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

America’s Best Places to Live – Sarasota Florida

Sarasota, Florida

#34 in Best Places to Live | Overall Score 6.7 / 10

#3 in Best Places to Retire | Overall Score 7.4 / 10

What’s it like to live in Sarasota, FL?

Warm temperatures year-round, award-winning beaches and a thriving arts and cultural scene have made Sarasota a go-to place for retirees and families, not to mention a handful of celebrities. This southwest Florida region, which is about an hour from Tampa and two hours from Orlando, continues to attract new residents with great restaurants and plenty of shopping options.

Living in Sarasota has elements of what many consider paradise, mixed with some hints of reality. As the population grows, the area struggles to keep up with infrastructure needs. Traffic congestion is becoming more common. Those who live, work or visit downtown Sarasota will see their share of construction cranes as the region copes with an influx of residents and a record-breaking number of tourists.

However, as the Sarasota community flourishes, so does its economy. Sarasota offers a sizable job market for those working in health care, small business and tourism.


U.S. News analyzed 125 metro areas in the United States to find the best places to live based on quality of life and the job market in each metro area, as well as the value of living there and people’s desire to live there.

Best places to live


What’s the cost of living in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota is relatively affordable compared to larger Florida regions like Miami, though young families are finding it increasingly harder to buy a home at a reasonable cost. The continuing influx of wealthy residents has affected the cost of housing, as there has been more of a focus on upscale living.

Housing Costs this Year



What’s the weather like in Sarasota, FL?

Although heat and humidity are a regular part of life in South Florida, that doesn’t stop many people from enjoying the area’s outdoor activities, such as golfing, boating and fishing. Still, residents know to keep their umbrellas handy for the fierce rain storms that usually pass through from April to October.

Seasonal Temperature (Avgs)









What’s the best way to get around Sarasota, FL?

The majority of people in Sarasota get around by car, and traffic is becoming more of an issue as new residents and visitors come to town. Year-round residents will tell you it can take almost twice as long to get places during the winter tourist season.

The region has a bus system, the Sarasota County Area Transit, or SCAT, which is seeing an increasing number of users. The bus system is fairly extensive, but heavy traffic can cause schedule delays. Sarasota has some neighborhoods that are particularly pedestrian-friendly, such as downtown, the Rosemary district, St. Armand’s Circle and Southside Village.

The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport connects residents to destinations in the U.S. and abroad. Residents also have access to intercity bus service provided by Greyhound.

Who lives in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota has a significant number of residents over the age of 65 and that population is predicted to increase; as you make your way around town, a silver boom is pretty evident. A retiree in Sarasota likely has a busier social calendar than someone half his or her age, as the area caters to its older residents by offering lots of activities, such as shopping and golf. This is especially true during the “in season” from October to April when snowbirds from colder climates come to enjoy Florida’s more temperate weather.

That said, families also feel at home in Sarasota, and there are plenty of good schools, clean parks and local attractions for them to enjoy.

Young single people won’t have the diversity or nightlife available as they would in a metro area like Miami. This could be advantageous for someone who likes things a little more low-key, and there still are millennials who take over Sarasota’s nighttime scene at local bars, clubs, restaurants and craft breweries.

What is there to do in Sarasota, FL?

Sarasota is a great place for those who enjoy the outdoors. There are a number of parks in downtown Sarasota, not to mention the massive Myakka River State Park. Golf courses also abound. And then, of course, there are the beaches. Siesta Beach has earned acclaim for its white sand and clear water. Lido Beach, just south of St. Armands Circle, is another wide stretch of shoreline that’s easy to access. If those get crowded (as they often do), beachgoers opt for Longboat Beach, Venice Beach, Bradenton Beach or the beaches of Anna Maria Island, all of which are a short drive from Sarasota.

Meanwhile, locals take advantage of the booming restaurant scene around town, which serves up everything from fresh seafood to farm-to-table specialties. There are also a handful of farmers markets open in the fall, winter and spring, with the Sarasota Farmers Market open all year.

