Sarasota, Florida: Beaches, Culture & Access

 

Some can’t help but think of the words “paradise vacation” at the mere utterance of Sarasota, Florida. Sarasota is a true sunshine getaway from the winter months, and is known as the perfect destination for its sun and beaches on the crystal-clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is less known that Sarasota, Florida is also a city with a cool, urban feeling and home to a number of cultural institutes, hotels, fine dining, art, and music. 

Sarasota is dedicated to providing reasonable accommodations to ensure that visitors with disabilities are included in the exploration of cultural sites, programs, activities, and events at parks and beaches. From the water to the eclectic city there are so many choices for travelers in wheelchairs to see and do. With its stunning location and variety of activities Sarasota may very well be the ultimate dream vacation.

 

Travel Basics

Transportation

Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is very small and 3-miles from downtown Sarasota.

Accessible taxis and van rentals are available with ample space for luggage. You will need one to get around as there is no accessible public transportation in Sarasota. Book in advance. 

  • Handi-Van Transport, Inc. charges reasonable rates and can service one passenger with a wheelchair and another three people at the same time.
  • Wheelchair Vans of Florida has van rentals either with a passenger-side ramp that provides space for one wheelchair, a driver, and four passengers. Or, a van using a rear-entry ramp that can fit one driver, one passenger and two wheelchairs. Wheelchair Vans of Florida offers daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly handicap wheelchair accessible vans for the Gulf Coast of Florida, including, Sarasota.
Hotels

Several accessible hotels are near downtown Sarasota: The Westin, Art Ovation Hotel, The Sarasota Modern, and the luxurious Longboat Key Club and Lido Beach Resort.

The Art Ovation, a boutique hotel in downtown Sarasota, is unique in that there is a plethora of stunning art throughout the property and a superb restaurant. There are accessible rooms available with a roll-in shower or tub, a chair lift into the pool is on the rooftop, and a lower seating area at the bar for people in wheelchairs. The location is perfect; it’s downtown by the restaurants and the beach and is close to the Sarasota airport. 

 

Siesta Key Beach

Sarasota attracts ocean lovers from around the globe for its glimmering, picture perfect sandy beaches. Siesta Key Beach, Lido Beach, Manasota Beach, Nokomis Beach, and Venice Beach have been modified for more wheelchair access. Of these five, Siesta Key Beach is most accessible in Sarasota.

Siesta Key Beach is the most magnificent with its sprawling white, crystal-quartz sand, and clear, warm water. You may spot a dolphin at Siesta Key Beach, and it’s a perfect, magical place to be at sunset. On Sunday evenings, often a drum circle is happening along an accessible path. Siesta Key Beach has been ranked the #1 beach in the United States twice in the past by Dr. Beach. Trip Advisor has also ranked it #1 in the United States and #11 in the world, “we’ve surfaced the world’s best beaches from the millions of our travel reviews,” and Siesta Key Beach was the only U.S. beach included on the international list.

Beach Access

In 2016, Sarasota spent $21.5 million dollars renovating Siesta Key Beach, which now includes ADA accessible parking, picnicking, concessions and restrooms. The renovations have an approximately 1.5-miles of ADA accessible sidewalks and walkways, an ADA accessible sundeck with concessions overlooking the beach, and an ADA access Mobi Mat that extends 454-feet on to the beach toward the gulf water. The mat is made of recycled plastics and is routinely cleaned and checked so that the sand is leveled underneath. It is a non-slip, rollout pathway which works for wheelchairs in the sand. 

A problem is that there is no sign marked “disabled access only,” so sometimes crowds of people walk on the mat obstructing it for the person in the wheelchair. That may be irritating when you’re rolling out to enjoy the beach and water. Siesta Key Beach also has beach wheelchairs available at no cost to the public to help maneuver in the sand. The beach wheelchairs are available at the concessionaire from 9am to 5pm. If you want one before or after these hours, email or call the Sarasota ADA Coordinator three days before to request at 941-861-5000 or adacoordinator@scgov.net.

