Discover the Enchanting Beauty of Marie Selby Gardens: A Tropical Paradise Awaits! (2024 Guide)

Written by Kali Todd

Budget Travel Guides & Tips

January 14, 2024

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you.

Welcome to Marie Selby Gardens, a floral gem in the heart of Sarasota, Florida. This botanical paradise offers a captivating experience for nature lovers, history enthusiasts, and those seeking a quiet escape. Choose between the Downtown Sarasota and the Historic Spanish Point campuses, or better yet, visit both!

Marie Selby Downtown Sarasota Campus 

Downtown Sarasota Campus

Marie Selby was born in 1885 in West Virginia and quickly found love for the outdoors with frequent family camping and hiking trips. Marie met her husband, William, after completing her piano studies and they married in 1908 in Marietta, Georgia. Interestingly, the couple were fond of cross-country automobile racing, and Marie became one of the first women to cross the United States by car.

The couple came to Sarasota and fell in love with the area. They bought 7 acres of land, and in the 1920s, they built a modest Spanish-style 2-story house. Marie was a member of the first garden club in Sarasota, The Founder’s Circle. Gardening became Marie’s main hobby, with the forefront goal of keeping Sarasota a beautiful destination.

The William and Marie Selby Foundation was established in 1955 with a wide focus on education, the arts, children, libraries, and health services. William Selby passed only 1 year later in 1956 and Marie continued to pursue the goals of the foundation until she died in 1971. Selby Gardens was created when Marie bequeathed her former property for the general public’s enjoyment. The gardens opened to the public in 1975. 

Marie Selby Downtown Sarasota Campus

Begin your adventure inside the former estate of William and Marie Selby at the Downtown Sarasota Campus. This botanical oasis is the perfect destination for plant enthusiasts and nature lovers visiting the west coast of Florida.

Marie Selby Botanical Garden spans 15 acres and is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to epiphytes – plants that thrive in tree canopies such as orchids, bromeliads, and ferns. 

The first stop is a meticulously curated Tropical Conservatory display, showcasing an extensive collection of rare orchids, bromeliads, and epiphytes that thrive in the Florida climate. Selby Gardens has over 20,000 specimens of greenhouse plants collected from New World Tropic locations, spanning from southern Mexico through Central and South America. 


Selby Gardens Downtown Sarasota Campus

The next exhibit is the stunning Bonsai, some dating back over 25 years. Did you know that bonsai are normal trees, only trained to remain miniature? Bonsai can be created from nearly any woody plant, including juniper, oak, and Chinese elm. It is the special horticultural practice of heavy pruning and pot confinement, among other techniques, that keeps the bonsai so small.

Selby Gardens Bonsai Tree

Found along the garden trail is a tranquil koi pond with some of the friendliest koi you’ll meet – some even come right up for a pet. My friend may have thought I was crazy for it, but yes, I had to say hi to them.

Selby Gardens Koi pond and neighboring walkway

In 2013, the magnificent Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden opened and is an amazing playground where winding pathways and a rope bridge lead you through a lush canopy of palms and tropical foliage. Interactive stations teach children about the rainforest habitat, including the unique plants found there. This playground is a childhood dream! With the neat canopy walk and rope bridge is a 12-foot-tall waterfall, forest pool, 100-year-old banyan tree, and Epiphyte Canyon with tons of nooks to explore. 

Children’s Rainforest Playground

This campus has so much to offer. Marie Selby is split into 6 garden areas – the rainforest, desert, mangroves, palms, Florida natives, and display gardens that include a lovely butterfly garden. Nestled within the different garden areas is the Selby House where a memorial and cafe are located, along with the Payne Mansion available to explore.

Newest to the campus is a cutting-edge facility that houses the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Herbarium and Laboratory with a collection of more than 125,000 preserved plant specimens, a garden-to-plate restaurant, vertical gardens, and new garden areas. This opened on January 11, 2024!

Historic Spanish Point

View from the Packing House at Historic Spanish Point

Immerse yourself in the rich history and natural beauty of Historic Spanish Point, an extension of Marie Selby Gardens since 2020. For those seeking tranquility, the Historic Spanish Point campus offers a serene escape just 10 miles south of the Downtown Sarasota campus. The Historic Spanish Point Campus spans 30 acres, making it one of the largest preservations for native Florida plants. 

Selby Gardens expanded its reach with the acquisition of Historic Spanish Point just 4 years ago. This location has historical significance, spanning back more than 3,200 years ago in the Late Archaic period. Prehistoric people settled on the shores, transitioning from nomads to permanent societies. One of the largest ceremonial shell ring middens and mortuaries in the southeast of the United States is located at this site.

The Historic Spanish Point site is a cultural treasure trove, featuring archaeological exhibits, historic buildings, and gardens that reflect the region’s first settlers. 

John Greene Webb and his family moved from New York in 1867 and established a homestead along Sarasota Bay, calling it Spanish Point. Before finding this property, the family had met a Spanish trader in Key West who informed the family of a perfect area where the land was elevated next to the bay. The property was named in honor of the Spanish trader. 

The family planted citrus, sugar cane, and vegetables on the land. To prepare the crops for market, they built a packing house. To transport the crops, the family built a schooner, a type of sailing vessel.

The Webb’s opened their property up to strangers and found that it was extremely popular with northerners during the winter. From this, a resort was created and guest accommodations built, called the White Cottage.

In 1881, John Webb requested a post office at Spanish Point because the family had to sail up to 20 miles to get their mail. The post office agreed, however, it needed a one-word name. John went with Osprey, believed to be inspired by the number of osprey birds seen along the bay. At the time, Osprey at Spanish Point was the only post office with that name and people only needed to address letters to Osprey, USA. 

