As it is a city by the sea, it is fitting Sarasota is home to the cutting edge Mote Marine Lab & Aquarium. Established in 1955 by the famed shark researcher Dr. Eugenie Clark (who performed the first conditioning experiments with sharks), Mote has grown to one of the preeminent research facilities of near-shore marine life. Mote was designated a Center for Shark Research by Congress in 1991. The aquarium is home to more than 100 species of marine life, including dolphins, manatees, sea turtles and sharks. They even offer narrated training sessions with the sharks, where the different species of sharks are trained to feed at separate targets, each with a different design.
Sarasota’s artistic roots run deep. Be it the art galleries and antique shops around downtown or a live performance, the arts are part of the city’s fabric. The Sarasota Opera gives the city its cultural heartbeat. Their season runs from October to March and is a must-see for anyone visiting the area. The Sarasota Ballet of Florida is celebrating its 20th season this year and will be pulling all the stops, making it one of the most memorable seasons yet.
John Ringling was arguably one of the preeminent Sarasotans, leaving a legacy that goes far beyond the physical structures he left behind. With plans of developing Sarasota into a premier resort town, one to rival Palm Beach, John and Mable Ringling helped forge a lasting impression and kindled a cultural spirit that has since come to permeate the city. From circus tents to fine art, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art pays homage to their lasting legacy. Built to house the Ringlings' personal collection of art, the museum is flush with paintings and sculptures from Old Masters and antiquities from bygone eras. But the museum is not the only attraction of the site. The grounds themselves are quite beautiful. Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden takes center stage with 1,200 rose plants perfuming the air, while the Ringling Test Rose Garden (one of 20 in the U.S.) serves as a proving ground before rose hybrids can be patented. The grounds are also home to the Ringlings' breathtaking mansion, Cà d’Zan. Open to visitors, the mansion offers a glimpse of the waning days of the Gilded Age. Each ceiling is a veritable Sistine Chapel of circus acts and circus life. And lest we forget those circus roots, the Circus Museum rekindles those three-ring days of old, when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus truly was “the greatest show on Earth.”
Make sure you pack some comfortable shoes when visiting Sarasota, because hours and miles can be lost making the loop at St. Armands Circle. The 130-plus shops tucked away on St. Armands Key is a great place to take an afternoon stroll. The circle was yet another brainchild of John Ringling, who wanted to develop a residential and shopping center in 1917. Now, nearly a century later, the circus mogul's dream has come true. Boutiques, cafés and restaurants circle a small park, making it the hub of the small island and a fantastic place to come and relax.