Un­wind and Dine

A stay­ca­tion in Sara­sota

Cape Coral Living - - Cape Departments - Gina Birch is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known me­dia per­son­al­ity in South­west Florida.

Av­er­age Amer­i­cans take only half of their paid va­ca­tion time. Health pro­fes­sion­als say you need that time off to un­wind and recharge. If you do have a lit­tle time to re­fresh your­self this sum­mer and don’t want to spend it in crowded theme parks and busy air­ports, one tank of gas and a long week­end in Sara­sota is just what the doc­tor or­dered. Sara­sota is a Gulf Coast gem of­fer­ing quite the va­ri­ety of art, his­tory, din­ing and some of the most beau­ti­ful beaches in Florida. Down­town is in the mid­dle of a build­ing boom and is the des­ti­na­tion for our get­away. The Art Ova­tion Ho­tel is so new the beds have barely been slept in, and it has lo­ca­tion. Sand­wiched be­tween the Sara­sota Opera House and the Florida Stu­dio The­ater, the ho­tel is two blocks from Bayfront Park and within walk­ing dis­tance of more than 25 gal­leries. (1255 N. Palm Ave., 941-316-0808, ar­to­va­tion­ho­tel.com, sum­mer rates $183-$254) The lobby is a gallery space it­self, as are the land­ings on each floor, thanks to a part­ner­ship with the nearby Rin­gling Col­lege of Art and De­sign. Not only do stu­dents and staff host art pro­grams for guests, their work is fea­tured promi­nently. Each room has leather-bound sketch­pads and real ukule­les; lessons are held on the rooftop. Cul­ture cu­ra­tor Lisa DiFranza says, “We want to help peo­ple who ap­pre­ci­ate art get in­side of it; feed their in­ner artist.” Stud­ies show art is good for your men­tal health, some­thing to con­sider nur­tur­ing dur­ing your sum­mer va­ca­tion. Your Sara­sota stay­ca­tion made easy:

Fri­day /Day One

If you can leave early in the day, head straight to the sug­ary beaches of Siesta Key … and ex­hale. Oth­er­wise, start with din­ner or happy hour at The Ta­ble Creek­side for so­phis­ti­cated but re­laxed wa­ter­front din­ing. Or­der beau­ti­ful craft cock­tails to go with sub­stan­tial en­trees or small plates such as the Pa­cific Rim Carpac­cio with Wagyu and scal­lops. The chur­ros for dessert are non-ne­go­tiable. (5365 S. Tami­ami Trail, 941-921-9465, ta­blesrq.com) Check into Art Ova­tion af­ter din­ner and spend the evening at the ho­tel’s rooftop lounge. It’s a cool vibe, with solid cock­tails and an im­pres­sive view of the city.

Satur­day /Day Two

Leave you car keys on the night­stand, next to the built-in tablet, and ex­plore down­town. Grab a lite bite and a cup of joe at lo­cal craft roaster Buddy Brew Cof­fee. It’s tucked in an al­cove be­hind the ho­tel, next to Louie’s Mod­ern and the pub­lic garage. (1289 N. Palm Ave., 941-374-7186, sara­sota.bud­dy­brew.com) Now that you’re prop­erly fu­eled, stroll the bayfront to the Marie Selby Botan­i­cal Gar­dens, an ur­ban oa­sis. Selby is one of the only botan­i­cal gar­dens in the world fo­cused on the con­ser­va­tion, re­search and dis­play of epi­phytes (plants that grow on other plants with­out harm­ing them as or­chids and bromeli­ads do). The col­lec­tion is spec­tac­u­lar. Al­low two hours for leisure ex­plo­ration. (900 S. Palm Ave., 941-366-5731, selby.org) Ask the ho­tel about free ride op­tions in case you want a lift back to down­town proper for lunch at the award-win­ning Brick’s Smoked Meats, where cen­tral Texas bar­be­cue is done to per­fec­tion.