Mary’s Chapel is a non-denominational church and community center that was built in 1894 as a memorial to Mary Sherrill, who died while visiting the Webb Winter Resort. Mary’s family funded the chapel and the stained glass windows were donated by Mary’s church in Louisville. The chapel bell came from the New England Conservatory of Music as a way for the class of 1891 to honor their classmate. The church fell into disrepair in the 1960s and was reconstructed in 1986 with the original stained glass windows and bell.

Mary’s Chapel

In 1901, the Guptill House was built for John’s daughter and son-in-law, Frank and Lizzie Guptill. Frank loved living near the sea and added nautical details throughout the home. This home is still standing today, in pristine condition, and guests can explore the two-story home. 

In 1910, a wealthy socialite from Chicago, Bertha Palmer, purchased Spanish Point. Modifications were made to the property, including indoor plumbing and electricity at the Guptill House. 

Sunken Garden was one of the areas created by Palmer and remains on the property to date, located next to the White Cottage originally built in 1884 by John Webb’s son, Jack Webb, and his wife, Emma Andrews Webb. Bertha had as many as 35 gardeners at a time working on the property. These gardeners built rose gardens and European-inspired gardens, including the Sunken Garden with a 60-foot-long pergola with vibrant bougainvilleas draped over it. While walking up to the stunning pergola, visitors will also find one of the biggest ponytail palms I’ve ever seen.

Sunken Gardens

The Jungle Garden was also created and was fed via an aqueduct specifically built utilizing the prehistoric shell mound that created the perfect elevation change to move water. 

Palmer died in 1918 and it wasn’t until 41 years later, that the property saw any major changes. Palmer’s grandson, Gordon Palmer, sponsored an archeological excavation at Historic Spanish Point. The property was excavated from 1959 to 1962 by Ripley Bullen, who has one of the largest bone collections, viewable at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History today. Bullen found over 429 people, 4 dogs, and an alligator in a grave site at Spanish Point. With the remains were items such as pottery and shells. Experts believe this settlement was eliminated sometime before AD 1100 and was uninhabited until the Webb family arrived in 1867. 

From the Mary’s Chapel to the Webb Packing House and White Cottage, each step through Historic Spanish Point echoes with tales of the past. Combine these historic sites with the enchanting garden displays and a blend of vibrant colors in the Butterfly Garden, making your trip to Sarasota an unforgettable journey through time and the wonders of nature. 



What are the hours? Both the Downtown Sarasota and Historic Spanish Point Campuses have the same hours. Selby Gardens is open daily from 10 AM – 5 PM. Both locations are closed Christmas day. 

How much are tickets? Ticket prices range depending on the campus you are visiting.

Downtown Sarasota Ticket Prices

Children 5-17$11
Children 4 and UnderFree
Member Guests$11

Historic Spanish Point Ticket Prices

Children 5-17$11
Children 4 and UnderFree
Member Guests$11

Selby Gardens Memberships range from $75 for an individual membership to $150+ for Family Memberships. To purchase a membership, visit here.

Both campuses participate in the Museums on Us Bank of America Program, providing Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders free general admission the first full weekend of every month. Learn more about it here.

Selby Gardens also participates in the fantastic American Horticultural Society program, providing FREE admission to more than 315 paid gardens. Read more about this amazing program here.

Do I need to purchase tickets prior? No need to pre-purchase general admission tickets.

Is parking free? Yes, both locations have free parking. The parking garage at the Downtown Sarasota campus did have free valet parking during my visit. If you’re not interested in this, the attendants can point you to a free self-parking area. The Historic Spanish Point campus only has free self-parking.

What is the address? The Downtown Sarasota campus is located at 1534 Mound St, Sarasota, FL 34236. The Historic Spanish Point campus is located at 401 N Tamiami Trail, Osprey, FL 34229.

Are guided tours available? Yes! Guided tours are available. Choose between a guided tour, a self-guided tour, or a boat tour. More information about the tours available at Downtown Sarasota can be found here whereas the tours at Historic Spanish Point can be found here. Tours must be booked a minimum of 2 weeks prior.

Is Selby Gardens handicapped accessible? All buildings at the Downtown Sarasota campus are wheelchair accessible. At the Historic Spanish Point campus, primary paths around the site are paved and wheelchair accessible, however, the historic buildings may present challenges to those with disabilities.

Are pets allowed? No, only service animals are allowed at Selby Gardens. Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) are not service animals and therefore not permitted. 

Where is the best place to stay? Take a look at 3 fantastic options below. Find more accommodation options at and 

Downtown Italian Villa

🏨 Discover this spacious Italian Villa, perfect for two people. This property offers a private master suite that opens to a private patio with beautiful plants and a stunning pool.
🔗 Book on Vrbo

Key Lime Tiny Home

🏨 Enjoy this cozy tiny home, perfect for up to 4 guests. This cute property has a fully equipt kitchen and a washing machine, making it perfect for a longer stay in Sarasota.
🔗 Book on

The Reserve Retreat Charles Ringling Room

🏨 Take a look at this lovely pet-friendly retreat with an on-site restaurant, coffee and tea shop, craft beer and wine bar, quant book store, and live music Friday-Sunday each week.
🔗 Book on Vrbo



  1. carol

    Planning a visit in March- great info! Thank you!

  2. Sue

    Such a great detailed post. I’ve visited Sarasota many times and never made it to Marie Selby Gardens. I’ll definitely need to check it out if I find myself in Sarasota again.

  3. Miss Simplitty

    I love tropical gardens. You have wonderful pictures.

  4. Katie

    My Mom and I would visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens frequently. I will have to take her on a trip to Florida for this. It looks magical!


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