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Sarasota and Naples are two beautiful cities located in southwest Florida. Both offer a wide range of activities and attractions, making them popular destinations for tourists from around the world.
But what makes each city unique and sets them apart from one another? In this post, we look at Sarasota vs Naples – two great places to visit for your vacation.
Where Is Sarasota Located?
Sarasota is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
It is about 85 miles north of Fort Meyers and on the southern end of Greater Tampa Bay.
The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport is the major airport in the area with airlines connecting several cities across North America. If traveling to Sarasota, the Tampa airport is another option and it’s just an hour away.
Where Is Naples Located?
Naples is also located on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
However, it is closer to Fort Myers – about 40 miles south and 125 miles east of Miami.
The closest airport is the Naples Airport.
And while there are no scheduled commercial flights to and from this airport, it is one of the busiest private jet airports in the country.
The closest commercial airport to Naples is the Southwest Florida International Airport.
The verdict: For domestic travel, Sarasota is more easily accessible thanks to its airport within city limits.
However, Naples is better connected worldwide due to its closer proximity to the Miami International Airport.
Booking a last-minute trip to Sarasota or Naples?
If so, we have you covered. Here are some top recommended tours and experiences!
Top Tours in Sarasota
Kayak Tour Through Mangrove Tunnels (Look out for dolphins and manatees through the coastal mangrove forests)
City Sightseeing Trolley Tour of Sarasota (Discover the best of Sarasota, Florida)
Siesta Key Electric Bike Sunset Tour (Enjoy Florida’s best sunset at Siesta Key)
Top Tours in Naples
Naples Sightseeing Boat Tour (Explore the marine life and sights of Naples on this cruise)
Clear Kayak Guided Tour in Naples (One of the best ways to explore the wildlife in Naples)
Naples Guided Electric Trike Tour (Board an electric trike and enjoy a guided ride in the city)
Top Hotels In Sarasota
Tropical Breeze Resort– (Next to Siesta Beach)
Lido Beach Resort– (Great for couples, located on Lido Key)
Top Hotels In Naples
GreenLinks Golf Villas At Lely Resort– (Highly-rated resort)
Charter Club Resort Of Naples Bay– (Located In Historic Downtown)
Looking To Get Around In Sarasota Or Naples?
Check out rental car rates here! 🚗
Sarasota vs Naples- Beaches
Beaches in Sarasota
Sarasota is most famous for its Siesta Key Beach which is regularly featured in the top 10 beaches of the world on platforms like TripAdvisor, Dr Beach, the Travel Channel, and others.
Moreover, there are six stunning islands (known as keys) lining Sarasota’s coastline, each featuring beautiful beaches with soft, powdery white sand.
Another notable thing about Sarasota’s coastline is that it has really long beaches perfect to go on walks.
This also gives you the opportunity to find a quiet corner for yourself regardless of which season you visit.
A perfect example of this would be Longboat Key Beach which is 12 miles long, uninterrupted!
Caspersen Beach in Venice is another beach in Sarasota worth mentioning.
It is one of the most popular beaches in the county featuring a boardwalk, stunning hiking trails, and even shaded tables in some areas to enjoy food and drinks.
Caspersen also has parking and public bathrooms available, making it the perfect beach getaway, especially for families and smaller groups!
Beaches in Naples
While most major beaches in Sarasota are more lively and upbeat, the beaches in Naples are known for their peace and quiet.
Naples’ beaches feature mesmerizing sunsets and thriving marine life which can be experienced while swimming in its waters.
Another noteworthy feature of the beaches in Naples is that most of them are scattered with beautiful shells all over – unlike the beaches in Sarasota.
This is a big plus for shelling and beachcombing enthusiasts.
Lowdermilk’s Park Beach is one of the most exciting beaches in Naples – for kids and adults alike.
This beach is known for marine life such as dolphins and turtles that are often seen swimming off the coast.
This beach also has kayaks, boogie boards, and paddle boards on rent, as well as ample parking nearby.
For a little taste of the famous Naples sunset, the Naples Pier is the perfect place to go.
