If you’re trying to get away from the winter cold, relax on the beach over spring break or bask in the summer sun, Sarasota, Florida is the perfect wheelchair accessible vacation destination. Whether you have a disability and use a wheelchair, scooter or other mobility aid, or you live with chronic pain and fatigue, Sarasota has something for every disabled traveler. I found Sarasota, Florida to be one of the most wheelchair accessible places I’ve ever visited. Here are seven wheelchair accessible Sarasota attractions you must not miss!
Siesta Key Beach
I rarely find a truly wheelchair accessible beach where I can enjoy the sand and fresh ocean air like everyone else — but Siesta Key Beach
is amazing. Siesta Key is considered to be one of the most wheelchair accessible beaches in the world; it’s famous for welcoming people with disabilities by providing multiple accessibility features. There’s lots of flat, paved parking and plenty of disability parking spaces near the entrance, although it can fill up at peak times like any popular Sarasota, Florida destination.
Karin and Aria enjoying the mobi-mat wheelchair accessible path on Siesta Key Beach near Sarasota, Florida.
Siesta Key Beach is unique in that it has a “mobi-mat,” a path that lays on top of the sand to enable people with disabilities to access the beach using their own mobility device rather than a special wheelchair. I had no problem navigating the mat with my power chair, and also saw several manual wheelchair users using it. Several smaller pieces extend out from the path, so you can park and relax without blocking the main path for other users. I was disappointed that the mat does not extend close enough to the water, but still loved the experience.
View of the ocean from Siesta Key wheelchair accessible beach near Sarasota, Florida,
If you want to get down to the water, Siesta Key has manual beach wheelchairs available to rent for free until 3 p.m. I didn’t want someone to have to push me, so I opted not to get one. However, later in the day when I went to get a snack, I discovered that a local disabled entrepreneur offers powered tank wheelchairs for rent, like the kind I used when I visited Miller Beach
in the Chicago area. So if you want to enjoy the beach but don’t have or want someone else to push your wheelchair, you have another choice.
If you can only visit one wheelchair accessible Sarasota, Florida attraction, make it Siesta Key Beach!
is an excellent wheelchair accessible Sarasota, Florida destination for a cool or very hot day, as it’s mostly indoors. There’s accessible parking right at the entrance, but it’s a large facility spread out over two buildings, so if you’re a part-time wheelchair user, plan on bringing your chair.
Mote Aquarium is a sanctuary for sea turtles and other marine animals that have been injured and either need rehabilitation or cannot be released into the wild. It’s a haven for animals with disabilities — they have partially blind and fully blind sea turtles, as well as those with shell and spinal damage and other injuries.
Mote Aquarium has two adorable manatees, Hugh and Buffet, who are amusing and relaxing to watch. I was especially touched by their friendship with their blind sea turtle companion Harry, with whom they interact affectionately and share food. They are a wonderful example for children and adults of how beautiful the world can be when we accept each other‘s differences.
Aria meets an otter at Mote Aquarium.
Last but not least, if you visit Mote Aquarium, you oughta see the river otters, especially if you have a service dog! When I first approached the water portion of the otter habitat, the otters were relaxing on the bank. That changed when they spotted Aria. All three of them leapt into the water, swam over to the glass and began spinning in circles and chattering. At first I wasn’t sure if they were being territorial and trying to make Aria leave, but the animal care staff assured me that they love dogs. After being entertained by their water antics for a few minutes, we decided to take the elevator to the upstairs viewing area. By the time we got up there, the otters were waiting for us, and continued playing with Aria on land.
Aria and the otter playing.
South Florida Museum
If it’s cold or rainy, the South Florida Museum
is a perfect indoor wheelchair accessible attraction in nearby Bradenton. They have an excellent collection of early mammal fossils, as well as many Native American artifacts.
Karin and Aria with a mastodon skeleton at the South Florida Museum, Bradenton, Florida.
Once home to Snooty the manatee, since he passed away they have become a manatee rehabilitation facility. It’s wonderful that they are providing this service, but if you previously visited during the Snooty days (as I did many years ago) you might find the new manatee presentation a bit dull. Since the manatees now at the museum will eventually be released into the wild, the care staff interact with them as little as possible. You’ll see them putting out food, answering questions and that’s about it. There are two ways to view the manatees, through glass on the ground level and via an upstairs balcony. There’s also a seating area for the manatee presentations that has steps but no ramp. However, the balcony provides a great view for wheelchair users.
Marie Selby Gardens
I love being outdoors and the nature, but as a wheelchair user, it’s often inaccessible to me. Therefore I especially appreciate places like Selby Gardens
that have gone above and beyond to welcome the disability community.
Hugging a tree at Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida.
