Did you know Sarasota’s nickname is “Paradise”?

Year after year, the gulf coast city of Sarasota Florida consistently lands at the top of a number of rankings for being the best of the country in multiple categories: Best beaches, best places to visit for all ages, best place to retire. In 2022, Sarasota even earned the title for one of the top 10 best places to live in America, and became the #1 best city to live in the entire state of Florida.

As of 2022-2023, Sarasota, Florida is ranked: (info taken from realestate.usnews)

 #9 in Best Places to Live

 #11 in Best Places to Retire

 #1 in Best Places to Live in Florida

 #3 in Fastest-Growing Places

 #19 in Best Places to Live for Quality of Life

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So, what makes Sarasota such a great place? It’s a FOOD PARADISE, for one!

It’s a place where cosmopolitan sensibilities meet a small town vibe like no other. You can find amazing local restaurants, a bustling downtown area, and plenty of cultural and artistic excursions across Sarasota.

But you can also find plenty of natural wonders and outdoor activities to enjoy outside of the city- like the award winning beaches and that’s just one of the reasons why it’s ranked all across the board.

Ok, ok. Regardless of rankings, how does one truly decide what makes a city great?

What are the necessary requirements and unique qualities that push a city to the forefront of every imaginable best of the best list? Is there more to life as a Sarasota local than just pretty beaches, warm weather, amazing food and culture? Does Sarasota really have it all?

When in Doubt, Ask a Local. Locals Know Best!

In order to find the answer to these burning questions, we decided to spend a typical day in the life of Sarasota native, Jenn Flanders. Born and raised right here in Sarasota, Florida, Jenn is a local Sarasota Real Estate Agent with a lifetime of experience living in the area and a love for all things local from food to fun.

For this particular local recommendation list, we are going to show you Jenn’s favorite places to Eat Like a Local in Sarasota!

Whether you are new to the neighborhood or looking for a local’s take on the best restaurants and experiences in town, we are going to cover some local gems that are sure to become your local go-to’s in Sarasota. 

We will cover Best Breakfast, Best Lunch, and Best Dinner.

Plus we’ll check out the surrounding sights and scenery of each neighborhood we visit as we dine around town from the main Downtown Sarasota area, to the seaside shopping experience over at St. Armand’s. 

We start the day in Siesta Key proper at a garden cafe, then make our way over to the best seafood restaurant for years running. And we make a pit stop at Columbia Restaurant to do some window shopping to plan for our next local lunch before driving up the scenic coastline to Holmes Beach for a rooftop dinner.

So, without further ado, join us as we explore Jenn Flander’s Best Places to Eat Like a Local in Sarasota!

Let’s start the day with an al fresco BREAKFAST in SIESTA KEY!

Sun Garden Cafe, 210 Avenida Madera, Sarasota, FL 34242
Website: http://www.sungardencafe.com/

Local Awards that Sun Garden Cafe has Won:
Best Breakfast
Best Lunch
Best Outdoor Dining
Best Bacon

It’s only right that we start off our day with that unique seaside town vibe you can only find in Sarasota. For breakfast we’re going to the heart of Siesta Key to discover this local’s favorite for an al fresco meal- none other than Sun Garden Cafe. 

Yes this is Siesta key, but off the main drag, tucked away in plain sight, an intimate little courtyard and kitschy Florida diner serving up breakfast 7 days a week from 6am-2pm. 

This humble little all-American garden to table breakfast and lunch cafe is, as we coined earlier, a local GEM. They even have their own HOT SAUCES. 

It’s dog friendly, flip flop friendly, health friendly, bacon friendly- this place is a casual family oriented spot where you’ll walk out knowing the whole staff by first name! 

Who knew a place this friendly could also serve up food this seriously good? 

They focus on making their dishes from scratch and using locally grown produce, locally caught fish, and farm fresh eggs and Florida ingredients whenever possible. They even bake their own fresh breads! Fresh is the word that comes to mind when that food hits the table. 

Sure you could get fresh breakfast at home, but when you’re eating like a local in Sarasota, you know that Sun Garden Cafe has got you covered when it comes to eggs and bacon and so much more. 

Here’s What You Need to Try for Breakfast at Sun Garden Cafe: 

Flower Child
egg white omelet w/ Sonoma goat cheese, Portabella mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs and guacamole 

Baba O’Riley
broccoli, spinach, turkey and boursin cheese omelet w/ avocado and basil pesto 

Let’s handle some Business over Lunch in Downtown Sarasota!

Duval’s Fresh Seafood, 1435 Main St, Sarasota, FL 34236
Website: duvalsfreshlocalseafood.com 

Local Awards that Duval’s Fresh Seafood has Won:
Sarasota’s Best Seafood (7 years in a row)
Best All-Around Restaurant (3 years in a row)
Best Sandwich (6 years in a row)
Best Lunch
Best Takeout

On our day eating from the perspective of a local Sarasotan, we chose to dine at the area’s best seafood restaurant which so happens to be right here in Downtown Sarasota!

