There is certainly more than meets the eye to Sarasota’s quiet and alluring charm; underneath its small-town vibeis a vibrant city brimming with recreational opportunities that has made it an ideal residential and vacation destination through the years.
The Ringling Estate located on Bayshore Road and Ringling Plaza is the site of several notable attractions in Sarasota, among them the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, with its collection of more than 10,000 art objects; the uniquely Venetian Gothic designed Cà d’Zan mansion, which was the waterfront residence of the Ringlings; the Circus Museum, with exhibits that document the history of the circus; and the Ringling Art Library, considered as one of the largest art reference libraries in the southeastern United States.
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on Lido Key provides an up-close experience with over 100 species of marine life, including two touch tanks and a 135,000-gallon shark habitat; visitors can also check out their viewable working laboratories and see scientific research as it happens. The Aquarium also offers eco-boat tours and guided kayak paddle trips.
Shopping and Dining
Downtown Sarasota has numerous shops and dining establishments along Main Street, 1st Street, and Palm Avenue. You’ll find many quaint boutiques, specialty shops, antique stores, and a variety of cafés and restaurants in this walkable, mostly tree-lined area. To the west off Sarasota Bay is St. Armands Key, with a well-known shopping and dining district located in its lovely central plaza. Planned no less by the legendary circus magnate himself, John Ringling, his influence can be felt in the charming buildings, neatly laid out streets and marble statuary found in St. Armands Circle Park.
Art and Culture
Sarasota is known as a popular cultural hub in the Southwest Florida region, and nowhere can this be felt more than in the downtown area with its multiple venues for art, ballet, music, opera, and theater. Plenty of art galleries line Palm Avenue, where one can enjoy exhibits, as well as shopping and dining. To the east is the artist colony of Towles Court, a creative arts community with its own share of studios, galleries, shops, and cafés.
A weekly event called “Live from Downtown – It’s Friday Nights!” is held by the Downtown Sarasota Alliance every Friday night from 6-9pm. Taking place in a different downtown neighborhood each week, the event features live musical performances, shopping, dining, and exhibits. Downtown also hosts the Sarasota Festival of the Arts, a big art event that showcases the works of the best artists in the region and is held every year in February. One of Florida’s largest film festivals, the Sarasota Film Festival, is held annually in Sarasota during April and brings in many independent filmmakers from around the world.
The city is also home to acclaimed music, dance, and stage performing groups such as the Sarasota Ballet, Sarasota Opera, Florida Studio Theatre, the Sarasota Players, the Banyan Theater Company, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre, which hold live performances in many of Sarasota’s renowned cultural venues.These include:
- the historic Sarasota Opera House
- Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
- Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center
- Players Theatre
- Florida Studio Theatre, and
- the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts.