The Guide: Attractions

By: Kara Inglis & Hannah Wallace

ATTRACTIONS Sharks, orchids, clowns, tigers, Conquistadors, world-class art and more await your discovery. THE SEA, THE SCENERY, SCIENCE AND THE CIRCUS ALL shine in Sarasota’s world-famous attractions, which highlight natural wonders and local history while ushering in the artists and  innovators of tomorrow. The area’s history spans prehistoric Native Americans and pioneer settlers, whose stories […]


Big Cat HabitatATTRACTIONS

Sharks, orchids, clowns, tigers, Conquistadors, world-class art and more await your discovery.

THE SEA, THE SCENERY, SCIENCE AND THE CIRCUS ALL shine in Sarasota’s world-famous attractions, which highlight natural wonders and local history while ushering in the artists and  innovators of tomorrow.

The area’s history spans prehistoric Native Americans and pioneer settlers, whose stories are highlighted at the South Florida Museum and can be experienced firsthand at Historic Spanish Point. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto’s conquests shine at the De Soto National Memorial, while plantation life takes the spotlight at the Gamble Plantation and Memorial.

Mote AquariumWhen it comes to the 20th century, nothing stands out more than John Ringling’s contributions to the area: His circus, his massive Baroque art collection, and even his fondness for intricate Italian architecture are all on display at the Ringling Museum. There, you can take in the largest collection of paintings by Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens outside of Paris, then experience an 18th-century opera house in the Historic Asolo Theater and a stroll through the largest miniature circus in the world before taking in the jaw-dropping wonder that is John Ringling’s 1920s, bayfront Ca d’Zan mansion. It’s a 66-acre tribute to the golden age of Sarasota.

As for future ages, look no further than the scientific breakthroughs and enduring tropical beauty at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, with its internationally recognized orchid and epiphyte research, as well as Mote Marine Laboratory and its adjoining aquarium. Plus, G.WIZ the Hands-On Science Museum and the Bishop Planetarium at South Florida Museum are teaching the next generation of Sarasota scientists to explore their world and reach for the stars.

Many of these attractions offer discount web coupons; be sure to check each organization’s site before you go.

BRADENTON
De Soto National Memorial, 3000 75th St. NW, Bradenton. (941) 792-0458. In May 1539, explorer Hernando de Soto set foot on “La Florida” close to the mouth of the Manatee River in Bradenton. This historical hot spot is a great destination for all ages. Its 25 acres of natural beauty are home to several exhibits dedicated to the Spanish and Native American history of the area, and “living history” re-enactments performed by Conquistadors at select times during the winter and spring give insight to life in the formative years of our region. Free. nps.gov/deso

Parker Manatee AquariumSouth Florida Museum/Bishop Planetarium/Parker Manatee Aquarium, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. (941) 746-4131. The home of a number of unique attractions, including Snooty, the 63-year-old manatee, this downtown Bradenton landmark includes the South Florida Museum, with exhibits detailing the region’s history and native peoples, and the Bishop Planetarium, with its state-of-the-art digital projection system that lets visitors explore the cosmos and stargaze at any time of day. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Adults $15.95, seniors 65 and up $13.95, children four-12 $11, free for children under four (with a paying adult). southfloridamuseum.org.

 

Gamble MansionELLENTON
Gamble Plantation and Mansion, 3708 Patten Ave., Ellenton. (941) 723-4536. Once a fully functioning sugar plantation, this is the only surviving plantation in South Florida. This former home of Major Robert Gamble is believed to have been the hiding place of Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin until he could escape to England after the fall of the Confederacy. Guided tours ($6, children $4) are offered six times a day, Thursday through Monday. The gorgeous grounds feature extensive grassy areas and picnic tables shaded under live oaks. Free. floridastateparks.org/gambleplantation

OSPREY
Historic Spanish Point, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. (941) 966-5214. Pioneer-era buildings, the extensive gardens of Mrs. Bertha Palmer (former owner of the site), and a butterfly garden that is the largest on the Gulf Coast make this 30-acre bayfront haven in south Sarasota worth the trip. Miles of paths lead through a jungle walk, pioneer cemetery and a bayside boardwalk with many native species of flora and fauna to marvel at along the way. Open daily except for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Adults $10, children 5-12 $5, seniors 65 and up $9. historicspanishpoint.org.

Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. (941) 483-5956. Set on the calm South Creek, this park is perfect for kayaking and canoeing (guides and rental boats available). There are also 15 miles of trails for hiking and bicycling. Visitors can fish or swim in Lake Osprey, or picnic and camp in select areas. $5 per vehicle for up to eight people ($4 for a single occupant vehicle); $26 (plus tax) per night to camp. floridastateparks.org/oscarscherer

SARASOTA
Ringling Museum of Art/Cà d’Zan Mansion/Ringling Circus Museum/Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 359-5700. One of North America’s 20 largest museums, this must-see destination offers a diverse collection of treasures acquired by circus maven (and Sarasota resident) John Ringling and his wife, Mable. Start outside with the expansive grounds, which feature stately banyan trees and Mable Ringling’s 99-year-old rose garden. The art museum hosts a variety of exhibits each year, but it may be best known for its collection of Baroque paintings, particularly those of Peter Paul Rubens. The Tibbals Learning Center, Ringling’s tribute to the circus heritage of Sarasota, is home to the world’s largest miniature circus.

The Ringlings’ elegant Venetian mansion, the Cà d’Zan (“House of John” in Venetian dialect), overlooks beautiful Sarasota Bay. The Historic Asolo Theater, a beautifully restored 18th-century Italian opera house, hosts performances and movie viewings. To make the world of Ringling complete, there are two restaurants, the chic, Italian-themed Treviso and the more casual Banyan Café. Open daily except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Adults $25, seniors over 65 $20, active U.S. military, children ages six-17, students with ID and Florida teachers, $10. Free for all museum members and children under six. On Mondays, admission to the Museum of Art is free. ringling.org

Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, 7101 Palmer Blvd., Sarasota. (941) 371-6377. Kay Rosaire, an eighth-generation animal trainer, began rescuing animals, including abused large cats, in 1987. Twenty-five years later, Big Cat Habitat is home to dozens of lions and tigers, as well as bears and birds, a chimpanzee and more. The Rosaires have made their eastern Sarasota compound a permanent home for these amazing creatures. You’re welcome to see the animals up close during regular educational demonstrations and private tours. Adults $20, children 12 and under, $10. See website for a calendar of events, tours and demonstrations. bigcathabitat.org

Crowley Museum and Nature Center, 16405 Myakka Road, Sarasota. (941) 322-1000. A natural and historic haven in pastoral east Sarasota County, Crowley features several 19th-century structures as well as a number of everyday pioneer tools, furnishings and items from the “Old Miakka General Store.” All those artifacts are nestled within acres of Old Florida pine forest and Myakka River marsh and connected by trails and a half-mile boardwalk with a two-story observation tower. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July. Adults $8, children five-12 $3, children under five are free. crowleymuseumnaturectr.org

