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    Sarasota: a walk among islands, beaches and museums on the west coast of Florida

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    When you think of heat, palm trees, beaches and the sun, one of the first destinations you think about in the States is Florida. And it was like that for us too, who decided to “dive in” to Sarasota, a city on the southwestern coast of the Gulf of Mexico at the southern tip of Tampa Bay. We are in the month of March, one of the best times of the year to visit this area and the whole state in general as the climate of Florida from late winter to early spring is not as humid as in summer and the rains are less frequent.

    Getting to know Sarasota means discovering its sparkling and energetic vitality passing by across the beaches, sea activities, points of interest, entertainment, shopping, city life and views, an infallible mix that transmits good humor and joie de vivre. Walking in the various corners of the city is pleasant and then, to enjoy moments of peace, there is nothing better than its islets, a guarantee of total relaxation!


    • What to see in Sarasota
      • The Ringling
      • Natural and cultural attractions
      • Downtown Sarasota
    • Siesta Key and the beaches of Sarasota
    • Where to shop
    • The most important events in the city
    • Where to eat
    • Where to sleep in Sarasota
    • How to reach it

    What to see in Sarasota

    Coming from Miami we have taken Route 41 and are about to enter the Sarasota urban area. It is a beautiful sunny day and so the first impression we get around us is of brightness as well as pleasantness. We are ready to explore.

    The Ringling

    We begin our visit "in a big way", that is, from the complex The Ringling (5401 Bay Shore Rd.), The best known point of interest in the city that undoubtedly deserves this distinction. There is so much to visit here and we start at Ca d'Zan (5401 Bay Shore Rd.), The winter home of circus tycoon and art collector John Ringling and his wife Mable. This large mansion in the bay is a real architectural jewel in Venetian Gothic style which has been given its name in the local dialect, namely “Casa di Giovanni” from the name of the owner John.

    A guided tour allows us to fully appreciate the splendor of the numerous finely furnished rooms, the large terrace overlooking the water and to have the answers to the questions we ask ourselves but it is possible to take self-guided tours. Overall there are also three other buildings that we want to visit starting from John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art which houses the permanent collection of works of art belonging to Mr. Ringling (there are great masters such as Titian, Gainsborough, Rubens, Veronese, plus an Asian and contemporary collection).

    The building is also the periodical seat of exhibitions and then in the garden of the museum we meet some classical style statues among which the bronze reproduction of Michelangelo's David stands out; art envelops us and the more we move around the property, the more we delve into the personality of John, deeply involved in the world of art. Considered Mr. Ringling's main business, he could not miss the Circus Museum in which vehicles and objects related to that world are exhibited, such as cars used by clowns during their performances, parade floats, people-throwing cannons, glittered costumes and old posters.

    And then there is theAsolo Theater, a graceful U-shaped theater built in Asolo (Treviso) at the end of the 18th century, relocated here in 1950 and recently restored. For variable hours of visits, please contact the Visitor Service. Even through these realities we continue to paint a picture of Mr. Ringling's eclectic personality.

    These three buildings are surrounded by Bayfront Gardens, splendid gardens with the glance given by imposing banyans and the massive but delicate presence of many different species of roses, all "in the company" of other statues. The Ringling complex is very active; there are art exhibitions and events, such as yoga, food tasting and even tea parties. Visits take place every day from 10am to 17pm and Thursdays until 20pm. Tickets cost $ 25 for adults, $ 23 for seniors (65+), $ 5 for ages 6 to 17 and are well worth the money.

    Natural and cultural attractions

    Another day begins and we dedicate ourselves to a different kind of interest. We are at Sarasota Jungle Gardens (3701 Bay Shore Rd.) Where the protagonists are the animals and their world. We feed flamingos, hold a snake (firmly) in hand, talk to a parrot and learn about the world of butterflies. We have fun as if we were children again, then we reach a waterfall and then an area where injured animals are treated. The park is open daily from 9am to 17pm. Admission is $ 17.99 for adults, $ 16.99 for seniors (65+) and $ 12.99 for ages 4 to 16.

