By Debi Lander

Road trips have become the way to travel this summer, especially those within our own state and those offering a variety of outdoor activities. Sarasota fits the bill, lying south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, about a four-hour drive. 

Sarasota prides itself on its white-sand beaches with Siesta Key beach appearing annually on “Top Beaches in the U.S.” lists. Siesta Key Beach lies on a crescent-shaped barrier island and runs eight miles long. Visitors and residents also enjoy Longboat Key and Lido Key beaches. Venice earned the nickname the Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World, due to the thousands of fossilized teeth that wash up each year on this south Sarasota County beach. 

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John Ringling made Sarasota his winter home as well as that of the circus during the early 1900s through 1959. The lush tropical grounds of the Ringling Museums are free to the public, but you need to buy a ticket to go into the Circus Museum or Ca D’Zan, Ringling’s former home that looks like a Venetian palace fronting Sarasota Bay. 

The Ringling Museum of Art (on the same grounds) offers complimentary admission on Mondays. Ringling left his treasured collection of Medieval, Renaissance, Greek, Roman, and Cypriot antiquities to the state of Florida upon his death. The luscious pink building with a Renaissance façade stands as Florida’s official art museum. The courtyard in the center ranks as my favorite spot in the city. Columned walkways, fountains, flowers, and statues, including an exact copy of Michelangelo’s David, lie scattered within the space, a calm respite any day. 

Marie Selby Gardens, an outdoor botanical garden in the downtown area, makes what I’d consider a somewhat COVID-safe destination. Specialty orchids flourish here with more than 4,000 live specimens. Selby’s sister property, Historic Spanish Point, lies 11 miles south of the city center. I recently visited and discovered another oasis with canopy covered trails. It resembled an Adirondack style camp from a past era, except with palm trees. A cottage used by socialite Mrs. Potter Palmer overlooks the water with a formal sunken garden, pool, and pergola. Further along, a fern garden and a butterfly garden include imaginative statuary that captivated my interest. 

Children (and photographers) love Jungle Gardens, featuring the chance to get close and/or feed pink flamingos. Reptiles and tropical birds thrive amongst other creatures in this 10-acre outdoor setting. Those interested in marine life should visit the Mote Marine Aquarium, where you will find a 135,000-gallon shark habitat, resident manatees, and sea turtles. Those looking for more exotic species can visit the Big Cat Habitat. 

Myakka River State Park offers a chance to kayak through a mangrove forest tunnel or bike along its 20 miles of trails. Florida’s mangrove forests form shady canals where larger boats can’t go. 

Most Sarasota restaurants offer outdoor dining and covered terraces. The Columbia of Armand’s Circle pleases many, or try Ophelia’s on the Bay on Longboat Key. 

If you go: 

Visit to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.

Photo courtesy Debi Lander

The Ringling Mansion, Ca D’Zan.

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