G. WizG.WIZ: The Hands-On Science Museum, 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. (941) 309-4949. The Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone (G.WIZ) offers kids of all ages the opportunity to explore nature, technology, art and more through hands-on exhibits like Mindball, Critter Habitat, the Illusion Room and many more. The museum also hosts traveling exhibitions. Facilities are available for hosting science-centric field trips and birthday parties. Adults $10, seniors $9, children three-16 $7. Group discounts available. gwiz.org

Selby GardensMarie Selby Botanical Gardens, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-5731. Home to more than 6,000 rare orchids and some 20,000 plants, this 9.5-acre bayfront property begs to be explored. Tours of Tropical Display House, grounds and butterfly gardens are available. Save some time for the gift shop, a favorite for items from orchids to tropical-themed art. Open daily except Christmas. Adults $17, children six-11 $6, children under six are free. selby.org

Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 388-4441. With an aquarium displaying more than 100 species of animals, including sharks, eels, manatees, sea turtles and so many more, Mote is another internationally known scientific hot spot. Unlike some aquariums, Mote is also a fully functional marine laboratory, conducting research to gain better understanding of marine life. Hands-on activities include the stingray touch tank. Visitors can also watch the sharks being fed or peek into the working labs. Adults $17, seniors over 65 $16, children four-12 $12. Free for children under four. Open daily including holidays. For a discount web coupon, visit mote.org

Myakka River State Park, nine miles east of I-75, 13208 S.R. 72. (941) 361-6511. Whether you want to hike the 39 miles of trails, ride a horse in the wilderness or embark on any of a number of other adventures, with 38,000 acres of scenic Florida to offer, Myakka offers outdoor activities for everyone. You will, of course, see an alligator or two, but you could also spot a deer, wild hogs, and if you’re lucky, a bobcat. Birders especially must consider the Canopy Walk, high atop the trees. Plus, the park offers the best lodging deal in town: $70 for a group of up to six to stay in a rustic but comfy cabin. (To learn more, see story on page 96.) Open daily. $6 per vehicle of two to eight people, ($4 for a single occupant vehicle); $26 (plus tax) per night for a campsite with water and electricity outlets. floridastateparks.org/myakkariver

Sarasota Classic Car Museum, 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 355-6228. Open since 1953, this is a venue that no car lover should miss. It features more than 100 automobiles, including Ferraris, DeLoreans and even John Lennon’s Bentley. There’s also an antique game arcade and camera exhibit. Open daily except Christmas Day. Adults $7.85, seniors over 62 $6.50, children six-12 $5, free for children under six. Group rates and annual passes available. For a discount coupon, visit sarasotacarmuseum.org.

Sarasota Jungle Gardens, 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 355-5305. Open since 1940, this oasis of low-key charm and natural beauty is truly one of the last Old Florida tourist attractions. Perfect for families, whether for a few hours or an entire day, the 10 acres of tropical paradise and bird and reptile shows capture your attention. Get your picture taken with a parrot on your arm and feed the pink flamingos that crowd around for a treat. The Flamingo Café has surprisingly good food for a snack shop. Adults $15, seniors over 60 $14, children three-12 $10, free for children under two. For a discount web coupon, visit sarasotajunglegardens.com.

VENICE
Warm Mineral Springs, 12200 San Servano, North Port. (941) 426-1692. Claimed by some as the Fountain of Youth, this Sarasota County attraction is home to the mineralized waters that are said to ease back pain, skin conditions, sinusitis and other ailments. Take a dip and see for yourself—or skip the water and get pampered at the spa. Open daily (weather permitting) except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Adults $20, students $15, children 12 and under $10, children under two free. warmmineralsprings.com

With international scientists contributing specimens from all over the world, Selby Gardens has more than 20,000 species of plants, including more than 6,000 rare orchids.
 

S/Art/Q (Karen Apango)GALLERIES & MUSEUMS

Feast your eyes on our ever-expanding visual arts scene.

COMBINE SARASOTA’S STUNNING NATURAL BEAUTY AND OUR LONGSTANDING ARTISTIC POPULATION, and you get our visual arts scene, a vibrant array of works—and people who know how to appreciate them.

The world-famous John and Mable Ringling Museum of Arts is the hub of it all. Down the road at Ringling College of Art and Design, galleries showcase international artists in special exhibits along with faculty and student work. Name the medium, and you’ll find it adorning the walls and displays of local galleries: oil, acrylic, watercolor, photography, wood, bronze, marble, glass, pottery—and, of course, mixed media. You may be moved by blown glass no bigger than a chess piece, or captured by a tapestry that could fill the wall in your great room.

While art is everywhere in town, you’ll especially want to visit the areas of high artistic concentration. In downtown Sarasota, you’ll find galleries on Palm Avenue, Main Street and State Street as well as studios in the Towles Court artist colony. Downtown Bradenton’s Village of the Arts is another destination, as are Art Center Sarasota, Venice Art Center and the Longboat Key Center for the Arts.

And when a stunning sunset or perfect orchid gives you the itch to put paintbrush to paper, be sure to ask about art classes offered at many of these locations.

Local contemporary artists a few years ago formed s/ART/q, which hosts lively shows at different local venues.


Ringling Museum (Frank Atura)VISUAL ARTS, MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art, 1288 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-2454. allyngallup.com. Monthly contemporary exhibits, original paintings, sculptures and mixed media assemblages.

Art Center Sarasota, 707 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 365-2032. artsarasota.org. This art center, one of Sarasota’s longest-running arts institutions, offers a wide array of exhibits, classes and workshops.

Art Uptown, 1367 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 955-5409. artuptown.com. Cooperative gallery featuring paintings, sculptures, ceramics, basketry and other media.

Clyde Butcher Gallery and Studio, 237 Warfield Ave., Venice. (941) 486-0811. clydebutcher.com. Black-and-white landscape photography featuring natural Florida environments by acclaimed photographer Butcher.

Crissy Galleries, 640 S. Washington Blvd., Suite 150, Sarasota. (941) 957-1110. crissy.com. Specializing in fine art and antiques.

Dabbert Gallery "Beach Life" by James Griffin. Featuring a selection of fine art in various media, Dabbert Gallery represents Palm Avenue's artistic spirit.Dabbert Gallery, 76 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 925-9929. dabbertgallery.com. Contemporary paintings, sculptures, watercolors, drawings and bronzes; regular exhibitions.

Elizabeth Rice Fine Art, Home Accessories and Antiques, 1467 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 954-8575. elizabethrice.com. Contemporary fine art, as well as Biedermeier furniture and other antiques.

