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Discovering Sarasota: 7 Ultimate Experiences

I never tire of traveling to Florida with its famous soft white sand, bluest waters, cultural scenes, and more than 300 sunny days a year. As far as I'm concerned, it's an unrivaled getaway, and for good reason.

This time around, Sarasota was a nice side trip on the way to Boston. And it was an ideal one to decompress and get ready to meet the freezing weather of New England head-on. I flew to Tampa from Houston and then headed down the southwest coast toward the shell and sun-filled weekend.


1. Relax on the Siesta Key beach

Guess what beach constantly gets named #1 in the US? That's right, Siesta Key. Its beautiful coastline can soothe the vitamin-D-seeking soul. I doubt anyone who lives nearby does anything else on weekends except go to the beach. 

After walking on the finest sand I've ever felt between my toes and swimming in the gentle, aquamarine Gulf waters, I can see why it's an unofficial getaway to this part of Florida for tourists and locals alike. 

Add to it the instagramable, colorful lifeguard huts along the beach, free parking, and you have got an award-winning beach.

2. Explore the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

But the beach is only the beginning. The incredible John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the pink envy of Sarasota along with the Circus Museum and Ca' d'Zan, a Venetian Gothic palazzo are an absolute treat for the eyes. The Ringling's 300-plus impressive collection of Italian, Spanish and French paintings, the pink palace and the gorgeous Renaissance courtyard sweep you right into the glorified past.

3. Visit the fairyland of the Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy 

Talk about whimsical, fun and happy. You cannot help but smile at all the happy creations that this place carries. I drove by Marietta Museum and was drawn in by their enchanting garden with larger-than-life flamingos, monkeys and the giant bright yellow Live Your Dream sign in front of the museum. A happy place for color and craft lovers. The best part? No fee for admission, only a suggested $5 donation.


4. Stroll through the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

A living tropical oasis in the heart of Sarasota. Lush with orchids, tropical flowers, towering oaks, exotic air plants, ferns, butterflies and the colorful koi pond, the gardens are a major tourist draw. As its lovely inhabitants - orchids and bromeliads, this place has a touch of exotic mystery and glamour.

The gardens are a tell-all show if you are a plant lover. I did enjoy orchids in bloom the most, their colors and different petal structures. I love orchids, it just seems they don't love me back. Since all my attempts to grow them at home miserably failed. There are also art exhibitions in the main house every so often.


5. Visit the Art Center Sarasota

A great place to admire art installations and local artists' works. Artists utilize many different medium and styles to create their contemporary intake on reality. There are 5 galleries with the largest one given over to a juried open exhibition. In front of the building, there's a small installation garden with some enchanting pieces. It's also worth checking their classes, events and artists' workshops with their studios inside the center. 

Want to support a local artist? You can buy most of the art at a reasonable price. The center is in walking distance from the Marietta Museum and downtown, free of charge and has plenty of parking in front.  


6. Strike a pose at the base of Unconditional Surrender

The sculpture is a recreation of a famous photograph taken while celebrating the Victory over Japan Day in Times Square and known as the Unconditional Surrender. And it's a foot taller than its counterpart in San Diego. Actually, the very first Unconditional Surrender was installed in Sarasota in 2005 and then moved over to San Diego two years later. The statue was returned to its original location in 2009. Now a 26-foot tall statue stands tall over the Sarasota Bayfront and is a real draw for couples to strike the famous pose with the dip and a victorious kiss.


7. Wrap the day up with shopping and dining at St. Armands Circle

Crossing the John Ringling bridge to get there is a marvelous ride in itself. The beautiful views of the bay and blazing sunsets, if you choose to go there later in the day, will accompany you to The Circle. Designed in quadrant areas with the small park in the center, the place has a myriad of fancy art boutiques, coastal restaurants with plenty sittings available outside, gift shops, retail outlets and little shops selling popcorn, taffy, candy and frozen treats. Don't miss the latter, those were really good.


8. Visit The Village of the Arts, Bradenton

Okay. Okay. It's not actually in Sarasota, but the Village of the Arts in Bradenton is too good not to mention it here and it's only 30 minutes north from Downtown Sarasota. 

Taking a wrong turn on my way Tampa I ended up in this vibrant community. Residents of this artsy enclave turned their old houses into bright, highly decorated studios for their work. I made it there quite late in the day when all studios were already closed but nonetheless I enjoyed the wandering around and all the quirkiness of the place. It doesn't hurt to get lost sometimes.

All in all, it's been a nice detour on a way to New England, the one I am more than likely to take again in the months to come.


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