For year ’round residents, it can be frustrating to see a wealth of activities and events that take, well, wealth to attend. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to do if you live on a budget. Consider some of my favorite things that are free (or nearly so.)
(1) The Herald-Tribune. Sarasota’s local (and Pulitzer Prize winning) newspaper has a great free online condensed edition. I love this paper for how it engages in powerful investigative local reporting—a rarity these days. You don’t know nothin’ about Sarasota without being a reader!!! And with full digital and print available for about $20/month, how can anyone resist being a subscriber? With Sunday’s coupons, the subscription pays for itself. Even better is that on Thursdays, Ticket Magazine is included with the paper and this supplement offers a comprehensive list of weekend and upcoming events throughout the area.
(2) The Ringling Museum. On Mondays, there is free access to the Museum of Art and exhibits and the beautiful grounds, but you’ll have to pay to enter the Ca’ d’Zan or the Circus Museum. Try it out then consider how membership is a great deal if you want to return (and you will).
(3) Van Wezel Friday Fest. This is a free outdoor music concert once a month in June, July, August, and September. Bring a chair or blanket and get ready to dance. Food and beverages for sale (but you can’t bring them in.) It’s a happening.
(4) Sarasota Libraries. There are nine Sarasota County Libraries including downtown’s Selby Public Library that has a 3,000 gallon salt-water aquarium arching over the entrance to the Children’s section (a must see). A library card is free for anyone who owns property in the county or has a lease for over 6 months. But you can also buy a Visitor’s Card for three months for only $15. This is a bargain because of what it gets you: books (of course), magazines (online or printed), DVDs (current, classic, and foreign films), audio books, ebooks, and access to over 50 databases like Mango (learn a foreign language), Kelly Bluebook (price a vehicle), and Novelist Plus (find a new author). But with or without a card, you can use the wifi, use the public computers and printers, browse, and attend monthly children and adult programming—all for free.
(5) Ringling College of Art + Design galleries and exhibits. There are 7 free on-site galleries that feature student, staff, and visiting artist works. They are inspiring and show why this college is so influential in the world of art and design.
(6) Towles Court Third Friday Art Walks. These galleries are always free to explore, but on the third Friday of each month, they are all open from 5-9 and there is music and refreshments available. Stroll the galleries and enjoy.
(7) The Friendship Center. This senior center near the bay offers a host of free classes (e.g., yoga, painting, foreign language), social services, activities, support groups, and more. For a small donation, meals are provided. It is as it claims, a friendly gathering spot that promotes healthy aging as part of a community.
(8) The Ringling Causeway Bridge. Of course it’s free to walk the bridge and take in the million dollar views, but you can also park for free nearby (either under the bridge or at Bird Key). Driving the bridge doesn’t count…to take in the full beauty of Sarasota, you’ve got to go native and walk.
(9) Siesta Key Drum Circle. Sunday night sunsets are honored by the drummers, dancers, and hoopers who gather on the beach and celebrate just being here. Don’t just watch, join in the dance.
(10) Sarasota Parks and Preserves. Each one has its own ambience and features. There are dog parks, bird watching venues, picnic areas, bike paths, tennis courts, places to launch your paddleboard, and campgrounds ($). There is so much to do, or select one and just enjoy doing nothing.