Local Resorts Make Condé Nast Traveler’s 2019 List

top resortsThree local resorts have been honored by Condé Nast Traveler readers as part of the magazine’s readers’ choice list of the top 30 resorts in Florida.

The Zota Beach Resort, Ritz-Carlton Sarasota and The Resort at Longboat Key Club all made the magazine’s 2019 list released this week. Condé Nast Traveler readers voted their favorite Florida resorts outside of the Keys and the Orlando area to make the rankings.

The Zota Beach Resort at 4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive in Longboat Key snagged the list’s 15th spot. The hotel, formerly known as the the Longboat Key Hilton Beachfront Resort, underwent renovations and added a new 84-room tower in 2018.

The name “Zota” was unveiled in 2015, and at the time owner Ocean Properties explained the name change like this:

“Zota is believed to be a native word meaning ‘blue waters.’ The word ‘zara’ may be a Spanish reference to Sahara-like sands, and as the name of the area evolved over time, Longboat Key and the surrounding area became known as ‘Zara Zota,’” or “Sahara by the blue waters.”

“It is an honor to receive this recognition from Condé Nast Traveler readers. Our team is proud of this recognition and hope to continue exceeding expectations every day,” Roy Padgett, general manager of Zota Beach Resort, said in an emailed statement. “We are incredibly thankful for our guests and want to ensure a memorable experience happens with every visit.”

Also on the list is the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota at No. 18. The Ritz, a luxury hotel in downtown Sarasota overlooking the bay, has 266 guest rooms, a private beach on Lido Key, a spa, a golf club, about 60,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, a 12,000-square-foot ballroom (the largest in Sarasota) and two restaurants — Jack Dusty and Ridley’s Porch.

The Resort at Longboat Key Club came in at No. 20. The resort, just north of St. Armands Circle at 220 Sands Point Road, has 218 guest rooms and suites, a spa, on-site dining, tennis and golf.

The No. 1 resort on the Condé Nast List is the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa.

Other nearby resorts on the list are:

Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande (No. 3)

the Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina in Fort Myers (No. 4)

Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach (No. 8)

The Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach (No. 9)

LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in Naples (No. 14)

The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club (No. 19)

Sarasota Herald-Tribune October 9, 2019

Conservation Foundation Protects 543 Acres in the Myakka Region

Tatum SawgrassAs aggressive development continues throughout the region, it has become imperative to protect our waterways, fragile ecosystems, wildlife and resources for future generations.  The Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast has worked diligently to protect and restore the core of the 2,500-acre Tatum Sawgrass marsh.

The plan hopes to reduce flooding downstream, increase habitat for animals such as the wood stork, deer, snook and even the endangered Florida panther, and overall, improve the health and vitality of Myakka River. Protecting Murphy Marsh is critical to maintaining the region’s water quality, as water flows off the land into the Myakka River and through the more than 40 miles of protected lands that buffer the river before it flows into Charlotte Harbor estuary.

Permanent protection of the 543-acre Murphy Marsh within Manatee County’s Myakka River watershed region was recently announced by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.  This land is in the most threatened portion of the watershed and links three Myakka River conservation areas: the 1,143-acre Triangle Ranch, the 1,213-acre Lettuce Lakes property and Conservation Foundation’s newly conserved 38-acre Tatum Sawgrass Scrub Preserve. Conserving Murphy Marsh enables the core of the 2,500-acre Tatum Sawgrass marsh to be restored. This will reduce flooding downstream, increase habitat for animals such as the wood stork, deer, and snook, and improve the health and vitality of the Myakka River. The endangered Florida panther is documented as traversing the area.

Protecting large tracts of private property like Murphy Marsh is critical to maintaining water quality as water flows off the land into the Myakka River and through the more than 40 miles of protected lands that buffer the river before it flows into the Charlotte Harbor estuary.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided critical funding, and will hold the perpetual conservation easement and provide additional funding for restoration. This protection success was made possible by the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, The Gardener Foundation, the Felburn Foundation, the Myakka River Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation, the Disney Conservation Fund, Skip and Janis Swan, and the Everett W. Erdoesy & Gretha M. Erdoesy Foundation.

