Located on the west coast of Florida, Sarasota is a beautiful place to visit with lots of unique things to do. It is easily accessible by car or plane. Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has flights from cities such as Atlanta, Newark NJ and Toronto. I-75 and I-275 allow easy automobile access from St. Petersburg, Tampa and Naples. With an average temperature of 73 degrees, it’s an excellent location for family, couples or even solo visits.
My first visit to Sarasota was to have two items appraised on Antiques Roadshow, which was filming at the Ringling Museum. The opportunity to meet appraisers was a perfect excuse for an overnight trip and to check out Sarasota. Here are five things you shouldn’t miss while you are in the area:
Originally the home of John and Mable Ringling of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, The Ringling Museum is located on a massive 66-acre campus. Home to 4 museums, gardens, the Historic Asolo Theater and an educational center, it’s a nice place to spend a day or two.
I had heard great things about The Ringling and couldn’t wait to get there. I was lucky – ticket holders for Antiques Roadshow got to explore the grounds and museums for free that day. The admission price is very reasonable because there is so much to do there. If you’re there on a Thursday, head over between 5 pm and 8 pm and the price to get in the circus and art museums is only $5. On Mondays, the fee to the art museum is free.
The four museums on site are the Circus Museum, the Circus Museum Tibbals Learning Center, the Museum of Art and Ca’ d’Zan. The cost to enter the first three museums is included in the price of your ticket. To do a tour of Ca’ d’Zan, which is the Ringling’s 56 room mansion, is an additional cost.
The items in circus museums were fascinating. There are old circus and train cars used at various periods, costumes, historical posters and miniature carvings of circus life. I’m not much of a circus fan (I have a slight fear of clowns), but I was still very interested in learning how they moved small cities from place to place in times where it wasn’t effortless to do such a thing.
The Tibbals Learning Center had a miniature circus model that had to have taken me 15 minutes to go through. Built by Howard C. Tibbals, it is a replica of circus life in the 1920s and was fascinating. There was also a section where you could try to walk a ‘tightrope,’ watch videos of old performances and balance yourself on top of a trick horse model.
Ca’ d’Zan was luxury at its highest. I didn’t get a tour of the house because that is part of where appraisals for Antiques Roadshow were happening, but I did get to view the kitchen, ceiling murals and the wall decor. I will be returning to do the docent tour that they have.
Museum of Art
The Museum of Art originally began because of the Ringling’s love of European art. John Ringling had the first museum built on-site in the 1920s to house their collection. Now designated the State Art Museum of Florida, the Museum of Art has permanent exhibits and traveling exhibits and includes Asian art, contemporary art and a learning center.
If you need a break between all the museums, be sure to tour the grounds. The Bayfront Gardens include Mable Ringling’s rose garden, quiet areas where you can sketch or read a book, the stone statues of the Dwarf Garden, giant banyan trees that must be hundreds of years old and even a playground for little ones to run some energy off. There are also a couple of eating places on the grounds, making it a perfect way to spend the day.
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens
Once the home of William and Marie Selby, 15 acres of land in Sarasota became the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The Selbys were nature lovers and Marie (who was the first woman to cross the USA in a car!) planted many of the plants in the gardens, including the bamboo on Sarasota Bay. When Marie passed away, she left the estate to the Sarasota community to promote nature.
While I was there, I learned a new word – epiphytic. Having lived in Florida for most of my life, I had seen epiphytic plants such as air plants and Spanish moss. I just never knew the word. Well epiphytic means that the plant grows on another plant’s surface and gets its food from the air and water. One of the great things about Selby Gardens is the educational value you gain from going. There’s an orchid program (did you know some orchids are epiphytic?), bromeliad program, plants from the rainforest, plants from desserts and even bonsai.
The grounds are so beautiful and large it took me about 2.5 hours to look around and I could have spent even more time if I had wanted. After walking through the gardens and stopping to look at Sarasota Bay, I also stopped at the cafe. The cafe is in the Selby’s house, which is much more modest than one would expect. The restaurant had indoor and outdoor seating – I chose to sit under a huge banyan tree and watched everyone enjoying the expansive lawn.
Make sure you bring your camera, a stroller if you have small children, bug spray (try not to bring it in an aerosol can, damages the environment), sunscreen and a travel umbrella. Wheelchairs are available on-site and parking is free.
Beaches of Sarasota
The white sand beaches of the west coast of Florida are always a must-see. Lido Beach is the beach closest to Sarasota and doesn’t disappoint. While some beaches are closed off for hotels and homes, the public beach is clean and has parking in lots and on the street. If you get there at the right time, you might even find some great shells. Don’t forget your shelling bag if you go!
One thing I always try to do when traveling is to visit a local brewery. Breweries in Florida are still a bit new because, in years past, the state’s laws hindered small breweries. Those laws have changed which has made the brewery industry explode in the state.
There are plenty of breweries to choose from in Sarasota, including Sarasota Brewing Co, Big Top Brewing, Calusa Brewing and JDubs Brewing. Two tips when you visit a brewery:
- If you’re driving or riding the train home, bring or buy an empty growler and get it filled. When you get home, you’ll have a memory of your trip to enjoy.
- Ask if the brewery does flights. A flight is four or five 5oz samples, so you can have a little taste of what the brewery has on tap for the day.
Sunsets on the west coast of Florida are legendary and not to be missed. The skies can look like they’re on fire and it’s an event in some towns.
I stopped and had dinner at the tiki bar at Lido Beach Resort, located right on the beach. The tiki bar offers those classic beach drinks like sangria and or mojitos. They also serve food until 7 pm (right before sunset during the spring and summer). I had a chicken quesadilla, which was surprisingly good for a small bar. After I ate, I walked out onto their beach to watch the sunset. Their beach is private and on the north side has a rock jetty where people were fishing. Others were sitting in the sand and enjoying the sun as it went down. It was relaxing and just what I needed to end the day.
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