Sarasota, Florida

Sarasota in southwestern Florida is called “Circus City” because John Ringling, several of his relatives and staff of the Ringling Brothers Circus had their winter residence here. You’ll soon see how “The Greatest Show on Earth” helped to produce the greatest architecture and art collection in Sarasota.

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1 Front Façade of Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Florida

This magnificence mansion was the former winter home of John and Mable Ringling. It is called Ca’ d’Zan which in Italian means “House of John.” However, it was Mrs. Ringling who managed every inch of constructing this 36,000 square foot residence from 1924 through 1926. The builder, Owen Burns, was also a significant landowner in Sarasota. He partnered with the president of Ringling Brothers Circus on several land development projects in the early 1900s.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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2 Lion Sculpture at Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Florida

This sculpture of a lion located on the terrace of the Ringling Mansion in Sarasota could easily have represented one of the big cats featured in the Ringling Brothers Circus. But given John Ringling’s love of Venice, I suspect it is also patterned after the Winged Lion of Venice in St. Mark’s Square. Notice the paw resting on a scroll. In Italy this represents the Gospel of St. Mark.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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3 Rear Façade of Ringling Mansion in Sarasota, Florida

If this rear façade of the Ca’ d’Zan looks similar to the Ducal Palace in Venice, then you have a good eye for Veneto-Byzantine architecture because John Ringling wanted his winter residence to look just like a palazzo along the Grand Canal. Its 1,000 foot length is beautifully appointed with Byzantine and Moorish elements and covered with terra cotta and glazed titles. The terrace is a marble mosaic in an array of colors. It leads to the waterfront of Sarasota Bay where Mr. Ringling often docked his yacht, the Zalophus.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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4 Front Gate of the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida

Behind this gate is the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. Its 21 galleries contain a collection of more than 10,000 pieces of art, sculptures and antiquities acquired by John Ringling from the turn of the 20th century until his death in 1936. His art legacy was willed to the city but the building remained closed for about a decade and was almost condemned until management was transferred to the Florida State University. After a $75 million restoration, it reopened in 2007.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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5 David Statue at Ringling Museum of Art Courtyard in Sarasota, Florida

Michelangelo created the David statue in 1504 where it stood at Palazzo Vecchio until it was moved to the Accademia Gallery in 1873. A 14 foot replica has since replaced it. Another replica can be seen at Piazzale Michelangiolo which overlooks the city of Florence. In a similar fashion, this reproduction stands majestically on a balcony overlooking the inner courtyard at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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6 Courtyard Inside the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida

The Ringling Museum of Art’s inner courtyard is defined by three, U-shaped colonnades that have an architectural hint to the Procuratie surrounding St. Mark’s Square in Venice. The statues along the balustrade are reminiscent of St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The garden is adorned with reproductions of classical sculptures. And the pink color is an individual flare of architect John Phillips who finished this Renaissance structure in 1927. It is magnificent. You will feel like you have walked into a grand Italian piazza.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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7 Abduction of Proserpina Statue at Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida

The original Abduction of Proserpina sculpture was carved in 1622 from marble by artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini when he was only 23 years old. It shows the daughter of Zeus being kidnapped by Hades and brought to the underworld. According to Greek mythology, this goddess who is also called Persephone was responsible for the springtime fertilization of vegetation. Her abduction symbolizes autumn. This reproduction was acquired by John Ringling in 1936 and is in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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8 Oceanus Fountain at Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida

Giovanni de Bologna designed the original Oceanus Fountain in 1576 for the Medici family who ruled the Republic of Florence for centuries. The marble water fountain was placed in the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace in Florence. It has since been moved to the Bargello Museum. On top is Oceanus, the ruler of the ocean and father to 3000 river gods. Below him are three figures: the Nile on the left, Euphrates on the right and Ganges is not shown. In 1936, John Ringling placed this reproduction in the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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9 Giant Circus Mural at Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida

This mural called “The Greatest Show on Earth” brilliantly captures the iconic sights from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It was painted by William Woodward in 1989. In 2013, it was put on public display inside the lobby of the Tibbals Learning Center in the Circus Museum which is part of the Ringling Museum of Art. This 22 by 42 foot painting is filled with tigers, clowns, dancing elephants, trapeze artists and all the other acts that thrilled you as a kid when you sat under the big top.

5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
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10 Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida

The original Asolo Theatre was built in 1798 in a town by the same name near Venice, Italy. It was dismantled in 1930 until the Ringling Museum decided to purchase it. It was sent to Sarasota, Florida, reconstructed in 1952, modernized in 1958 and fully restored in 2006. It is now called the Historic Asolo Theater and some performances are still conducted there. But this building, which is the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts, is the primary home for shows, plays, ballet and a conservatory. It is called the Asolo Repertory Theatre or Asolo Rep for short.

5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243
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11 Popular Siesta Beach on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida

One look at the crowd at Siesta Beach will tell you it is very popular. But that should not be surprising because it has been called the “Best Beach in Florida” by Florida Trend Magazine and Dr. Beach rated it the “#1 Beach in the USA.” Why? Among its many attributes are that it faces the Gulf of Mexico and has crystal-quartz sand that is pure white, soft and never heats up even on the hottest days.

