photo courtesy Sarasota CVB
Fun Facts about Sarasota:
In 2011, Dr. Beach rated Siesta Key the #1 beach in the world.
John Ringling made Sarasota famous by making it the winter home of the Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1927.
The first golf course in the United States was built in Sarasota in the late 1800's by Scottish settlers.
Sarasota was just rated 2012's #1 Family Spring Break destination! It also ranked as the top city to retire to in the USA.
Sarasota has one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida. And during the first two weeks of June every year, Savor Sarasota lets you enjoy a 3-course dinner at many of the top restaurants for just $25!
One of the first "Segway Tours" in the USA started in Sarasota in 2003. Next time you're in town, check out Florida Ever-Glides Tours!
One of Florida's largest state parks is just outside Sarasota: Myakka River State Park. Explore the Canopy Walkway 25 feet in the air, take an airboat ride, bike, hike, canoe, or kayak (or all of the above!)
Starting summer 2012, JetBlue will offer nonstop flights from New York (JFK and LGA) and Boston to Sarasota!
If you want to fully explore the arts scene in Sarasota, then be sure to plan a long visit! Between the art in public places, self-guided arts tours, museums, and performance venues, you might even be hard-pressed to squeeze in some beach time! Here, Sunshine Travel presents a sampling of the arts scene to give you an idea of what Sarasota has to offer.
photo courtesy Sarasota CVB
Sarasota was once home to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. John Ringling and his wife, Mable, built a 36,000 square foot mansion on the Sarasota Bay, which they named Ca d'Zan. The Ringlings were also avid art collectors, and eventually built a museum to house their massive personal collection. You can experience both of these, as well as the Museum of the Circus and surrounding gardens when you visit the Ringling Museum of Art.
The Ringling Museum hosts many events throughout the year, including Ringling in Bloom (February 23-26, 2012, showcasing "flowers, fashion, and fine art"), Art After 5 (every Thursday, 5-8pm, with after-hours discounted admission ), the ViewPoint Lecture Series , and even Art of Food.
To immerse yourself further in Sarasota's ongoing art experience, visit Towles Court, an artist colony near downtown that landed a spot in Coastal Living’s “Top 10 Artists Colonies”. On the 3rd Friday of each month, all galleries are open to the public from 6pm-10pm during “Art Walk”. With refreshments and live music, you can meander through the various studios and galleries, or take in a class or demonstration. During the day, you can also take a Cultural & Arts Segway Tour through the area.
Fans of midcentury modern architecture are sure to be familiar with Paul Rudolph. Rudolph, a well-known midcentury architect, lived in Sarasota, where he built several buildings and homes. The Sarasota Architectural Foundation (SAF) is a nonprofit that promotes and preserves Sarasota’s architectural legacy, including that of Paul Rudolph; check the SAF's upcoming events to see if there are any home tours or interesting lectures that you may be able to attend during your visit.
For those who love the performing arts, check the box office schedule at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, where you can get tickets for a variety of top-name entertainers and celebrated musicians, as well Broadway productions (and the occasional "Family Fun" production). If it’s opera you’re looking for, the Sarasota Opera House (built in 1926) has undergone a full restoration, and the Opera is currently in its 53rd season, featuring Verdi, American Classics, and lesser known operas in the Masterworks Revival Series.
If you happen to be visiting in mid-April, don’t miss the internationally acclaimed 14th Annual Sarasota Film Festival, April 13-22, 2012. The film line-up will be announced on March 20; tickets will go on sale on March 22. Like most other arts programs in Sarasota, there is an outreach program aimed at kids. For example, there are special free screenings for kid-friendly movies, classes teaching the basics of screenwriting and film analysis, and even the chance for kids under 18 to submit their own short film!
No matter what your favorite art medium is, you're sure to find something you'll enjoy in Sarasota. Be sure to look at Sarasota's upcoming art events before your visit, so you don't miss out on something special. Have a favorite that I missed? Let me know, and I'll be sure to add it!
Siesta Key, courtesy of Sarasota CVB
While Sarasota may be known for being a quiet town, there's plenty to do with the kids!
First of all, the beaches are a big draw.… Siesta Key was rated the #1 Beach in the World last year by Dr. Beach. With soft white sand, and calm waters, it’s a practically perfect beach for the kids (and adults!). Other beaches right in the Sarasota vicinity are also nice, such as Lido Beach and Longboat Key, and you'll find several family-friendly beachfront resorts there as well.
