When circus magnate John Ringling made Sarasota his winter home, he brought his famous “Greatest Show on Earth” with him. Investing in property and the cultural advancement of the city, he's largely responsible for Sarasota’s reputation today as Florida’s Cultural Coast and the self-proclaimed Circus Capital of the World. With an impressive mix of arts and cultural attractions, a reigning circus presence and 40 miles of coastline, the city of Sarasota and its string of eight islands offer an endless array of sites and activities for relaxation and entertainment. Whether you’re in need of a tranquil beach vacation or are looking for adventures in the sunshine, Sarasota will keep you occupied, amused and satisfied. Luxurious accommodations, pristine white-sand beaches, upscale dining destinations and world-class cultural institutions converge in this sleepy seaside town, which packs unexpected surprises at every turn.
The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota
The Ritz-Carlton brand is synonymous with luxury, and the ladies and gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota continuously exceed the gold standard for the five-star service the hotel chain is known for. Billed as a resort where “city sophistication meets coastal luxury,” the bayfront hotel offers the best of both worlds to travelers. Within walking distance of downtown Sarasota but boasting an exceptional beach club exclusively for guests, the hotel makes it easy to settle into vacation mode, regardless of your travel style. Club-level rooms are a worthwhile upgrade and include a personal concierge and access to the eighth-floor Club Lounge, which offers five complimentary food presentations daily (breakfast, lunch, hors d’œuvres, dinner and desserts) as well as a full bar. 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, ritzcarlton.com/sarasota.
The Westin Sarasota
Bayfront views, downtown convenience and top-notch accommodations are just a couple of the reasons to consider booking a stay at The Westin Sarasota. Located just steps from the city’s center and a short drive from the main attractions, the hotel is a convenient hub for any visit. Rooms are well appointed with modern furnishings and panoramic city and bay views. The on-site spa offers a full menu of wellness treatments, and the rooftop bar and pool are well worth a visit any time of day. 100 Marina View Drive, Sarasota, westinsarasota.com.
Michael’s On East
Sarasota’s only AAA Four Diamond Restaurant, Michael’s On East has been wowing locals and tourists alike with exceptional service and cuisine for more than 30 years. Inspired by a 1940s supper club, the restaurant offers a swanky spot for predinner drinks and entertainment, a decadent date night or a festive nightcap. Expect exquisite preparations of seafood and steak and countless dishes in between paired with a level of sophisticated service worthy of the decades of accolades the restaurant has earned. 1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota, bestfood.com.
The waterfront views are the perfect complement to the coastal cuisine served up at Jack Dusty, the Ritz-Carlton’s in-house restaurant. The name comes from the early 19th-century Royal Navy, when the ship’s steward, often covered in dust from issuing flour and biscuits to soldiers, was nicknamed Jack Dusty. As an homage to the name’s origins, the restaurant offers a warm brown bread baked in a tin can and served with rum butter at the start of every meal. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Jack Dusty’s mix of fluffy omelets and Benedicts, hearty salads and sandwiches, fresh seafood and raw bar, and entrées from land and sea will satisfy your hunger morning, noon and night. 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota, ritzcarlton.com/sarasota.
Seafood takes center stage in Selva’s Latin fusion cuisine with the star of the show popping up in everything from nine varieties of ceviche (a Selva specialty) to tostadas and spring rolls. The downtown restaurant offers a lively atmosphere with fine-dining service and presentation. Start with a signature mojito or grapefruit-basil martini and the Triologia, a sampling of three varieties of ceviche — trust me, you won’t be able to narrow down your selection to just one — before moving on to artfully prepared and presented entrées like the mirin-roasted sea bass served with corn custard flan. The restaurant also offers a roster of land-based proteins like steak, rack of lamb, duck breast and short ribs for the seafood averse. 1345 Main St., Sarasota, selvagrill.com.
Crab & Fin
Situated on the charming and bustling St. Armands Circle, Crab & Fin has been serving Sarasota the finest in fresh seafood since 1978. Sourcing locally and globally, the restaurant receives seafood daily, cuts from the whole fish in-house and prepares everything from scratch. From a Mediterranean bronzini to Caribbean yellowfin tuna to Key West yellowtail snapper, the seafood selection is diverse and extensive, with unique specials offered daily. 420 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, crabfinrestaurant.com.
