Events & Festivals - Sarasota County Blog

Vacationer’s Guide: 2016 summer events in Sarasota

Summer 2016 is packed with special events, so Visit Sarasota has scoped out all the festivals, fairs and family fun we could find—from Bradenton to Venice—to help you fill your calendar.

Summertime is upon Florida’s sunny Gulf Coast—and when the sun is out, there’s no shortage of things to do in and around Sarasota County. Summer 2016 is packed with special events, so Visit Sarasota has scoped out all the festivals, fairs and family fun we could find—from Bradenton to Venice—to help you fill your calendar.

From  ‘traditional fare,’ like Fourth of July Fireworks, to unique events that are ‘a little out there’ (have you ever seen a full orchestra perform in the middle of a baseball diamond?)—Visit Sarasota has your bases covered this summer.

Music Festivals

Sarasota’s wildly popular Harvey Milk Festival is an annual weekend of socially-conscious art, film, and music that celebrates the life of Harvey Milk, a notable leader in the movement for LGBTQ equality. The 7th annual Harvey Milk Festival (HMF) takes place May 12-14, kicking off on May 12th in an evening of live art featuring “feats of fashion” by performance artist Belaxis Buil, accompanied by an ensemble of six dancers. On May 13, the theatre portion of HMF features a cabaret-style performance titled Octavio Campos: America’s Next President, by Cuban-American performance artist Octavio Campos, at the Florida Studio Theatre. The weekend culminates with the main event, the May 14 HMF Music Fest, featuring an eclectic lineup of 10 artists from Florida and across the U.S., ranging from singer-songwriter crooners to vibrant pop, edgy queer punk, and danceable electro beats.

It’s not often that fans of the orchestra have the chance to chomp into a hot dog while they’re enjoying the symphony—but at the Sarasota Orchestra’s annual Outdoor Pops Concert on May 14, that’s precisely what concert-attendees can expect; perhaps with a side of popcorn. This year’s ‘Triple Play’-themed orchestral event pays homage to American divas of pop, rock ‘n’ roll, and the Broadway stage. Amy Whitcomb of the popular vocal competition show, The Voice, joins jazz vocalist Carol McCartney and Sarasota-native singing sensation Maria Wirries in a concert featuring classic tunes, backed by the full Sarasota Orchestra—right on the baseball diamond of the Baltimore Orioles’ spring training field at Ed Smith Stadium.

The 5th Annual Myakka Blues Festival takes place on Memorial Day (May 30) at Snook Haven in Venice, alongside the Myakka River. This year’s festival highlights some of the biggest names in Florida blues music, including local favorite Randy Stephens, Packrat’s Smokehouse Band, Bing Futch, the Duffy Bishop Band, Gator Nate from the Everglades, and Mike Davis with No Money Down.

The Sarasota Music Festival (SMF) hosted by the Sarasota Orchestra is the longest-running music festival in Sarasota, taking place during the first three weeks in June, for over six decades. Dozens of the most talented pre-professional musicians and students hailing from music colleges and conservatories across the U.S. come to Sarasota for the annual festival to attend master classes with top teachers from around the world, and participate in awe-inspiring performances. For SMF audiences, the first three weekends in June feature a whirlwind of symphony concerts, student recitals and lectures that are not to be missed. The SMF stage is where the up-and-coming stars of contemporary chamber music often make their debut. Check out the full festival schedule to plan your SMF experience.

Art and Craft Fairs

What better place to kick off a creative summer than on the beach with the 44th Annual Siesta Key Sand Sculpture Contest? Sand sculptors flock to Sarasota twice annually for the Siesta Key Sand Sculpture contest in May and Master Sand Sculpture Contest in November. All ages and skill levels are welcome in the May 7 contest, featuring four categories—Adult Miscellaneous, Adult Humorous, Youth 11-17, and Children 10 and under. Get your hands sandy or simply enjoy the show as a spectator—but don’t miss this classic Sarasota event!

