Sarasota: The Arts and the Beaches
By Robert Painter
It caught my attention immediately as I drove along the
bayfront. This much larger than life statue greeted me on my most recent visit
to the lovely Gulf Coast city of Sarasota, Florida. I thought it was a
wonderful attraction for the local waterfront. Obviously a lot of tourists and
locals were enjoying it. When I pulled off the Tamiami Trail and into a
nearby parking area I saw at least a half dozen couples having their
taken in front of it. Most of the couples were trying to recapture the
essence of this monumental work of art by striking a similar pose for their own
I was surprised to learn later in my visit that this
“monstrosity” was the object of much criticism and debate about whether it was
really “art” and thereby fitting for an “arts city” like Sarasota.
To me it was fun and a wonderful remembrance of that old
Life Magazine cover of so many years ago.
you’ve never been to the Sarasota area you may not notice the dramatic changes
that have occurred in the past few years. A period of rapid growth and
escalating property values have taken over. But, as a tourist your primary
concerns are rightfully centered around the beautiful powdery white quartz
crystal beaches, fine restaurants, convenient hotels and motels, and access to
the arts and culture of the locale.
There is a fairly new Ritz Carlton here, but maybe it’s a
bit more than you want to spend on this visit. I wanted a place close to the
water, moderately priced and with good access to the downtown arts scene and not
too far from the Ringling Museum - a must see for any visitor to Sarasota.
My choice on this visit was the Hibiscus Suites Inn,
located just off the Tamiami Trail on Stickney Point Rd. This non-smoking inn
is just a few minutes away from the Siesta Key beaches and has easy access to
Hwy. 41 which leads north to the Ringling Museum of Art with its splendid
collection of 17th century Baroque art as well as Ca d’Zan the 32 room
Venetian-Gothic home of John and Mable Ringling located on Sarasota Bay and, of
course, the Circus Museum.
For more art plan on taking an evening stroll on Palm
Avenue. If you’re there during an art walk evening, the galleries and shops
will all be open, some will feature live entertainment and many will even offer
not an “art” lover? Don’t worry - there’s plenty more in store for you
here. Check out Mote Marine Laboratory’s famous Mote Aquarium. The 135,000
gallon shark exhibit will probably get your attention! Or you may want the
experience of petting a Manta Ray of holding a sea star in your hands.
This is the perfect opportunity to view sea turtles, manatees (when you see them
you’ll wonder how anyone could have mistaken them for mermaids - but that’s the
legend) and even a preserved giant squid.
For the kids and the young at heart be sure to visit G WIZ,
the hands-on science museum. Play with light and sound waves, check out your
own physical capabilities, design a robot, see snakes, bees, fish, etc. and find
the KidsZone for explorers 6 years and younger.
Chances are you’re going to visit Sarasota for the beaches.
And rightly so. Miles of 99% pure quartz crystal sand to walk on. Recently
named to Dr. Beach’s “Top 10 Beaches in America” Sarasota’s Siesta Key was
judged by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as having the worldwide title
of finest, whitest sands in the world. You’ll also find volleyball courts on
the sand and adjacent tennis courts that always have a crowd in the mornings.
Bring your racquets and meet some of the locals - they’ll work you into the
If you’re a shopper you won’t want to miss St. Armands
Circle with about 140 upscale shops, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants.
There are outlet stores in nearby Ellenton, Flea Markets in Bradenton and Venice
and lots more shopping centers in Sarasota where you’ll find Saks Fifth Avenue,
Burdines, Ann Taylor, and more. And don’t miss the Woman’s Exchange downtown
for a chance to find a one-of-a-kind item that you won’t find anywhere else.
It’s a consignment shop that offers grants and scholarships and the items for
sale can be really high end and really great bargains.
If you’re a baseball fan you may get a chance to catch a
Cincinnati Reds spring training game. If lawn bowling is more your speed there
is an excellent facility just north of downtown on the Tamiami Trail. And
visitors are welcome.
If all this activity is making you hungry then I have just
the place for you. For a different experience you’ll want to visit one of the
Amish restaurants in Pinecraft, an Amish settlement in the heart of Sarasota.
Try Yoder’s on Bahia Vista or maybe Sugar & Spice on Cattlemen Road. Be
prepared to wait. I don’t think they take reservations and during the season
they can be crowded, but there’s a reason for that. When you taste the savory
home-cooking you’ll probably find yourself waiting again on another night. One
of my favorites is the old fashioned and delicious meat loaf. And I wouldn’t
think of leaving without dessert. The pies make it worth the trip.
Of course, if you go to the Opera or attend the symphony
you may want to dine at a little more upscale restaurant. I can’t think of a
better place than the Bijou Café’, right down town. With a Wine Spectator
“Award of Excellence” every year and a Zagat Survey giving them the highest food
score in Sarasota you can’t go wrong here.
And there are lots more, too many to list. Ask the
locals. They’ll tell you where to find seafood, steaks, pizza or pasta. O.K.,
I will mention one more place. If you’re walking around the many shops and
boutiques on main street, directly across from the Santa Fe Trails Gallery is a
little pizza shop named Patellinis (sure hope I spelled that correctly.) Sounds
Italian doesn’t it. But, as I understand it, it’s just the Italianized version
of the Indian name Patel. Don’t let that fool you though, their thin crust
pizza is some of the best, most flavorful pizza I have eaten anywhere. Best of
all, you can buy it by the slice and have a quick snack anytime!
I have only one caution for visiting Sarasota. I wouldn’t
want you walking on the outstanding Siesta Key beaches with your eyes watering
and all the while coughing or choking with every breath. Be sure that your
travel plans have a contingency of some sort for a Red Tide invasion. Check the
NOAA website listed at the end of this story or call ahead to your hotel to
confirm that there is not a current algae bloom causing a red tide problem that
may result in a fish kill or air pollution situation that will make your beach
time very uncomfortable at best.
the southwest gulf shore is a wonderful place to be any time of the year.
Just don’t visit during a red tide outbreak!
But, to leave you on a happier note I just want to mention
that Sarasota is also a perfect place to arrange a charter for offshore fishing
trips. You can go after Wahoo, Tuna, Cobia, Amber Jack and Marlin. Plus, my
favorites, at least for eating, Grouper and Red Snapper. And, to save money,
visit in the summer time when it’s warm and muggy. You’ll enjoy the crystal
clear water just that much more and, if you get out on the water (take a day
cruise on Sarasota Bay,) it can be quite comfortable. An added bonus - fewer
visitors and shorter lines. Maybe I’ll see you there!
When You Go:
www.SarasotaFl.org. The Visitors’s Bureau.
http://www.hibiscussuites.com. Hibiscus Suites Inn
www.mote.org. Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium
http://www.csc.noaa.gov/crs/habf. Red Tide info
http://www.ringling.org. Ringling Museum of Art
www.bijoucafe.net. Bijou Café
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