    We continue with i Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (811 S. Palm Ave.), a beautiful tropical urban oasis surrounded by palm trees, bonsai, bamboo, mangroves and a fragrance garden. There is also a gazebo, a garden with butterflies, an area for children with suspended bridges, a pond with water lilies, waterfalls and then from here you can see part of the bay that welcomes Sarasota. The facility is open every day from 10am to 17pm. Admission costs $ 20 for adults and $ 10 for ages 4 to 17.

    We close the day that we can define as "wildlife", al Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary (7101 Palmer Blvd.), a non-profit organization where we safely meet tigers, lions, monkeys, bears, turtles, farm animals and parrots always ready to communicate their sympathy during funny shows. The park, similar to a zoo, is open Wednesday to Sunday from 12 to 18pm. Tickets cost $ 18 for adults and $ 8 for children.

    We like to browse, go from one theme to another even in a net knot as in this case and then it happens that from lions to four wheels the step is short. The Classic In fact Museum (5500 N. Tamiami Trail) is a museum that takes us on a journey through time through the world of automobiles. We find the full-size collection of John Ringling's Rolls Royce, the Mini Cooper of Paul McCartney, John Lennon's Mercedes Benz as well as Cadillac, Ferrari, Delorean and Bentley. The museum, equipped with a "popular" gift shop, can be visited every day from 9 to 18 independently. Admission costs $ 12.85 for adults, $ 10.85 for seniors (62+) and $ 7.25 for ages 6 to 12.

    We move to the area closest to the city center when we visit the Mote Marine Laboratory (1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy), an independent, non-profit marine research institute where industry scientists believe in the sustainable exploitation of the oceans. Turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, manatees and seahorses welcome us. Wide-ranging research programs are carried out here, but there is also a hospital where injured marine animals are cared for. It is possible to visit the facility daily from 10am to 17pm. The cost of the ticket is $ 22 from 13 years and $ 16 from 3 to 12 years.

    Downtown Sarasota

    In downtown there are various points of interest of different kinds and that is exactly what we are looking for. Let's start with theHistoric Courthouse (2000 Main St.), the historic H-shaped courthouse, built in the Mediterranean revival style dated 1927. The walls of the rectangular structure with two open sides are light colored; the building is spread over two floors and in the center rises a tower flanked by a portico. In the internal courtyard, a large tree and strategic umbrellas provide shelter from the sun for those who want to take a break. It is currently home to the Sarasota County Clerk, the institution that maintains Sarasota's quality standards.

    Along the Sarasota Bay, adjacent to the heart of the city, the Bayfront park (2 Marina Plaza) is a great park by the water, with a library, statues, children's play area, a fountain with dolphin sculptures and its own marina. Also from here you can admire the bay and we notice that it is an ideal place to entertain your four-legged friends, ride a bicycle and walk. This part of downtown where we find ourselves also houses offices, businesses and residential buildings. It is an area where it is pleasant to walk and feel "a country atmosphere" despite Sarasota being a city. Later we will reach the area dedicated to shopping and catering.

    Unconditional surrender is a 7.6 meter high bronze statue depicting a sailor and a nurse kissing, a tribute to the joy of the end of World War II. It represents what a photographer had immortalized in the midst of myriads of people kissing for happiness. It is clearly visible at Island Park (Island Park Dr.) on the bay overlooking the marina and it is nice to imagine that moment full of emotion.

    Siesta Key and the beaches of Sarasota

    You cannot come to Sarasota without enjoying or at least taking a look at it beaches found in the Sarasota Bay and in its homonymous county. Let's talk about a strip called barrier islands, a long and narrow coastal strip in the Gulf of Mexico dotted with islets, each with its own identity. They are idyllic places of peace to live but also home to some of the most splendid residences in the region, along with holiday accommodation ranging from cottages to modern luxury hotels.

