Spring Training Guide to Sarasota County

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CoolToday Park
Fans watch as the Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves meet in a spring training baseball game Sunday, March 24, 2019, in North Port, Fla. The game was the first played in the Braves' new spring stadium, CoolToday Park. (John Bazemore/AP)

CoolToday ParkThe Atlanta Braves are moving to North Port, Florida for spring training this year. For those who are planning on visiting the area for the first time, this guide to Sarasota County will outline some of the area’s top attractions.

Sarasota County is well known for its beaches. Siesta Key has won numerous awards for being the best beach in the United States, but Sarasota has a lot more to offer than powder white sand. There are museums, botanical gardens, parks, great restaurants, and some of the best spring training baseball venues in major league baseball.

It’s a one hour drive from Sarasota to six spring training parks The three closest parks are the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, and the Atlanta Braves in North Port. For baseball fans, Sarasota may now be the best place in Florida to watch games in multiple parks.

1Ballparks

CoolToday Park

This is the Braves first full season at the new park. The park’s dimensions mirror Truist Park. Also, similar to Truist Park is shade predominantly falls on the first base side. That can be important on hot spring days. A general admission ticket gives plenty of seating options. There’s grass area behind the left field wall that’s opening seating. The bar area in the left field corner offers a nice view of the park, but expect it to be crowded during the games. The Braves team store is huge. It’s also air conditioned, so it offers a nice break from the heat.

Charlotte Sports Park

Opened in 1987, the park has been home to the Tampa Bay Rays since 2009. The park is located in Port Charlotte. It’s not really a good option for those staying in Sarasota, but they’re the closest neighbor for the Braves. It’s kind of a generic park as far as spring training goes, but for those staying in Port Charlotte, it’s a good place to catch a Braves game.

LECOM Park

LECOM ParkLocated in Bradenton the park opened in 1923. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ home is one of the oldest ballparks still in use in major league baseball. It’s been the home for several teams including the Braves from 1938-62. This is where Hank Aaron started. Old ballpark enthusiasts should definitely visit this park. There’s not a bad seat in the park. Purchase a general admission ticket early and find a spot against the outfield rail. There’s a full bar located behind the right field wall. Motorworks Brewing is walking distance from the park for those who want a cold one before or after the game.

Ed Smith Stadium

The Orioles home since 2010. The park was extensively renovated ten years ago and is also one of the better spring training parks. I love the outfield seats in this park. There’s plenty of room and there’s a food/drink stand close by that makes getting refreshments easy.

2Hotels

The biggest challenge for new visitors is where to stay. Mass transit really isn’t an option so the transportation options are Uber/Lyft or renting a car. The closest hotel to CoolToday park is a 15-minute drive away, but be prepared to travel at least 30 minutes to get to the ballpark. Making a plan ahead of time will help a lot in picking a hotel.

North Port is a fast-growing town, but there aren’t any hotel choices close to the park. The closest options are off I-75.  There are three options at the Jacaranda Boulevard exit 193. These hotels are 15-20 minutes away from the park.

There are a lot more hotel options around Sarasota. Downtown Sarasota is 40 minutes from the park, but there are closer options near the Sarasota I-75 exits. Downtown Sarasota has added a lot of hotels in the past 5 years. The Hotel Indigo, Westin, Aloft, and Hyatt are all good options. There’s also a Ritz Carlton for those who want something nicer. The Art Ovation and Embassy Suits just opened the past year.

For those only interested in watching the Braves play and not exploring the surrounding area I recommend staying in Port Charlotte or North Port. It’ll be cheaper for hotels and less driving. The Braves play a few games against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte so it’s a good spot to catch a few Braves games. I recommend the Fort Myers airport for people planning to stay in Port Charlotte.

There are plenty of things to see and do in the Sarasota area. The list below offers a few highlights and tips.

3Parks/Museums

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

John and Mable Ringling Museum of ArtThe Ringling brothers moved their circus winter quarters to Sarasota in 1927 and John and Mable Ringling made the town their home. John’s extensive art collection became the John and Mable Museum of Art. The couple’s famous Ca’ d’Zan home is on premises, but the art museum is the real highlight. A ticket gives access to the grounds and entrance to the museum of art. It features a wide variety of art collected by Ringling and secured by the foundation. Plus, there are rotating galleries as well. A person can easily spend most of the day taking in all the attractions. Entrance to the grounds and museum costs $25, but it’s free on Mondays.

Island Park

Steps from downtown Sarasota, Island Park offers a fantastic view of the Sarasota Bay. It’s fun to visit any time of day. There’s plenty of shady spots, a playground for kids, and Oleary’s Tiki Bar & Grill is the perfect place to grab a beer and watch the sunset.

Mote Aquarium

Mote Aquarium features more than 100 species of marine animals and a 135,000-gallon shark habitat The aquarium also includes manatees and sea turtles. There are marine exhibits featuring energetic river otters, along with toothy crocodilians such as alligators and caimans. General admission is $24.

Myakka River State Park

Outdoor enthusiasts will love Myakka River State Park. The park is a great place to see wildlife, scenic paths, and a canopy walk that offers a view below and above the tree canopy. Myakka River State Park is a 30-minute drive from Sarasota. Entrance to the park costs $6 a car.

