We’re all battling some kind of a cold this week and as I struggle to make it through each day feeling like my head is in a vice, I can’t help daydreaming about our first family vacation back in November. While visiting my parents’ place in Southwest Florida, we took a solo road trip along the coast to visit Sarasota. It was the first trip we took as our little family of three and we had a fantastic time. I’d been to the area before, but this was a first for Garrett and Lucy. As I know many people are planning trips down south through the winter, I thought I’d share of top 5 things to see in the Sarasota area. There are lots of pictures because I just couldn’t resist sharing our trip. We had a great time and I highly recommend a visit to the area next time you’re in Florida.
Siesta Key Beach
Siesta Key Beach is consistently named one of the top beaches in the US and I can see why. With its beautiful clear white sand, it’s a great spot for hanging out. Back when I was there in 2011, it was one of my favourite places to go for a run…
…but this time I was happier to just hang out on a big towel with these two beach bums. Lucy was all about kicking her toes in the sand and this was a great place to do it.
John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated the Ringling Bros Circus, known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1911, along with his wife Mabel, he purchased waterfront property in Sarasota to create his winter home.
The Ringling still has the original mansion Ca d’Zan, along with an art museum, circus museum and a reconstructed 18th-century theatre. I’d heard about it many times over the years, but had never had the chance to go. We were only there for an afternoon to see the Circus Museum, but we could have easily spent the whole day there exploring the rest of the buildings.
The number of preserved circus carts, costumes and displays they had dating back to the turn of the century was incredible. Over 146 years of circus history were creatively displayed with interactive exhibits throughout.
I remember going to the circus as a kid and marvelling at the insane talent it took to perform some of those difficult feats.
It was crazy to think that our little 5-month-old baby was taller than the famous Tom Thumb was.
I’ve read about early 20th century circuses pulling into town by train, but it wasn’t until we walked into this miniature model that I could really grasp the work it took to set up an entire circus every day with each new stop.
For over 50 years Howard Tibbel worked painstakingly hard to create a 3/4-inch-to-the-foot scale circus, just like the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus might have looked like from 1919-1938. Using old photographs, posters, newspaper articles and first-hand accounts, he populated his circus with thousands of figures.
The Howard Bros Circus was inspired by his love of circuses when he was younger. Starting in 1956, he worked hard to create over 42,143 items, including eight large tents, 152 circus wagons, 1500 workers and performers, 7,000 folding chairs and more than 500 hand-carved animals. Everything can be packed into the 55 train cars, just as they would have been in real life.
Tibbals’ attention to detail is unbelievable. Even in areas of the tents that cannot be seen, not a single thing was missed. To see how large these circuses were, really puts it into a whole new perspective that can’t be grasped without seeing it sprawled out like this.
The whole experience is hard to explain – you have to see it to believe it. There is music piping through the room, along with the over lights dimming and the streetlights coming on to make it feel like night.
I had a really great time learning more about this part of history, especially with these two clowns.
Our little clown was happy to spin the wheel in this cramped clown car too.
A short walk across the property and we were gobsmacked with this view. Inspired by their travels throughout Europe, John and Mable Ringling built their beautiful winter home, Ca’ d’Zan on Sarasota Bay in the 1920’s.
By the late 1990s, the mansion had fallen into disrepair and was used as a filming location for Great Expectations. Shortly afterwards, restorations began to bring the home back to its former glory, using archival photos for reference.
Now C’ d’Zan stands as one of the great architectural structures of early 20th century America. Next time we’re there, I hope to take the tour inside and see all the restored rooms as well.
St. Armands Circle
During Florida’s great real estate boom, John Ringling had a dream of creating a premier shopping district as part of the area’s development. With Lido Key to the south and Longboat Key to the north, St Armands Key is connected to the mainland by the John Ringling Causeway.
“The Circle” has over 130 stores and restaurants. We grabbed ice cream cones and walked around the stores while we watched them put up holiday decorations in the park at the centre.
Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium
Founded in 1955, Mote is an independent marine research organization that continues to work on wildlife conservation, research and education. As part of their facility, visitors can tour their working aquarium that is home to more than 100 species of marine life.
Lucy was so excited watching all the fish, otters, manatees, sharks and turtles. The splashing, movement and colour were right up her alley.
It’s pretty amazing to see all the marine life up close and learn about Mote’s conservation and research.
Captain is a green turtle who was stranded near Jacksonville in October 2010, after she had been hit by a boat. The wounds affected the lower half of her shell and back flippers. Mote’s animal hospital staff fitted her shell with special weights to help her achieve neutral buoyancy. Without the weights, she would not be able to dive or feed. As the weights need to be changed as she grows, she is unable to be released into the wild, but they try to release animals whenever they can.
It was wonderful to learn more about Florida’s marine life and experience it firsthand.
On the South side of St Armands, you can walk right over to Lido Key. We drove and parked right beside the beach so that we could bring a sleepy Lucy in her carseat. Up this little path and over the sand…
…and it was beautiful beach stretching as far as we could see.
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