Just an hour south of the Tampa Bay area, Sarasota was once a sleepy Southwest Florida retirement oasis on the way to Naples and Miami. Today, the city is a bustling cultural and business center, with a beautiful downtown core, an innovative arts community, and of course, stunning beaches that have attracted visitors for decades. If you’re among the many people thinking about moving to Sarasota, check out our guide to the best places to live and find out what’s so special about this gem on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
What if…you could live in Sarasota?
Imagine calling a vacation destination home. That’s the vibe in Sarasota, where 2.5 million people every year come for a visit, and 14% of residents are snowbirds who stay just for the winter. With population growth at a robust 14% over the past decade, it’s likely some of those guests are deciding to move from another state to live in Sarasota year-round.
Like much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota attracts retirees. Close to 35% of residents are 65 and older, drawn by the golf resorts, beaches, and glorious winter weather. In 2020, U.S. News and World Report named the city the best in the nation for retirees.
But young folks have found Sarasota, too, sparking a creative community that rivals larger metro areas in Florida and across the country. In fact, Sarasota ranks as the best place for people of all ages to live in the Sunshine State, second to Naples.
With 251 days of sun every year, Southwest Florida living is all about the outdoors. Besides beach-strolling and sunbathing, golf tops the list of activities for Sarasota residents. There are hundreds of premier golf courses in the area, including elite championship clubs and public courses open to all levels of expertise. Check out Golf Coast Magazine’s guide to the best links in the area.
What are home prices like in Sarasota?
As you might expect for a vacation paradise with a growing year-round population, prices for just about everything are a smidge higher in Sarasota than in other Florida cities — except for ultra-upscale locales like Palm Beach and Naples. This is especially true when it comes to housing costs. As of March 2021, the typical home value in Sarasota was $313,000, up 11.3% over a year ago, according to Zillow. This is 13.4% more than typical homes cost in the U.S. Yet if you’re moving from high-priced areas like New York City or Washington, DC, you may still think Sarasota is a good deal. If you’re not in that group, there are some areas relatively close to Sarasota that offer more affordability.
Compare home Prices in Sarasota and the Tampa Bay Metro area:
- Sarasota: $313,000
- Bradenton: $264,000
- North Port: $241,000
- Palmetto: $268,000
- Tampa (Hillsborough County): $276,000
- St. Petersburg – Clearwater (Pinellas County): $283,000
- United States average: $276,000
(Source: Zillow typical home value data as of March, 2021)
How much does it cost to rent an apartment in Sarasota?
Like most of Florida, the Sarasota area offers plenty of options for renters. In fact, 51% of homes in Sarasota are occupied by renters vs. 48% by homeowners. The average monthly cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in April, 2021 is nearly $1,500, about $100 more than the national average, according to RentCafe.
Rents vary, of course, depending on the specific location — and in Sarasota, with its eclectic neighborhood options, the prices can fluctuate quite a bit. Close to 9% of area rentals will cost you upwards of $2,000, and many trend much higher the closer you get to downtown and the beaches.
Best Places To Live in Sarasota: Neighborhoods in the city and beyond
Just like its residents, from families to young professionals to relaxed, retired boomers, Sarasota neighborhoods are diverse and distinctive. Here’s a quick look at a few faves:
New construction currently dominates the downtown core and skyline, with condominium and apartment towers stretching high above the city streets. The lifestyle is ideal for young professionals and empty nesters looking for the convenience and energy of urban living, with plenty of shopping, dining, arts events, and street fairs like the weekly farmers market. It’s a bit pricey, though: Home values average $735,000.
This neighborhood has been compared to New York City’s Greenwich Village, thanks to its eclectic mix of old Key West-style bungalows, cafes, and boutiques, and its appeal to artists, who founded the Towles Court collective back in the 1990s. But it’s unlikely that any struggling artists will find a place they can afford here, with even small homes ranging from $600K to $1 million, according to Realtor.com.
About 15 minutes from downtown Sarasota, Fruitville is a more affordable, family-friendly Sarasota-area option, with a typical home value of $322,000. It’s still convenient to the arts and businesses of downtown but with a decidedly suburban atmosphere. Fruitville Park serves as the center of area recreation, with soccer, basketball, softball, and pickleball, plus playgrounds and trails.
Homes on this key’s 16 square miles of land average a hefty $713K, with many homes in the millions — about what you might expect for a resort-style community. Canals wind through established upscale neighborhoods, wrapping around homes outfitted with docks and dazzling boats for easy access to the open Gulf of Mexico. Sarasota dining and shopping are just a few minutes away at elegant St. Armand’s Circle, but Longboat Key also has a charming village of its own, with beach-y cafes and bars.
Just south of Myakka River State Park, North Port is about 45 minutes southeast of downtown Sarasota. Though it’s inland, with 80 miles of freshwater canals meandering through the town there’s plenty of waterfront. The recreationally rich area is also home to Warm Mineral Springs, listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as an underwater archaeological site and known locally as “Miracle Lake,” for its mineral-rich healing properties. Back on land, typical home prices in the North Port area are $241K in this family-friendly town, a true hidden gem in Southwest Florida.
With home prices around $303K, Venice is another affordable alternative near Sarasota. But like Sarasota, Venice also features neighborhoods that run the gamut from grand and elegant to modest. And it’s cheerful! Coastal Living magazine named the city one of the top 10 happiest seaside towns in America, thanks to its “big heart” and “pearly-white beaches.” Venice Avenue leading to the beach is lined with gorgeous Spanish-style estates which, were they to be sold, would start around $1 million.