“This is a strategic addition to our protected lands and an outstanding example of how Conservation Foundation skillfully collaborates with federal, state, and private organizations, and people to accomplish large goals,” notes Charlie Hunsicker, Director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources.

The Conservation Foundation is facilitating a landscape-scale restoration plan based on comprehensive hydrologic modeling of the entire Upper Myakka River watershed. The protection of Murphy Marsh is the essential link in this restoration plan.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided critical funding, and will hold the perpetual conservation easement and provide additional funding for restoration. This protection success was made possible by the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation, The Gardener Foundation, the Felburn Foundation, the Myakka River Fund of the Manatee Community Foundation, the Disney Conservation Fund, Skip and Janis Swan, and the Everett W. Erdoesy & Gretha M. Erdoesy Foundation.

Scene Magazine – SRQ July 24, 2019

Warhol Exhibit at Selby Gardens

Warhol Exhibit Selby Gardens

Conservatory Selby Gardens

Warhol Exhibit at Selby Gardens

Warhol: Flowers in the Factory show, opens Feb. 11 and runs through June 30, 2018.

The exhibit, which highlights Warhol’s connection to nature (perhaps unexpected for many fans of the Pop art icon, who know him from soup cans and celebrities), carries on the theme of living art that has also been a focus of previous shows at the gardens, including one devoted to Marc Chagall. This one (curated by Carol Ockman) first takes viewers into the Conservatory, where the horticultural team has assembled a huge wall/grid of bromeliads echoing Warhol’s frequent repetition of imagery. You can actually take time to sit and enjoy that and other plant exhibits on a white couch in a sunken living room replica nearby.

On the grounds of the gardens, the Selby staff has also assembled a collection of epiphytic plants adorning a white frame backed by colored squares, while another frame, surrounded by large-scale hibiscus flowers created to complement Warhol’s own hibiscus images, bears the Warhol quote, “Land really is the best art.”

And inside the Museum of Botany and the Arts reside not only four colorful Warhol silkscreens of flowers, dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s (courtesy of Williams College Museum of Art), but poinsettia images and little-seen photographs of Warhol outdoors (albeit in a jacket and tie), on skis and even rowing a boat.

In addition, throughout the run of the show the “Food Factory,” in front of the Payne Mansion on the property, will serve items such as “Andy’s Pastrami on Rye” and a “Warhol Grilled Cheese,” along with salads, grain bowls and more.  For more information visit selby.org

Sarasota Magazine February 8, 2018

Mote Marine Aquarium – New State-of-the-art Facility Planned

Mote MarineIt’s a “rebirth” of Mote Marine Laboratories: a new aquarium near Interstate 75 that would be more than twice as large as Mote’s current facility, and, Mote leaders hope, leave visitors feeling either “warmly embraced or smacked in the face with science.”

Plans for a new state-of-the-art aquarium at Nathan Benderson Park will allow Mote’s scientists to use their current facility in Sarasota to help them become what Michael Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, calls the “Silicon Valley of Marine Science.”

“We have got really some of the best and brightest minds in marine science and we want to make sure that they’re able to translate, transfer, and convey the importance of that science to the public,” Crosby said Thursday.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium is outgrowing their facilities on City Island, Crosby said. They’ve had to turn down opportunities to work with scientists from around the world because there is no room. Two new scientists hired by Mote have been stationed at their Florida Keys facility, because there was not enough room on City Island.

The proposed multi-story, 110,000-square-foot aquarium would expand public access to marine science and technology, as well as allow more space for the research done at Mote to come to life and inspire others. It would also allow the scientists to continue and expand their research at their location on City Island.

Bob Essner, chairman of the board of trustees at Mote, called the new facility a “next and necessary step.”

“Mote has been a great research institute for a long time,” Essner said. “But the aquarium is going to be both a tremendously visible face for Mote as you’ve seen in the pictures we’ve shown, it’s spectacular; but it’s also going to be a portal into the science.”