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    With miles of beaches, crystal clear waters, all kinds of restaurants, shops and entertainment, but also corners of peace, relaxation and others ideal for snorkeling, they are the perfect place to spend a few hours or a whole day. Those looking for seaside life have found the right place in these corners of paradise that belong to the county of Sarasota.

    We discover some starting from the bridge John Ringling Causeway (also called Ringling Bridge) 944 meters long, 18 meters high and rebuilt for the third time in 2003. It extends from downtown and continues towards the northern part of the bay, leads to State Road 789 and ends at Anna Maria Island. It makes us think of the Overseas Highway that connects various islands from mainland Florida to Key West.

    Bird Key it is reached at the junction with State Road 789. Here is the home of John Ringling's nephew, we are in one of the most prestigious residential areas on the west coast of Florida. On the islet is Bird Key Park with fishing areas, trails and the chance to admire the Sarasota skyline. Lido Key: Lido Beach (Ben Frenklin Dr.) is an uncrowded white sand beach located on the edge of Sarasota.

    longboat Key: it is a long island with luxury holiday homes and residences. Many beaches are private but fortunately not all, for example those along Gulf of Mexico Dr. with access from house numbers 3175, 3355, 3495 and 4711. The sand is darker and more grainy than other islets. It is a good location for shell collectors.

    We also report Anna Maria Iceland, a small island north of Sarasota always continuing along the State Route 789; we change county because here we are in Manatee County but the coastal strip is always the same and we find it at its peak after about forty minutes from the entrance to the bridge. In addition to many white sand beaches and emerald waters (Coquina Beach, Manatee Beach, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Cortez Beach and Anna Maria Beach), there are also many species of birds here (pelicans, herons, crows, hawks, seagulls , parrots, bald eagles) and sea turtles that come to nest from May to October.

    La southern part of Sarasota bay it can be reached starting from State Road 758 and along other coastal and inland roads that lead to the barrier islands.

    The long islet of Siesta Key gives us Siesta beach (948 beach Rd.), A white, fine and quartz sand beach with shallow, crystal clear waters. It is considered the best coastline on the island and is also ideal for those with children. In the southern part, Turtle Beach it is a beach with grainier sand. It is ideal for looking for shells and the waters are perfect for snorkeling.

    Casey Key: Nokomis Beach (100 Casey Key Rd.) Is a beach suitable for surfing, fishing, lounging under an umbrella and looking for shells. Venice: Caspersen Beach (4100 Harbor Dr.) is the longest beach in its county with nature trails, the presence of birds, sea turtles and numerous shells and it is a pleasure to realize that two thirds of the shoreline has remained in its natural state.

    Brohard Beach Paw Park (1600 Harbor Dr. S.) is the dog-friendly beach with specific areas even equipped with dedicated showers. Manasota Key: Blind passport Beach (7770 Manasota Key Rd.) Is a quiet beach popular for its crystal clear waters and romantic walks. It is equipped with picnic tables.

    Where to shop

    Back on dry land we find various locations in which to do Shopping; in this way we can intersperse cultural and environmental visits with something “lighter”. In downtown we report Burns Square with shops, art galleries and restaurants in a setting reminiscent of the twenties. Other central shopping areas are Main Street, First Street and Palm Avenue.

    Classic shopping malls are instead The Mall at University Town Center (140 University Town Center Dr.), Westfield Sarasota Square (8201 S. Tamiami Trail), Westfield Siesta Key (3501S. Tamiami Trail) and the luxurious St. Armands Circle (300 Madison Dr.-Lido Key), not on the mainland but near Lido Beach.

    The most important events in the city

    Sarasota is an active city with many initiatives and Events. Depending on the calendar, the Sarasota Highland & Celtic Festival at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds (3000 Ringling Blvd.) set up by the Scottish Heritage Scociety to promote and preserve Scottish history and culture. Music, dance and athletics games characterize this lively festival. In February, at the Palm Grove Mennonite Church (1087 Beneva Rd.), It takes place for four days The Palm Grove Amish Quilt & Craft Show. On the occasion, quilts of various sizes made mainly by the Amish together with local handicrafts are on sale and for those who love this kind of work the event is a source of inspiration as well as a feast for the eyes.