What kind of jobs are there in Sarasota, FL?

Major industries in Sarasota include education, trade, transportation and, of course, tourism. Unemployment rates in the leisure and hospitality sector are several percentage points lower than the region’s overall rate (which is still slightly lower than the national average). Health care is also a prominent sector, with facilities like the Venice Regional Bayfront Health, the Englewood Community Hospital and the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota employing a large number of residents. There is also an enthusiastic small business community.

Because of a high volume of low-paying jobs in the service industry, the average annual income in Sarasota is lower than the national average.

U.S. News & World Report October 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.

Circus Sarasota Helps Smithsonian Folklife Festival Mark 50th Year

circus sarasotaWashington is often referred to disparagingly as a circus, but for at least a couple of weeks this summer, it actually will be true. Circus Sarasota is setting up its big top on the National Mall where the 50th Smithsonian Folklife Festival celebrates the world of circus in all its forms.

There will be daily performances by professional and amateur performers of all ages, exhibits highlighting how productions are mounted and the history and tradition of multi-generations of circus families — and a chance for visitors to meet performers and see troupes from across the country.


2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Wednesday, June 28th through July 9 (with a day off on July 5) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Circus Sarasota and the Sailor Circus will be among dozens of professional and youth circuses performing.

If the weather cooperates, organizers say this year’s festival could attract more than 1 million visitors.

The celebration begins just weeks after the closing of the venerable Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and makes the case that the circus is alive and well in all corners of the United States.

“The circus is about celebration, about the big moments of joy and delight, and that fits what we hope will happen in our 50th Celebration of the Folklife festival,” said Sabrina Motley, director of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Preston Scott, a part-time Sarasota resident who is curator for this year’s event, said it takes three to four years to pull together each festival, a tradition that began in 1967 with a focus on performance. Since then, the festival, which celebrates folk culture and varies thematically from ever year, has highlighted various states, countries, cultures, foods and professions.

The event takes over a long stretch of the National Mall outside the Smithsonian Castle, alongside the Arts and Industries Building and the Hirschorn Museum.

Dominating this year’s landscape will be the large Circus Sarasota tent that has welcomed thousands of visitors to winter performances on its home turf in Florida for the last 20 years. Pedro Reis, who founded what is now known as the Circus Arts Conservatory with his aerialist wife, Dolly Jacobs, is actively involved in planning for this year’s event and coordinating performances in the tent.

“When people come out of the Metro station, they will immediately see our big top,” Reis said.

The tent will host four performances each day, including daytime shows by the Sarasota Sailor Circus, the oldest youth circus in the country, and other youth and professional troupes. At night, Circus Sarasota will perform with an international array of talent during the first few days of the festival, and then will reprise this year’s Cirque des Voix show, which matches circus performers with an orchestra and the large vocal ensemble Key Chorale, conducted by Joseph Caulkins.

Jacobs, who received a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Award — considered the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts — will be featured in all the Circus Sarasota-produced performances.

The tent also will be used for performances by other professional and youth circuses from around the country, including Circus Juventas, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, which was founded by Dan and Betty Butler, who met while performing in the Sarasota Sailor Circus.

Circus Sarasota clowns Karen Bell and Robin Eurich will set up a variation of their Marvelous, Miraculous Circus Machine, which uses circus arts to teach students about science.

Celebrating people

Scott said he initially had the idea of doing something about the “life and work of circus people, the grassroots creativity of these folks — not on a big show, the big companies — but from the grassroots, the people who make it all work,” he said. “Many of them are legacy families whose ancestors, grandfathers or great grandparents came from foreign countries. But they live here now.”

The Smithsonian had never done any kind of serious exploration of the circus before. “The question was, is there enough going on around the country to support and sustain a national program? The theory is that circus is on the way out the door.”

Despite the closing of the Greatest Show on Earth, that turned out not to be the case.

