When temperatures drop, I would rather chill on the beach than catch a chill. Growing up in Ohio, we endured the long, cold, grey winters. For several years we made the two-day car trip to Fort Myers to soak in the sun. Recently I visited Florida’s west coast for a conference and stayed a week to revisit my favorite places in Sarasota. I was just as thrilled by the gorgeous beaches, thick mangroves and wild Everglades as when I was a kid. But Florida is much more than Disney World and beaches.
Sarasota is a string of eight islands tucked into the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida, 60 miles south of Tampa and 75 north of Ft. Myers. It is well know for its satiny white sand beaches.
Siesta Beach was awarded # 1 beach in North America in 2012 by Mr. Beach. It’s the sand that makes the beach so extraordinary; as fine as confectioners sugar and as white as fresh snow. As I walked the beach, the sand squeaked underneath my feet.
The Lido and Siesta Beaches are also popular with locals for flip-flop weddings and barefoot sunsets.
Arts and Culture
I have to admit, I had no idea that a Florida city had so much art. In fact, Sarasota was voted America’s # 1 small city for art, and it rivals many larger metropolitan cities. You’ll find world-class art museums, galleries, a renowned orchestra, opera, choral assemble, ballet, jazz concerts, blues festivals, repertory theater, a Broadway Theater Series, a Film Fest, an Exotic Car Fest, a Forks & Corks Culinary Fest, polo, and even the famous Lipizzaner Stallions of Austria.
Spring Training in the Sun
Any baseball fans out there? Follow your team and see the Baltimore Orioles during their Spring Training in Sarasota.
Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World.”
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the crown jewel of the Sarasota cultural scene. Don’t miss it. The complex has an art museum with Baroque masterpieces, a Venetian Gothic Mansion, and a wonderful Circus Museum (worth the visit all by itself) with costumes, a tightrope you can walk, and a jaw-dropping miniature of the circus with moving acrobats and wild animal trainers. It is said to have over 1,000 pieces. I could have stayed in the Circus Museum for hours.
More people come to go “birding” than to golf in Sarasota County. You can stroll through orchid jungles, kayak through mangroves, and commune with wild birds or dolphins. You can hike, bike, stand-up paddle board, fish, camp, or gator watch in and around Sarasota. From Myakka Rover State Park to Venice Inlet you have the chance to see bottlenose dolphins in the surf or a flock of white ibis soar in a cloudless sky. You can take a boat or hike to get close to rookeries and, if you are lucky, glimpse the pink roseate spoonbills.
Dining – A Foodie’s Mecca
Sarasota boasts one of the highest concentrations of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida and has become a true restaurant destination, whether you like beach-inspired fresh seafood dishes or five-star gourmet dining.
I recommend Michael’s on East, where I had a spectacular meal. It received its 24th consecutive AAA Four-Diamond Award in 2013. Don’t miss the Happy Hour menu featuring the “Made in America” hand crafted cocktails and private label wines.
I also enjoyed the “people-watching” and al fresco dining at St. Armands Circle, a renown upscale shopping area.
You can find a rib joint that’s jumping with Delta Blues, a romantic bistro for dining and dancing, or a place with Locavore specialities. Check out the independent guide to locally owned establishments at www.dineoriginal.com to find a place that suits your appetite. There is even a free app that makes it easier to find the perfect dining option in Sarasota when you are on the go.