Elizabeth Stevens Gallery, 1945 Morrill St., Sarasota. (941) 587-9851. elizabethstevensgallery.net. Paintings by Marge Bennett and Debbie Dannheisser, plus blown glass, pottery and jewelry are featured at this Towles Court space.

Galleria Silecchia, 20 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 365-7414. galleriasilecchia.com. Features national and international sculptors, painters, glass artists and more; regular shows.

Hodgell Gallery, 46 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-1146. hodgellgallery.com. Contemporary fine art and glass works.

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 359-5700. ringling.org. The state museum of Florida houses an extensive Baroque collection, modern collection, Asian art and changing exhibitions, plus a James Turrell Skyspace.

Longboat Key Center for the Arts, 6860 Longboat Drive S., Longboat Key. (941) 383-2345. ringling.edu/lbkca.html. This long-established center offers classes, exhibits, sales and special events.

Madeby Gallery, 734 Central Ave., Sarasota. (941) 822-0442. madebygallery.com. Works by Ringling College of Art and Design students and alumni, available for sale.

Marietta Museum of Art and Whimsy, 2121 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 364-3399. Unusual collection of art, both indoor and outdoor.

Sarasota Season of Sculpture, (941) 951-2541. sarasotaseasonofsculpture.org. Presents an exhibition of large-scale sculptures along Sarasota’s downtown bayfront.

s/ART/q, sartq.com. Local contemporary artists with the mission of enhancing local arts culture and engaging the community through exhibitions and educational opportunities. Produces regular shows at various locations.

Selby Gallery, Ringling College of Art and Design, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 359-7563. ringling.edu. Presents works by national and regional artists in a variety of media; it also hosts annual faculty exhibitions and the “Best of Ringling” student show.

Stakenborg Fine Art, 1545 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 487-8001. stakenborgfineart.com. An art resource for collectors of paintings, drawings and prints, including works by such artists as Durer and Picasso.

State of the Arts Gallery, 1525 State St., Sarasota. (941) 955-2787. sarasotafineart.com. This contemporary fine art gallery presents work from local and national artists in regular exhibitions.

Towles Court, just west of U.S. 301 between Adams and Morrill streets. towlescourt.com. This working artist colony offers several gallery/studio spaces for viewing and buying; a gallery walk takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. every third Friday of the month.

Venice Art Center, 390 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. (941) 485-7136. veniceartcenter.com. The area’s largest community art center, founded in 1958, offering regular exhibitions, classes and occasional special events, such as a Paint-Out in Paradise.

Village of the Arts, east of 14th Street West, between Ninth and 17th avenues, Bradenton. (941) 747-8056. villageofthearts.com. Community of artists, studios and galleries. Art walks take place the first weekend of every month, Friday, 6 to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

William Hartman Gallery, 48 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 955-4785. Displays 18th- and 19th-century antique prints.

Wyland Galleries of Sarasota, 314 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands. (941) 388-5331. wylandgalleries.com. Marine and wildlife art by Wyland and other environmental artists is featured here, along with Oggetti glass.


Players TheatreARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Settle in and enjoy some of the greatest shows on earth.

SARASOTANS OFTEN BOAST ABOUT OUR PERFORMING ARTS SCENE—and with good reason. Our professional theater, ballet, orchestra and opera companies frequently win raves from New York critics, while some of our many community theaters have won international recognition. We’re also home to some outstanding  local dance, choral and film programs.

For professional theater, take your pick: Asolo Rep, Florida’s state theater company, is joined by downtown Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre and the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. But that’s just the beginning for the area’s talented actors and actresses, who also shine in lauded community theaters from Venice to Anna Maria.

Sarasota Opera HouseLocal musicians hit all the right notes, from the professional Sarasota Orchestra and Sarasota Opera companies to symphonies, concert bands and choral groups making beautiful music wherever you listen. We’re the home of La Musica, a chamber music festival, and Sarasota Music Festival, a renowned teaching festival. And dance, too, takes the stage—all the stages, really—be it the Sarasota Ballet or the many contemporary and experimental groups forever exploring new forms of artistic movement.

And beyond, there’s Circus Sarasota, continuing the area’s century-old circus tradition; McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, drawing laugh-out-loud stand-ups from national tours; the star-studded Sarasota Film Festival; and the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, ensuring that no matter what kind of show you’re looking for, you’ll find it on a Sarasota stage.
2 The popular Players Theatre made its early home in a 246-seat theater built of pecky cypress in 1936. The current theater sits on that same site.

THEATER
Asolo Repertory Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-8000. asolorep.org. For more than 50 years, the Asolo Rep has been presenting professional, Equity theater productions, with a rotating repertory cast and format that’s rare in North America. The season, usually offering eight or nine plays, gets under way in October or November and continues into May or June. The past few seasons have begun with blockbuster musical productions en route to Broadway, followed by a rotating repertory presenting a range of classical and contemporary works, employing professional actors who are based locally or split their time between Sarasota and New York.

Banyan Theater Company, (941) 358-5330. banyantheatercompany.com. Nearly a decade ago, the Banyan began to satisfy Sarasota’s insatiable appetite for theater by producing professional quality productions over the summer. Three shows are presented in the traditionally slower months of June, July and August, and they run the gamut from Eugene O’Neill to Chekhov to Neil LaBute, giving us plenty to talk about after the final curtain.

The FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-8000. Home to the professional Asolo Rep, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory of Professional Actor Training (which presents its own four-play season in the smaller Cook Theatre here), Sarasota Ballet of Florida and, in the summer, the Banyan Theater Company. Performances on two stages year-round.

Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-9000. floridastudiotheatre.org. FST’s diverse offerings run virtually year-round on three stages in downtown Sarasota. The mainstage season at the Keating Theatre mixes drama, musical comedies and new work; a smaller, intimate cabaret stage is perfect for musical revues as well as improv comedy performances, workshops and more. The Gompertz Theatre on First Street also presents smaller-sized shows, often of a hard-hitting nature.

Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, 25 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-5454. thegoldenapple.com. The country’s oldest continuously running professional dinner theater serves up songs and laughter in the heart of downtown Sarasota. Traditionally, the Apple has presented Broadway musical comedy standards like Evita or Cats; lately, they’ve also branched out into newer musical revues—and, yes, even drag queen bingo. The season runs virtually year-round.

Manatee Players, 102 12th St. W., Bradenton. (941) 748-0111. manateeplayers.com. This venerable community theater has been presenting a full season of plays (mostly musicals of late) for decades in its Riverfront Theatre site in downtown Bradenton. (The group is in the process of building a new facility nearby.) The quality is often well above the usual concept of community theater; strong educational programs here, too.

The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 365-2494. theplayers.org. The Players is the great-granddaddy of the area’s community theaters, with a stage that has been graced by Montgomery Clift and Charlton Heston. Now celebrating its 82nd season, it offers Broadway musical favorites onstage September through April. But the Players also presents a lively mix of concerts and a summer play fest, as well as occasional edgier work. There are also a popular playwriting contest and a performing arts school at the Players, where students of all ages get to hone the talents that may eventually launch them onto mainstage.

Venice Theatre, 140 W. Tampa Ave. W., Venice. (941) 488-1115. venicestage.com. Community theater presenting a blend of musical favorites, the occasional drama and a comedy or two on its mainstage. Venice Theatre’s smaller, black-box Pinkerton Theater plays host to more contemporary Stage II offerings, along with cabaret shows. Again, there’s a strong educational component to the theater’s programs, with classes for both children and adults.

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. (941) 366-1505. wbttroupe.org. This professional African-American theater company has been going strong for more than a decade now. WBTT has had numerous hits with its musicals, but they present the occasional drama, too, drawn from either African-American playwrights or relating to the African-American experience. The season, comprising four shows, is performed at the troupe’s new home from December to May.

MUSIC, DANCE & POETRY
Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota. (941) 306-1200. artistseries.net. Celebrating its 16th season, the Artist Series continues to captivate audiences with world-class classical music as well as concerts featuring pop and Broadway sounds. Most concerts take place at the Historic Asolo Theater, October through June.

Fuzión Dance Artists presents a range of contemporary dance at the Historic Asolo Theater and many other-often unconventional-venues (Celest Mannerud)Fuzión Dance Artists, (941) 345-5755. fuziondance.com. Sarasota’s first contemporary dance company, Fuzión presents a range of dance genres in seasonal performances at the Historic Asolo Theater and at stages and other venues throughout the area (and beyond). The company and its choreographers also work with students of all ages.

Gloria Musicae, (941) 387-6046. gloriamusicae.com. This longtime professional chamber chorus presents several concerts a year, including a December holiday event, a Fourth of July celebration and a large-scale piece (this year they are Haydn: Seven Last Words of Christ and Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs, April 2, 2012). Venues vary; for ticket info you can call 360-7399.

The Jazz Club of Sarasota, 330 S. Pineapple Ave., Suite 111, Sarasota. (941) 366-1552. jazzclubsarasota.com. Celebrating three decades of promoting, performing and preserving jazz, the Jazz Club organizes performances year-round, including jams, members’ concerts and educational programs. Their Sarasota Jazz Festival in the spring has been a highlight for many years.

Key Chorale, (941) 921-4845. keychorale.org. This ensemble has been presenting choral music in the community for more than a quarter century, and its masterworks, performed at the Sarasota Opera House and other venues, are local favorites.

La Musica International Chamber Music Festival, (941) 366-8450. lamusicafestival.org. Another musical organization that’s entered its third decade, La Musica brings musicians from Europe and the Americas to perform all sorts of chamber works. The festival, under the artistic direction of Bruno Giuranna and Derek Han, takes place each April and offers rehearsals open to the public at New College’s Sainer Pavilion and a number of concerts at the Sarasota Opera House.

New Music New College, (941) 487-4888. newmusicnewcollege.org. This program is a proving ground for compositional and performance projects that start in the classrooms of New College’s music program. The five-concert series features both student musicians and professionals, local and national, in venues around the campus.
Perlman Music Program Suncoast, (941) 955-4942. perlmanmusicprogramsuncoast.org. A professional development program for gifted young musicians founded by the famed Itzhak and Toby Perlman, offering audiences the chance to see rehearsals and recitals during the two-week winter program here. The residency culminates with a Celebration Concert at the Sarasota Opera House led by Itzhak Perlman himself.

Sarasota Ballet, (941) 359-0099. sarasotaballet.org. With its fifth season under the artistic direction of Iain Webb, this international professional company has garnered acclaim for staging new or rarely seen dance pieces, with works by choreographers ranging from legends like Sir Frederick Ashton to more contemporary masters such as Matthew Bourne and Dominic Walsh. The ballet season typically runs from October or November through April, with performances scheduled at the Sarasota Opera House and the FSU Center.

Sarasota Choral Society, (941) 343-9894. sarasotachoralsociety.org. This community chorus numbering up to 300 strong has performed the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah (accompanied by a full orchestra, organist and soloists) every winter for 68 years.

Sarasota Concert Association, (941) 955-0040. sarasotaconcertassociation.org. Presents a hugely popular five-concert series at the Van Wezel featuring internationally renowned symphony and chamber orchestras, ensembles and soloists. Association members gobble up the series subscriptions, but returned tickets can be found by calling ahead or showing up to the box office an hour before a performance—just expect some competition.

Sarasota Concert Band, (941) 364-2263. sarasotaconcertband.org. The concert band performs regular concerts at various area venues, focusing on concert band music, often with a patriotic theme.

Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-8450. sarasotaopera.org. This internationally acclaimed professional company, led by Maestro Victor DeRenzi, performs a range of operas in downtown Sarasota’s stunningly restored Sarasota Opera House. Fall and winter seasons generally present four operas from Mozart to Puccini to the Sarasota Opera’s widely praised Verdi cycle, plus concerts, special events, and the new American Classics program featuring 20th-century masterpieces by American composers. The company also maintains a unique Sarasota Youth Opera program.

Sarasota Orchestra, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 953-4252. At more than 60 years of age, this 80-member professional orchestra (formerly the Florida West Coast Symphony) is the oldest continuing orchestra in the state. In addition to its traditional Masterworks series and chamber music, offerings include multimedia “Journeys to Genius” experiences. The orchestra is also justly proud of its educational outreach; the Youth Orchestra programs, more than 50 years old, include more than 200 young musicians, in addition to students at summer music camps and lessons.
Sarasota Pops, (941) 926-POPS. sarasotapops.org. The home-grown orchestra, which also welcomes occasional guest artists, performs a series of five concerts throughout the November to April season, with material varying from Bach to Christmas tunes to jazz. Most performances take place at Sarasota’s Church of the Palms.

SOULSPEAK/SOULMOVES, (941) 366-6468. soulspeak.org. This long-running collective of artists presents live poetry performances, as well as dance, music and art, centered on spontaneous communal speaking. It also produces videos, CDs and documentaries.

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 953-3368. vanwezel.org. This distinctive purple seashell-shaped hall along Sarasota’s bayfront boasts a wide-ranging season of Broadway touring theater, international dance companies both classical and modern, acclaimed world orchestras, comedians, pop music stars, children’s programs and more, mostly October through May.

Venice Symphony, (941) 488-1010. thevenicesymphony.org. Presenting six sets of concerts a year, December through April, from classical to pops, as well as a summer music camp. Performances are held at Venice’s Church of the Nazarene.

