7 downtown Sarasota restaurants, bars near Van Wezel, Mangrove Walkway, The Bay

It’s an exciting time for downtown Sarasota’s iconic Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

The purple palace overlooking Sarasota Bay, which has hosted everyone from Bette Davis to Dave Chappelle, celebrated its 50th anniversary in early 2020 – and then remained almost entirely closed for the following year. Now, the famed waterfront theater is finally ready to return to business with a show by Brian Regan on April 15 (read our interview with him). The star comedian’s performance will be the first event on the Van Wezel’s main stage since last March.

But even if you have not procured a ticket it’s still worth visiting the surrounding area, which will soon be home to The Bay. A $10 million redevelopment of 53 acres of city-owned land south of the Van Wezel into parkland, the project starts this month, with the Mangrove Walkway already completed.