Gem on the Bay

As we suffered through long, wintry commutes, we kept remembering that little coastal town in sunny Southwest Florida.


By Virginia Haley

Sarasota didn’t have to work hard to win me over. In the 1980s, my future husband and I were crisscrossing the state of Florida to watch spring training baseball games. As we drove our rental car south along the length of Longboat Key, we crossed the old Ringling Bridge, and had our first glimpse of this gem of a little city on the bay. We were struck by the colorful buildings and how clean everything was. We hadn’t planned on stopping, but we did.

This first impression of the “gem on the bay” lingered as we married and began raising our family. Jack and I were living outside of Washington, D.C., slogging through horrible, long commutes while trying to find time to spend with our family. Jack, in particular, was sick of the winters and wanted to move to Florida. I have to admit I initially resisted—then I remembered Sarasota. We both value education, so we researched the Sarasota school system and learned it was one of the best in the state. This sealed our decision to move.

We made the big move in February 1989, before our daughter Madeline started school. We settled into a temporary garage apartment in McClellan Park. Those first couple of months were magical. Simple things—the smell of the orange tree in bloom next door or teaching Madeline to ride a bike along Osprey Avenue in winter—were amazing. Not a weekend would pass without a trip to Siesta Beach. I had always dreamed of living in a beach town, and we were living the dream.

As we further settled in and Madeline started school, we fell even more in love with our new life. It was easy to navigate the area, and a variety of learning experiences were very accessible to Madeline. Trips to Mote’s science programs, Florida Studio Theatre camps, youth orchestra in school, and Arts Day in downtown were part of her childhood. To this day, I continue to be thankful for that fateful trip across the old Ringling Bridge.

Virginia Haley is president of Visit Sarasota County.