CIRCUS
Circus Sarasota, (941) 355-9335. circussarasota.org. Not many towns can boast their own one-ring circus, but this is Sarasota, which has been synonymous with the circus arts for more than 80 years. Co-founders Pedro Reis and Dolly Jacobs (daughter of legendary clown Lou Jacobs) oversee winter performances (in February) under the Big Top that feature top stars from around the world in the fields of high-wire, aerial, juggling, equestrian acts and more. Recently partnered with the Sailor Circus program for students, Circus Sarasota also offers numerous educational and outreach programs.

COMEDY
McCurdy’s Comedy Theatre, 3333 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 925-FUNY. mccurdyscomedy.com. Nationally known stand-up comics make regular stops at McCurdy’s popular club in north Sarasota (think Chris Rock, Jeff Dunham and Last Comic Standing alums). Full bar and snacks are available during performances. Check McCurdy’s novel rating system to gauge the level of “adult humor” for each performer—there are even family comedy shows. Open-mic nights and training and special programs through the Humor Institute.

FILM
Sarasota Film Festival, (941) 364-9514. sarasotafilmfestival.com. Each spring, Sarasota welcomes actors, filmmakers and film lovers to a 10-day celebration of the art of film, with screenings of brand-new movies at downtown’s Hollywood 20, plus parties, talks with the artists and more. This year’s fest is set for April 13-22; there are usually at least a dozen or so well-known celebs in attendance (Charlize Theron, Kevin Kline and Werner Herzog have all been past attendees). The organization also sponsors year-round screenings of classic movies and reaches out into the schools with its educational programs.

Sarasota Film Society/Burns Court Cinema, (941) 955-FILM or (941) 364-8662. SFS. filmsociety.org. Presents independent and international films at its intimate Burns Court location in downtown Sarasota—a popular spot among locals. SFS also hosts the weeklong Cine-World Festival each November and operates movie theaters in Lakewood Ranch.

ARTS EDUCATION
New College of Florida, 5800 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 487-5000. ncf.edu. New College continues to win raves as an innovative, affordable four-year liberal arts school. Academic tracks include art, art history and music—and many more.

Ringling College of Art and Design, 2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-5100. ringling.edu. This internationally recognized four-year professional art and design school earns national attention—graduates are recruited by the likes of Pixar, Abercrombie & Fitch and Hallmark. And its ever-expanding campus, which includes several recently completed buildings, has become a landmark on North Tamiami Trail. Among the school’s specialties: graphic and interior design, computer animation, fine arts, illustration, photography and digital film making.

State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. (941) 752-5000. scf.edu. Formerly known as Manatee Community College, this institute of higher education is home to a fine and performing arts department that includes instruction in art, photography, film, music and theater. Both a gallery and a theater space are active on the Bradenton campus; there are also classes in Venice and Lakewood Ranch locations.

Drum Circle at Siesta (Niko Retro)BEACHES

Yes, we have America’s No. 1 beach—and many more to boot.

SARASOTA’S BEACHES ARE LEGENDARY—varied, dramatic, entertaining and infinitely beautiful. And now wide, safe Siesta Beach, with its winter-white sand, has been named the best in the country, according to “Dr. Beach,” beach expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman.

Our beaches have also inspired the many artists and writers drawn here over the years. Consider yourself not merely a sunbather but an audience to a symphony of waves and birdsong, a ballet of dancing dolphins and swirling gulls, a theater of people-watching, and painted sunsets so vibrant they can’t be captured on canvas.

Each beach is its own gallery, its own performance space—some quiet and hidden like an intimate cabaret, others bustling and open like a concert in the park. You may choose your tickets based on the quality of the sand, the clarity of the water, the breadth of the wildlife or the energy of the people. But whichever beach you pick, you’re in for a show.

The regular Sunday-evening Siesta Beach drum circle gives a soundtrack to the nation’s No. 1 beach.

Siesta Beach (William S. Speer)(Beaches are listed from north to south.)

Manatee Public Beach; bridge access from Bradenton via Manatee Avenue (S.R. 64). Popular hangout in the city of Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. Centered around Café on the Beach, which serves traditional concessions as well as beer and wine; there’s a beach shop and volleyball. The parking lot often overflows, especially on weekends.

Coquina Beach, Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria Island; bridge access from Bradenton via Cortez Road, or from Longboat Key via Gulf of Mexico Drive. Manatee County’s beachfront comprises a long stretch of public shoreline on the southern end of Anna Maria Island, with soft white sand and calm, clear water. Ample parking along the road or in the large lot to the south, where you’ll also find concessions, restrooms and an extensive picnic area.

Longboat Key - Longboat Pass, which links the Gulf of Mexico to the peaceful waters of Sarasota Bay, draws paddleboarders and other water lovers (William S. Speer)Longboat Key. There are bridge accesses to  Longboat Key from both Anna Maria Island and Lido Key. A handful of public accesses at the south end allows Longboat non-residents to park and enjoy the quiet solitude of the key—which has no direct link to the mainland and is so populated by private condominiums and resorts that these few public accesses rarely, if ever, draw a crowd. At the north end: beautiful, secluded Whitney Beach. No amenities.

Lido Beach, 400 Ben Franklin Drive, Lido Key; bridge access from the John Ringling Causeway in downtown Sarasota, or south from Longboat Key. Within walking distance of shops and restaurants on St. Armands Circle, Lido Beach is family-friendly and great for swimming, with year-round lifeguards, ample parking, concession stand, wheelchair access and a swimming pool. More than a mile of beachfront extends through North Lido, making for an idyllic stroll just five minutes from downtown Sarasota.

South Lido Beach/Park, 190 Taft Drive, Lido Key. The intersection of Big Pass and the Gulf of Mexico is a favorite spot for picnicking, with tables, grills and a playground under shady Australian pines. Boaters, kayakers and personal watercraft enthusiasts flock here, especially on weekends, but the area also boasts nature trails and undeveloped land. Restrooms, weekend lifeguards during the summer only; beware strong currents.

Siesta Beach, 948 Beach Road, Siesta Key; bridge access from Siesta Drive or Stickney Point Road. The crown jewel of our local waterfront, Siesta has just been named the very best beach in America for its expanse of flour-like sand and clean, clear Gulf waters. Special events like an annual sand-sculpting contest or the Sunday-night drum circle gatherings add to the allure, but Siesta is a treat in and of itself, from beachfront breakfast to stunning sunset. Great picnic area and volleyball courts, year-round lifeguards, plus tennis courts, concessions, restrooms, pavilion and more, but even with an 800-space lot, parking can be a challenge.

Turtle Beach, 8862 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key. A favorite for kayakers, who can explore a nearby lagoon and natural wetlands, Turtle Beach also boasts a popular campground—a rare opportunity to pitch your tent within the sound of waves. A recent improvement project is bringing brand-new pedestrian walkways, playground, pavilion, a handicapped-accessible boardwalk, a kayak launch and enhanced restrooms and parking.

