Sarasota, Florida, is known equally as “Florida’s Cultural Coast,” a hotbed for high-end fashion and the home of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Learn why.

Orientation On the Florida Gulf Coast, 60 miles south of Tampa.
Nearby A string of eight barrier islands, including Casey Key (Stephen King’s winter residence) and Venice (the “Shark’s Tooth Capital of the World”).
Date incorporated 1902.
Namesake Originally “Zara Zote,” according to maps that date back to the late 1840s used by European settlers.
Notable for The range of opera, ballet, and symphony orchestras (giving it the nickname of “Florida’s Cultural Coast”) and being home to the first golf course in the state, a nine-hole track built in 1905.

Active Pursuits

On Myakka River State Park’s 100-foot wood-plank walkway (the first public suspended trail in North America when it premiered in 2000), you’ll stroll 25 feet up in the treetops of ancient oaks with views that extend three miles to Upper Myakka Lake. Nearby, the newly opened 12-mile-long Legacy Trail, for rollerblading, biking, or walking, weaves from downtown Sarasota to Venice, traveling through a serene part of the Intracoastal Waterway that harkens back to Old Florida.

Performing Arts

A piece of art itself, the William Wesley Peters–designed seashell-inspired Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall seats 1,700 for Broadway musicals like Mama Mia! and other big-name concerts and productions. For 27 years, international ballet stars and choreographers have performed favorites like The Nutcracker at Sarasota Ballet.

Shopping

St. Armands Circle, located just over the John Ringling Causeway from Sarasota on Lido Key, is home to 100 posh clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and fine art galleries – self-described as the “Rodeo Drive of Florida.” Think Tommy Bahama, Boston Proper, Lilly Pulitzer, and, perhaps most intriguing, The Met. This marble-floored “luxury house” is a blend of a day spa and retail, carrying designer labels like Armani Collezioni, Gerragamo, and Robert Graham.

Circus Culture

“The Greatest Show on Earth” plants its roots firmly in Sarasota. Here, during the 1920s, John and Mable Ringling made their winter home in a 56-room Venetian Gothic–style mansion, called Ca’ d’Zan. Today, it’s available for touring and houses their personal art collection and original furnishings. The Circus Heritage Guide trail hits Sarasota’s circus-related landmarks, from the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which features 31 galleries of the best baroque artwork in the country, to the Tibbals Learning Center, providing a glimpse into what circus life was like in the early twentieth century.

Where to Stay Lido Beach Resort