The Howard Alan Events & American Craft Endeavors Craft Festival celebrates over a decade of eclectic shows in downtown Sarasota, St. Armand's Circle, and downtown Venice this summer. The Craft Fair comes to downtown Sarasota on May 7-8, St. Armand’s Circle on June 11-12, and downtown Venice June 18-19 and September 3-4. The Craft Festival travels the country annually, featuring the work of dozens of artists and crafters around the country, including painters, fiber artists, sculptors, ceramics artists and jewelry makers.

Downtown Sarasota’s Municipal Auditorium hosts a Gem, Jewelry and Bead Show twice every summer, in May and August. This show features some of the finest gem, jewelry and bead collections for sale in the United States, ranging from small trinkets to glamourous showstoppers. This year’s Gem, Jewelry and Bead shows take place on the weekends of May 20-22 and August 19-21.

The 6th Annual Sarasota Mystic Faire takes place at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium on the weekend of July 23-24 this summer. Vendors peddling healing crystals, spiritual gifts, organic skincare, essential oils, metaphysically-inspired jewelry, pendants, wands and pendulums are in abundance at the annual faire. The Sarasota Mystic Faire also features palm and tarot readings, psychic consults, mediums, intuitive healers, and more from the metaphysical realm.

Sports Events

Prepare to get sandy on the weekends of May 14-15 and July 9-10 at the Dig the Beach Volleyball Tournament taking place on Siesta Key Beach. Both tournaments include competitive adult professional and amateur volleyball, youth volleyball, and adult co-ed bouts. The Dig the Beach series takes place at beaches across Florida, with competitors vying for cash prizes and medals.

The Sunshine State Games, an amateur Olympic-style sports tradition in Florida, comes to Nathan Benderson Park on the weekend of June 11-12 for Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Events in the Sarasota-Manatee Sunshine State Games include archery, disc golf, paddling, powerlifting, racquetball, rowing, and synchronized swimming. Established in 1980, the Sunshine State Games is the longest-running Olympic-style ‘State Games’ event in the nation.

Standup Paddleboard (SUP) races are the latest watersport to take the nation by storm. In Sarasota, the Junior Waterman Challenge on May 7 and the SUP Championships at Lido Key on June 18 are the big events to look forward to. The Junior Waterman Challenge is for all youth paddlers, from novices to young SUP pros, ages 5-17. In addition to all-levels races, the Junior Waterman Challenge includes SUP tours of the South Lido Mangroves as well as SUP yoga classes with SURFit. The 4th annual SUP Championships at Lido, taking place on June 18, is a full-day of races, live music, raffles, food, and SUP demos. The event features 5K and 10K races, grom races, team races, obstacle courses and more for all levels.

Fourth of July

Sarasota’s biggest Fourth of July event is the annual Suncoast Boat Races and Offshore Grand Prix Festival taking place July 1-4. The 32nd annual Grand Prix kicks off on July 1 with a downtown block party and powerboat parade along Main Street. The annual Jet Ski and Powerboat races take place July 2-3, and culminate in a spectacular display of fireworks over Sarasota Bay on Independence Day. Other Grand Prix events include the Miss Hooters Swimsuit Pageant (formerly the Miss Super Boat Grand Prix Bikini Contest), live music and meet & greets with powerboat drivers. The July 4 fireworks display starts at dusk (around 9pm) and benefits Suncoast Charities for Children.

Spectators can enjoy the fireworks over Sarasota Bay from Selby Gardens at the All American Barbecue and Independence Day Celebration taking place at Selby from 6-10 p.m. The event includes four barbecue pit master vendors, live music from the Lauren Mitchell Band, and family activities. This event is $30 for Selby Gardens members, $35 for non-members, and $150 for VIP tickets. Kids 11 and under get in free.

For visitors and residents of Venice, the Venice-area fireworks are fired from the south Venice jetty and visible from Venice Beach, Nokomis, and boats on the intracoastal waterway. Fireworks are launched starting at dusk, but spectators are advised to arrive early, as thousands typically line the beaches for the annual event.

