We editors like to think of ourselves as overworked and overstressed, especially this time of year when we’re working on multiple program books and special projects as well as our fat, peak-of-the-season issues. But our façade of frantic martyrdom cracked a bit when our president walked into the editorial office the other day.
"Where is everybody?" he asked. "This place is empty!"
"Kay’s at the Ringling International Arts Festival," I replied. "She’s reviewing those amazing tango dancers from Argentina and that avant-garde production of Hamlet. She just blogged about following Mikhail Baryshnikov around at the opening night party. Beau’s at Myakka Park—he’s going to write about spending the night in one of the little cabins out there. And I think Hannah’s still on Siesta Beach—she’s been there all week for her story. Actually, I’m on my way out, too—I need to see what happy hour at the Daiquiri Deck is like."
Welcome to the rigors of publishing in paradise, where your beat can range from America’s Best Beach to enjoying champagne and fireworks with international arts stars in the stately courtyard of the Ringling Museum. No wonder even the veteran editors in our office are still as infatuated with this city as the young newcomers. In this Visitor’s Annual, we’ve made it our mission to share with you some of the reasons we love Sarasota so much.
Our cover story celebrates a big one. We now have official confirmation of something most residents and visitors already knew: Our own Siesta Beach has been named America’s Best Beach. That announcement on May 27 by Dr. Stephen Leatherman has sent a tsunami of new visitors to our shores—tourism was up 30 percent in August alone.
When Hannah Wallace staked out a spot on that famous white sand with a tube of sunscreen and a reporter’s notebook, she met some of those visitors, every one in a state of beach-induced bliss. Along with her report, you’ll read about the best nearby spots for a drink or dinner, and learn how much property near the beach costs these days. (The good news: Prices are the lowest in years.) You’ll discover many other reasons to love Sarasota in this issue, from art star James Turrell’s new SkySpace at the Ringling Museum to Bob Plunket’s fun essay on what your life would really be like if you decide to become a snowbird.
We also called in some reinforcements: our more than 4,100 Facebook fans, folks from all over the country who are as passionate about this place as we are. When we asked them what they love most about Sarasota, their posts started popping up like crazy. Here’s just a sampling of their responses.
"Bayfront Park. You can walk the paths, read your book on a chair swing overlooking the bay, people watch, grab a bite at O’Leary’s or admire the boats in the marina."
"Taking visitors to Myakka State Park to see the alligators and birds, have a picnic and climb the tower [on the treetop canopy walk]."
"The Farmer’s Market—tons of goodies, and I love the people watching."
"Southeastern Guide Dogs! I take visitors to hug the puppies and walk the dogs in training."
"The deep appreciation for the arts, from the city’s commitment to stunning architecture, like the new Palm Avenue parking garage, to high-quality theater."
"Yoder’s [Amish restaurant and market] in Pinecraft. They are rocking in this economy, and they have ex-panded so much."
"The people who come here from all over. We opened our café on St. Armands two months ago and already 1,000 people from more than 30 countries have pinned our map."
"With gentle water, great views of waterfront houses, and sandbars and islands for picnics, Sarasota is stand-up-paddleboard heaven."
"All the outdoor ‘doggie dining.’ It creates a perfect atmosphere for meeting new people and sharing dog tales."
"It’s where I met the love of my life. We married on Bayfront Park in front of the dolphin sculpture."
Think we’re overstating the case for our city? Consider our "Visitors’ Poll." We asked 25 tourists on St. Armands all sorts of questions, including whether they planned to return. Bottom line? Twenty-five out of the 25 said "yes."