In Travel

Sarasota Combines Beach Vibes With Contemporary Culture And Arts

Orlando and Miami – they’re the two Florida cities you hear about the most. But though they’re the state’s most well-known, they’re hardly the most charming. Sarasota however is a strong contender for that title.

The beach town two hours west of Orlando is Old Florida at its finest – bingo-playing retirees, tropical prints and open-air bars and restaurants. But alongside that Sarasota also delivers a surprising amount of arts and culture.

“We’re known as Florida’s cultural coast because we have so many arts,” says Lynn Hobeck of Visit Sarasota. “We have the State Art Museum of Florida as well as numerous performing and visual arts. We have a huge concentration that a lot of other Florida beach towns don’t.”

The city is also a mecca for those interested in seeing mid-century modern architecture, a style characterised by the inside and outside blending together. Called the Sarasota School of Architecture, there are dozens of buildings around town in which it can be seen. If you’ve only got a short amount of time in Sarasota, here’s how to spend it.

8am: Breakfast at La Creperie Caffe

Sarasota is comprised of Florida coastline and a series of barrier islands called ‘keys’. It’s on one of them, Lido Key, that you’ll find upscale outdoor shopping and dining area St. Armands Circle and within it, La Creperie Caffe. Begin your day here with a savoury crepe filled with cheese and egg. For something really unique, try the Southwest crepe stuffed with guacamole, jalapenos and tomatos.

10am: Explore The Ringling

After breakfast head to The Ringling, which houses the State Art Museum of Florida, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, Bayfront Gardens, Art Library and the Historic Asolo Theater. Once owned by John Ringling, one of the five brothers behind Ringling Circus, the sprawling property is exactly what you’d expect from a showman – elaborate and memorable. Soak in the impressive art collection in the Museum of Art before heading outdoors to see the Italian villa-style mansion John had built in 1924.

12pm: Have lunch at O’Leary’s

Life in Sarasota is slow-paced and there’s no better way to experience that than with a leisurely lunch at tiki bar and restaurant O’Leary’s on Bayfront Drive. The menu includes wraps, burgers and salads as well as creatively-named cocktails like the Tipsy Turtle and Banana Bushwacker. Order at the counter inside, grab a buzzer and then head out to the waterside deck to wait. Live music performed by locals complete the quintessential Floridian experience.

2pm: See Sarasota by sea

Sarasota has some truly jaw-dropping waterfront homes and the best way to see them is from the water. Board a two-hour, narrated LeBarge Tropical Cruises cruise, which will take you through the mangroves and to the open sea. Along the way, gape at single-family mansions – some worth nearly $10 million – and scan the waters for manatees or bottlenose dolphins. There’s a full bar and a snack menu too.

4pm: Meander through the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Next up: more nature. Head back to downtown Sarasota to Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The gardens specialise in epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants without harming them like orchids and bromeliads, but you’ll find all kinds here. All from tropical and subtropical regions around the world, they include mango trees, cacti and carnivorous plants. The gardens close at 5pm so you’ll want to work your way through them quickly.

 7pm: Dine at Michael’s on East

By now you’ll be more than ready for dinner so make your way to Michael’s on East. The city’s most well-known fine dining restaurant offers prettily-plated meals in a softly-lit piano lounge. Begin with seafood starters like house-cured salmon crostini and mussels mariniere before making your way to a steak or meat dish. Whatever your pick, wash it down with a wine from the long list.

9pm: Sip on a cocktail at State Street Eating House

If you’re still up for a drink after dinner, cruise on over to State Street Eating House for a handcrafted cocktail. Though the downtown spot has an industrial vibe with exposed beams and pipes overhead, its tropical cocktails bring you back to Florida. Highlights include the rum-based Tiki Topher and the tequila and bubbles-topped Mirto Matador.

11pm: Stay at Hyatt Regency Sarasota

Retire for the night at Hyatt Regency Sarasota. The resort-style, bay-front property is sleek and white with pops of green and pink pastels. Rooms come in all configurations, but be sure to request one with a balcony. For a splurge, opt for the bi-level suite, which has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the bay, a full-size fridge and a separate sitting area. In the morning, start your day with the included breakfast before hitting the waterfront pool.:

Published 10 July, 2018