After five years of looking for the perfect site, aquarium officials plan to construct the Mote Science Education Aquarium on about five acres of Sarasota County-owned land within Nathan Benderson Park, near Interstate 75 off the University Parkway exit. Mote officials have spoken with county officials, but have not made a formal request to get a long-term lease for the land approved. That is being initiated now, according to Mote officials.

The renderings displayed during Thursday’s press conference show a large, rounded building that Crosby said would be seen from the interstate, drawing even more attention to the area. At night, the outside of the building would be lit up with images of swimming animals.

The proposed aquarium will have 1 million gallons of water for exhibits, making a new home for animals and organisms from around the world. There would also be space for on-site diving programs, as well as teaching labs and space for science and technology demonstrations.

Science, Crosby said, will be first and foremost at the new aquarium.

Mote officials hope to begin construction in late 2019 with a goal of opening the facility in late 2021. They anticipate about 700,000 visitors in the opening year.

Education and economics

Crosby wants the Mote Science Education Aquarium to provide education not just to visitors but to area students. They aim to include teaching labs for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, and “putting research and education to work with schools in the region” for free. Included in the plans are hands-on STEM facilities.

“Part of the goal of this really is to get people here very involved in what’s going on in the seas around them. We all live near it, we all see it every day or almost every day, but yet, a lot people don’t really know much about marine science, about what the threats are, about what can be done to avert those threats and by bringing school children…. Everybody will get a sense of it,” Essner said.

The plan for the land also includes nature and education trails and science displays near the aquarium.

Mote officials emphasized the economic impact the construction would have as well. They estimate about $280 million in direct and indirect expenditures and 3,123 total person-years’ employment. As well, they estimated $28 million annually in economic benefits for Florida.

Being away from the ocean won’t be an issue for them, said Crosby, noting another large aquarium in Tennessee as an example. What is vital, he said, is the research and the research facility that is staying right where it is.

Funding the new facility

Powering the advance, Mote officials said Thursday, is the organization’s new, $130 million capital construction fund-raising effort, “Oceans for All: Improving Access to Marine Science & Technology.”

Mote will need an estimated $100 million in construction costs, as well as another $20 million to $30 million in pre-construction costs. Mote is working with two firms from the Northeast for the logistics of the build.

For a majority of the funding, Mote is planning on turning to the community for help by raising funds through their “Oceans for All” initiative. Corporate partners and sponsors will also be called on for a large chunk of the funds, with plans to seek some assistance from state and local governments and other public sources.

Already, 20 percent of the funds needed for the construction have been pledged, officials said.

Crosby said Mote plans to ask for only construction costs, and will take on all operational costs of the new facility themselves. He said he’s confident in the staff’s ability to run the larger facility.

Essner agreed.

“It’s just a major undertaking for Mote, but one that we’re pretty comfortable with because we’ve been running a successful aquarium now on a smaller scale for about 40 years,” Essner said.

The City Island facilities will become a science and innovation park, and Crosby hopes to grow the research facilities. But those plans are for beyond 2021. Crosby said they are looking to keep the City Island facility “fully operational and top-notch.” Once the time comes to open the new aquarium, they will shut down the old aquarium for a short period of time to move the animals.

Crosby said he’s excited for the anticipated impact the new facility will have.

“Beyond 2020, this is going to allow Mote Marine Laboratory to serve as the catalyst that will help pull together all of the different entities…. in southwest Florida,” Crosby said.

Bradenton Herald February 8, 2018

Island Life – Sarasota’s Barrier Islands

“Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau

Island LifeSwaying palms, swaying hammocks, miles of white sand, calm azure waters and the warm Gulf breezes of Island Life. The escape you’re yearning for in our “tech-focused” plugged-in and over-scheduled culture and you never have to leave the country.

Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast is the perfect location to lose yourself in an exotic paradise. Just off the mainland, Sarasota’s heralded barrier islands deliver relaxation and rejuvenation, along with some pretty great recreation when you’re ready.

Allow abundant Gulf coastline to chart your course. Whether you’re exploring via car or boat, stunning sunsets and abundant natural beauty await.