    In April, an event takes place that particularly attracts the fairer sex: it is the Gem, Jewelry & Bead Show when for three days expert professionals, artisans and visitors gather to see, propose and buy innovative ideas in the field of jewelry. The event takes place at the Municipal Auditorium (801 N. Tamiami Trail). In October the Downtown Sarasota Craft Festival. On the occasion, the artisans showcase their works ranging from jewels to ceramics, from photos to paintings, from clothes to handmade soaps and from flowers to plants.

    For three weekends in November, the Sarasota Medieval Fair at Ringling Woods (3000 Ringling Blvd.). The medieval theme of the event includes tournaments with knights and then minstrels, Celtic music and a craft market. A pub is set up but there are also food stalls. In November at Siesta Key Beach on Siesta Key you can attend the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival. The event lasts three days during which professional sand sculptors exhibit their works and are available to explain the techniques and peculiarities of this art to the most curious visitors.

    Where to eat

    La Catering in the city it has reached excellent levels and when the locations are also remarkable, then good food is enjoyed even more willingly. In the commercial area of ​​St. Armand Circle we point out two good restaurants. In casual chic Columbia Restaurant the recipes are inspired by Spanish and Cuban cuisine with American touches. A few examples: black bean soup, paella, cesar salad, shrimp, chicken, filet mignon, creme brulee and key lime pie. It is possible to have gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan foods. The restaurant is furnished in a Mediterranean style and there is the possibility to eat on the outdoor patio; a really nice location where there is also a gift shop.

    In the elegant restaurant Coffee Europe from the charm of the old world, European cuisine is the protagonist and the food is served to the accompaniment of piano music. In an outdoor area, four-legged friends can eat by choosing food from a menu dedicated to them. We also report a classic in the States, but always appreciable, the Longhorn Steakhouse (2020 Gulf Gate Dr.) which in addition to meat serves pasta, sandwiches, fish, salads and desserts.

    Instead of Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar (5353 S. Tamiami Trail) mainly seafood dishes are enjoyed in a casual, family atmosphere overlooking the waterfront. Located in a tropical setting, you can have lunch and dinner inside or outside the restaurant.

    Where to sleep in Sarasota

    Staying overnight in Sarasota means being spoiled for choice among many accommodation. A few steps from downtown and a short distance from the beaches is theHotel Indigo (1223 Boulevard of the Arts) with swimming pool, spa, conference rooms, indoor parking and a very useful bike rental. The rooms and suites are pet friendly and many of the walls of the rooms or common areas have beautiful murals.

    Centrally located a few steps from the bay and the beachesAloft Sarasota (1401 Ringling Blvd.) is a hotel with modern style rooms that can accommodate up to four people. It is pet friendly, has a conference room, a gym and on the roof the bar and swimming pool are of great appeal.

    On the islet of Siesta Key we point out the Tropical Beach Resort (6717 Sarasea Circle) a tropical style property with modern rooms. The rooms and suites welcome families, couples and singles. Guests can enjoy a private beach, swimming pool and barbeque grills.

    Look for accommodation in Sarasota

    How to reach it

    We recommend traveling to Sarasota with a volo direct from Europe with a stopover at the international airport of Miami (2100 NW 42nd Ave.) which is approximately 3 hours and then continue with a rental car (I-30 N.). If you reach another hub in the United States then you have to make a domestic flight to reach theairport citizen (6000 Airport Circle).

    Whichever option you choose we suggest you rent a car to have maximum autonomy during your stay. Downtown Sarasota has plenty of free street parking but you should check for any time restrictions. As an alternative to the four wheels you can use the mezzi public. The SCAT (Sarasota County Area Transit) provides transportation within the county and some routes in Manatee.

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