Downtown Sarasota is active and bustling with traffic all week long. On the weekdays, you can find local professionals, local retirees, and traveling tourists strolling up and down the avenue. You can catch a quick or leisurely lunch at any number of fine eating establishments that line the downtown streets. All the restaurants and cafes here are adorned with a touch of casual Sarasota charm. 

And on the weekends and evenings, the entire place fills up with a lively and vibrant upscale local nightlife scene with many winebars and plenty of cultural entertainment experiences.

As a broker and realtor working with Compass Realty, Jenn Flanders is fond of stopping at the local headquarters because it means she can enjoy a delicious lunch downtown. One of her favorite spots to eat- whether a working lunch or an evening of fine wine and dining, is the highly recommended Duval’s Fresh Seafood, 

The team at Duval’s is made up of Sarasota local chefs and managers who strive to express the unique culture of this city through their menu. As the Best Local Seafood Restaurant or 7 years in a row- you have to believe you’re eating the freshest, most carefully crafted seafood dishes in town. 

Even if seafood’s not your thing, their land dishes are just as tasty! And last but not least, they have an award winning key lime pie that you’re not going to want to skip whether it’s lunch or dinnertime. 

Here’s What You Should Try for Lunch at Duval’s Fresh Seafood:

Coconut Curry Mussels   
scallions, sesame seeds, toasted coconut red curry

Duval’s Signature Po’ Boys Oyster
served on a baguette with napa cabbage, tomato, chipotle remoulade

Floribbean Flo’s Key Lime Pie   
voted best key lime pie in Florida and made with real key limes; you won’t want to miss this

Pit Stop at St Armand’s for the Oldest Restaurant in Sarasota!

Columbia Restaurant, 411 St. Armands Cir., Sarasota, FL 34236
Website: https://www.columbiarestaurant.com/st-armands-circle-sarasota

Awards Columbia Restaurant has Won:
The Original Cuban Sandwich Named “Best Sandwich in Florida” by Food & Wine Magazine

St Armand’s is a shopping promenade with that unique Sarasota seaside feel that is undeniable no matter what part of town you’re in!

This one of a kind island shopping center in the round is set apart from the mainland by two bridges that span over the magnificent Sarasota Bay. 

Since it’s on the way to our dinner spot, we decided to take advantage of the free parking surrounding the Circle and enjoy a leisurely afternoon Stroll thru St Armand’s key. When in Sarasota, shop as the Sarasotans do! And while you’re walking the promenade, check out the oldest restaurant in Sarasota!

The Columbia Restaurant in St. Armands Circle opened in 1959 and still stands today. You may have heard about Columbia all over Tampa Bay- as they boast the title of the Original Best Cuban Sandwich around. Here, Columbia is a household name, and whether you are a tourist or a local, you’re heading to Columbia on the regular. That means weekly, according to Jenn! 

Here’s What You Need to Try at Columbia Restaurant:

Cuban Sandwich

1905 Salad

Paella Espanola 

Let’s have a rooftop fondue DINNER in ANNA MARIA ISLAND!

Bamboo Island Bar, 119 BRIDGE STREET, Bradenton Beach, FL
Website: bambooislandbar.com

Technically Anna Maria Island is not Sarasota. But when you’re a local, let’s be honest. You need some variation, you need to step outside your comfort zone every now and then! 

Well, another reason Sarasota is Paradise is even the neighboring cities are something spectacular to behold. Simply keep driving up the coastline from St Armand’s and Lido Key and in a matter of minutes you will find yourself in Anna Maria Island. 

If you’re looking for that intimate small town staycation feel that is kicked up a notch AND on a rooftop, you’re heading to Bamboo Island Bar Anna Maria Island. There you’ll find Jenn’s recommendation for Best Rooftop Fondue Dinner. 

At Bamboo Island Bar, you’ll feel transported to an open air, tropical, tiki-chic escape with a unique bar selection featuring fresh caipirinhas, Brazilian sangrias, and live entertainment.

Come here for a casual Happy Hour and enjoy small, but flavorful bites with flavors from around the world as you catch up with friends. Or plan a romantic evening and reserve fondue for two at your favorite table overlooking Bridge Street as the sun sets with your favorite dinner companion. Bamboo Island Bar has it all once the sun goes down!

Here’s What You Need to Have for Dinner at Bamboo Island Bar:

Cheese fondue

Cream cheese wrapped with smoked salmon on a fresh cucumber with dill and sesame seeds

Machu Picchu
Bacon and cream cheese loaded baked potatoes topped with parsley 

Brazilian Chicken croquettes (coxinhas) served with our famous house green sauce

Pão de queijo, brazilian cheese bread 

Sarasota is like any other great city, but what is undeniable is that special touch of gulf coast magic you can’t replicate anywhere else.

Now that you have read this carefully crafted list, we encourage you to experience a day in the life of a Sarasota native and share your experiences! 

Let us know where you found a good bite to eat, and where you find yourself spending most of your time in Sarasota. Between the top ranked beaches, the numerous golf courses, and all the fantastic restaurants- what did you enjoy most?

Hi, I’m Jenn Flanders! I am a native of Sarasota and have been a licensed Realtor since 2010, obtaining my broker’s license in 2017. I would love to answer any questions you have regarding area real estate or anything to do with the Sarasota area!

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