Cheap and free activities for students around Sarasota

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College students are well known for being broke and stressed and in an economic crisis and looming plague, both are amplified. A cloud of despair seems to be sweeping the New College campus, but have no fear! Socially-distanced events and activities still exist both on and off campus, for cheap or free. Here are inexpensive, safe activities to take advantage of around Sarasota.

Sarasota Garden Club – 1131 Boulevard of the Arts

Photo courtesy of Sarasota Garden Club.

With three lush gardens, wild coffee bean plants and lots of study space, students can come and enjoy nature, dig in the dirt or just do schoolwork. Every Friday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., students are encouraged to help garden and socialize with volunteers at Sarasota Garden Club. During the weekdays, the gardens are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is completely free and few people come on a daily basis. Socially-distanced and masked events are also happening, though events cost $10 without a membership.  The schedule can be found on their website,

Sarasota Children’s Garden – 1670 10th Way, Sarasota, FL 34236

Courtesy of Sarasota Children’s Garden.

The Children’s garden holds events for people of all ages. This place feels like Alice in Wonderland, with oversized mushrooms, a dragon statue, fairies, and a fruit loop mountain. Temperature checks and masks are required before entry, and social distancing is required. On November 28, learn how to make ‘fairy bread’ and go on a scavenger hunt. The cost is $10. They are open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on the weekends between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Ionie Retreat & Organic Vegan Raw Food Cafe – 1241 Fruitville Rd., Sarasota FL

Ionie Cafe is more than just a local vegan cafe: it triples as a massage therapy and yoga studio. While the food can be a bit pricey, students receive 10 percent off all food and beverages with a student ID. On top of that, the owner is offering New College students an opportunity to beautify her parking spaces in exchange for free food, beverages and events. “Magical Mondays” are strictly socially distanced, with tapestries, jump roping, artists, good music and more. 

The event began last Monday but times are pending. The shop is somewhat isolated from the rest of downtown in a converted home. The owner also owns an acre of land down the street, where she is planning more socially-distanced events for New College students to promote her small business. The whole vibe of the place is “hippyish” and relaxed. They are open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For questions or to order food, call (941) 320-0504. 

Sarasota Contemporary Dance – Locations vary

Students have been able to attend performances in person with distanced seating and a mask mandate. The tickets are limited to a handful of people and students get a large discount with their student ID. The last performance at the Ringling Museum cost students $15 in comparison to $50-65 for regular prices. Check the Sarasota Contemporary Dance website for upcoming events and performances or email company co-founder and Artistic Director Leymis Bolaños Wilmott, who also teaches multiple dance classes at NCF, at

Ringling Museum and Cafe Discounts – 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243

Most students know that admission to the Ringling Museum is free with student ID, though it might not be as well known that the cafe above the gift shop offers NCF students 10-15% off with ID. It also helps that the museum is within walking distance and the cafe is sponsored by Starbucks (so it has the same drinks!). 

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens – 1534 Mound St, Sarasota, FL 34236

Admission to Selby Gardens is $5 with student ID and masks are required. Selby Gardens may have more visitors than the Sarasota Garden Club, but it can still be safe if visitors maintain social distancing and do not bring large groups of people with them. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. Classes at Selby Gardens have resumed, though they are not discounted for students. More information can be found on the Selby Gardens website

Sarasota Art Museum – Ringling College Museum Campus, 1001 South Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34236

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, but closed on Tuesdays. Tickets to the Sarasota Art Museum are free with student ID, courtesy of the Cross College Alliance. While the CCA had events before, such as Ringling Underground, most have been cancelled. However, check the Cross College Alliance website for updates on free events or opportunities at 

Other tips: Local small downtown cafes, such as Willow’s Cafe, are usually empty and struggling financially due to COVID-19. Most of the coffee shops are more than willing to sponsor events for students for free, and would love to get students to use their space for studying. Parties are not encouraged nor are they allowed on campus, but with spaced-out tables and empty rooms, local cafes can offer a safe and scenic way to get off campus. 

Before going to any event, make sure it is safe, socially-distanced and masked. In addition, ALWAYS ask if they have a student discount. The worst that can happen is they say no. Usually, musical theaters and performances have student discounts, though they are often in the form of “rush” tickets, where the student must arrive 30 minutes to an hour before the performance, rather than reserving a ticket online. Aquariums, museums, and movie theaters will usually have either free or reduced admission for students as well, but call ahead to find out. 

Look at the student services page on other allied colleges, because the discounts their students get will often be the same for NCF students. For example, SCF has a discounts page of brands and services that offer discounts with student ID.

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