It may not be a big-name Florida city like
Miami, Tampa, St. Petersburg or Orlando, but Sarasota, on Floridaâ€™s
southwest coast, is the place to go for all the conveniences of a big city
in a small package.
Located about 40 miles south of the Tampa Bay
area, Sarasota has a variety of attractions and events that attract the
arts-minded tourist whoâ€™s interested in more than just riding some
gussied-up roller coasters.
Sarasota is known as the â€śCircus Town.â€ť
The city was once the winter quarters of the "Greatest Show on Earth,"
hence, the moniker.The work and contributions of John Ringling, of Ringling Brothers and Barnum
& Bailey Circus, have made the city a cultural capital. John and his wife
Mable built a mansion on Sarasota Bay and set
out to collect art by Peter Paul Reubens and
other Flemish and Italian masters of the 17th century. That
collection today is called the John & Mable
Ringling Museum of Art. Ringlingâ€™s name is also immortalized as an avenue in
Downtown Sarasota is in the midst of a building
boom, with condos, office buildings and shopping either in place, under
construction or planned. In addition, urban renewal projects are working to
make a better life for the cityâ€™s less-fortunate citizens. As befits a
cultural capital, itâ€™s the small galleries by artists in various media that
make the arts scene vibrant. Galleries are scattered throughout the city and
surrounding area, and even amateur artists take their crafts seriously.
Other Sarasota attractions include the Mote
Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, the Pelican Man Sanctuary, Selby Gardens and
Jungle Gardens. Arts and cultural events are presented at the Van
Wezel Performing Arts Hall,
Asolo Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre and Sarasota Opera House. The
city hosts an annual book fair and film festival, too.
To the east, Myakka River State Park offers one
of Floridaâ€™s largest and most diverse natural areas. It was developed by the
Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 and some of the original buildings are
still in use. It offers a scenic drive, dirt roads, hiking trails and more.
When youâ€™ve had enough exploring in Sarasota,
itâ€™s time to hit the beaches. Sarasota features 35 miles of sand and several
beautiful keys on the Gulf of Mexico that are
well-known to sun-and-fun lovers, including St. Armands
Key, Longboat Key, Lido Key, Bird Key, Siesta Key (considered by some to
have the whitest and finest sand in the world), Casey Key, Venice Beach,
Anna Maria Island and Bradenton Beach.
Sarasotaâ€™s weather is mild, especially compared
to some other places in the winter. Sarasota is well-connected to the
northern parts of West and Central Florida by Interstate 75 and Interstate
275. Traveling south, Interstate 75 offers a reasonably fast ride, but U.S.
41 (the legendary Tamiami Trail of years gone by) is presently used only for
local travel due to road construction, congestion and its many traffic
State Road 70 provides access to the eastern
part of the state. The road is a two-lane divided highway across Florida,
and there are several areas now under construction, which can cause delays.
Some who visit Sarasota fly to Tampa International Airport and then drive
south, but Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport has service from Delta
Air Lines, mainly to and from Atlanta for connections; ATA Airlines, which
is establishing a code-sharing arrangement with Southwest for flights to
Chicago-Midway; and AirTran Airways, which
offers direct service to and from Baltimore, Chicago-Midway and Atlanta, and
has connections to other cities.
There is so much to see and do in Sarasota that
more than one visit may be required!