Lido Key Tiki Bar
Sip your cares away at this open-air, beachfront bar where the tropical drinks are as refreshing as the sea breeze. Located on the beach at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Club, the Lido Key Tiki Bar shakes, stirs and blends a bounty of signature cocktails and frozen specialty drinks alongside an ample menu of beer and wine. Enjoy stunning ocean views from a stool at the bar or sip your drink while dipping your toes in the surf thanks to the attentive staff, who will serve the full menu right to your beach chair. A selection of snacks, salads and sandwiches — don’t miss the blackened mahi-mahi tacos with charred pineapple — make for a great lunch or dinner for those not interested in leaving the beach. 700 Benjamin Franklin Drive, Sarasota, lidobeachresort.com/dining/poolside-tiki-bar.
Buddy Brew Coffee
Get your morning java buzz at Buddy Brew Coffee, a charming downtown outpost of the Tampa-based coffee roaster. The quaint cafe offers counter service only, but there’s ample seating outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. In addition to coffee, espresso, tea and juices, Buddy Brew offers a small selection of homemade sandwiches for breakfast and lunch and a delectable spread of pastries. 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, sarasota.buddybrew.com.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Formerly the private estate of circus entrepreneur and one of America’s wealthiest men, John Ringling, and his wife, Mable, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art consists of 66 acres of lush gardens, a 21-gallery art museum, a circus museum and Historic Asolo Theatre, and the Ca' d’Zan, the private residence of the couple. You can easily spend an entire day at The Ringling and still miss some of the magic and wonder the attraction holds. The hands-on circus museum allows you to walk a tightrope or squeeze into a clown car, in addition to admiring the costumes, props and posters of the Greatest Show on Earth. Not to be missed is the handcrafted 44,000-piece circus model that is a replica of the 1920s spectacle. The art museum, originally opened in 1930 by John Ringling, features his personal collection of European art, bequeathed to the state of Florida upon his death. And the pièce de résistance of the spectacular property is the waterfront Ca' d’Zan, a 36,000-square-foot, Venetian Gothic-inspired mansion built by John and Mable for a whopping $1.5 million in 1924. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, ringling.org.
Ritz-Carlton Beach Club
You can leave all of your cares at the entrance to the Ritz-Carlton Beach Club, because once you’re inside, you won’t have to worry about a thing. Fully stocked with towels, sunscreen, aloe, ice-cold water bottles, beach chairs, umbrellas and sand toys for the tykes, the full-service club takes care of everything so you don’t have to. Sunbathe by the pool or nab a beachfront spot at the ocean’s end while enjoying the Ritz-Carlton’s famed hospitality. Poolside and beachside drink and food service is offered all day, so you’ll never have to leave this peaceful paradise.1234 Benjamin Franklin Drive, Sarasota, ritzcarlton.com/sarasota.
Florida Studio Theatre
Part of John Ringling’s investment in and vision for the community of Sarasota was that the city would become a cultural hub in the state of Florida, and today, thanks to the density of theaters, galleries and performances, the beachside town has earned its nickname of Florida’s Cultural Coast. At the heart of this booming theater and arts district is Florida Studio Theatre. Located in the center of downtown, this contemporary theater boasts five stages and hosts a variety of shows ranging from improv to musical tributes to modern plays. The roster changes frequently, but the charming theater and the world-class entertainment it attracts is worth a visit. 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota, floridastudiotheatre.org.
St. Armands Circle
If you’re in need of a little retail therapy on your vacation, St. Armands Circle is the place to be. Established by Sarasota’s most famous resident, John Ringling, the luxury shopping and dining destination is also filled with Italian statues from his personal collection. An eclectic mix of upscale national brands, local boutiques and diverse dining options, St. Armands will keep visitors of all ages entertained all day. St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, starmandscircleassoc.com.
Photographs courtesy of Visit Sarasota County