Manasota Beach, courtesy of Sarasota CVB
Venturing south from Siesta Key, be sure to take your kids to Venice Beach, known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World! (There's even an annual Shark's Tooth Festival every April celebrating this!) But don’t worry: there aren’t thousands of sharks lurking off shore waiting to take a bite out of you - what you'll find in the sand are primarily prehistoric fossils that wash up over time. Whether you stop at Venice Beach, Casparan Beach, or Manasota Beach, you’re bound to come home with some unique finds!
If you can tear the kids away from the beach, they'll be happy at G.WIZ, short for “Gulf Coast Wonder & Imagination Zone”. With 33,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, there’s sure to be something your child will enjoy. There are plenty of permanent and special exhibits for kids to explore, including a race track and a game called MindBall ("Compete against a friend to see who can move matter with their mind!"). For the younger set, there's even a "tot zone". Opening in 2012 is a Medical Simulation exhibit as well as a robotics lab. And for inventors of all ages, an all-access pass to a real fabrication laboratory (“fab lab”) is available so you can build your own invention from scratch! Click here to find out what you can actually make in a Fab Lab!
Mote Aquarium, courtesy Sarasota CVB
The Mote Marine Laboratory is one of the country’s leading facilities for marine research. Through their aquarium, and a variety of outreach programs, such as camps, school programs, lecture series, and more, Mote hopes to educate visitors on the importance of marine conservation and research. At the Mote Aquarium, you’ll find touch tanks, interactive exhibits, and the opportunity to see a variety of marine wildlife up close, including sharks, dolphins, manatees, and sea turtles. Through Mote’s Center for Shark Research, you can view several species of sharks, and see how researchers have learned to train sharks at a Narrated Training Session. At the Seahorse Conservation Laboratory, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital, and Dolphin and Whale Hospital, the focus is on conservation and keeping animals healthy; you can even adopt an animal of your choosing. If you visit before mid-April 2012, you’ll also get to see a special temporary exhibit, Penguin Island!
Nearby Mote, each Sunday at 2pm (except in summer), there’s a free water ski show right in the Sarasota Bay called Ski-A-Rees. Professional water skiiers put on a stunt-filled performance that everyone is sure to enjoy. And did I mention it’s free?! Also on Sundays (and also free), about an hour before sunset, head over to public beach at Siesta Key for the Drum Circle...there are drummers (of course), belly dancers, and plenty of curious onlookers for this unique event.
Myakka River SP, courtesy Sarasota CVB
Just east of Sarasota you’ll find the Myakka River State Park. It's one of Florida’s largest state parks, and is easily explored by hiking, biking, canoeing, or kayaking. A main attraction is the Myakka Canopy Walkway, the first public treetop trail in North America. Suspended 25 feet in the air, you'll literally walk through the trees to a 74-foot tall tower with even more spectacular views. Be sure to get out on the water and explore the Myakka River by canoe or kayak. If that's too strenuous, opt for an airboat tour on the Gator Gal, one of the world’s largest airboats!
For closer animal encounters, visit Sarasota Jungle Gardens, one of the longest-operating attractions in Florida (it opened in 1940!). Kids will enjoy shows featuring birds of prey, exotic birds, and reptiles. You can even hand-feed a flamingo - definitely a one-of-a-kind experience! A new playground and 10 acres of tropical gardens are an added bonus.
Ringling Museum, courtesy Sarasota CVB
And last, but certainly not least, consider a visit to the Ringling Museum. John Ringling, of Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus fame, made Sarasota the winter home for his circus in the 1920s. Today, you can visit the entire estate, which consists of the Ringling’s 36,000 square foot mansion, a museum housing their personal art collection, a circus museum, and more. Even though a museum complex isn't a "typical" kid-attraction, families (and strollers) are welcome; the Ringling Museum even has some fabulous suggestions on enjoying your visit with children. On the second Saturday of each month from 12pm to 2pm, there is a special family-friendly event called Center Ring Saturdays at the Circus Museum: a circus performer takes visitors “behind the scenes” and shares their insights on what it’s like to be part of the circus.
So when you visit Sarasota with your family, you'll have the opportunity to do more than just enjoy the best beach in the world. Your kids can also search for fossils, create their own invention, see sharks up close, watch a water-skiing stunt show, experience a drum circle at sunset, take a walk in the treetops, go kayaking or canoeing, feed a flamingo, and learn what it's like to be a circus performer... Contact Sunshine Travel to find the best Sarasota lodging (at the best price) for your family's needs!