SARASOTA, FLORIDA - March 22, 2012 -The sun-drenched city of Sarasota, Florida, home to exquisite sand, Ponce De Leone’s Fountain of Youth, and the Ringling Museum of Art is a must see for any traveler visiting the sunshine state.
Whether it is the serenity of a whimsical pastel sunset on America’s most beautiful beach, a menagerie of exotic birds and wildlife in one of Florida’s oldest and biologically diverse parks, or a stroll through the exquisitely manicured gardens and art-filled galleries of the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota and its surrounding keys offer activities, relaxation and inspiration to travelers of all ages and interests.
Located an hour south of Tampa Bay, Sarasota is surrounded by six sun-drenched barrier islands, more commonly referred to as keys. Each one of these immaculate gems boast their own diverse assortment of exceptional dining, water activities, and entertainment.
In 2011, according to Dr. Beach, Siesta Key, located just off of the Southern end of Sarasota, climbed from America’s second most beautiful beach to its first. Upon sinking your feet into the ivory colored, powdery quartz sand and gazing out across the azure and pink waters of the gulf, you will understand exactly why it has achieved such notoriety.
This hypnotically beautiful beach is host to countless activities from parasailing to paddle boarding. Despite its high volume of summer visitors, the beach’s nearly six-mile blanket of unspoiled sand never feels overwhelmingly crowded, providing visitors with a sense of privacy without having to venture too far from Siesta Key’s quaint downtown.
After a long day at the beach, visitors can unwind with a cocktail at one of Siesta’s many restaurant patios along Ocean Avenue. Whether you crave island-inspired, heavily garnished, icy cocktails like those found at the Daiquiri Deck or a quiet Asian inspired meal and a glass of wine, Ocean Avenue has no shortage of unique eateries.
Taste of Asia is a family run business that offers diners a variety of Thai, Vietnamese and Lao influenced dishes. This family run business is set off Ocean Ave. Their Pad Thai may as well have come straight from Thailand and one would be remiss not to try the Kor Mee Lao. This unique dish combines your choice of shrimp, tofu or chicken with rice noodles, sautéed onion, scallions, bean sprouts and cilantro in a way that outside of Laos, you could only find on Siesta Key.
Located on Lido Key, just north of Siesta Key, is St. Armand’s Circle. Just across the John Ringling Causeway, this unique circle is home to a variety of curious shops and outstanding restaurants. At The Columbia Restaurant, foodies can enjoy an assortment of tapas or indulge in a seafood stuffed paella or simply enjoy some crusty Cuban style bread and butter over mojitos on their expansive porch.
Longboat Key, accessible only by bridge from Lido Key is home to the Mote Aquarium. This Marine Park offers visitors the chance to pet a sting ray, visit the highly endangered manatee as well as observe sharks, jellyfish and many other of the ocean’s most nefarious and adorable characters.
Back on the mainland art and garden enthusiasts can spend hours roaming the grounds of the Ringling Museum of Art. One can get lost meandering through the exotic, dripping branches of the property’s Banyon Trees. Mr. Ringling’s Baroque masterpieces grace the walls of 21 rooms in the art museum. One could simply spend a day smelling the thousands of roses in the property’s vibrant, prismatic rose garden. A trip to the Ringling property would not be complete without a tour of the Ca D’Zan mansion and a walk through the circus museum.
Sarasota’s wonders don’t stop there. One can venture just outside of town to the Warm Mineral Springs. This famed destination claims the highest concentrated natural mineral spring in America. Often considered Ponce De Leone’s Fountain of Youth, this sulfur smelling warm spring is a curious blend of Zen and quirk.
New Age music gently fills the property and therapists perform a variety of healing modalities on curious and ailing travelers while in the background looms the main lodge and restaurant, which bear resemblance to how one might imagine a Florida of the 1970s. While no one has been reported to enter the water an old man and emerge a child, it is hard not to notice immediately a fresh tenderness to the skin and softness to the hair after a day soaking in the mineral rich water.
For a more natural experience, visitors can head out to Myakka State Park. This state park at a glance feels a bit flat but you must push deeper. The park is home to the Myakka River. At the end of the park is the outpost which sits on the Upper Myakka Lake. Here, visitors can take guided boat tours, rent kayaks or simply take a stroll around the lake’s perimeter.
No matter how you choose to explore the lake, you will be in awe at the variety of bird life. Groups of rosetta spoonbills, white pelicans, wood storks, sandhill cranes, and a variety of egrets hunt regally for fish along the gentle waterfront. Adding to this colorful variety of avian beauty are the wondrous alligators that emerge from the lake to embrace the Florida sun.
In addition to the wildlife, Myakka is home to a canopy walk, manageable hiking trails and a nice contrast to Sarasota’s otherwise bustling beach culture.
Whether it is the calm of a beach, inspirational wildlife, indulgent dishes, art, gardens or a combination of it all, Sarasota and its keys are truly one of the gems of the sunshine state and while it is easy to pop in for a day, one might find it incredibly hard to leave.
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