Attractor factor: parks, plantations, planetariums and more--there's lots to see besides the beach.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is a standout, of course, but you can also explore a plethora of parks, let a parrot perch on your shoulder at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, and get up close and personal with Snooty, the famous manatee who's lived at the Parker Manatee Aquarium for years. Kids--and their parents, too--will flip for Mote Marine's cool touch pools, and G.WIZ's rotating, hands-on science exhibits are educational and fun.
Many of the attractions offer discount Web coupons; be sure to check each listing's site before you go.
De Soto National Memorial, 3000 75th St. NW, Bradenton. 792-0458. Hernando de Soto is thought to have made landfall here on a hot day in May 1539. You can follow in his footsteps at this pretty park, where living history interpreters provide lots of information and kids can earn Junior Ranger badges. Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Free of charge. www.nps.gov/deso
South Florida Museum/Bishop Planetarium/Parker Manatee Aquarium, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. 746-4131. You have your choice of activities at this three-in-one attraction: stargaze at Bishop Planetarium's all-digital, full-dome planetarium/theater; go back in time and brush up on your Florida history at the South Florida Museum; or spend some quality time with long-lived Snooty at the Parker Manatee Aquarium. Whatever you decide to do, you're guaranteed to have fun. Hours: January-April, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. -5 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.; May-December, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. -5 p.m.; Sunday noon -5 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission: adults $15.95, seniors $13.95, children four- 12$11, free for children under four. For a discount Web coupon, visit www.southfloridamuseum.org.
Gamble Plantation and Mansion, 3708 Patten Ave., Ellenton. 723-4536. Once home to Major Robert Gamble and formerly an extensive sugar plantation, this landmark is also believed to have been the hiding place of Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin until he could make his escape to England after the fall of the Confederacy. Visitors can take guided tours, offered six times a day, or picnic on the grounds. Open 8 a.m. until sundown daily. Free. www.floridastateparks.org/gambleplantation/default.cfm
Historic Spanish Point, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 966-5214. This 30-acre museum overlooks Little Sarasota Bay and allows visitors to experience Florida history through archaeological exhibits, home tours, garden walks and nature trails. Formerly the home of socialite Mrs. Potter Palmer, the estate also boasts the largest butterfly garden on Florida's Gulf Coast. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon -5 p.m. except for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission: adults $9, children six-12 $3, seniors $8, Florida residents $8. For a discount coupon, visit www.historicspanishpoint.org.
Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 483-5956. Take a guided canoe trip with a park ranger, spend hours bicycling through nature trails or simply enjoy the sights and sounds of this state park, which is known for its scrubby and pine flatwoods and is one of the best places to see the threatened Florida scrub jay. Open daily from 8 a.m. until sunset. Admission: $4 per vehicle for up to eight people; $24.42 per night to camp.www.floridastateparks.org/oscarscherer/default.cfm
Ringling Museum of Art/Ca d'Zan Mansion/Ringling Circus Museum, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. 351-1660. This 66-acre estate is one of Sarasota's biggest draws, and after spending a day there, it's obvious why. The Museum of Art offers 21 galleries, including the Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing, which hosts a variety of exhibitions annually. There are also two circus-themed venues--including the can't-miss Tibbals Learning Center, which houses the world's biggest miniature circus--and, of course, the Ca d'Zan mansion and all its Venetian grandeur (be sure to shell out for the Private Places tour; it's worth it). If you get hungry, you have options, too: local favorite Treviso and the Banyan Cafe offer up a variety of yummy fare. Open daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission: adults $19, seniors over 65 and active U.S. military $16, children ages six-17, students with ID and Florida teachers, $6. Free for all museum members and children under six accompanied by an adult. Admission to the museum of art is free on Mondays. www.ringling.org
Crowley Museum and Nature Center, 16405 Myakka Road, Sarasota. 322-1000. Take a long walk through Crowley's meandering nature trails, tour the Tatum Ridge schoolhouse (the oldest surviving in Sarasota County) or visit the pioneer area, where many historic objects are available for perusal. Open Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from May 1-Dec. 31 and Tuesday-Sunday from Jan. 1-April 30. Admission: adults $7, children five-12 $3, free for children under five. www.crowleymuseumnaturectr.org
G.WIZ: The Hands-On Science Museum, 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. 309-4949. The Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone--G.WIZ--features traveling exhibitions, offering artifacts and information from the era of King Tut to the Titanic, and many permanent exhibits, including Mindball, ExploraZone, TechZone and BodyZone. The aim? Making science accessible and relevant for everyone. Kids and their parents will have fun here. Open Monday-Saturday, Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon-6 p.m. Admission: adults $9, seniors $8, children three-16 $6. Group discounts are available. www.gwiz.org
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 366-5731. Perfect for nature lovers, this internationally known bayfront property is home to more than 20,000 plants, the Selby estate, an indoor "rainforest," a dart frog collection, koi pond and beautiful, colorful gardens. Be sure to stop and take in the gorgeous views of Sarasota Bay while you're walking around, too. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. except Christmas. Admission: adults $17, children six-11 $6, members free.
Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. 388-4441. Home to more than 100 species of marine life, Mote's touch pools and various exhibits, featuring sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and manatees, will please kids and parents alike. Visitors can also peek into the working science labs and get a glimpse of the world-renowned research that takes place at Mote Marine Laboratory. Admission: adults $17, seniors $16, children four-12 $12. Free for children under three. Open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., including holidays. For a discount Web coupon, visit www.mote.org.
Myakka River State Park, nine miles east of I-75, 13208 S.R. 72. 361-6511. There's no shortage of things to do at this state park. You can hike 39 miles of trails, canoe or kayak on the Myakka River, ride a bike, fish, take an air boat tour, ride a horse on a wilderness trail or just enjoy a simple picnic. To schedule a tour, call 361-6511. Open 8 a.m. to sunset daily. Admission: $5 per vehicle of two to eight people. www.myakkariver.org
Sarasota Classic Car Museum, 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 355-6228. A Sarasota institution since 1953, the Sarasota Classic Car Museum features more than 100 automobiles, including Ferraris, DeLoreans and even John Lennon's Mercedes; a 4,000-square-foot open-air garden atrium and an antique game arcade. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 a.m. except Christmas Day. Admission: adults $8.50, seniors $7.65, children 13-17 $5.75, children six-12 $4, free for children under six. For a discount Web coupon, visit www.sarasotacarmuseum.org.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. 355-5305. You'll find Old Florida charm in spades here, as well as 10 acres of tropical vegetation, bird and reptile shows and throngs of bright pink flamingos. If you get hungry, stop by the Flamingo Cafe for a snack or spread out your own picnic. Admission: adults $14, seniors (62 and up) $13, children three-12 $10, free for children under three. For a discount Web coupon, visit www.sarasotajunglegardens.com.
The Springs, 12200 San Servano, North Port. 426-1692. This Venice attraction, claimed to be the original Fountain of Youth, is home to mineralized waters that are believed to ease back pain, skin conditions, sinusitis and other ailments. Take a dip and see for yourself--or skip the water and get pampered at the spa. Open daily from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission: adults $20, students $14, AAA members $18, children 12 and under $8. www.warmmineralsprings.com.