Sarasota - Florida's Cultural Hub 

Cat's eye view from the roof of Ca'd'Zan over

Tampa Bay

The Museum of Art courtyard

If life is showbiz, Sarasota has grown into a class act. What began as a vision more than 100 years ago by circus magnate  John Ringling to "make Sarasota one of the sights of the South...one of the most beautiful cities in Florida" has evolved.

 

The $1.5 million Venetian residence of Ca'd'Zan built by John and his wife is one of several jewels that now comprise the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art. It is Italian Renaissance and American showmanship rolled into one big unforgettable showpiece. John Ringling might well have called it one of "The greatest show(s) on Earth."

Original galleries, Museum of Art.

I suspect the entrance to the Circus Museum is likely done in the proportions that John would have admired.

Ca'd'Zan master bedroom

There's no mistaking Ringling's restored private railroad car for a modern commuter train.

Employee dining: a tiny part of the Howard Brothers Circus Model. The handmade miniature reproduction of every facet of the circus is a mesmerizing study in detail and patience.

Treviso Cafe, for light dining at Ringling — or maybe heavy, depending on how much you can carry.

Across the John Ringling Causeway sits cute St. Armand's Key, spreading like spokes from a wagon wheel, and dedicated to boutique shopping, the beach and the memory of John Ringling. Two plaques in St. Armand's Circle provide some history. Parking can be a challenge, but once done, you can walk around, wait for the sunset and enjoy refreshments at a sidewalk cafe.

Sunsetting is eternally popular in Florida. 

And then of course there's more shopping.

Back over the causeway and to the right in the town center you'll find the non-profit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens — a little gem of tranquility known for its epiphytes.

Bayfront Drive/Highway 41 is a road of statuesque proportions, so to speak. Here you'll find various public sculptures, including Unconditional Surrender, modelled after the famous WW II LIFE magazine photo by Eisie Eisenstadt.

If kayaking is your thing, a short drive southeast from Sarasota along Highway 72 will take you through Myakka River State Park. It's a splash of wilderness where Spanish moss hangs from live oaks, alligators bask in the sun, birds thrive and the only sound is your paddle rippling the dark brown water. Bring your own gear or hire an outfitter.

Chris Warren (waving) at Phoenix Rising Kayak Tours arranged everything for our group's leisurely morning of taking it all in.

Speaking of taking it all in, the view from my balcony at Sarasota's Hyatt Regency Hotel was quite spectacular.

Bradenton is Sarasota's sister city on its northern boundary. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto landed somewhere around Tampa Bay, possibly here, in 1539. Personal greed and religious fervor fuelled a 4-year 4,000 mile search for wealth through Florida, wreaking havoc on the natives through cruelty and disease. It was a tough slog in which de Soto and half of his army died. The U.S. National Park Service maintains De Soto National Memorial near tranquil downtown Bradenton where Abraham Sanchez demonstrated an arquebus for us. 

An enormous shark's jaw greets visitors to the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. 

Jeff Rogers, Director of Education, runs the museum's state of the art Bishop Planetarium with some impressive 3D shows from its 4K projectors.

The spirit of showmanship is alive and well in the region, as evidenced by the 2013-14 Da Vinci exhibit organized by brothers John and Mark Rodgers in the Bradenton auditorium. The ambitious undertaking showed many wooden replicas of Leonardo da Vinci's major inventions which he had originally detailed on some 45,000 sheets of linen. Another class act revealing human genius in the footsteps of John and Mabel Ringling.

Photos, text and layout 

© 2015 by Gary Crallé

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