North Jetty Beach, 1000 S. Casey Key Road, Casey Key; bridge access via Albee Road, Laurel. There aren’t a lot of surfing hotspots on Florida’s west coast, but this is one of them: The jetties, meant to battle erosion, help to create decent-size surf with regularity. (They’re also home to some great fishing, as resident anglers will attest.) Bait shop and concession stand, plus year-round lifeguards, restrooms and volleyball and horseshoe courts.

Venice Beach, 101 The Esplanade, Venice. Famous for sharks’ teeth, Venice Beach draws treasure hunters and beachcombers who regularly dig up the fossilized souvenirs. Plus, the Venice Beach Pavilion, which houses its concession stand, is a landmark of the legendary Sarasota School of Architecture. Year-round lifeguards, plus beach wheelchairs, picnicking, restrooms and volleyball.

Brohard Beach and Paw Park, 1600 Harbor Drive S., Venice. Between Venice and Caspersen beaches, Brohard Beach is the area’s only public, Gulf-front dog-friendly beach. The Paw Park has fenced-in grassy areas specifically designed for dog play (including a separate area for smaller dogs), and four-legged friends can also romp through the water and along a section of the beach. Picnic tables and restrooms but no lifeguards.

Caspersen Beach, 4100 Harbor Drive, Venice. A secluded stretch of all-natural coastline south of Venice, Caspersen provides beachcombers an excellent selection of shells as well as fossilized bones and teeth. Explore the unspoiled beachfront and nearby marshlands via a short nature trail, or just kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet. Restrooms and picnic area, but no lifeguards.

Manasota Beach, 8570 Manasota Key Road, Manasota Key; bridge access via Manasota Beach Road. Gulf beach access as well as boating docks along the Intracoastal Waterway that double as boardwalks for exploring the mangroves. Year-round lifeguards, picnic tables and shelters, fishing, restrooms, docks and boat ramps.

Blind Pass Beach, 6725 Manasota Key Road, Manasota Key; bridge access via Manasota Beach Road, or Beach Road to the south. A quiet, narrow stretch of beach-to-bay in southernmost Sarasota County, Blind Pass is a secluded spot perfect for a nature hike or picnics surrounded by native Florida flora. Canoe launch, fishing, restrooms and playground, but no lifeguards.

 

Hotel IndigoACCOMMODATIONS

Make these rooms your home away from home.

IT’S THE LAST THING YOU SEE BEFORE YOU DRIFT OFF TO SLEEP and the first thing that greets you in the morning: your hotel room. And whether you’re looking for a starlit sky and the soothing sound of waves or a shining cityscape and 24-hour dining, Sarasota’s lodging services have it all.

Fresh off the plane, you may choose to luxuriate in a spa tub next to marble counters, and then wrap up in a warm hotel robe before slipping under a down duvet for the night. Or perhaps you prefer to walk barefoot over hardwood floors and crawl under a charming hand-sewn quilt in a four-poster bed. When your eyelids grow heavy from a long day of travel, business or adventure, our local rooms have just the thing to match the personality of your dreams.

The Ritz-Carlton Members Beach ClubBut we all know hotels aren’t just about sleeping. From the comfort of your room, you can watch a 42-inch HDTV from a chaise lounge or a stunning Gulf view from your fully furnished balcony, all while eating a gourmet meal from an award-winning on-site restaurant.

You might sip fresh-brewed coffee by the pool, stroll to the shoreline, take a spin on the dance floor or a spin class in the gym, all without leaving your lodging. When it comes time to explore, enjoy your proximity to all the wonders Southwest Florida has to offer, whether you’re walking across the street or taking a complimentary shuttle to the nearby shopping mecca. Wherever you want to go, here’s where you can stay.

Guests of The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, can also enjoy the nearby Gulf-front Members’ Beach Club on Lido Key.

DOWNTOWN SARASOTA
Best Western Midtown, 1425 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 955-9841. bwmidtown.com. Convenient to the shopping and restaurants of downtown Sarasota, as well as beaches, area attractions and more. Guests can relax in the heated pool and enjoy complimentary continental breakfast buffet.

Hotel Indigo Sarasota, 1223 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. (941) 487-3800. srqhotel.com. Famed for its inspired service, boutique design and invigorating atmosphere, Hotel Indigo is an oasis of 95 cool, welcoming guest rooms with hardwood floors and decorative area rugs, spa-inspired showers, oversized beds and luxurious linens, all at the edge of downtown Sarasota and convenient to the airport, St. Armands Circle, Lido and Siesta beaches and more. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Sarasota Opera House and Sarasota Orchestra are all within half a mile of Hotel Indigo, and the Ringling Museum, Asolo Repertory Theatre and Sarasota Ballet are less than three miles away. On-site amenities include twin spa wading pools, a salon and the European-inspired H20 Bistro, which serves casual bites and freshly brewed coffee.

Hyatt Regency SarasotaHyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. (941) 953-1234 or (800) 233-1234. sarasota.hyatt.com. The AAA Four Diamond-rated downtown Hyatt Regency Sarasota provides the quintessential “Florida chic” experience with its waterfront location, a bright, airy design inspired by Lily Pulitzer and a fresh Floribbean cuisine at Currents Restaurant. The hotel boasts 20,000 square feet of meeting space divisible into 20 separate meeting rooms; its private 32-slip “green” marina leads directly to Sarasota Bay and accommodates boats up to 38 feet. CB Outfitters is located on site for boat rentals, charter fishing and sundries. Other first-rate attractions located just minutes away include the Ringling Museum of Art, fashionable shopping and dining on Armands Circle and more than five dozen golf and tennis facilities.

The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. (941) 309-2000. ritzcarlton.com/sarasota. The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota brings world-famous Ritz-Carlton service and amenities to downtown Sarasota, where guests enjoy the site’s combination of city sophistication and Florida. Guests and members also enjoy unlimited access to the spa (just ranked third in the U.S. and Canada by Travel + Leisure magazine), private Gulf-front beach club and a Tom Fazio-designed, nationally ranked championship golf course.

In room, you’ll luxuriate with down duvets, Italian Frette-brand linens, Bose CD players, desks and chaise lounges, furnished balconies with bay, marina or city views, bathrooms with double marble vanities and plush Ritz-Carlton robes. The award-winning Vernona restaurant serves exceptional regional American cuisine, using fresh ingredients like Muscovy duck breast, Alaskan Coho salmon and Maine diver scallops. There’s also the Bayview Burger Bar and the Cà d’Zan Lounge, a popular spot for relaxed cocktails and upscale pub fare including the filet patty melt, the wild mushroom and truffle Parmesan pizza, and the burger Rossini, with foie gras and port-glazed shallots.