From Anna Maria, just north of Sarasota, this timeless tropical escape offers Florida “the way we remember it.” Unspoiled and artsy, where the preferred method of transportation is bicycle, you can stroll, fish, dine and relax in blissful serenity.

Travel southward from Anna Maria to the manicured island of Longboat Key. A renowned location for its golf and Gulf, this 11-mile barrier island is a premier resort destination for visitors and residents. Year-round recreation and an upscale tropical community provide exceptional tennis, boating, golf and delectable dining options. Home to the Longboat Key Club’s superior amenities and service, along with pristine Gulf beaches, Longboat Key is the place to escape to luxury.

Just south of Longboat Key, Lido Key offers a quiet respite, minutes from the entertainment of St. Armands circle and downtown Sarasota.  The cluster of Lido, Bird Key and St. Armands provide everything you could desire in relaxation, dining, entertainment, rich history and natural beauty.

The ultimate in Beach Chic awaits on Siesta Key. Home to the #1 Siesta Key Beach, this original artist colony’s casual Island appeal still attracts artists and those seeking a great coastal retreat. Known for its 99% quartz sand, there’s an intrinsic attraction among Sarasota’s holistic community; citing the qualities of the beach sand to improve physical and emotional well-being.

Further south, coveted privacy awaits on Casey Key.  Offering the allure of private island living and Old Florida charm, here you’ll find no high rises or street lights. A quiet respite, this is the place to seriously unplug from everything; watch the dolphin and manatee, take a stroll and embrace the sunset.

Things to Do in Downtown Sarasota

Sarasota Magazine – April 2017

Art, culture, outdoor adventures and more–downtown Sarasota has it all.

Things to Do in Downtown Sarasota


Stroll Historic Burns Square

In this charming enclave of 1920s bungalows, shops and restaurants, you can take in a foreign flick at Burns Court Cinemas, enjoy jazz at Burns Court Café, and treasure-hunt in the boutiques, galleries and antique shops. burnssquare.com

Stop and smell the flowers at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens shelters more than 20,000 plants and some of the rarest orchids in the world. There’s a Tropical Conservatory and kids’ rainforest garden, too. The Garden Shop offers plants and gifts. 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731, selby.org

Listen to music at The Gator Club

Downstairs at The Gator Club, the joint is jumping with live rhythm and blues, top 40 and reggae. The upstairs bar is more tranquil, with 180 varieties of whiskeys. 1490 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 366-5969, thegatorclub.com

Walk (or run or bike) the Ringling Bridge

Join the runners, walkers and cyclists making their way over the John Ringling Causeway bridge. This 60-foot-high span commands spectacular views of downtown Sarasota and Sarasota Bay. And you can get bait (and beer) at Hart’s Landing beneath the bridge and fish from the T.J. “Tony” Saprito Fishing Pier. 920 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 955-0011, hartslanding.net

See world-class opera at Sarasota Opera House

The company presents four operas in its February-March winter season, plus a fall performance in October-November, along with recitals and concerts. Also home to a youth opera. 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota, (941) 328-1300, sarasotaopera.org

Take in the art at Art Center Sarasota

Art Center Sarasota is celebrating its 90th birthday this year. This season features seven juried exhibitions and, with three separate galleries, there’s plenty to see. 707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 365-2032, artsarasota.org

Get in touch with nature at Sarasota Children’s Garden

Little ones can get in touch with nature and play on fun installations at this lovely two-acre oasis. Check out the daily organized art and gardening classes. 1670 10th Way, Sarasota, (941) 330-1711, sarasotachildrensgarden.com 

Visit local artists in Towles Court

Towles Court’s third Friday art walks allow gallery-goers to peek into artists’ studios after hours and get to know local makers firsthand. There’s often live entertainment and refreshments, too. towlescourt.com

Play at Payne Park

A big, bright, happy red and yellow circus-themed playground where kids climb, swing, jump and slide to their hearts’ content. There’s a separate, tamer play area for toddlers, too, and for tweens and teens, the city skateboard park is right next door. 2100 Adams Lane, Sarasota

Take in a show at Florida Studio Theatre

With five theaters downtown under its umbrella, FST presents four mainstage shows, three cabaret shows, a summer season and improv performances. 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-9000, floridastudiotheatre.org

