifetime -- are due to a quirk of ocean currents, not sharks off the coast.) There’s also a massive fishing pier that extends into the Gulf, as well as dining options overlooking the beach.

Caspersen Beach - easily the largest in Sarasota -- featuring an unbroken vista of rolling dunes as far as the eye can see, while Casey Key is regarded as a private refuge studded with multi-million dollar homes.

The beaches on Manasota Key off the coast of Englewood in southern Sarasota are hidden gems. Even the two most popular beaches on the island - Manasota Beach and Englewood Beach - are rarely crowded. But Blind Pass Beach and Stump Pass Beach are so unknown you can pretend to be stranded on a deserted island.

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