Just north of Sarasota in Manatee County, Bradenton is home to the oldest working fishing village in Florida, Cortez Historic Fishing Village. With typical home values at $264K, the city offers an affordable option for about 56,000 residents who enjoy the benefits of Florida’s Gulf Coast — and then some. Downtown features a museum, planetarium, aquarium, and parks, plus Historic Main Street’s shops and restaurants. Dining on the deck of Bradenton’s mainstay Pier 22 restaurant on Memorial Pier, guests have a view of fishing boats and lavish yachts cruising in and out of the Manatee River marina.
Consistently honored as one of the best planned communities in the U.S., Lakewood Ranch has more than 20 family-oriented villages on its 50-square-mile property situated on the east side of I-75 (Sarasota is on the west). The famed Sarasota Polo Club and upscale golf and country clubs are just part of the area’s wealth of recreational amenities. With about 36,000 residents, Lakewood Ranch has 15 business centers and 15,000 homes, with price points averaging $440K.
Perched along the Manatee River, Palmetto has a strong geographic advantage: It’s just across the bridge from downtown Bradenton and 15 minutes south of St. Petersburg via the stunning Sunshine Skyway Bridge. A quaint downtown historic district has an old-fashioned mom-and-pop feel with storefront shops and restaurants and a weekly farmers market. Local attractions include Sutton Park, home to the DeSoto Seafood Festival and A Taste of Manatee, and the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, honoring the area’s farming history. Neighborhoods in Palmetto vary from resort-style waterfront communities such as Terra Ceia to modest inland subdivisions. The average home price is $268K.
|Want to explore other parts of Tampa Bay? Check these out:|
— Guide to the Best Tampa Neighborhoods
— St. Petersburg Neighborhoods: Life in Florida’s Sunshine City
— Living in Clearwater
Where’s the best Sarasota beach?
Like most things about Sarasota, the coastline offers an abundance of appealing choices. About 35 miles of beaches wrap around six keys that serve as barrier islands protecting the mainland.
Here are a few standouts:
- Longboat Key: Intracoastal canals wind through stately homes and condominiums in this resort-style community. With a lively downtown area of shops, restaurants, and beachy bars, Longboat is a favorite for Sarasota locals and tourists. Golf lovers in particular will find this key heavenly — each of its five courses has been honored with top awards.
- Siesta Key: Snowbirds aren’t the only beach-lovers who appreciate the charms of Siesta Key. Floridians from all over the state come here to enjoy three beaches regularly ranked as the best in the U.S. and the world: Crescent Beach, Turtle Beach, and Siesta Beach, all with soft, sugary sand and spectacular sunsets. For post-beach fun or the rare rainy day, the 8-mile-long key also has a village center with plenty of shopping — elegant boutiques, surf-wear, souvenir marts — and cafes.
- Lido Key: Like Siesta, Lido Key offers three main beach areas at north, south, and central locations, all a bit less crowded than neighboring keys, providing a more peaceful experience. If you’re looking for playgrounds, picnic areas, hiking trails, concessions, or just a quiet place to relax on a blanket with a book, Lido’s got it. The beach is also within an easy walk of St. Armand’s Circle.
How are the schools in Sarasota?
Sarasota County Schools earn high ratings, including several schools honored with 10/10 reviews from GreatSchools and rankings in the coveted U.S. News and World Report Best Schools in America. More than 43,000 students attend schools in the county, rated seventh in the Sunshine State by SchoolDigger in 2019.
Nearly a dozen colleges and universities call Sarasota home. Among them, New College, the Honors College of Florida, was named by The Princeton Review as a Best Value College for 2021, one of the top 20 Public Best Schools for Making an Impact, and one of the top 20 Public Best Schools for Financial Aid.
The Ringling College of Art and Design, named the No. 1 computer animation school in the U.S. in 2020 by Animation Career Review and Animation Magazine, welcomes close to 1,700 students every year.
What are the most fun things to do in Sarasota?
Known for good reason as Florida’s Cultural Coast, the Sarasota area is rich with options in the arts, from elegant performing arts centers to independent galleries and dance companies.
- One of the most exciting annual events is the Sarasota Film Festival, which has been around for about a quarter-century, but in the past decade has gained prestige and attendees from all over the world. Cinephiles enjoy a week-plus of major motion pictures and indie films, along with panel discussions and workshops hosted by industry pros.
- The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall anchors many arts organizations in the area, presenting about 100 events a year including performances by the Sarasota Ballet, the Sarasota Orchestra, and touring Broadway productions.
- Other arts organizations include the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School, Sarasota Opera, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre, the largest Equity theatre in the state and the largest Repertory theatre in the Southeast.
- Sarasota arts would not be where they are today without John and Mabel Ringling, founders of the Ringling Museum of Art, which houses the couple’s extensive collection. The latest additions to the museum are the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Center for Asian Art and the Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art, both opened in 2016, and the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion, opened in 2018.
- More participatory artsy happenings include an arts walk in the Towles Court Artist Colony, a downtown Sarasota live-work enclave for creative types. Visitors can check out the galleries, studios, salons, and cafes of the neighborhood on the third Friday of every month, from 5 to 9 p.m.
Planning your move to Sarasota
Sarasota and other parts of Florida are popular destinations for people moving south, so it helps to do some advance planning. Moving can involve a lot of uncertainty, from finding your ideal home and submitting a winning offer in a super-tight housing market to adjusting to shifting closing dates and other last-minute delays. To stay adaptable without stressing out, it helps to choose a flexible solution like moving containers, which offer built-in storage options to keep your personal belongings safe and secure between homes — whether it’s just for a few days or turns out to be a few months.
For example, besides giving you the freedom to move at your own pace, PODS makes it easy to reserve in advance — with no deposit. It’s no problem to change your dates and even cancel up to 24 hours of your first container delivery to get a full refund. Want firsthand tips on dealing with challenging moves from people who’ve done it? Read about how to Prepare for the Unexpected Before Making a Move and Relocating for Retirement.
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.