Other popular beaches in Naples include Vanderbilt Beach, Barefoot Beach, and Clam Pass Park.
The verdict: A close call, but depending on what you like in a beach the most, both are equally exciting – Sarasota for its pristine, long beaches and Naples for its stunning sunsets and thriving marine life.
Outdoor Activities in Sarasota
While Sarasota is more inclined towards a busier city and nightlife (discussed more below), there are still some great outdoor experiences to chase here.
Sarasota is a popular destination for sunbathing thanks to its long, uninterrupted and pristine beaches.
However, Siesta Key Beach has the perfect waters for swimming and snorkeling.
Kayaking and paddle boarding are also popular activities in Sarasota.
There are several tour operators that provide these experiences, especially along the mangroves and bay areas around Sarasota.
Golfers and anglers also have the chance at having some fun at Sarasota.
Golf courses such as Bobby Jones Golf Course at the Sarasota Country Club are some of the most renowned.
And the bays and rivers surrounding Sarasota are a treat for fishing.
Outdoor Activities in Naples
While Sarasota has some decent opportunities, when it comes to outdoor activities, Naples is definitely a more premier destination.
The 1000 feet long Naples Pier is testimony to the area’s bustling sportfishing scene.
There are also several deep sea fishing charters available across the Naples area for a whole day of jigging and popping and contesting to catch the heaviest, biggest fish possible!
Naples is also home to the world-famous Tiburón Golf Club.
People from all over the country and even outside come to get a taste of its fine golfing facilities.
Apart from golfing and fishing, on any given sunny day, visitors and locals of Naples alike can be seen out and about exploring the area’s mangroves, barrier islands, wildlife refuges and estuaries by kayak.
Moreover, Naples is also one of the thriving diving spots in Florida.
Florida is home to the world’s third largest coral reef system and Naples is a great place to discover the wide range of marine life – including muck diving, alligators, manatees, shipwrecks and caves and caverns and a whole lot more!
If you’re not into scuba diving and would rather stick to snorkeling instead, Naples has plenty of options even then.
Spots such as Clam Pass Beach, Ashanti Palm Wreck, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Tigertail Beach and Marco Island are all places worth checking out for snorkeling in Naples.
The verdict: While both places offer outdoor activities, Naples wins this round easily.
It has more cutting-edge outdoor facilities that Sarasota has not matched to yet.
Restaurants in Sarasota
Downtown Sarasota is quite lively and dotted with upbeat restaurants, cafes and nightclubs.
From casual local eateries to upscale restaurants known for fine dining, there is something for every budget and taste palate in Sarasota.
For seafood, Daiquiri Deck is one of the most well-known restaurants featuring an extensive menu of classic as well as experimental seafood dishes.
Other popular restaurants in Sarasota include The Old Salty Dog and Dry Dock Waterfront Grill.
Restaurants in Naples
The Naples downtown area is much calmer and quieter than Sarasota.
But that doesn’t mean that the food scene is not as good (if not better) as Sarasota.
There are over 700 incredible restaurants in the Naples area. Naples is most famous for the best Italian food in all of Florida.
Restaurants such as Campiello and Veranda truly live up to their hype.
For seafood, it is worth heading to Ristorante di Mare and the Dock at Crayton Cove with some of the freshest seafood in the state. One of my personal favorites in Naples is USS Nemo with great seafood dishes.
Naples also has many food truck options for those looking for a more relaxed eating environment.
The verdict: Naples is the clear winner of this round simply because it has the best of both worlds: incredible fine dining in upscale restaurants as well as relaxed, casual food scenes.
Cultural Activities and Events
Cultural Activities and Events in Sarasota
If there is one thing Sarasota must be known for, apart from its beaches, it has to be its many art galleries and museums that are dotted across the city area.
The Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota Opera House, Florida Studio Theatre, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and Burns Coat Cinemas are all great places for a complete dose of the city’s renowned art and culture scene.
The shopping scene in Sarasota is also quite happening.
The Mall at University Town Center and the St. Armands Circle are both great places to hit.
