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University Park: A Mom’s Guide to the Best Sarasota Neighborhoods

We moved to University Park five years ago. Over the years, we’ve been tempted to move to some of the other amazing neighborhoods in Manatee County, but we inevitably change our minds each time. We love our neighborhood and you’d love it too!

My favorite part about raising my kiddo here is that we are close to EVERYTHING! I don’t have to drive an hour if we want to go to the beach. If we’re in the mood for dinner out? No problem! There is an endless variety and amount of restaurants in our immediate vicinity. If I forgot something from the grocery store, there are at least 3 different options for groceries within 10 minutes of my house. Family coming down to visit? The airport is 15 minutes away. Do you want to head to Tampa for the day? It takes 10 minutes to hop on I-75. Anything we want or need is super close.

What are the best local attractions?

Parks and Playgrounds

Our favorite parks in the area include Conservatory Park, University Place Community Park, and Nathan Benderson Park.

Conservatory Park is 5 minutes from our house. It’s 55 acres of real Florida outdoors. There is a pier and a lake, but most of the park consists of preserved natural spaces. I love to take my daughter there to explore. The pathways are paved and shady. It’s the perfect place for her to work on riding her bike. The playground is very small, though. It’s really a nature park before anything else. 

The pier at Conservatory Park

 

University Place Community Park offers a much larger playground as well as tennis courts and sizable sports field.

Nathan Benderson Park is unlike any other park in Sarasota or Manatee counties. The park hosts championship rowing competitions, which are incredible to see. The park has also holds countless festivals and events! Nik Wallenda has practiced for some of his recent death-defying feats and the park had it’s first annual Fourth of July festival and fireworks show this year. I always see joggers, cyclists, and rollerbladers taking advantage of the paved paths. My daughter really enjoys the playground they added, but be warned there isn’t a lot of shade to be found at that playground.

Movie Theater

We also like the Parkway 8. When I was growing up here, we called it the Dollar Theater. It costs more than that now, it’s $2 a ticket for the matinees and $2.50 for evening shows. They don’t show the most current releases. They show movies that have been out for a bit, but haven’t made it to Netflix, yet.

A Fantastic Mall

And then there’s the UTC mall! They have a play space for the little kids right in front of Dillard’s. It’s a great place to play in the cool air, while you regroup from shopping with kids. And so many great stores, I can’t begin to list them all! We never make it out of there without a visit to Claire’s and a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s.

Who lives in University Park?

I’m not going to lie, we are surrounded by retirees. There are days when I wish we lived in an area that was more popular with young families like ours, but there are definite advantages to living among retirees.

First, they’re quiet. If you’ve got a new baby who wakes easily and you finally get her to sleep, you don’t have to worry that the neighbors are going to start singing karaoke at 8pm and wake her up. Also, a lot of the retirees have grandkids that live in other states. They miss their grandkids, so your kid becomes their honorary grandkid!

But the drawbacks are that my kid can’t play with the neighbor kids, because we don’t have any and we don’t really ‘hang out’ with our neighbors, even though we love them. I do have to say that I’m starting to see a bit of a shift in the population of our neighborhood. There are more families with kids starting to move in!

Why is University Park unique?

I think our area is unique because we are so close to everything and this area is experiencing a period of rapid growth! After UTC Mall opened, this area just seemed to explode. They are building a Wawa and a Whole Foods! Those are two very exciting additions for everyone who lives in University Park.

What schools do your kids go to?

Honestly, the first thing I searched when we were looking to buy a house was the school ratings. My daughter hasn’t started school yet, but we picked this neighborhood because kids here go to A-rated Robert E. Willis Elementary. We have heard nothing but amazing things about this school. She’s very excited to go to a big kid school!

What are your favorite places to shop in University Park?

Super Target. I could just move in. I can’t go there without seeing at least one person I know. We love Target! I can get groceries, a toy for my kid (if she’s being good), a new movie, and they even have a Starbucks. Why would I go anywhere else?

Publix. Shopping is truly a pleasure at Publix. I could buy my groceries at Target, but I still go to Publix because it is the best grocery store. The employees are top notch. They don’t just say, “Oh that’s over there on Aisle 12.” They take you to Aisle 12 and help you find what you’re looking for. In this day and age, it’s hard to get amazing customer service, but that’s what Publix offers.

Home Goods and Kirkland’s. I group these two awesome home decor shops together because they are both located in the same shopping plaza (Cooper Creek) and I can’t go to one without checking out the other. If you are looking for something unique or functional for your house, try these two stores. The items change so frequently, the stores always have something different!

What are some of your favorite restaurants in University Park?

This list was very difficult for me to narrow down! There are so many excellent restaurants in University Park. After UTC opened, we had even more amazing places to choose from! But here are some of our current favorites.

Newk’s Eatery and Keke’s Breakfast Cafe. These two restaurants are basically next door to one another. They are located on University Parkway and Honore Ave. These are both great kid-friendly restaurant options. My daughter loves the pizza at Newk’s and I can’t get enough of their salads. It’s a win-win for us. Newk’s is open for lunch and dinner. Keke’s has delicious food, but we go for the Wikki Stix. They give them to the kids instead of crayons and paper. It’s yarn coated in wax. They stick to themselves but nothing else, and you can create all sorts of fun objects with them. And yes, I play with them, too! Keke’s is open for breakfast and lunch.

                               The naan is delicious!

Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine. A great friend encouraged me to try out Tandoor. I’m so glad I listened to her! The food is incredible and the atmosphere is charming. I was nervous about trying Indian food, but the staff is incredibly helpful and kind. If you haven’t tried Indian food before, trust me, try it here! They also offer takeout for those busy nights.

Bonefish Grill. We always end up back at Bonefish! There are fancier dining options at UTC, but we just love the Bang Bang Shrimp! Bonefish is my friend’s go-to place for a Mom’s Night Out, but my husband and I really like it for a date night, too.

Specific Neighborhoods to check out

Mote Ranch. I like Mote Ranch because the number of families living in here has definitely started to increase. Most of the streets have sidewalks at least on one side of the road. The neighborhood has its own recreation center with a pool and playground. They also have a nature trail and kayak/canoe launch onto the Braden River.

Palm Aire Country Club. I like Palm Aire because even though most of the homes were built in the 1980s, they do have larger yards than you’ll find in the newer neighborhoods. You don’t have to join the country club if you live in Palm Aire, but the country club does offer dining, 2 golf courses, tennis, a fitness center, and a pool. Residents of Palm Aire are very proud of their golf courses.

University Place. I like University Place because there are many families living in this neighborhood. The community is gated, which is a great security feature. It also has community pools, a playground, and a fitness center.

Why would you recommend University Park as a best neighborhood in Sarasota County?

We picked University Park over all the other areas in Manatee County for many practical reasons. We loved the proximity to restaurants and shopping. We loved the ease of getting to the beach and the airport. The A-rated elementary school was also a big factor in choosing this area. But the biggest reason we chose this neighborhood for our home is that it truly felt like home. As we were driving up and down the roads looking at houses for sale, the neighbors never failed to wave. It was the friendliness of the people living here that sold us on living in University Park.

 

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