“We found some kind of programming in all 50 states,” Scott said, everything from Circus Smirkus in Vermont to the Circus Center in San Francisco.

“We’re discovering all these stories that were diverse and really interesting and with people who had one foot in both worlds. We always look for diversity, different ways of telling a story, showing different sides of the prism. We want to give people different points of view about a topic. This one has it in spades.”

A few years ago, there were only a handful of youth circuses across the country; now there are more than 250. A salute to youth circus will be held on the festival’s final day to give all the young performers “their moment in the big top. That’s our way of concluding the festival with a launch to the future,” Scott said.

The Circus Arts Conservatory is bringing dozens of performers and backstage workers and many supporters, who will be among the more than 400 participants in the festival. “That means an artist or a rigger or a person with a circus heritage,” Scott said. By comparison, when he curated the 2008 festival focusing on Bhutan, there were 150 participants.

A giant display

Exhibits and tents will stretch five blocks along the Mall, running the length of two football fields, with the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol building in the distance on either end.

“Most everything happens outdoors. That was the intention when the festival started in 1967 — to use the Mall as a museum without walls, a living, breathing museum,” Scott said.

There will be indoor displays of aerial arts, where visitors can watch rehearsals and a circus school space will be set up inside the Arts and Industries Building.

“Kids will go crazy when they see the rigging,” Scott said.

There are 17 venues, including open-air aerial performances. Tino Wallenda and other family members are bringing a high wire and trapeze apparatus to perform in an outdoor circus ring that will be shared by different troupes. Wallenda also will set up a low-wire for demonstrations and master workshops for student performers.

There will be clown alley, juggling demonstrations, giant puppets, multi-purpose stages and a cookhouse for people “to learn about the history of food and circus culture and some amazing circus cooks. Most people don’t think about food at the circus except cotton candy. But we look at how do you feed all the performers. Where do the recipes come from?” Scott said.

A new view of circus

Deborah Walk — assistant director of legacy and circus at The Ringling, one of the festival presenters along with the Circus Arts Conservatory — said this year’s theme “was one of those breaking points where you could see the circus moving from something off to the side to gaining some of the respect that I think it deserves, not only as a profession, but also its cultural influence for this country. To me, it was something that I just felt The Ringling had to participate in.”

Walk will attend the festival, which begins with opening ceremonies June 28 and continues (with a day off July 5) through July 9. There also will be panel discussions on the past and future of the circus in the festival’s final days.

Dan Butler, who walked the high wire with his future wife at Sailor Circus, first started thinking about forming a youth circus program after attending a 1994 Sailor Circus reunion and performing his old hand-balancing and juggling acts in what’s affectionately known as the “Has-Been Show.”

The event transformed the Butlers’ lives. The director of a new recreation center two blocks from their home liked the idea of a youth circus program, and now Circus Juventas is in its 23rd year and has become the largest youth circus in the country with 1,000 full-time students and 40 employees. It will present its annual Cirque Nouveau show in Washington.

He said being asked to take part in the Smithsonian festival “was our greatest honor.”

Butler said there has been a renaissance in world circus with such groups as Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Ingenieux, Cirque Eloize and the Bindlestiff Family Circus, which have fueled an increasing popularity in youth circus programs.

“The traditions of the circus are really alive. For me, it’s a real tragedy that one of the oldest businesses in America — a 136-year-old company like Ringling Bros. — didn’t make it. It’s sad for traditionalists. But the youth circus growth has been explosive because it works. There’s something for everybody, every personality, body type.”

Reis said the festival represents a major change in attitudes toward the circus.

“When we first applied to the NEA for a grant, there was no circus arts category. Today there is. Dolly was the first circus artist ever to be recognized. When I first came to America in 1984, there were maybe three circus schools. Now I think there are 275 schools.

“The Ringling Bros. days may be over, but the circus industry is very much a breathing, living and growing art form. This festival will let people see it as I see it.”

Herald-Tribune June 24, 2017

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

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.