As if proving the point that sometimes the most cultural destinations are right under your nose, Sarasota surprised me. I had been here once before but my time mainly consisted of hitting the beach and working on my non-existant tan. Yet, this time around I saw a whole different side of Sarasota: One bursting with color.
A big goal of mine for 2013 is to do a bit less international travel and instead focus on destinations in my own country that have cultural availability at one’s fingertips. So far, so good. Here are 7 reasons why you should visit Sarasota.
1) The Boho Beaches
Even if you don’t know much about Sarasota, Siesta Key continues to rank as one of the best beaches in the world. In fact, it won the top spot for beaches in the US in 2011. A huge reason why Siesta Key wins so many awards is because of its fine white sand that extends for miles. Even when the sun is beating down on the beach, the sand feels cool on your feet. I’m sure this place is buzzing with people during the summer months but in January it’s essentially deserted, which is a good thing in my book. The water was too cold to swim in but I walked along the beach, took some photos and watched two kids build a rather impressive sand castle.
2) The Vibrant Flowers
Wherever I travel I find myself gravitating toward nature. Maybe it’s because living in New York has deprived me of these simple pleasures or maybe it’s just because trees and flowers make me feel like a kid again. Whatever the reason, I headed to Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. I could have spent hours here but unfortunately time contraints only allowed me one hour. The gardens house more than 6,000 orchids and 20,000 plants and extend over nearly 10 acres of land conveniently situated by the bay. Walking through the colorful rows of flowers and circling the trail of trees is sure to give you the inspiration you crave.
3) The Cultural Festivals
My main purpose for visiting Sarasota during January was to attend the city’s annual and highly-anticipated Forks & Corks festival (this year tickets sold out in three hours). Taking place in the stunning courtyard of The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, dozens of food and wine vendors happily lined up to excite my palate. During the few days leading up to the outdoor festival, several of the area’s most reputable restaurants host tastings and even full-blown meals to showcase their most talked-about dishes. Regardless of when you visit, I’d recommend stopping by the weekend Farmers Market to sample fresh foods and shop for handmade crafts.
4) The Flavorful Food
Speaking of food, Sarasota is a foodie’s dream destination. I’m certainly no culinary expert but living in New York City has spoiled my tastebuds so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sarasota’s local food scene. Four days and five pounds later, I’m officially a Sarasota culinary fan. One of my favorite restaurants was Mattison’s City Grille (pictured below) primarily for the laid-back atmosphere. We sat outside, were served tropical drinks and listened to a local band perform. The recipes were flavorful and unique yet didn’t detract from the warm environment that Mattison has created at his restaurant. It’s also located right in the center of town and just a few steps away from the Farmers Market.
5) The Circus History
Long before ever watching Water for Elephants, I’ve always been interested by circus life and Sarasota was the perfect place for me to learn more about the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. At the Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center, I gazed up at a collection of large, colorful vintage circus posters, walked across a tightrope (although not suspended) and peered into the rooms of a replica circus train. The image below is of a real Ringling Circus train car that now serves as a restaurant. I’m not sure I would have ever made it as a circus performer but I had a fun time imaging myself gracefully flying through the air in a glittery ensemble.
6) The Avant-Garde Art
On my first night in Sarasota, I became fascinated with this art installation. There was something so eering-looking about it at night but during the day, the vision is far less threatening but equally fascinating. Patrick Dougherty, a renowned sculpter created one of his famous “stickwork” sculptures just outside the historic Sarasota High School as part of the Sarasota Museum of Art‘s (SMOA) ARTmuse program and the Sticks and Clicks Photo Competition. I’m not sure how the artist managed to curve all these sticks but it almost appears as if the figures are swaying in the wind. The Ringling Museum of Art is another prime place to view permanent and traveling exhibitions.
7) The Grungy Graphics
It seems that even Sarasota has some creative art minds at work. The last thing I ever imagined seeing here was street art but that’s exactly what I found during my last few hours in town. Just before heading to the airport my guide took me to where the original train car from the Ringling Circus still stands. As we pulled into the junkyard, my eyes immediately went toward this edgy graphic. I’m not sure what it is about this piece but it really spoke to me at that very moment. It brought back memories of my week in Berlin, where I was constantly stopping and staring at large graphics covering nearly every building.
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This trip was hosted by Visit Sarasota with accommodations provided by the Ritz Carlton. All opinions are my own.