Laugh your a** off at McCurdy’s

McCurdy’s packs in the crowds for comics both known (Tom Arnold, Jon Lovitz) and unknown (frequent open mic nights for the aspiring laugh getter). 1923 Ringling Blvd., (941) 925-3869, mccurdyscomedy.com

Get into the groove at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe

Now 17 years old, this company produces musicals, revues, dramas and comedies related to the African-American experience. 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, (941) 366-1505, westcoastblacktheatre.org

Watch the best indie films at Burns Court Cinemas

At our own little downtown arthouse cinema, you can satisfy your thirst for international films and a cold beer or glass of wine at the same time. 506 Burns Court, (941) 955-3456, filmsociety.org

Catch national touring acts at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

The city’s bayfront hall presents a full season of touring Broadway shows, orchestras, dance, comedy, pop music and more, mostly October-April. 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3368, vanwezel.org

Sit back, relax and enjoy a show at The Players

This long-running (now in its 87th season) community theater presents seven mainstage productions, mostly musicals, along with a summer season. 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 365-2494, theplayers.org

Watch the sunset at Bayfront Park

TBH, it’s a perfect spot to relax any time of day, thanks to its waterfront location, playground, perfect-for-picnics grassy lawn, dog-friendly sidewalks and proximity to O’Leary’s Tiki Bar. But we’re partial to this popular park at sunset, where we recommend sitting back on a bench or a swing and watching the sun dip below the horizon, with the silhouette of the Ringling Bridge in the distance.

Sarasota – The Best Place to Live

best placesSarasota is the best place in Florida to call home.
U.S. News & World Report placed the Sarasota metro area No. 21, ahead of any other place in Florida, for its 100 Best Places to Live in the USA.

Indeed, the biggest factor affecting the ranking is net migration, which ranks 10 on a one-to-10 scale of the criteria U.S. News & World Report uses to judge each metro area. Here is how the area scored in each variable:

Desirability: 8.2

Value: 5.1

Job market: 6.1

Quality of life: 7.4

Net migration: 10

Sarasota remains the only Florida city in the top 25, outpacing Tampa by 14 places. Houston, Texas scored one place ahead of Sarasota, while San Diego Calif. came in at No. 22.

What makes Sarasota so special?

Let’s take a look:

  1. Weather: You could say this about any coastal place in the state but having lived under the gray skies of Pennsylvania and in cold Colorado, let me tell you, that nearly daily dose of sunshine and utter lack of freezing cold temperatures is the No. 1 reason people from the rest of the country continue to relocate here as if we were giving away oceanfront property.
  2. Beaches: Yes, there’s a reason our sugary white sands such as the ones found on Siesta Beach are consistently ranked among the best in the country. I really didn’t appreciate this until I spent a year living on Newport Beach in Southern California, where, to quote Bill Hicks, the beach just looks like “where dirt meets water.”
  3. Restaurants: I can walk to a handful of excellent and a couple dozen really good restaurants from our office in downtown Sarasota. There’s many, many more choice spots within a short drive. It’s hard to imagine a city this size anywhere else in the country that has as many outstanding dining options. Also, let’s not forget about the award-winning Sarasota craft beers being served at these restaurants and the clever cocktails are local bartenders are creating.
  4. Arts scene: It’s also hard to imagine another city the size of Sarasota with such a vibrant arts scene. Take your pick: museums, art galleries, orchestras, opera, ballet, professional and community theater companies. Plus, our live music scene includes some of the best blues and roots rock musicians in the country. Really, we have it all.
  5. Parks and preserves: While the beaches are the celebrities, places like Phillippi Estate Park, Rothenbach Park and Celery Fields are equally charming in their own way.
  6. Things to do: Every week I easily assemble at least 10 fun things for people to do in the Sarasota area. Just looking at March we have spring training, two film festivals, and an appearance by Emmy and Tony Award winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth on March 12 at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, which in a single weekend last month hosted Dave Chappelle, and Steve Martin with Martin Short.
  7. Celebrities: Look, even if you never run intoStephen King at the local bookstoreor have lunch next to Jerry Springer, it’s nice to know celebrities do live here. I mean if it’s good enough for them, it must be good enough for us regular folks, right? And, who knows? I did once witness two other Sarasota celebrities, rock legends Brian Johnson (AC/Dc) and Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band), playing together at a fundraiser in the Five O’Clock Club!

