Lonely Planet Magazine (US) - - Easy Trips -


North­ern snow­birds have flocked to Sara­sota on Florida’s Gulf Coast for more than a cen­tury. Those wealthy pi­o­neers wanted to es­cape cold win­ters with­out giv­ing up cul­tural pur­suits and good food. To­day their legacy draws vis­i­tors look­ing for a side of theater and fine din­ing to go with their beach time.

1 Sara­sota’s wealth­i­est snow­birds were John and Ma­bel Rin­gling, whose epony­mous mu­seum is an un­miss­able at­trac­tion. The Cir­cus Mu­seum cel­e­brates the art form that made them their for­tune (the high­light is a huge dio­rama de­pict­ing a cir­cus in its hey­day). Nearby you can see how they spent that for­tune, first in Cà d’Zan (House of John), their glo­ri­ous wa­ter­front home built in Vene­tian Gothic style, and then in the State Art Mu­seum of Florida, where the Rubens and Rem­brandts in­side, col­lected by the Rin­glings on their Euro­pean trips,

vie for at­ten­tion with the sculp­tures, in­clud­ing a copy of Michelan­gelo’s David, in the gar­den court­yard out­side (ad­mis­sion from $25; rin­

2 The nat­u­ral world’s beauty in the form of or­chids is just one of the de­lights at Marie Selby Botan­i­cal Gar­dens ($20; A world cen­ter for the study of epi­phytes (tree-dwelling plants that ab­sorb mois­ture and nu­tri­ents from the air and rain­wa­ter, such as some or­chids), the gar­dens also have an im­pres­sive ar­ray of land­scapes in a bay set­ting, of­fer­ing wel­come shade when the sun’s blaz­ing down, along with botan­i­calthemed art ex­hi­bi­tions.

3 For more trop­i­cal plants and a glimpse into a Florida that pre­dates Euro­peans, head to

His­toric Span­ish Point ($12; his­toric­span­ish­ Step in­side a pre­his­toric shell mid­den, cre­ated by the dis­carded de­bris of the area’s ear­li­est in­hab­i­tants, take a stroll along one of the many trails, and see how New Yorker John Greene Webb and his fam­ily lived when they built a house here in 1867.

4 Sara­sota’s thriv­ing, year-round cul­tural scene is in large part thanks to its many per­for­mance venues, and none is more pop­u­lar – or pro­vides a bet­ter ex­cuse for dress­ing up – than the Sara­sota Opera House.

The com­pany presents per­for­mances in a re­stored, 1926 theater; the sea­son runs through the win­ter, and this year’s in­cludes ever-pop­u­lar fa­vorites La Travi­ata and Car­men, along with lesser-known pieces to tempt es­tab­lished opera fans (tick­ets from $19; sara­so­ta­

5 In the­ory just a traf­fic round­about, in prac­tice St. Ar­mands Cir­cle

( star­mand­scir­cle­as­ is one of the cen­ters of Sara­sota’s so­cial life. Lined with restau­rants and shops, and with a pretty park in the mid­dle, it’s best ex­plored in the cool­ness of the late af­ter­noon, when lo­cals and vis­i­tors take their time me­an­der­ing the side­walks, look­ing for a new pair of sun­glasses, stop­ping for a drink at an outdoor café, and choos­ing where to go for din­ner.

6 Food is also top of the agenda at the Forks & Corks Fes­ti­val, held each Jan­uary ( eat­likealo­ /fork­sand­corks). Dozens of lo­cal restau­rants and bars take part, serv­ing a range of eat­ing op­tions that re­flect Sara­sota’s eclec­tic din­ing scene. It’s a hugely pop­u­lar event, so book tick­ets in ad­vance, es­pe­cially if you’re in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing the Grand Tast­ing, held in the spec­tac­u­lar set­ting of the Rin­gling Mu­seum.

7 You can’t visit Florida with­out vis­it­ing a great beach, and Sara­sota doesn’t fall short there ei­ther. The beach on

Si­esta Key, to the south, grabs the head­lines (it’s reg­u­larly named Amer­ica’s best beach) but it can get un­com­fort­ably busy. Much qui­eter, partly be­cause you need a boat to get there, is Beer Can Is­land, to the north. Un­ro­man­tic name aside, this won­der­ful stretch of sand is per­fect for pic­nick­ing, laz­ing and swim­ming. Come mid­week and you might even have it to your­self.

– Clifton Wilkin­son

Sun­set at Si­esta Key


Small (just nine rooms) but per­fectly lo­cated (in the heart of down­town Sara­sota) Ho­tel Ranola is a great bou­tique sleep­ing op­tion. Decor has a Princely pur­ple ac­cent and all rooms have full kitchens (from $99; hotel­ra­

The Rin­gling Un­der­ground, a mu­sic event se­ries at The Rin­gling’s Mu­seum of Art

A vin­tage Rin­gling Bros. poster at the Cir­cus Mu­seum

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