I was recently selected to receive tickets to have two items appraised on Antiques Roadshow. The show was filming in Sarasota at the Ringling Museum. This was a perfect excuse for an overnight trip – I had never been to Sarasota so I decided to explore the area and make it an overnight trip. I was excited to see what the city had to offer!
Located on the west coast of Florida, Sarasota is easily accessible by car or plane. Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has flights from cities such as Atlanta, Newark NJ and Toronto and is located about 7 miles north of Sarasota beaches. I-75 and I-275 allow easy automobile access from St. Petersburg, Tampa and Naples. With an average temperature of 73 degrees, it’s a great location for family, couples or even solo visits. In the 30 hours I spent there, I found 5 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 wonderful place to spend a day or two.
I had heard great things about The Ringling (as they call themselves) so couldn’t wait to get there. I was lucky that ticket holders for The Roadshow (as I call them) got to explore the grounds and museums for free that day. The admission price is very reasonable however because there is so much to do there. If you’re there on a Thursday head over between 5pm and 8pm and the price to get in the circus and art museums is only $5. On Mondays, entrance 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 by the circus 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 what were effectively small cities from place to place in times where it wasn’t very easy 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 replicates circus life in the 1920’s and was so fascinating. There was also a section where you could try to walk a ‘tightrope’, watch videos of old performances and try to balance yourself on top of model of a trick horse.
Ca’ d’Zan was opulence at its highest. I didn’t get a tour of the house because that is part of where appraisals for Antiques Roadshow was 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.
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 1920’s to house their collection. Now the State Art Museum of Florida, the Museum of Art has both 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, huge 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. Which makes 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 is dedicated to 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 that’s on Sarasota Bay. When Marie passed away about 15 years after Bill, 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 the majority 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 the surface of another plant and gets it 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. In addition to walking through the gardens and stopping to sit and relax while looking at Sarasota Bay, I also stopped at the cafe for a snack. The cafe is located in the Selby’s house which is much more modest than one would expect of people who were wealthy. The cafe had indoor and outdoor seating – I chose to sit under a huge banyan tree and watched everyone enjoying the expansive lawn.
The day I was there they had an Andy Warhol exhibit on his plant paintings and they were setting up for Shakespeare In The Garden. There’s also a Garden Music Series and wine dinners on site. Be sure to check out the Selby Gardens events calendar while you’re planning your trip. You might be able to take a class on yoga, watercolors or photography.
Make sure you bring your camera, a stroller if you have small children, bug spray (try not to bring it in an aerosol can, which can damage the environment), sunscreen and a poncho in case a Florida 15 minute rain storm pops up. Wheelchairs are available onsite 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 portions of the beaches are closed off for hotels and homes, the public beach is very clean and has parking both in lots and on the street. If you get there at the right time you might even be able to find some great shells.
One thing I always try to do when traveling is visit a local brewery. Breweries in Florida are still a bit of a new thing because in years past the laws of the state hindered small breweries. Those laws have changed which has made the brewery industry explode in the state.
There are 3 breweries in Sarasota: Big Top Brewing, Calusa Brewing and JDubs Brewing. Note that there are quite a few bars in the area to go have some crafts beers; I just enjoy a brewery since they are the actual producers of the beer.
I chose to go to JDubs since it was the one closest to where I was staying. While the beer was great the atmosphere left something to be desired. I enjoy breweries not only because they’re child and pet friendly but also because it’s a great place to get local flavor and to learn more about the area. The night I went to JDubs the bartender, while not rude, wasn’t friendly and also stayed at the end of the bar talking to her friends. It was a little disappointing but the beer made up for it. I had a great Orange IPA that was refreshing.
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 you 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 a sight 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 which is right on the beach. The tiki bar offers those classic beach drinks like sangria and or mojitos, but also has food that they serve until 7pm (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.
Have you ever visited Sarasota? What was your favorite part about the city?