Herald Tribune, Sarasota Observer, March 3, 2017

How to Fall in Love with Sarasota

Boats on the beachIt starts—as scientists tell us all life did—with the sea. Standing on dazzling white sand, looking out over the vast Gulf of Mexico, you fall in love with Sarasota. And if you happen to be doing that at sunset, when the mirror-calm water shimmers with every imaginable shade of pink and gold and purple, you fall even harder. It happened to me and my friends and neighbors, and if this is your very first visit, I can pretty much guarantee it will happen to you.

But if, like me and so many thousands of others, you end up following your heart to make your home on these shores, you soon realize that our city offers all sorts of riches beyond our beaches, from world-class arts, sports and outdoor adventures to intriguing shops and a lively dining scene. All that makes Sarasota a great place to live as well as to visit—although I confess you can get so caught up in your everyday life that, as longtime lovers often do, you neglect what drew you together in the first place.

I live just a few blocks from the beach, but too many nights I come home tired and close the door behind me. And it’s easy to fill every weekend day with errands, chores and family and social events. “We need to go to the beach,” my boyfriend and I tell each other—for days, weeks, sometimes even months.

And then, finally, one night after work, we do. Walking over the dune, we feel the air change. It’s softer, fresher, tinged with salt. We take off our shoes and the sand squeaks between our toes. We sit close to the water, holding hands and watching tiny sandpipers scurry along the edges of each splashing wave with uncanny precision. By the time that glowing sun has slipped into the Gulf, we’re lost in wonder, in love all over again with this magical sliver where land meets sea, the enchanted zone that’s the heart and soul of Sarasota.

Start or rekindle your love affair with Sarasota.

Sarasota Magazine, November 30, 2016

Why Sarasota Florida Is A Hidden Travel Gem

From Forbes Travel Guide – September 2016

Sitting in The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota’s Beach Club Grill on Lido Key, you get a real taste of Sarasota, an underrated town where everyone seems to have a backstory. As you dine on succulent scallops and bacon risotto, with the stunning pool and the Gulf of Mexico’s lapping waves in the background, server Irmy checks on you. The friendly elder German woman will share that she’s a grill veteran, but if you probe a bit, she will reveal that she landed in town many years ago because she had a unicycle-acrobatic act with her husband, which was risqué at the time.

The encounter demonstrates the many facets of the southwestern Florida city — the fresh Gulf Coast cuisine, the inviting beaches (Sarasota County boasts almost 40 miles of shoreline) and its history as the Circus Capital of the World. Find out why our Forbes Travel Guide editors think Sarasota should be your next travel destination.

The Beach Club – Ritz-Carlton Lido Key

Where to Stay

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota debuted with a fresh new look in December 2015, making it the hot place to stay in town. Taking inspiration from the Gulf, the rooms have a modern beach vibe that avoids cliché and veers chic. Soft blues and purples come from Sarasota sunsets, sea green from the water outside and gray textured walls lend a contemporary touch. Bathrooms blend white marble and gray walls.

The seashore accents are subtle: The carpet bears a nautilus shell pattern, the bedside lamps have a golden shell base and local artists and Ringling School of the Arts students create the framed pieces.

Upgrade to a room on the eighth-floor Club Level to receive two daily garment pressings and access to the Club Lounge, which offers food and drinks throughout the day. Sip a sparkling rosé, nibble on a mini crab roll and admire the great views of Sarasota Bay.

Where to Play

One of the best amenities at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is its private Beach Club on Lido Key three miles away (the complimentary shuttle will bring you back and forth). While popular Siesta Key impresses with its flour-like sand, the beach here is more quiet and exclusive.

