South Florida Museum Bishop Planetarium & Aquarium
201 10th St W, Bradenton, FL 34205
The museum contains more than 50,000 square feet of exhibits on Florida's history, including a 60,000-gallon aquarium for Snooty, the oldest manatee born in captivity in Florida. Recently Snooty gained a pool mate, Mo. The Planetarium features astronomy presentations and laser light shows. The museum, which is open during a current renovation project, also generates a full lineup of special events each year.
The Gamble Plantation
3708 Patten Avenue, Ellenton
Visit this mixture of sand, oyster shells and fresh water – a relic of southern Florida’s sugar plantations. Experience a tour through a late 1840s home and take a look at the life of a wealthy planter where period antiques site in their proper setting within the mansion. The visitors center houses exhibitions on the mansions history.
De Soto National Memorial
75th St NW, Bradenton, FL 34209-5390
In 1539 the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto landed on the Florida coast. Searching for legendary gold, he and his small army of conquistadores spent four years marching through the southeastern section of the present-day United States. Eventually they took the Mississippi south, ultimately reaching Mexico with only 300 men. This park commemorates the first extensive European expedition through the southeast states.
Both indoors and outdoors you get a taste of the conquistadores' life during their journey. Inside the visitor center (open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.), browse through museum artifacts such as a suit of armor and weapons. Exhibit panels explain the importance of de Soto's expedition, its route, and its impact upon Native Americans. After watching a film about the expedition, catch the living history programs from mid-December through mid-April; these demonstrations give you an idea of how the Spanish lived in their new and sometimes hostile environment. Outside, walk along the half-mile nature trail. Along the way, you'll see the same kinds of birds and animals de Soto and his men would have encountered in the southeastern wilderness. Plaques describe the vegetation, and you'll recognize the pelicans and herons. Plan on spending an hour or two at this park. Handicapped-accessible facilities are available.
Mote Marine Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236
Mote Aquarium is located between Longboat Key and St. Armands Key on City Island. Over 50 exhibits are offered, featuring manatees, sharks, sea turtles, sea horses, fish, eels and more. A 30-foot "touch tank" gives you a literally hands-on experience: reach out and get splashed by a stingray or hold a horseshoe crab. Learn about ecosystems, plants, fish and invertebrates. Visitors can see Mote Marine Laboratory's aquaculture and learn about the breeding and growing of fish for stock enhancement. Boat tours of local waters are available aboard the Sarasota Bay Explorers by calling (941) 388-4200.
Admission for adults is $10 and $7 for ages 4 to 17. Allow two hours minimum. The aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information call (941) 388-2451.
Pelican Man’s Bird Sanctuary
1708 Ken Thompson Parkway, Lido Key, Sarasota
This attraction proves popular with the kids where they can see over 200 birds permanently on display. The sanctuary also treats and houses injured birds.
The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art
5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
One of the three buildings of the museum complex is the state museum of art, which has a significant collection that includes 17th-century Flemish, Dutch, and Italian paintings. A circus museum and the Ringlings' winter home, a Venetian-style villa overlooking the bay, are also on the 66-acre site.
Sarasota American Classic Car Museum
5500 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243
Three museums in one, the Sarasota Classic Car museum is the third oldest car museum in the country. Features include an automobile exhibit displaying more than 100 antique vehicles; a mechanical music exhibit containing the largest collection of player pianos and disc boxes in the world; and an arcade exhibit featuring playable antique arcade machines dating from the 19th century.