Sarasota is also home to a variety of local events that keep happening throughout the year such as the Sarasota Film Festival, the Sarasota Music Festival, the Suncoast Boat Show and the Sarasota County Fair – so it is best to keep an eye out for their calendar while visiting!
Lastly, the sporting scene in Sarasota is also very lively.
Apart from the city’s Ed Smith Stadium, a stone’s throw away from the downtown, there are several other sporting centres nearby such as the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
So a live match could also be on your itinerary while visiting Sarasota!
Cultural Activities and Events in Naples
While Sarasota is definitely way more culturally active, Naples is not very far behind too.
The Naples International Film Festival, the Naples Music Festival, and the Naples Grand Opera are some of the annual events in Naples to look out for.
The Naples Philharmonic is also a great venue for live music worth checking out.
The verdict: Sarasota is simply a much larger city than Naples with almost three times the population.
It is no great surprise then, that Sarasota has far more to offer in the arts and culture space than Naples does.
Sarasota vs Naples- Free Activities
Free Activities in Sarasota
As compared to Naples, Sarasota has a decent amount of free activities to take part in.
Most places have an entry fee in the city and public parks are scattered and few.
However, that does not mean that there is absolutely nothing you can do for free in Sarasota.
Thanks to the sizeable population of hippies in Sarasota, the weekly Community Drum Circle every Sunday on Siesta Key Beach is a nice way to spend an evening on the beach.
Not only is this activity free to join, but is also a great opportunity for some music therapy, or to just dance it out and meet new people.
The Ringling Museum of Art is a good place to go if you are looking for free activities in Sarasota.
The entry is usually 25$ but on Mondays, entry is free so plan your visit accordingly.
Visiting museums in a beach city is not the most obvious choice but the Ringling Museum is more than worth it.
The complex has buildings with incredible architecture including a Venetian Gothic style palace on water.
Apart from these, the obvious free public beaches are a great way to spend time in Sarasota. These include Turtle Beach, Siesta Key Beach, Coquina Beach, and Lido Key Beach.
Free Activities in Naples
Even though Naples is known to be the playground of the wealthy, it still has a variety of free things you can do, a lot more in comparison to Sarasota.
And since it is an outdoor enthusiast’s wonderland, it is no surprise that most of the free things to do in Naples are found in the bounty of nature.
The most obvious choice of free things to do in Naples has to be a visit to its beaches especially in Bonita Springs and Marco Island.
And if you have your own snorkeling gear including a mask, snorkel and a pair of fins, then you do not even have to pay for snorkeling tours.
You can peacefully swim with turtles and dolphins all for free!
Apart from the beaches, the Naples Preserve is a beautiful expanse of Florida’s green ecosystem dating back 10,000 years.
The 0.4 mile-long boardwalk cutting through it is a great way to spend your time here for free.
The Otter Mound Preserve in Marco Island is a great place to learn about the aboriginal history of the land.
Naples also has several hiking and walking trails which do not cost a penny to do.
Some of the best hiking trails in Naples include Marsh Trail in the Everglades area, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary Trail, and Crew Bird Rookery Swamp.
Naples also has a couple of museums offering free entry.
These include the Collier Museum at Government Centre, Marco Island Historical Museum, and Naples Depot Museum.
Lastly, nature preserves such as Sugden Regional Park for its freshwater lake, Paradise Coast Blueway for its swamps and mangroves, and Big Cypress National Preserve for a chance to get up close with Florida panthers, Florida manatees, and alligators are great places to hang out!
The verdict: Naples wins this round by a clear margin. Though a wealthy paradise, the number of free activities both in nature and indoors are phenomenal here.
Sarasota vs Naples- Final Thoughts
In conclusion, Sarasota and Naples are both incredibly popular Florida destinations for those looking to explore the sunshine state.
While they both offer a variety of attractions, each has something to offer. Sarasota is for its diverse cultural offerings, Naples offers beautiful beaches and of outdoor activities.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference when choosing between the two for your next vacation destination. No matter which you choose, Sarasota or Naples, you can be sure to have an enjoyable time in Florida’s paradise!
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