If the clear ocean doesn’t call to you, try the heated pool overlooking the Gulf. Or snap up a cabana to gaze at the waves from a hammock. Just make sure you have a potent mai tai from the onsite Lido Key Tiki Bar in hand when you’re watching the sun set and a drummer welcomes the evening in a daily ritual.

For active pursuits, borrow free equipment back at the hotel to do kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Or remain at the beach and make use of the gratis snorkels, masks and fins.

Duffers should head about 16 miles from the luxury hotel to the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed Golf Club. Spread across 315 acres, the scenic course is a certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary with more than 100 plant species, 12 lakes (check out the lily pond at hole No. 17) and a setting for bald eagles, snakes, alligators, boar, bobcats and even a panther. It has one of the best driving ranges in the area, so don’t be surprised if you spy a pro practicing there. And if you have your own PGA dreams, enlist the help of genial instructor Randy Kok.

What to See

Beyond the beach, Sarasota’s biggest attraction is the sprawling Ringling campus. The city’s big top legacy started in 1927, when circus mogul John Ringling relocated Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s winter headquarters there from Connecticut.

Learn more at the Ringling Circus Museum, where you can see everything from aerialist Dolly Jacobs’ glittering dress with rhinestones, sequins and feathers; to vintage circus posters; to ornate circus wagons.

Marvel at a meticulous 44,000-piece miniature replica of the Ringling circus as it would have looked during the 1920s and 1930s and what it took to bring the show to each town (the 26,000-yard big top alone took four hours to raise). In 1926, a typical Ringling show would spotlight more than 800 performers in 22 displays.

Elsewhere on the campus, you’ll find the waterfront home of John and Mable Ringling. The 56-room 1925 mansion called Cà d’Zan showcases a distinctive Venetian Gothic design. Step inside to see rooms like the Court — an atrium space with a checkerboard floor, velvet sofas and a crystal chandelier from the former Waldorf Astoria — where the Ringling’s entertained guests.

Ringling is also home to an art museum with 21 galleries’ worth of work from old masters and contemporary artists. It just opened a new Center for Asian Art in May 2016. The 25,000-square-foot addition sticks out from the perfectly pink surrounding buildings with its mosaic of more than 2,700 green-glazed terra cotta tiles that were designed to look like jade. Inside, discover works like the Phoenix Door Panels (Ramma) from Japan’s Edo period. The Ringling’s originally purchased the pair of carved wood painted panels for their home.

You could spend days covering the 66-acre Ringling campus, but take time to walk the grounds. In particular, swing by Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden, the oldest continuously operating rose garden in the state, and the Museum of Art courtyard, with replicas of ancient Greek, Roman and Baroque statues on a pristine manicured lawn and lining the top of the buildings.

Explore more of Sarasota’s natural beauty at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. It’s the only botanical garden in the world focused on epiphytes, non-parasitic plants that grow on other plants, like orchids and bromeliads. Traverse the nearly 15-acre grounds and you’ll encounter a banyan grove, a Children’s Rainforest Garden with a waterfall and swinging bridges, rare putrid-smelling corpse plants and a koi pond.

Don’t miss a trip between February and July 2017, when “Marc Chagall, Flowers, and the French Riviera: The Color of Dreams” will take over Selby. Chagall’s famous flowery paintings, archival nature photos from his estate and other objects from his life will be woven into the garden setting for a unique first-time curation.

The prized piece of the exhibit will be The Lovers, a 1937 oil painting on loan from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Quotes from Chagall, like “Great art picks up where nature ends,” will be highlighted in the garden as well. The exhibit marks Selby’s move to become a living museum; it plans to feature a new artist every February.

Where to Shop

Shoppers will want to stroll the coconut-palm-lined sidewalks of St. Armands Circle, a quick shuttle ride from the hotel. Peruse more than 130 upscale shops (McCarver & Moser fine jewelry), restaurants (open-air Shore Diner) and gourmet specialty stores (Big Olaf Creamery’s handmade Amish ice cream). In the center of the shopping quadrants you’ll find Circle Park with Italian statues from John Ringling’s personal collection.

