I LOVE to travel. I can only stay put for a few months before I get the urge to head out for another one of the distant, exotic places that I haven’t yet checked off my list. Unfortunately, I can’t travel all the time. Once in a while I have to stick around and make some money to pay for all this travel about which I am so passionate. When I find myself grounded for a while – like now – I have to find a way to scratch that travel itch or I go crazy. That’s when I start looking around in my own back yard.
I am ashamed to admit that, despite the fact that I was born and raised in Chicago, I never visited Lincoln Park Zoo, attended a concert at the downtown band shell, went to the top of the Sears Tower, toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, visited the Old Water Tower, or watched the futures trading at the Chicago Board of Trade. It’s a mistake I don’t intend to repeat, now that I’ve relocated to Sarasota.
Being the beach baby that I am, I have already checked out all of Sarasota’s Gulf Coast beaches. Lido Beach on St. Armand’s Circle, with its wide expanse of sugar-fine white sand and turquoise waters, is a particular favorite of mine, followed by the white coral sand beaches of Siesta Key.
But the real action happens in and around the downtown. Main Street has long been the setting for art festivals, restaurants, retail shops, and the ever-popular Saturday morning Farmers Market.
Just off Main, Palm Avenue is home to numerous fine art galleries, while antique and retro collectible shops are found along Pineapple Avenue. On the western edge of downtown, more than two dozen sculptures line Sarasota’s Bayfront Park for five months each year during the Season of Sculpture, one of the more popular events in Sarasota.
Forming the southern edge of downtown is Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, where orchids and colorful Bromeliads mingle with towering groves of bamboo.
Sarasota may hold the record for being the nation’s smallest city with the largest number of cultural venues, including the Sarasota Opera, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, the historic Asolo Theater, the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the Florida West Coast Symphony, the Sarasota Ballet, and the Sarasota Pops Orchestra. Theater lovers find no end of choices, including the Asolo Repertory Theater, the Banyan Theater Company, the Florida Studio Theatre, the Players Theatre, and the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre.
Popular music fans have a plethora of choices, from live performances and cocktails on the gorgeous terrace of Ca d’Zan mansion every third Thursday to Friday Fests throughout the summer at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and live jazz under the banyans at Selby Gardens. Festivals celebrating all things musical include La Musica, an annual chamber music festival scheduled for April; Sarasota Music Festival in June; the March Sarasota Jazz Festival, featuring scat-and-jam masters; and the annual Blues Fest in November.
In fact, there are dozens of festivals in Sarasota, including the 4th of July Offshore Race Festival, the Florida Winefest and Auction, Sarasota Arts Day, the Halloween Festival, and the 10-day long annual Sarasota Film Festival, featuring the best films of every genre from around the world.
Within minutes of downtown are attractions such as the Mote Aquarium; Sarasota Jungle Gardens; The Towles Court Arts District, an artists’ colony of 1920s bungalows-turned-studios; G-WIZ, the hands-on science museum; and the adorable, artsy Burns Square neighborhood, with it’s historic cinema. And since Sarasota is the historic wintering grounds for the Ringling Bros./Barnum and Bailey Circus, no visit is complete without a stop at the Circus Museum, where the exploits of Emmett Kelly and the Flying Wallendas are preserved for posterity.
A bit further out of downtown is Powel Crosley Museum, the restored 1929 palatial estate of the wireless radio pioneer; the Jungle Walk at Historic Spanish Point; the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary,a non-profit safe haven for big cats, bears, and other animals in need; and the Bishop Planetarium in Bradenton.
I’m exhausted just reading this. I haven’t even begun to see everything that my new home has to offer, much less the hundreds of places within an hour’s drive of Sarasota, like the quaint little town of Venice to the south, the famous Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, the fleet bringing in the sponge catch in Tarpon Springs to the north……but don’t get me started or we’ll be here all day.