Sarasota ADA Coorinator has a partnership with Track Mobility (Cordell Jeter), where he provides self-driving, power wheelchairs for the beach. 

   

Gulf of Mexico Fishing

Bad Habit Fishing Captain Jason W. Sherill has fifteen years of experience fishing in the local and surrounding waters of beautiful Sarasota, Florida. Bad Habit Fishing specializes in both inshore and offshore fishing expeditions, and their 37’ and 24’ boats are not only comfortable and fast, but mechanically safe and sound too. The size and the layout of the boats are stable and can accommodate four people at once who are in manual wheelchairs. Jason and his team enable their guests to engage in the sport while feeling relaxed and having fun. Bad Habit’s expertise is finding the best Grouper, Amber, Jack Snapper, Red Fish, Snook and Trout! They depart daily from Sarasota. It is a great way to explore the Gulf waters.

In 2016, Jason’s friend became paralyzed, and fishing was the way back to finding himself again. Jason realized that he could accommodate his buddy by lifting his manual wheelchair in and off the boat. They went out and enjoyed  a smooth ride in the calm waters in Sarasota and Venice. “We had a blast!” Jason recalls happily. Since then, Jason decided to include people who use wheelchairs on his trips. Bad Habit Fishing now has several clients in wheelchairs who fish with them.

 

Parks and Outdoor Recreation

There are more than 160 parks, natural areas and preserves in Sarasota. Many of the parks contain accessible features such as parking, restrooms and playgrounds, along with paved trails and accessible boating amenities.  

Senator Bob Johnson’s Landing Park

Sarasota County recently renovated the Senator Bob Johnson’s Landing Park on Tamiami Trail in Venice.  Senator Bob Johnson’s Landing Park is a gem of a place to have fun and unwind. This small, beautiful, park serves as an example of how natural land sites can offer accessibility to all. The 7-acre park provides enhanced access to the Myakka River. Sarasota County exceeded the ADA requirements by installing a 60-inch wide gangway and access path that provides extra room to maneuver kayaks onto and off the dock.

The park has ADA Compliant trails, rest rooms (that are very clean), a floating boat launch and an ADA Compliant canoe and kayak dock launch. There are also four small picnic shelters (two of these are accessible shelters) with picnic tables and grills, restrooms, paved and unpaved trails, a boardwalk over wetlands. One end of the accessible picnic tables is extended to support usage by a person using a wheelchair. There is accessible surface connectivity to those picnic areas and accessible clearance around the table. The nearby grills are ADA accessible grills.

The park includes a floating, ADA kayak launch/dock, operated by Kay-aKcess, that provides a safe, easy, and stable route to and from the water. The wheelchair transfer platform, overhead and side grab-bars, and Safe-Launch adjustable platform, in combination with an ADA Gangway enables people with disabilities to launch their kayaks and canoes safely; WITHOUT the assistance of others, which is truly empowering.

Oscar Scherer State Park

Oscar Scherer State Park is committed to providing a variety of accessible amenities to all visitors.  Though it is surrounded by Sarasota’s urban area, this park is a true getaway in the woods, including Lake Osprey. Oscar Scherer is a small, beautiful, quiet park, and with all these accessible activities you can easily enjoy an entire day. The amenities include:

  • Paved campsites with an accessible table and ground grill.
  • Sites are also near an accessible bathhouse.
  • The barrier-free, Lester Finley Trail is a 1/2-mile hiking trail available for folks of all abilities with a hard-packed surface made of marl and crushed bank run shell. Tap rails, water fountains, accessible fishing dock, and butterfly gardens are also along the Lester Finley Trail. 
  • There are no handrails along trail except where bridges and piers are. The tap rail is along the lower edges of the trail.
  • The Lake Osprey Trail is also a hard-packed trail and suitable for all wheeled devises with handrails. This trail goes around the swimming lake at Lake Osprey picnic area for approximatly 1/4-mile.
  • A beach wheelchair is available upon request for the beach or use of their trails. You may call or email the park directly before your visit to check availability and reserve at no cost. 
  • The fishing dock is accessible with lowered railings for wheelchair users. They do rent canoes and kayaks and can assist with getting them down to the launch with notice. They will take the kayaks or canoes off the racks and or down to the accessible dock for you. There is no lift or hoist, but there is a wheelchair transfer station, grab-bars and canoe/kayak stabilization.
  • The Nature Center and the beach lake are accessible with a pathway down to the beach on the lake. The beach wheelchair can go on the soft sand.

