If you are visiting Sarasota or live in Sarasota and are looking for something fun and interesting to do outside on a beautiful day, then definitely check out the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of the largest subtropical conservatories in the world. With the main location right near downtown Sarasota with fantastic views of the Bay, visitors are able to enjoy a fun and relaxing atmosphere in this outdoor oasis. Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for your visit to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.
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About the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
The Selby Gardens is the third oldest botanical garden in Florida. It started as a family endeavor for Mrs. Marie A. Selby, as she absolutely loved nature. The Botanical Gardens officially came to be two years after her death in 1975, and has grown over the years to become one of the largest subtropical conservatories in the world at 15 acres in size and with more than thousands of plants both indoors and outdoors around the campus.
In fact, the Selby Botanical Gardens is home to the best scientifically-documented collection of orchids and bromeliads in the entire world!
Who Was Marie Selby?
Marie Selby and her husband moved to Sarasota in the 1920’s. Her husband came from family wealth as a part of the Selby Oil and Gas Company. However, the two of them were quite modest and built a home near downtown on 5 acres along the Bay. Even though Marie was a wealthy woman for the time, she enjoyed the more quiet life and was known to dress and act much more down-to-Earth. She had an adventurous spirit, as she and her husband would travel the country camping, hunting, and going on various explorations.
Marie had a love of plants and flowers, and enjoyed gardening and building up the grounds around her Sarasota bayfront home. She was the founder of local gardening organizations and supported charities such as The American Red Cross, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and the Florida State Library Association.
During her life in Sarasota, she built up her property with such beautiful gardens. Her wish upon her death was to donate her home and land, including the gardens, to the city of Sarasota to be turned into a botanical garden that everyone in the community could enjoy.
Where is the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota?
The main campus for the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is located barely south of downtown Sarasota with fantastic views of the Bay. Visitors are able to enjoy a fun and relaxing atmosphere in this outdoor oasis, as well as multiple indoor exhibits as well. There is also a second Selby Botanical Gardens location just a few miles south of Sarasota in Osprey, Florida at the Old Spanish Point historical area.
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Exhibits at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Downtown Location)
There are many indoor and outdoor exhibits to be enjoyed at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in downtown Sarasota. Below are just a few of the main highlights that people love to come here to enjoy.
1. The Rainforest
Here you will an indoor tropical conservatory where you can enjoy many varieties of tropical plants and flowers surrounding you, even hanging from the ceiling! This is a wonderfully relaxing area to stroll or sit and enjoy the amazing and unique flowers, including many varieties of orchids!
In the outdoor areas you can also enjoy a Bonsai exhibit, Cycad display, and Fern Garden. You can also wander through the towering Bamboo Garden, gazing up as they sway in the wind, and enjoying the amazing Banyan Grove with some jaw-dropping Banyan trees. You can also enjoy the popular Koi Pond! Purchase some food to feed the Koi fish, and there are even some hidden areas where you can sit, listening to the waterfalls and admiring the fish and views around you. Truly a lovely spot to relax!
There is also a wonderful Children’s Garden with fun play areas and paths that take you up across suspension bridges and to cool “treehouse” looking sort of buildings. The kids will love exploring the caves, looking out over top of the waterfalls, and walking under towering Banyan Trees.
2. Selby House
The Selby House is actually the original home of Marie and her husband. Now it has been turned into a cafe, and you can enjoy learning some of the history of the home and Marie, as well as a lovely memorial. There’s also a “kid’s corner” area for activities.
A surprisingly interesting area is the Desert exhibit, where you can see a succulent garden and other fascinating plants and flowers. You can walk around and, for a moment, forget you are in tropical Florida! It’s amazing how pretty cactus and blooming desert flowers can be.
4. Great Lawn
The great lawn is just a beautiful, wide and long strip of green grass inviting you to walk, lay or play on it. There is a charming gazebo here where you can sit and look out over the area, as well as a colorful wedding pavilion. Weddings are no doubt a beautiful occasion here at the Botanical Gardens with such a variety of natural backdrops and space for guests to relax and enjoy the natural decor all around you!
Mangroves are quite important to the ecosystem here in Florida. And tucked along the bay you will find a whole mangrove exhibit where you can learn about the importance of them and how they function. There’s also a great boardwalk up and around the mangroves and out into the bay where you can observe fish, birds, and the skyline around you.
