Sarasota is a destination that most gay travellers to Florida are likely to overlook, opting for nearby St. Petersburg instead.
We'll be very honest, before coming to Sarasota we knew very little about it. However, it turned out to be the hidden gem of our trip, a place we would definitely love to return to. As well as being the cultural capital of Florida with so many things to do, it also has a fun gay scene worth checking out, with annual events like the “Harvey Milk Festival” and “Sarasota Pride”.
Following our trip, we've put together our travel guide featuring the best gay bars in Sarasota, LGBTQ events, beaches and gay friendly hotels to stay.
What we cover in this guide
Gay bars of Sarasota
The gay scene of Sarasota is so small that even gay locals we met advised us to instead head to nearby St. Pete to party. This is no surprise given that St. Pete is 5 times larger than Sarasota. Despite its size, Sarasota still has a handful of places worth checking out for a fun gay night out:
- Purple Rhino: this is Sarasota's oldest gay bar with a really friendly atmosphere and some hilarious drag shows. We came here on a Saturday evening and saw a couple of shows, which you can see in our video below. On Sunday evenings, look out for their gay drag “Bingo Bash” event. Purple Rhino is located at 2920 Beneva Rd and is open daily from 4:40pm to around 10:30pm (later on weekends).
- Oasis: famous for its sexy dancers who gyrate across the bar, clad in very tight underwear: see for yourself in the last 20 seconds of our video below. Later in the evening, Oasis transforms into a dancing venue. On Friday evenings, they have a drag show hosted by Sarasota's resident drag queen, Beneva Fruitville. Oasis is located at 6531 Gateway Avenue and is open daily from 4pm-2am.
- Drag Queen Bingo Bonanza at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre: Beneva Fruitville also has her iconic Drag Queen Bingo show at the McCurdy's Comedy Theatre once a month. Check out the Events section of her Fb page for details of the next one.
- Pangea Alchemy Lab: intimate and very hip gay friendly speakeasy lounge in downtown Sarasota. It is famous for its craft cocktails and award winning team of mixologist bartenders who create delicious seasonal drinks. Pangea is located at 1564 Main Street and is open daily from 6pm to 2am.
- Gay Group Happy Hour Events: on the first Thursday of every month look out for the “G2H2 Gay Guy Happy Hour” event for gay professionals across Sarasota. They meet at swanky lounges and eclectic restaurants around the city.
- The Clever Cup Coffee Shop: every Sunday between 4-5pm check out the LGBT+ Coffee Hour social at Clever Cup. It is located at 6530 Gateway Avenue.
- The Roof Top Bar: located on the 19th floor of the Westin Hotel, with stunning views of the city skyline and Sarasota Bay. It's very romantic, especially on Saturday evenings when they have live music. The Roof Top Bar is located at 100 Marina View Drive and is open every day for lunch and evening drinks.
For details of the latest gay parties taking place in Sarasota, check out SarasotaOut. Also, watch our video below featuring the drag shows of Purple Rhino and sexy dancers of Oasis:
Gay beaches in Sarasota
Sarasota is not shy of beaches at all! It has many miles of white sandy beaches, including the most famous: Siesta Key. We loved it because as a gay couple, we didn't feel out of place here. We found it to be chilled and very relaxed. Gay travellers should also check out Sarasota's official gay beach, North Lido, which is also rated as one of the best gay beaches in Florida.
Unlike Siesta Key beach, North Lido is more popular with LGBTQ locals. It is more secluded and private, lined with sand dunes and a large forest. The gay area is at the northern end. To reach it, turn right (heading north) from the lifeguard station and continue walking for around 1/4 mile to the dunes nearest Longboat Key and New Pass. Take note: despite North Lido Beach being so secluded, it is no longer a nude beach, so you risk getting a penalty if you're caught naked as anti nudity laws are strictly enforced.
Whichever beach you go to in Sarasota, we guarantee that you will have a stunning sunset every evening.
Gay events in Sarasota
Despite its size, there are a number of annual gay events in Sarasota, including several Prides, a film festival and an exhibition celebrating diversity:
- Embracing Our Differences exhibit (Jan-March): this is an international outdoor juried exhibition in Bayfront Park, which uses art to celebrate diversity. The exhibit consists of 45 billboard-sized works of art, each accompanied by an inspirational quote. Awards are given for “Best-in-Show Adult”, “Best-in-Show Student” and “People's Choice” categories, with the latter chosen by visitors of the exhibit. The exhibition has been taking place in Sarasota each year, since 2004, between January and March.
- Manatee Pride (March): Manatee is a neighbouring county north of Sarasota, which includes Bradenton. Since 2014, the Manatee Pride has been held across the Bradenton Riverwalk Pavilion every March. It's a family friendly event with lots of entertainment and vendors. Even the local businesses get involved. For example, the Manatee County's craft brewer, “Darwin Brewing Co”, created a “Manatee Pride” beer in honour of Manatee Pride.
- Harvey Milk Festival (May): this week-long arts festival in Sarasota honours gay activist and politician Harvey Milk who was one of the first openly gay Americans elected to public office. The annual celebration includes live music, films, speakers and performance art. It started in 2009 and takes place every May in downtown Sarasota. See more in the video below.
- Fabulous Independent Film Festival (September): the FIFF began in 2010 and has been growing each year. It's run by the same team behind the Harvey Milk Festival and takes place in several venues in Sarasota, primarily at the Burns Court Cinema. It takes place towards the end of September and features the latest LGBTQ films as well as the winner from the Youth Scholarship programme.
- Sarasota PrideFest (Oct): this recent addition to the Sarasota gay scene has become a massive success. Every October since 2014, Sarasota's official pride event takes place over a week with different activities and parties like LGBTQ bowling and the “naughty night” drag show at Oasis. The festival culminates on the final Saturday of the week with a large party at the JD Hamel Park.
Where to stay in Sarasota
Whilst there are no exclusively male-only gay hotels in Sarasota, there are however a handful of gay friendly places to stay. We've set out some of the best ones below, based either on our first hand experience or from recommendations from fellow gay travellers:
- Zota Beach Resort: we stayed at this luxurious beachfront resort on Longboat Key and really liked it. It's got its own private beach as well as an outdoor heated pool with hot tub. They have a runner station at the entrance with towels and bottles of water to drink, which we thought is a smart way to encourage guests to see more of Longboat Key on foot. Rooms at the Zota Beach Resort start from around $200 and you can read more about it here.
- Turtle Beach Resort: waterfront resort on the quiet end of Siesta Key near Turtle Beach. It's famous for being gay friendly, both by other gay travellers and online LGBTQ directories like Purple Roofs. Rooms at Turtle Beach start from around $250 and you can read more about it on Booking.com.
- Siesta Key Bungalows: an adults only hotel located in Siesta Key on the pristine Heron Lagoon. They have only 10 bungalows, some with views of the lagoon. Rooms start from $150 and you can check reviews, prices and availability here.
- Hyatt Place Sarasota / LakeWoodRanch: the Hyatt has always been a strong ally to the LGBTQ and even has their own unique Hyatt HyPride initiative. The Lakewood Ranch Hyatt has everything a good gay boy needs, in particular a fitness centre and pool. Bonus: it's also a pet friendly hotel! Rooms at the Hyatt start from around $150 and you can read more about it by clicking here.
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.
For more inspiration from our Florida trip:
- Fort Lauderdale: gay travel guide and our ultimate gay bars and clubs guide.
- Tampa: gay travel guide to Tampa and romantic things to do in Tampa.
- Florida Keys: Key West gay guide and Key West best gay resorts. Also check out our Florida Keys gay guide.
Happy travels are safe travels
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