Best New Arts Leader: Anu Tali
The talk of the town this season was new Sarasota Orchestra music director Anu Tali, whose passion for her art and musicians was evident, especially when she conducted them in concerts including works by fellow Estonian Heino Eller and Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. She may be blonde, beautiful and fluent in six languages, but what's wowed us all is her musical command. 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3434, sarasotaorchestra.org.
Best New "Note-able" Public Art: Downtown pianos
Those painted pianos that popped up around downtown thanks to the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County were not only eye candy, but music to the ears as well, as passers-by tickled the ivories with a range of styles and—ahem—skills. If you haven't trotted out your Chopin yet, you still can through May along the sidewalks of Main, Pineapple and Palm.
Best New Art Gallery: The IceHouse on 10th
The IceHouse on 10th converted a former—yes—ice house into an expansive (8,900 square feet) gallery with plentiful wall space, high ceilings, its own mini-theater, lecture space and gift shop. And its first season presented an intriguing blend of artists both local and international and welcomed partnerships with several nonprofits for opening night galas. A truly "cool" destination. 1314 10th St., Sarasota, (941) 366-6400, icehouseon10th.com.
Best New Place to Take Kids: Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden
Rising 27 feet into the treetops to give little ones a bird's-eye perspective on nature, Selby Gardens' Children's Rainforest Garden has plenty of safe thrills: a banyan boardwalk, 16-foot waterfall, epiphyte caverns, a swinging canopy bridge and chickee huts filled with hands-on activities. Since opening in November, it's been drawing families in droves. 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731, selby.org.
Best New Place to Watch the Sunset: Van Wezel Sunset Terrace
Whoever thought of covering the Van Wezel bayside terrace with handsome shade "sails" and adding chic outdoor lounge furniture and a fire pit gets our Genius Award for Best Way to Take Advantage of Spectacular Views. Now open for pre-show drinks and dinner, it will eventually offer lunch and cocktails on nonshow days, too. 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 953-3368, vanwezel.org.
Best New Reason to go to the Beach: The new beach pavilions
Good for Sarasota County for flaunting our rich architectural heritage with striking modern beach pavilions at Caspersen, Manasota, North Jetty and South Lido parks. The eye- catching buildings were designed by Sweet Sparkman Architects to reference the swaying sea oats that thrive along the shoreline. The Caspersen Beach pavilion won a Design Excellence Award from the Florida/Caribbean AIA.
Best New Health Care Expansion: Sarasota Memorial's Courtyard Tower
We'll get well quicker thanks to Sarasota Memorial's beautiful new Courtyard Tower, a nine-story, 172-room state-of-the-art facility offering orthopedic, cardio-vascular, childbirth and neonatal care. Each bed has, among other technologies, a laptop computer for real-time chart access. Don't you feel better already? 1700 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 917-9000, smh.com.
Best New Fun: The new McCurdy's Comedy Theatre
For 13 years, McCurdy's has featured top talent in an old theater on the North Tamiami Trail. Now we all have something new to smile about: The new McCurdy's, a completely redone, 200-seat space in the heart of downtown Sarasota, should give comedy's big names and Sarasota fans the stylish setting they deserve. 1923 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 925-3869, mccurdyscomedy.com.
Best Festival or Special Event
Sarasota Chalk Festival
Sarasota Film Festival, Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Competition
Best Fund-raising Gala
Wine, Women & Shoes
Goodwill's Mardi Gras, Center for Building Hope's Night of Hope
Best Performing Arts Group
Asolo Repertory Theatre, Florida Studio Theatre
Best Place to Hear Local Bands
Cock and Bull Pub
Five O'Clock Club, Mattison's City Grille
Best Place to Meet Singles
Miller's Sarasota Ale House
Libby's Café + Bar, Social on First
Downtown development, noise ordinance
Best Tourist Attraction
Mote Marine Aquarium, The Ringling Museum of Art
Best Local TV Personality
Bob Harrigan, John Scalzi
Click here to see more readers' and editors' picks in the Best of Sarasota 2014. >>