If you’re looking for a relaxed-pace wheelchair accessible Sarasota, Florida outdoor destination, you can’t go wrong with Selby Gardens. Almost all the trails are paved, and you can get up close to amazing trees and plants.
Karin and Dad enjoying Selby Gardens, a wheelchair accessible botanical garden park in Sarasota, Florida.
If you use a walker or have a condition that causes fatigue, there are benches scattered around where you can sit and just enjoy the scenery. They have a small gift shop and an attached nursery with many gorgeous plants for sale. I wished I could take so many of them home with me!
Ringling Museum of Art
If you’re interested in art or the history of the circus, the Ringling Museum complex
is a must-see wheelchair accessible Sarasota, Florida destination. There are wide hallways, spacious elevators and accessible restrooms, places to sit and even a little coffee shop with sandwiches that are reasonably priced.
I’ve always been fascinated by the circus because of its role in disability history
. Today many disability advocates look down on the side show as exploitative, but in its time it provided a community where people with disabilities could be accepted. It was also one of the few job opportunities open to people with disabilities, who were otherwise mostly trapped at home or in institutions. The Ringling Museum covers a wide range of circus history, and did include some information on side show performers, but I would’ve liked to see a bit more. Still, visiting this museum is an essential part of learning about disability history and American history.
Giant and bearded lady depicted in vintage sideshow paintings.
Siamese twins Chang and Eng and a “fat lady” in vintage sideshow art.
Florida Studio Theatre
Everyone who knows me knows I love theatre. If you love theatre even a tenth as much as I do, you’ll want to check out a show at the Florida Studio Theatre
while visiting Sarasota, Florida. FST has five different performance venues of various sizes ranging from traditional theatres to small cabaret spaces. Subscribers get many of the available tickets, so I recommend calling the box office as far in advance as you can. The box office staff are knowledgeable and can help place you in disability accessible seating. FST shows run from a few weeks to a few months; I discovered them because my good friend Tamra Hayden
starred in “Guitar Girls” during their winter 2019 season.
If you need parking, there’s a garage right across the street with some accessible spaces, and varying amounts of street parking in the blocks around the theater.
Tamra Hayden, Joe Casey, Jannie Jennings, Anna Stefanic and Cat Greenfield in “Guitar Girls” at Florida Studio Theatre.
Red Barn Flea Market
If you love shopping, you have to visit Sarasota, Florida. Lots of rich people get rid of perfectly good stuff — and one of the places you can find it is at the Red Barn Flea Market
, a large indoor-outdoor shopping complex with hundreds of booths and stores selling new and used items. There really is something for everyone!
Red Barn Flea Market, Sarasota, Florida.
When you arrive at the Red Barn Flea Market, you’ll need to find parking. This is the main area in which disability accessibility could have been improved; although there’s a lot of parking, there’s not much accessible parking and all of it was taken when I visited. I had to park far away on hard packed dirt/grass. Thankfully it wasn’t muddy, even though it had rained the night before. There are hundreds of booths and stores to visit, and some are more crowded than others, but all were welcoming and did their best to help me navigate around. If you get hungry, there’s a massive food court at the center. Plan on spending a whole day here, because you’ll need that long to see it all!
Bonus: Recommended Restaurants
I ate some awesome food in Sarasota. Here are a few restaurants that are both tasty and disability friendly.
Anna Maria Oyster Bar —
So great we ate there twice! If you love seafood, you can’t go wrong. They have amazing coconut shrimp and lobster tails, wonderful salmon specials and tasty hush puppies. They have a decent amount of disability parking, but it does get busy so you may end up needing to park in the strip mall parking lot nearby.
Bijou Cafe —
I ate here twice too! Located near the Florida Studio Theatre, this French restaurant has wonderful food in a quiet, relaxing environment. The service is excellent and the food is expensive, but worth it. I tried two different fish specials and loved them, and they make an excellent vichyssoise which is available on certain nights. If you’re thinking dinner and a show, make this the dinner!
Linger Lodge —
The parking for this place might be a bit hairy, but then again so is the food. Yes, this place has roadkill on the menu, but don’t worry, there are other options too, like alligator! If you enjoy all things weird, this is the restaurant for you. Their taxidermy is indescribable, which is why I had to take pictures. You can even get an alligator head as a souvenir of your visit.
Linger Lodge sign made out of actual snakes.
Linger Lodge roadkill menu.
I’d like to see one in the wild. 😉
Gotta love this taxidermy!
I highly recommend visiting Sarasota, Florida if you have a physical disability. There’s lots to do, but it’s also a great place to relax. I consider the Sarasota-Bradenton area to be one of the most wheelchair accessible vacation destinations in the United States. Check it out — you’ll be glad you did!
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