LIDO KEY
The Helmsley Sandcastle Hotel, 1540 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota. (941) 388-2181 or (800) 225-2181. helmsleysandcastle.com. This full-service resort offers a friendly, tropical atmosphere on 600 feet of private beach. Enjoy casual, open-air meals or elegant dining in one of the two on-site restaurants. Relax in one of two heated pools—enjoy a drink from the pool bar—or take advantage of sailing and other water recreation arranged through the recreation department. Each room is equipped with a refrigerator, coffeemaker, safe, hair dryer, iron, ironing board, make-up mirror and daily newspaper. Browse the gift shop for souvenirs, ice cream or items you may have forgotten. Complimentary wireless Internet access is available throughout the property.

Lido Beach Holiday Inn 233 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota. (941) 388-5555. lidobeachholidayinn.com. The Lido Beach Holiday Inn’s spectacular outdoor pool overlooks the beach for one of the area’s best views of the water. From there, you can walk to nearby St. Armands Circle (the area’s Rodeo Drive) or take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary shuttle, which also goes to downtown Sarasota. The Sand Dollar Rooftop Restaurant, another breathtaking view, offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and room service. Beach cabanas, beach chairs and bicycle rentals are available.

Lido Beach ResortLido Beach Resort, 700 Ben Franklin Drive, Sarasota, (941) 388-2161. (800) 441-2113. lidobeachresort.com. Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico from the eighth floor, the resort’s renowned Lido Beach Grille is a favorite among locals, as is the famous tiki bar. Guests can walk to St. Armands or stay on site to enjoy 300 feet of private beach, two heated beachfront pools and a 900-square-foot fitness center. Rooms include deluxe kitchenettes and one- and two-bedroom suites, with a refrigerator, microwave and complimentary high-speed Internet access. A catering staff, chef and 6,000 square feet of flexible meeting space are available for functions on site and on the beach.

SIESTA KEY
Gulf and Bay Club, 5730 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. (941) 349-3000. gulfandbayclub.com. Siesta’s idyllic Crescent Beach serves as the setting for this premier residential resort. One-month rentals of fully furnished two-bedroom, two-bath let you stay alongside athletic courts, a fitness center, saunas, three heated pools, barbecue areas and two clubhouses. There’s also a lake, covered parking, a library and 24-hour security.

Holiday Inn Express Siesta Key/Sarasota, 6600 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 924-4900. hiexsarasota.com. Surrounded by restaurants, shopping and the country’s No. 1 beach, the Holiday Inn Express offers single- and double-bed guest rooms as well as upgraded poolside king rooms with pull-out sofa and flat-screen TV. Brand-new two-room executive suites each offer a kitchenette, living room, 42-inch flat-screen TV and sleeper sofa. Guests enjoy complimentary hot breakfast each morning, USA Today, wireless Internet, fresh fruit plus popcorn, cappuccino and cookies, all made fresh daily.

Hyatt Siesta Key Beach, 915 Seaside Drive, Sarasota. (941) 346-5900. hyattsiestakeybeach.com. A Hyatt Residence Club, the beachfront Hyatt Siesta Key Beach creates a new standard of vacation ownership with luxurious accommodations within a world-class setting. Private terraces, personalized grocery services and complimentary Wi-Fi go hand-in-hand with the site’s poolside cabanas, beachfront fire pit, beach amenities and valet, plus Hyatt concierge services.

The Palm Bay Club, 5960 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. (800) 725-6229. palmbayclub.com. These vacation condominiums, ideally located between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Siesta Key, feature a quiet beach for sunning or shelling. The one-, two- and three-bedroom suites are all fully furnished and provide breathtaking views of the Gulf and tropical landscaping. Guests also enjoy two heated pools, lighted tennis courts, yacht basin, fishing pier, private clubhouse and exercise equipment.

Sarasota Surf and Racquet Club, 5900 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. (941) 349-2200 or (800) 237-5671. sarasotasurf.com. Siesta Key’s only full-service tennis resort located directly on the beach, Sarasota Surf and Racquet Club offers fully furnished one- and two-bedroom condominiums with complete kitchens. In addition to world-class service, guests enjoy two heated pools, four tennis courts (two are clay), a fitness center, business center and free property-wide wireless access, beachside barbecue grills and maid service.

Tropical Shores, 6717 SaraSea Circle, Sarasota. (941) 349-3330. tropicalshores.com. A serene private beach on Siesta Key hosts Tropical Shores’ deluxe accommodations, including lush tropical gardens, heated pool, volleyball, free Wi-Fi, brand-new rooms and more. The one-room efficiencies and two-bedroom deluxe units are non-smoking and include fully stocked kitchens.

NORTH COUNTY/AIRPORT-ADJACENT
Comfort Inn, 5000 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 351-7734. comfortinn.com. Within walking distance of the Ringling Museum and the FSU Center, the Comfort Inn offers complimentary deluxe continental “Sunshine” breakfast daily, USA Today newspaper on weekdays, free high-speed Internet access as well as a business center, exercise room and outdoor heated pool.

Comfort Suites, 8305 Tourist Center Drive, University Park. (941) 360-2626. comfortsuites.com. Guests enjoy the free “Savory Starts” breakfast seven days a week, including pastries, eggs, sausage and more. Suites include microwaves, refrigerators, coffee makers, hair dryers, irons and ironing boards, and the site also offers free wireless high-speed Internet access, on-site laundry facilities, a 24-hour business center and a 24-hour fitness center.

Courtyard by Marriot, 850 University Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 355-3337 or (800) 321-2211. courtyardsarasota.com The closest hotel to the Ringling Museum and the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, the Courtyard by Marriot is a state-certified Green Lodging Hotel. Guests enjoy complimentary high-speed Internet, an exercise facility, outdoor pool and spa, and a full-service restaurant, the Bistro, serving Starbucks coffee. All guest rooms were newly renovated as of January 2010.

Golden Host Resort, 4675 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 355-5141. goldenhostresort.com. Located on five acres of tropically landscaped grounds between the Ringling Museum and downtown Sarasota, the Golden Host Resort offers a 50-foot heated pool and shuffleboard courts. Deluxe continental breakfast served daily. Rooms include high-speed Internet and data ports, iron and ironing board and hair dryer. The legendary Bahi Hut cocktail lounge, located on-site and a favorite among locals, adds to the hotel’s historic significance.

Hilton Garden Inn, 8270 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 552-1100. hiltongardensarasota.com. There are 115 rooms—including allergen-free “PURE” units—a comfortable lounge and the Great American Grill, heated outdoor pool and state-of-the-art fitness center with spa. Complimentary 24-hour shuttle to and from anywhere within five miles of the hotel, including the airport (just one mile away).