Fishing Tournaments

When the fish are biting, the competition is fierce in Sarasota County. Tournament season kicks off with the 86th Annual Sarasota Tarpon Tournament taking place May 7 - June 12. The world’s oldest tarpon tournament, a Sarasota tradition since 1930, partners annually with a different local nonprofit, which benefits from tournament proceeds. This all-levels competition features several categories, including youth, women’s and ‘his & hers’ categories—with weekly winners competing in a two-day ‘Fish Off’ for the coveted overall winner trophy.

The Gulf Coast Open Fishing Tournament takes place the weekend of May 13-14. The Gulf Coast Open includes three classes: Kingfish Jackpot, Single Engine, and the High Roller Buy-in—a $1000 buy-in with 50%, 30%, and 20% payouts.

The Suncoast Saltwater Shootout Fishing Tournament is another Gulf Coast angler favorite, taking place in June. Keep an eye out for the official 2016 schedule dates for this classic fishing tournament, which includes in-shore, off-shore and billfish divisions.

The Sarasota Slam Fishing Tournament taking place August 5-6 is an all-ages family event featuring a junior angler division, with inshore and offshore categories. Stick around after weigh-in on Sunday for a dockside party and barbecue with live music. The tournament, a decade-long tradition in Sarasota, annually supports community organizations including The Boys and Girls Club, Make-A-Wish-Foundation, and Meals on Wheels.

Sarasota’s ‘Wildest’ Animal Encounters & Environmental Events

Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium joins environment, science and wildlife organizations across the world in celebrating the World Oceans Day Family Festival on June 4. This all-ages event dives deep into an exploration of the natural world’s greatest resource. Ocean conservation, marine science and green practices are the focus of festival activities, including crafts, games and hands-on education at the World Oceans Day Family Festival. Admission to the festival is free with regular paid admission to Mote.

Celebrate scaly critters and educate yourself on the ins and outs of creepy-crawlies and slithery-somethings at ReptiDay Sarasota, taking place at the Sarasota Fairgrounds on July 9. Get up close and personal with wild reptiles from around the world, experience hands-on live animal demonstrations, learn about reptile husbandry, and purchase pet reptiles and reptile products at this day-long event.

Can’t get enough sharks during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week in June? Mote Marine has you covered! The 2nd Annual Shark Days at Mote takes place from August 15-20 in a weeklong celebration of sharks that’s geared toward the whole family. Shark Days includes six days of activities and educational events that culminates with the Fins & Fun Family Festival with festivities for all ages.

Try a Taste of Local Culture

For hopheads and other craft beer connoisseurs, a summer day simply isn’t complete without a cold brew in hand. The Venice Brew Bash kicks off Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, May 28 with a susdsy evening in downtown Venice featuring more than 60 craft and import brews. Enjoy pours from local breweries including Sarasota’s Big Top Brewing Company and Darwin Brewing Co., Punta Gorda’s Fat Point Brewing, Tampa’s Big Storm Brewing, Coppertail Brewing Co., and more — so come thirsty!

Enjoy Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week June 1-14. Try three-course, artfully-crafted meals at more than 45 area restaurants participating in the two week event. Foodies flock to the area and the locals come out in droves to attend, so be sure to book your reservations ahead of time if you would prefer not to wait for an open table!

Don your favorite lei flower necklace and beachiest Hawaiian button-down for the Authentic Hawaiian Luau at Sharky’s at the Pier on June 12 in Venice. Enjoy Polynesian music and Hawaiian food, and catch performances by Waikiki dancers and flame throwers in this beachy benefit for the upcoming 2016 Chalk Festival taking place in November.

It’s summertime in the Circus City, and one of Sarasota’s most beloved family events is a Big Top affair. The Summer Circus Spectacular takes place from June 18 through July 30 at The Ringling, in collaboration with performers from the Circus Arts Conservatory of Sarasota. Enjoy unbeatable opening week prices of $10 per seat from June 15-18. For the remainder of the Summer Circus Spectacular, June 21 through July 30,  tickets are just $12 for children 12 and under and $15 for adults. Come for the show — but don’t forget to stop by the Ringling Circus Museum while you’re there to take part in interactive circus exhibits and learn more about the colorful history of the Ringling Barnum & Bailey Circus in Sarasota, Florida