Derived from the Spanish term for “a place for dancing,” Sarasota is 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 first, 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 26 square miles of land in Sarasota County.
- Its population of 58,000 is part of the Sarasota-Bradenton-North Port metro area’s 837,000.
- The median household income in Sarasota is $48,000, but Longboat Key, a lovely stretch of beaches just off the Sarasota coast, boasts a median income of nearly $115,000, second in the state only to ultra-luxe Palm Beach.
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 2020, U.S. News and World Report honored the city as the best place to live in the U.S. for retirees, naming superb restaurants and shopping among its many attractions. And Sarasota appeals to plenty of other age groups, to be sure. The city came in second only to Naples as the best place to live for all ages in the Sunshine State.
People are paying attention: Based on PODS customer moves for 2020, Sarasota had the highest growth rate in Florida and the fifth-highest growth in the 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 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 look at a few faves:
- 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 three beautiful beaches consistently rated as 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. Go for a hike along the trails of Stump Pass Beach, a state park. At Englewood Beach, picnicking and beach volleyball are among the main attractions.
3. LOOKING FOR THE BEST PLACES TO LIVE IN SARASOTA? TRY LAKEWOOD RANCH, VENICE, AND DOWNTOWN SARASOTA
We’ll be honest, the flood of newcomers is driving up competition and home prices in Sarasota. But if you’re moving from a northern city, you may still consider Sarasota real estate affordable, if not exactly a bargain. The median sale price for a single-family home in Sarasota in February 2021 was nearly $360,000, an 18.4% increase over February 2020, while the median sale price for condominiums was nearly $284,000, a 9% increase over 2020.
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, but these come at a steep price. For example, Longboat Key and Siesta Key have typical home values of $706,000 and $692,000, respectively, with many properties listing in the 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 close to downtown’s charming restaurants and boutiques will cost you, though, with a typical home value of $731,000.
- Venice: Honored as one of America’s happiest seaside towns 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 home prices tend to be more affordable in Sarasota, with a typical value of $297,000.
- 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 $433,000.
Other Sarasota neighborhoods and nearby areas to investigate include:
- Heritage Harbor
- Manatee River District
- River Forest
- Rosemary District
- South Gate
- Southside Village
- Wellen Park
4. THERE ARE OUTSTANDING SCHOOLS IN SARASOTA
Serving more than 43,000 students, Sarasota County Schools consistently earn high ratings, coming in at a respectable seventh-place among districts in the state according to SchoolDigger. Several individual schools have earned a 10 out of 10 review from GreatSchools and impressive marks from the prestigious “US News and World Report Best Schools in America.”
Here are a few Sarasota standouts:
- Pine View High School is ranked by US News as second-best overall in Florida, No. 24 in America, and No. 1 in Sarasota County.
- Sarasota Middle School, with 1,200 students, takes top marks in the county from SchoolDigger, thanks to consistent placement in the highest achievement bracket — the upper 10% of middle schools.
- 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 t’is recognized as a National School of Merit and an “A” school by the Florida Department of Education. At Southside, the Panthers’ motto is “to learn, to dream, to laugh, to love every child every day — whatever it takes!”
5. THERE MAY BE A MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR
About 17,000 bona fide millionaires live in the Sarasota area — a high concentration, by most standards — and 2,450 of them have $5 million or more. These well-heeled neighbors have included horror author Stephen King, reality shock-jock Jerry Springer, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, and sports luminaries Martina Navratilova and Terry Bradshaw.
And they’re not alone: A study commissioned by Sarasota Magazine revealed that the county is No. 2 in the U.S. behind Florida’s Collier County (home to Naples) for enticing wealthy folks to relocate from other states and put down roots in Sarasota.
|Retiring to Sarasota? Make the transition easier with these top moving tips from retirees who relocated to Florida and Arizona.|
6. IT’S EASIER TO FEEL YOUNG IN SARASOTA
Besides the glorious 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 49, Sarasota’s median age is about 29% higher than the national median age of 38, and 20% higher than Florida’s median of 42. In addition to the many retirees making Sarasota their full-time home, 14% of residents are “snowbirds,” meaning they flock south for the winter months and head to points north when the weather heats up.
7. YOU SHOULD CHECK OUT OTHER TAMPA BAY CITIES BEFORE DECIDING ON SARASOTA
There’s plenty to love about Sarasota, but every town has its pros and cons when you compare it to its neighbors. All of Tampa Bay is blessed with beautiful beaches and a variety of lifestyles to suit every family’s needs and wants..
So, what are the differences among the cities? Cost of living and housing prices are metrics to watch. Both are a bit steep in Sarasota, at 2.6% above Tampa, just an hour north. Home prices hit even higher, costing 21% more than Tampa (remember all the millionaires?). St. Petersburg and Clearwater residents have an even easier go of it comparatively, with a cost of living 4% lower than Sarasota’s and housing costs 20% less expensive.
Need more info to help you weigh your options? Check out our articles about these Tampa Bay cities:
|Moving to Florida? Compare moving costs and options with our Florida moving guide or call PODS at 855-706-4758 for a personalized quote.|
8. SCOTTISH SETTLERS BUILT FLORIDA’S FIRST GOLF COURSE IN SARASOTA IN 1906
It’s no surprise that the first golf course in Sarasota and the state of Florida was built by a real estate developer. 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. Later, he opened the first golf course in Florida 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. For a thorough guide to the best links close to Sarasota, see Golf Coast Magazine.
9. TOURISM IS NO. 1, BUT 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 earned a bevy of business honors in the past decade. Money Magazine named it the best small city in the nation. Other awards include: sixth-best medium-sized city, sixth-best city for standard of living, and 44th best (out of 150 largest cities in the U.S.) place to live and do business.
The top seven Sarasota employers are:
- Sarasota County Schools
- Tropicana Products Inc.
- Bon Secours (healthcare)
- PGT Industries (building materials)
- Winn Dixie
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 art walks on the third Friday of every month, from 5 to 9 p.m.
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.
12. TOP 6 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 our fave nearby attractions:
- The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
- Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium
- Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
- Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
- St. Armands Circle
- Sarasota Jungle Gardens
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you currently reside outside Florida. We hope this little introduction to living in Sarasota has helped with your relocation plans. And if you’re heading that way, we recommend you check out our best tips for moving out of state.
Wendy Malloy is a freelance writer in Tampa who’s lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.