Holiday Inn Sarasota Bradenton Airport, 8009 15th St. E., Sarasota. (941) 355-9000. hisrq.com. When guests walk into the two-year-old Holiday Inn, they’re greeted by a stunning six-story atrium, glass elevators and waterfall. Resort-style amenities and business facilities include indoor pool, sauna, steam room, massage therapy, room service, free Wi-Fi, 1,700-square-foot ballroom, board room and concierge services to arrange everything from tee times to fishing charters. The on-site Sporting News Grill boasts nine 50-inch HDTVs showing premium sports packages, plus an outside terrace for alfresco dining and relaxing around the fire-pit conversation area.

Hyatt Place, 950 University Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 554-5800. sarasotabradenton.place.hyatt.com. Located adjacent to the airport, the Hyatt Place offers guests complimentary breakfast, parking, Wi-Fi Internet and airport/local shuttle. The hotel features a guest kitchen serving freshly prepared, café-quality items 24 hours a day and a bakery café serving Starbucks specialty coffees, beers, cocktails and wine. Guest rooms feature a 42-inch, flat-panel HDTV, Cozy Corner sleeper sofa and Hyatt Grand Bed. Additional amenities include 24/7 fitness center, outdoor pool, e-room with computers and printer, bocce ball court and meeting space.

La Quinta Inn and Suites, 1803 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 366-5128. lq.com. In addition to 12 suites, La Quinta’s 90 standard rooms include a pull-out sofa. The charming interior décor, including hardwood floors in the lobby and each room’s entranceway, complements on-site amenities like a fitness center, heated pool and laundry room. Guests also enjoy continental breakfast. Pets are welcome (some restrictions apply; call for details).

Ramada Waterfront, 7150 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. ramada.com. Surrounded by spectacular marina views, the 85 guest rooms and suites, pool, restaurant and popular tiki bar feature free Wi-Fi and free parking convenient to both Sarasota and Manatee counties. More than 9,000 square feet of meeting space can accommodate functions with up to 700 people.

Residence Inn by Marriott, 1040 University Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 358-1468. marriott.com. The pet-friendly Residence Inn offers extended-stay needs with full kitchens. Also included in the rate is complimentary breakfast daily and evening social (light dinner and beverages) Monday through Thursday. In addition guests enjoy complimentary wired and wireless Internet and a 24-hour business center. The hotel received complete renovation fall of 2011, which brought the brand-new Infusion décor and furniture package.

Springhill Suites by Marriott, 1020 University Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 358-3385. marriott.com. Springhill Suites is all-suite hotel featuring suites that are 25 percent larger than comparably priced rooms and include separate areas for living and sleeping. Free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast buffet, pool and 24-hour business center, fitness center and market.

BRADENTON BEACH
Runaway Bay, 1801 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach, (941) 778-0000. wagnerrentals.com. Set amid Anna Maria Island’s charming neighborhoods and exceptional restaurants, the more than 150 individually owned condominiums are available for weekly, monthly or seasonal rental. Each unit includes a fully equipped kitchen, and Runaway Bay also features a tennis court, sauna, exercise equipment, fishing pier and the island’s largest heated swimming pool.

EAST/INTERSTATE-ADJACENT
Country Inn & Suites, 5610 Manor Hill Lane, Bradenton. (941) 363-4000. countryinns.com/bradentonfl. Convenient to I-75, Country Inn accommodates vacationers, business travelers, small events and business meetings alike. Rooms include pillow-top mattresses, refrigerators, microwaves and free Wi-Fi, and the site offers a heated outdoor pool, fitness center, guest laundry and business center. Complimentary breakfast buffet includes waffles and scrambled eggs.

Fairfield Inn and Suites Lakewood Ranch, 6105 Exchange Way, Lakewood Ranch. (941) 552-4000. marriott.com. With 87 sunny rooms and suites, the hotel provides complimentary high-speed Internet, a breakfast buffet, 24-hour coffee bar, newspapers and even cookies every evening. Plus: a Kids Corner to occupy the youngsters.

Hampton Inn and Suites, 8565 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Park. (941) 355-8619. hamptoninnsarasota.com. Here you’ll find all the conveniences vacationers have come to expect of the Hampton. Business travelers can take advantage of the business center, AV equipment, complimentary printing, photo copying service and more, while vacationers enjoy convenience to Lakewood Ranch and I-75.

Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch, 6231 Lake Osprey Drive, Lakewood Ranch. (941) 782-4400. hilr.com. Voted the No. 1 Holiday Inn in North America for 2008 and the first green-certified hotel in the area, the full-service, boutique Holiday Inn Lakewood Ranch offers a workstation with two line data ports in each room, as well as complimentary high-speed Internet service, ergonomic chair and iron and ironing board. The hotel’s own Alamo Steakhouse and Grill features dishes like certified Angus beef or blackened alligator in an Old Florida-inspired environment. Corporate meetings, weddings and sports events are all catered in-house, with 2,500 square feet of meeting space.

Sun-N-Fun RV Resort and Campground, 7125 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. (800) 843-2421. sunnfunfl.com. Years of experience serving those traveling by RV have resulted in a facility perfectly suited to campers for convenience, family fun and relaxation—a great, pet-friendly alternative to hotel stays. The site plays host to more than 150 activities in season, not to mention offering wireless Internet access, an on-site restaurant, Olympic-size swimming pool, holistic day spa, fitness center, poolside bar and grill and live entertainment. Cozy vacation-home rentals (and sales for those in search of a permanent winter home) are also available.

Wingate Inn and Suites, 5464 Lena Road, Bradenton. (941) 755-0055. wingatebradenton.com. Choose from 78 large guest rooms or deluxe doubles, which include refrigerators, microwaves, free wireless Internet, recliners and more. Families and extended-stay guests may prefer the junior and executive suites, which also offer kitchenettes and Jacuzzi tubs .Take advantage of the on-site heated pool, 24-hour business center and fitness center as well as a whirlpool spa.

SOUTH SARASOTA COUNTY
Bentley’s Resort, 1660 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. (941) 966-2121.bentleyssarasota.com. Convenient to I-75 and directly across U.S. 41 from Oscar Scherer State Park, Bentley’s offers quality, sophistication and style for a relaxing stay, as well as ample facilities for weddings, business conferences, banquets and more. Also features an on-site rest-aurant and poolside tiki bar. All rooms here are non-smoking.

Best Western Plus Ambassador Suites, 400 Commercial Court, Venice. (941) 480-9898. bestwestern.com/ambassadorsuites. Newly renovated and non-smoking, this all-suite Venice hotel offers in-room kitchenettes, refrigerators and free wireless Internet. Allergy sufferers can rest easy in one of the laminate floor rooms.

Hampton Inn and Suites Bayside, 881 Venetia Bay Blvd., Venice. (941) 488-5900. hamptoninnvenice.com. Newly renovated and near to shopping, restaurants and beaches. Guests enjoy complimentary breakfast, free newspaper, high-speed Internet access and a fitness center.

Thanks to its recent $22 million renovation, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota includes a 32-slip private marina that was named to the Florida Clean Marina Program

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