Walk through downtown to historic Burns Court—where 1920s bungalows dot the landscape—to Owen’s Fish Camp. Ask for a table under the light-strung banyan tree, a gift from Thomas Edison to the restaurant’s original owner. While you wait (they don’t take reservations), snap an Insta-worthy selfie on the nearby tire swing. Menu-wise, don’t miss the local Cedar Key clams bathed in a chorizo and saffron-scented broth or the Creole fish gumbo with crawfish tails. Shrimp and grits and the Low-Country boil are staples here, but the oysters (grilled or raw) are the main attraction. Save room for the fried black cherry pie à la mode; it’s semi-legendary for a reason.
On Longboat Key, Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub invites you to relax under a tangle of buttonwood trees laden with bistro lights and staghorn ferns. The patio gives way to a sandy beach and the quiet waters of Sarasota Bay. Come by car or by boat—there are 14 slips to welcome dock-and-diners—and order the Bud & Old Bay Bowl, composed of Gulf shrimp sautéed in Budweiser, Old Bay seasoning, and garlic butter. The shrimp are served with their heads on, but that’s a sure sign of just how fresh they are. It’s the perfect dish to share with a cocktail in hand while taking in soothing water views alongside a roaring firepit.
Indigenous is home to the hardest-to-score table in town, so make your reservations early. The buzz is all thanks to chef-owner Steve Phelps, a two-time James Beard Award nominee for Best Chef, South. You’ll lick the plate clean if you order his green curry fish dip served with sea-salted nori crackers and seasonal veggies. For a main course, try the cobia served over coconut jasmine rice and grilled cabbage and finished with a fish sauce aioli.
Take in some culture at the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College and grab a bite to eat at SAM Bistro. Executive chef Kaytlin Dangaran offers a menu that elevates the museum-going experience. The griddled cheese sandwich—a blend of fontina mornay, sharp white cheddar, pullman, and tomato jam—is the grown-up answer to the grilled cheese you craved as a kid. For a lunch worth lingering over, go vegetarian with the farro salad topped with roasted heirloom carrots, watercress, toasted pistachios, and a house-made smoked blue cheese dressing.
Sarasota is made for sunsets, and since 1929, the refreshingly unfancy New Pass Grill & Bait Shop has offered a great spot to watch that big ball of orange sink into the bay. Need a break from the seafood scene? Go for the cooked-to-order award-winning burger with all the fixings (or any way you like it).
Grab ’n’ Go
Strolling around St. Armand’s circle to shop and people-watch is a Sarasota tradition. Why not enjoy it with something sweet from Settimi’s Gelato? Each of the dazzling array of flavors—from Banana Split to Almond Chocolate to Cherry Amarena—is homemade from fresh ingredients daily.
Where to Stay
Situated on Sarasota Bay but conveniently located within walking distance of downtown, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota provides an easy escape marked by unparalleled service. Pop into maritime-themed resto Jack Dusty, which overlooks a picturesque marina—the popular spot specializes in small plates like blistered shishito peppers topped with bottarga sourced from nearby Anna Maria Island and a crab and fried green tomato remoulade—ideal complements to the signature Smoking Jacket cocktail made using the restaurant’s own Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon blended with demerara, angostura bitters, and mineral saline served in a smoked tumbler. Still hungry? Try the Sarasota Cioppino for a mix of the Gulf’s freshest seafood and shellfish, or finish things off with the best key lime pie on this side of the state.
Looking for laid-back over luxury lodging? Visit Casa Limonada, a boutique motel on Lido Key where mid-century modern meets totally tropical. Just steps from the area’s white sand beaches or a short walk to St. Armand’s Circle, rooms and cottages come complete with a beach cart filled with chairs, towels, an umbrella, and even sand toys if you have little ones in tow.