If you are visiting Florida, then you might be interested to learn more about palm trees. At the palm exhibit you can learn about tropical and coastal palms, including some of the different types you will find in Florida.
7. Native Florida
This is a really cool area where you can learn more about the unique natural setting of Florida. There is a tidal lagoon where you often see different birds hanging out, as well as walking through a hardwood hammock — a very specific type of environment that you will find all across Florida.
8. Display Gardens
Other display gardens that you can enjoy here include a bromeliad garden (really cool plants that we have in our backyard here in Florida), a green roof, a fragrance garden, and there is also a butterfly garden too. Don’t forget to peek inside the butterfly display wooden structure where you can spot caterpillars, cocoons, and some newly emerging butterflies coming out of them!
Lastly, there’s also an event center here onsite at the Botanical Gardens as well as the historic Payne Mansion, which now houses a Botany museum of art and a learning center. And don’t forget to make a stop in the Garden Shop upon entering or exiting the entire garden. There are some great books and artwork in here, as well as many flowers and plants that you can purchase to take home too.
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Selby Botanical Gardens Operating Hours and Admission Fees
Both the downtown and the Spanish Point campus are open daily from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm, but they are both closed on Christmas day. The price of admission is separate for each campus, with the downtown location charging $20 and the Spanish Point location charging $15.
Keep in mind that there is also a membership option. Members enjoy special perks throughout the year, free admission to the gardens whenever they want and discounted guest tickets too.
How to Purchase Tickets?
You can easily purchase tickets to visit the botanical gardens onsite at the admissions / ticketing center at the entrance. However, you can also buy tickets in advance on their website here: https://selby.org/.
Special Events at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
There are all kinds of special exhibits and events held at the Selby Botanical Gardens year-round. From brunches to music series events, an annual Ball, wine dinners and lunches, and various holiday events. In fact, one of their most popular holiday events during the year is the Lights-in-Bloom holiday light show! With more than 2 million lights and colorful artistic displays throughout the gardens, visitors can’t help but feel the holiday spirit!
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How Long Should I Plan For My Visit?
How long you spend at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens really depends on your schedule and how much time you want to relax and explore. At a minimum, you’ll need a couple of hours to at least walk around and explore each of the exhibits. However, if you have children who want to play, if you want to have lunch, feed the fish, or just have a seat and admire the views – then you could easily spend an entire morning or afternoon here soaking up the gardens.
Our Personal Advice & Tips for Visiting the Botanical Gardens in Sarasota
Personally speaking, botanical gardens are one of those things that I tend to shrug off sometimes – thinking “oh it’s just plants and gardens.” But honestly, visiting this botanical garden was an absolutely wonderful experience! I spent hours just wandering around, and sitting and relaxing under trees. And I’m telling you, that Koi Pond is super relaxing!
If you ever need a de-stresser…this is THE place to visit in Sarasota!
A few other tips:
- Kids can actually have a lot of fun here. There are so many interesting exhibits, plus the children’s play areas are great! And they’ll definitely love feeding the fish as well.
- Visiting by yourself – I have to admit, I made a spontaneous visit by myself one day. And I don’t regret it at all (although, Josh was bummed that I went without him). Simply because it was a PERFECT environment just to relax! It was nice to just look, and wander and not really think. Or to sit for a bit and actually have some calm moments of thought for yourself. I absolutely loved it and highly recommend if you need a personal recharge!
- Weather – since most of the botanical garden exhibits are outside, you’ll enjoy it more when it’s not crazy hot outside (or cold…yes it can get chilly here!). As far as rain, while major thunderstorms wouldn’t be fun, a light sprinkle is actually kind of nice. I visited on an overcast day. It was perfect! The air was warm, but there was no bright sun to burn me or make it too bright or hot. And occasionally there was a bit of rain and sprinkles, but that actually added to the ambiance of the experience and the fresh scent from the rain actually made for a wonderful sensory experience!
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Enjoy Your Visit!
Overall we highly recommend making a visit to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens if you enjoy being out in nature. It’s a wonderful experience full of interesting plants and makes for a really enjoyable day out – whether you are with a group or just looking for something to do on your own.