 

Gardens

If you love gardens, ponds and nature, the most worthwhile attraction in Sarasota may be the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. It is a vast, flat place and each area has a huge variety of plants, flowers and trees. Every year, they have a theme based on the artwork of a famous artist, like Salvador Dali. There is also a butterfly house and a conservatory filled with orchids to see. Food and refreshments are available at the café and food truck. Plan on a 2-4-hour visit as there is no need to rush with so many areas to see; spend lots of time and decompress.

Access

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is wheelchair accessible. There is handicap parking, ramps at all buildings and paved sidewalks throughout the site.   They have wheelchairs available to use in the welcome center on a first-come, first-serve basis that cannot be reserved. The paved paths leads guests throughout the entire garden, and there are benches along the way with so many places to rest. A few of the paths are made up of pebble stones, but all of the gardens are visible from a distance. For example, the path from the pavilion to the Sarasota bay is not accessible but it is close enough that you can sit by the pavilion and enjoy the beautiful view of the bay.  

The Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden is a wonderful area that offers a natural space for discovery, exploration, learning, and play for people 8 to 80-years-old. The garden features a unique wheelchair accessible elevator that allows easy access to the canopy viewing area. In addition, ramped walkways allow for full exploration of all areas in the Goldstein Rainforest Garden. This is a unique self-guided experience of tropical plants.  

 

Opera House

If you are an opera lover you will want to have the experience of the enchanting Sarasota Opera House. It is a beautiful small theatre with only 1110 seats. There are accessible spaces for people using wheelchairs on the first floor. Though there is elevator service to all floors, due to local fire regulations, wheelchair accessible seating is not permitted on the second floor.    

People come from around the globe to see these productions with quality acoustics in the pit orchestra and the remarkable singers. It’s usually a sold-out house so patrons in wheelchairs are encouraged to call the box office to reserve the seats.

All the restrooms in the opera house are accessible. They have a much larger stall in the general bathroom downstairs as well as a seperate, family-style restroom, which is at least 5X5 in size. 

 

Shopping and Dining Out

In Sarasota the iconic shopping and dining quarter is St. Armands Circle, close to the coast, and less than a half mile from Lido Beach. In April 2019, the district’s parking garage was finished, where restrooms are ADA compliant. The area is a lovely combination of boutiques, first-rate restaurants and beautiful, classic statues along the circle created by John Ringling in 1927. All the sidewalks are wide and paved, including the ones through the parks, and there are ramps at all the intersections. 

The area is entirely flat, so it is easy to maneuver in a wheelchair. The boutiques are mostly upscale shops, but there are some mid-priced ones as well. It’s not your average tourist area filled with cheap t-shirts and sea-shell stores. The circle is quite spread out so there are bench areas at various locations. The restaurants all get very busy, with easily an hour wait, so it’s a good idea to make reservations. For dinner and drinks, try the Shore for excellent seafood and a lively atmosphere. It is handicap accessible with an elevator in the back and is quite an experience to see the views of the circle at night.

 

Vanessa Silberman Vanessa Silberman (1 Posts)

Vanessa is writer and publicist who developed a passion for advocating for people with disabilities in 2005 when she worked in PR and marketing at the Center for independent Living in Miami, Florida. One of her ideas was to create a photography exhibition of women with disabilities to showcase their beauty, sensuality and empowerment. She co-created Uncensored Life: Raw Beauty as a fundraiser for the Center. One of her original goals of the project was to have it be replicated nationally and globally and the exhibit has evolved and travels to NYC, LA , North Carolina. Washington DC, Philadelphia and Texas. She lives in Paris, France.


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