Another nice walking area is Burns Court Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the area south of downtown Sarasota is made up of 15 stucco bungalows in vibrant hues like cornflower blue and fuchsia. They house everything from art galleries to residences.

Pop into the Pepto-Bismol-pink Burns Court Cinema building to catch an independent movie before heading to the next-door Owen’s Fish Camp for seafood. Keep an eye out for art, from painted bikes (a pink two-wheeler with a plastic flamingo perched on the handlebars and a sky-blue bike with a matching fish on top) to wall murals (Anat Ronen’s work shows hands grasping a Leica camera, Pixel Pancho’s skull-faced Mickey Mouse rides a mechanical flamingo).

Jack Dusty's Ritz-Carlton - Downtown Sarasota

Jack Dusty’s Ritz-Carlton – Downtown Sarasota

Where to Eat

In this beach town where the dress code is resort casual, dining options are just as easy. Downtown, go to Nancy’s Bar-B-Q for a hearty Southern meal. Pitmaster Nancy Krohngold, whom you will recognize with her trademark pearls, tortoise shell glasses and thick hoop earrings, turns out tender 12-hour brisket and popular pulled pork. Pile on the unusual barbecue sides — a light sesame slaw adds crunch and edamame elevates the sweet succotash.

The aforementioned Beach Club Grill is a solid lunch or dinner option — don’t miss the creamy citrus-burrata salad with Thai basil, Marcona almonds and a vanilla vinaigrette. It gets a kick of sweetness from honey that’s made on the hotel’s golf course.

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota’s Jack Dusty restaurant is a pioneer in the Ritz-Carlton chain. It bucks the more formal fine-dining model of the hotel dining experience for one that is casual and upbeat. While the white tablecloths may be gone, the food remains focused and well executed.

Start with mussels doused in a sage-pesto broth and the compressed tomato and watermelon salad with basil, chili flakes, fennel pollen and Meyer lemon oil. For seafood, order the whole fried local snapper or the grilled lobster with drawn butter. And if you prefer meat, try the short rib BLT with cheddar grits, fried green tomato caponata and wilted lettuce.

Save room for sweets; it would be a shame to forgo executive pastry chef Lyndsy McDonald’s decadent desserts. The most comforting — and Instagram-worthy — is the coffee milkshake served in a mason jar with big doughnuts threaded through the red striped straw.

Siesta Key Ranked in New Top 10 Beaches List

Siesta Key Ranks No 2 in the 2016 Top Beaches in the US



Dr. Stephen Leatherman– (Dr Beach)–has come out with his 2016 list of America’s Best Beaches, and Siesta Key Beach is No. 2.

“With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over,” Leatherman writes on his site. “Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters ideal for swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the south. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”

“We’re really thrilled,” says Lynn Hobeck Bates, communications manager for Visit Sarasota County. “It’s not often that a former No. 1 beach makes it back on the list, so when we saw it this morning we were surprised and excited for the exposure. I think that the new renovations, which have made the beach even better, have to come to Dr. Beach’s attention.”

“I never dreamed we’d be back on the list, so I am just thrilled for the recognition,” said Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, the county’s tourism promoting agency.

Leatherman is an internationally known coastal scientist who has published 20 books and hundreds of scientific articles and reports about storm impacts, coastal erosion and ways to improve beach health and safety.

Lately, he’s putting more emphasis on environmental management and beach safety.

This year’s No. 1 beach is Maui’s Kapula Bay Beach, but two other Florida beaches also made their way into the top 10: Grayton Beach State Park in the Panhandle, and Caladesi Island State Park Dunedin/Clearwater.

Dr. Beach’s Top 10 beaches of 2016
1. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve; Oahu, Hawaii
2. Siesta Beach
3. Kapalua Bay Beach; Maui, Hawaii
4. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach; Outer Banks of North Carolina
5. Coast Guard Beach; Cape Cod, Massachusetts
6. Grayton Beach State Park; Florida Panhandle
7. Coronado Beach; San Diego, California
8. Coopers Beach; Southampton, New York
9. Caladesi Island State Park; Clearwater
10. Beachwalker Park; Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Sarasota Magazine, Orlando Sentinel May 26. 2016