Sarasota Art Museum

The Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College is a contemporary art museum that opened in 2019. The Museum has 15K square feet of dedicated exhibition gallery space, a café, retail shop, auditorium for educational events, performance and film, a sculpture courtyard and extensive grounds and facilities where one can engage with site-specific and site-responsive art experiences. The first Sunday of every month is pay what you can. General admission is $15.

Selby Gardens

Located on the bay right next to downtown, this tropical, urban oasis featuring unparalleled horticulture displays. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is a living museum and world-class center for education, research, and conservation. General admission is $15.

4Beaches

Siesta Key

North Lido KeySiesta Key public beach can be crowded so get there early to find a parking spot. After 11am it can be difficult to find a parking spot. March is the start of spring break season so expect big crowds. The Siesta Key village includes several bars and restaurants so it’s very easy to spend the day at the beach and in the village.

Lido Key

A great alternative to Siesta Key is Lido Beach. It’s less crowded and there’s plenty of parking on the road. Going to Lido Beach is also an excuse to visit St. Armands circle. St. Armands circle features a wide variety of restaurants and shops.

5Restaurants

Sarasota has a lot of great restaurants. You could spend a month in this area and not try all the good ones. The list below is far from comprehensive because there are tons of good options.

Boca Sarasota

There’s always something great to eat at Boca. It’s a farm to table restaurant in the heart of downtown that has a seasonal menu. The burger is always great, but there’s always great choices on the menu. The fried green tomatoes are a requirement.

Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant is Florida’s oldest restaurant. Founded in 1909 in Tampa, Columbia opened the Sarasota location in 1959. Their sangria is great and salad lovers rave about the 1905 salad. This is a good choice for those interested in some Cuban/Floridian history.

Hyde Park Steakhouse

Classic American steakhouse in the center of Sarasota. This is a great place for dinner or for a quick snack/cocktail at the bar.

Owen’s Fish Camp

One of the most popular restaurants in Sarasota. Located in Burns Court in Downtown Sarasota, Owen’s features a ton of different seafood options. Be prepared to wait, during the weekend wait times can be over an hour. There’s an outdoor waiting area in the back that features food, drinks, and music. The low country boil is fantastic and it’ll feed 2-3 people.

Shore

Located at St. Armands circle, Shore is a second-floor restaurant that always offers a nice meal. It’s not completely a seafood place so there are a few non-seafood options which is helpful if for accommodating picky pallets. Calamari lovers must try the kung pao calamari. It’s outstanding.

6Bars

This isn’t an extensive bar guide, but some a list of some good options in downtown Sarasota. There are also several beer breweries around town. JDubs, Big Top Brewing Company, Calusa Brewing are all solid choices for local breweries.

Brewster’s Tavern

A small sports bar with good burgers. Nothing too fancy, but the burgers are well worth a visit.

Evie’s Tavern & Grill

Best sports bar downtown. The food isn’t very good, but there’s tons of TVs and the service is good for drinks.

Smokin’ Joes Pub

For those who like to smoke this bar features a cigar shop. There are tons of TVs for those who want to smoke and watch sports.

State Street Cocktails 

State Street Eating House + Cocktails features a restaurant on one side and one of the best cocktail bars in Sarasota. There is an entrance for both. To enter the bar side enter on the right. The bartenders here are well trained and very helpful. For those that need a snack the restaurant menu is available from the bar.

7Airports

There are several different airport options for traveling into the Sarasota area

Tampa International Airport

It’s a 90-minute drive to CoolToday Park. During rush hour, be prepared to add 30-40 minutes. Tampa’s airport very easy airport to check-in/out.

Southwest Florida International Airport (Fort Myers)

The Fort Myers airport is 70 minutes from CoolToday Park, but it’s further away from Sarasota. This is a good option for those who are going to book a hotel in Port Charlotte.

St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport

St. Pete is 85 minutes to CoolToday Park. The airport is closer than Tampa and downtown St. Pete features a lot of good bars/restaurants. The best Cuban sandwich in the area can be found at Bodega. The Salvador Dalí Museum is also worth a visit.

Sarasota-Bradenton Airport

45 minutes from CoolToday Park and 10 minutes from downtown Sarasota. This is the best bet for visitors who want to spend time in the Sarasota area. There’s a hotel near the airport, but there are a lot of options nearer the interstate, the beaches, or downtown.

Punta Gorda Airport

It’s only 40 minutes away from CoolToday Park. It’s a very small airport so flight options are limited.

8Things I Missed

There’s still a lot to see and do in the Sarasota area I haven’t covered. There’s the public beach on Longboat Key. Starfish Company in Cortez is a fantastic old-time Florida seafood restaurant. Anna Maria Island has a great beach and fine dining options. For those who want to visit the attractions in Orlando, Disney World is a two-hour drive from Sarasota. Englewood, FL is 15 minutes Southwest of CoolToday park and it’s a great location to look for an affordable Airbnb near the beach. Englewood doesn’t have as many food options, but it’s a nice option that’s close to the park.

It’s impossible to cover everything, but I hope this guide helps.  Feel free to DM on Twitter (@DarthHenshaw) for questions not covered in this guide. If I don’t have the answer I know how to find it. Enjoy your visit to the Sarasota area and go Bravos!

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