The pro­teins are plen­ti­ful and brisket is king. It’s hard to say no to the can­died ba­con and creamy mac and cheese. On the lighter side, find veg­e­tar­ian ta­cos and smoked “porto” bel­lies (por­to­bello mush­rooms). The man­ager is into juic­ing, so or­der the Green Ti-Tox with kale, ap­ple, cu­cum­ber, ginger, le­mon and a splash of Tito’s Vodka for good mea­sure. Set your cam­era to video for the Smoky Man­hat­tan. This cock­tail pre­sen­ta­tion is a head turner. (1528 State St., 941-993-1435, brickssmoked­meats.com) Take a siesta at Art Ova­tion’s rooftop pool. On the walk back to the ho­tel, though, check out the farm­ers mar­ket and the unique shops and gal­leries along Main and its side streets. Din­ner at Selva tops the down­town-din­ing list. The Peru­vian restau­rant with a trendy vibe has In­sta­gram-wor­thy food pre­sen­ta­tions and amaz­ing ce­viche. (1345 Main St., 941-3624427, sel­va­grill.com) Overnight stays in down­town Sara­sota are not com­plete with­out a stop at the in­fa­mous Ga­tor Club for danc­ing and live mu­sic. (1490 Main St., 941-366-5969, the­ga­tor­club.com)

Sun­day /Day Three

En­joy cof­fee and a crois­sant at the au­then­tic French bistro C’est la Vie. If you close your eyes, you might just think you’re in Paris. The crepes and quiche are made to per­fec­tion, and be sure to de­mand a mi­mosa. (1553 Main St., 941-906-9575, ces­t­laviesara­sota.com) Be­fore you pay the bill, check out the case of good­ies in­side and grab a snack for your next stop, The Rin­gling. Less than a 10-minute drive north, the win­ter home of cir­cus icons John and Mable Rin­gling is fas­ci­nat­ing. Trams and walk­ing paths help you nav­i­gate the 66 acres of gar­dens, gal­leries and mu­se­ums, in­clud­ing the world’s largest minia­ture cir­cus; it’s mes­mer­iz­ing. Be sure to tour Ca’ d’Zan, the Rin­gling’s Vene­tian-style palazzo with Sara­sota Bay as its Grand Canal. The Mu­seum of Art is a pink Re­nais­sance-style palace with 21 gal­leries, a court­yard full of sculp­tures and an in­spir­ing gallery of mas­sive paint­ings by Peter Paul Rubens. Al­low four hours for a visit that isn’t rushed. (5401 Bay Shore Road, 941359-5700, rin­gling.org) End your stay­ca­tion with a late lunch/early din­ner at Phillippi Creek Oys­ter Bar, a ca­sual wa­ter­side spot with a thatched roof, col­or­ful trop­i­cal cock­tails served in real glass­ware and de­lec­ta­ble, award-win­ning fish ta­cos. Bloody Marys are only $4.50 on Sun­day; per­fect with fresh oys­ters or a suc­cu­lent steamer pot. (5353 S. Tami­ami Trail, 941925-4444, creek­seafood.com) This stay­ca­tion truly is good for your health: Zen gar­dens for re­lax­ation, his­tory to stim­u­late the brain, art to soothe your soul and spark cre­ativ­ity, and din­ing op­tions that of­fer both the health­ful and the deca­dent.

Clock­wise from top left: Ca’ d’Zan, Vene­tian-style palazzo at The Rin­gling; dessert splurge at C’est la Vie; seafood plat­ter at Phillippi Creek Oys­ter Bar; the court­yard at The Rin­gling’s Mu­seum of Art is a work of art it­self.

From top: A wall of bromeli­ads in the con­ser­va­tory at Marie Selby Botan­i­cal Gar­dens; The Ta­ble Creek­side cre­ates pic­ture-per­fect cock­tails.

From top: The rooftop pool at Art Ova­tion Ho­tel pro­vides views of Sara­sota’s down­town and bayfront; Brick’s of­fers more than just meat, with veg­e­tar­ian op­tions in­clud­ing Por­to­bello ta­cos; Sara­sota’s bayfront is a scenic spot.

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