948 Beach Rd, Siesta Key, FL 34242
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12 Green Flag at Siesta Beach on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida

The green flag above this lifeguard station signals that the Gulf of Mexico’s water is safe. Perhaps it also means go have fun at Siesta Beach’s volleyball and tennis courts, the playground or the grills next to the picnic tables. Or maybe you prefer kite surfing or snorkeling. Florida’s number one beach also has wheelchairs that float and can travel through water and sand.

948 Beach Rd, Siesta Key, FL 34242
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13 Sunbathers at Siesta Beach on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida

These three girlfriends are enjoying every minute of sunbathing on Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Florida. Their toes are in the warm water while they are lounging in their beach chairs watching the crowd play in the Gulf of Mexico. The only flaw in an otherwise perfect day at the beach? It is almost impossible to read the screen on your cell phone. Sounds like a vacation problem, doesn’t it?

948 Beach Rd, Siesta Key, FL 34242
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14 Sand Toys at Siesta Beach on Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida

Families with small children love taking them to Siesta Beach near Sarasota, Florida, because the water is shallow and usually calm. In addition, the sand is perfect for building castles and is always cool on their sensitive skin regardless of the temperature. Joggers and walkers also enjoy the unique crystal-quartz sand because it is tightly compacted yet still very soft.

948 Beach Rd, Siesta Key, FL 34242
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15 Man Riding Bicycle along Sarasota Bay in Sarasota, Florida

This elderly gentleman is enjoying his bicycle ride along Bayfront Drive, a waterfront boulevard along Sarasota Bay. He is one of the 30% of people 65 and over who are living their retirement in Sarasota County, Florida. In the background is the Golden Gate Point peninsula. The bridge is the John Ringling Causeway.

3 US-41, Sarasota, FL 34236
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16 Red Sculpture Called Complexus by John Henry in Sarasota, Florida

Tennessee-based artist John Henry created this dramatic, 70 foot red steel sculpture called “Complexus” that some say resembles Pick-up Sticks. This dramatic work stands in front of the One Sarasota Tower at the corners of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. It was purchased by the Sarasota Public Art Fund in 2012. The SPAF is a non-profit group dedicated to beautifying Sarasota with outdoor art.

2 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236
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17 Unconditional Surrender Statue in Sarasota, Florida

This image of a sailor spontaneously kissing a nurse in Times Square on August 14, 1945, celebrated the end of World War II and was made famous by Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photo when it appeared in Life Magazine. Sculptor Seward Johnson created this 25 foot likeness. It was first exhibited in Sarasota, Florida in 2005. In 2009, it was purchased by a generous donation from Jack Curran and now stands at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. Copies can also be seen in San Diego (photo on this site), Hamilton, New Jersey, Pearl Harbor and Normandy, France.

[27.335157, -82.546778]
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18 Intracoastal Waterway along Casey Key in Sarasota, Florida

If you want to drive from Sarasota to Casey Key then plan to take it slow and enjoy the views like this one of the Intracoastal Waterway at Blackburn Point Road. Nearby is one of the few bridges to cross the island: a rare swing bridge built in 1923 that rotates around an axis to let pleasure boats pass by. It is charming but slow. Also slow is the single, narrow road that winds through the up-scale residential neighborhoods facing the Gulf of Mexico.

4024 Casey Key Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275
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19 Couple Crossing Bridge at Nokomis Beach on Casey Key in Sarasota, Florida

This couple walking on a boardwalk that crosses over the dunes at Nokomis Beach look well prepared for a glorious day in the Florida sunshine. They have everything they need, including lounge chairs, backpacks full of provisions and a giant cup of soda. Nokomis Beach is located on Casey Key which is a short drive from Sarasota.

115 S Casey Key Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275
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20 Nokomis Beach on Casey Key in Sarasota, Florida

Nokomis beach is at the southern end of the eight mile long Casey Key in Sarasota County, Florida. As you can see, the sand here is spectacular … white and flawless. Equally spectacular are the waterfront mansions that face the Gulf of Mexico along the single, narrow road that traverses this island. Only 600 residents enjoy this view and many of them are rich and famous like novelist Stephen King.

115 S Casey Key Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275
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21 Lifeguard Tower at Nokomis Beach on Casey Key in Sarasota, Florida

Lifeguards are just one of the amenities you’ll find at Nokomis Beach on Casey Key near Sarasota, Florida. This 20 acre public park also has restrooms, showers, picnic tables with grills, a playground and a boat ramp. Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention the wonderful sandy beach that faces the Gulf of Mexico.

115 S Casey Key Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275
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22 Woman Strolling along Nokomis Beach on Casey Key in Sarasota, Florida

This woman’s idea of the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon is to slip off her shoes and wade through the warm, gentle waters of the Gulf of Mexico. She looks like she is savoring every moment of her private paradise. And hopefully she stayed at Nokomis Beach for a few hours more because it also offers glorious sunsets.

115 S Casey Key Rd, Nokomis, FL 34275
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23 Fishing Options along Casey Key in Sarasota, Florida

Some folks love to go swimming at Casey Key while others prefer to catch something that’s swimming. If you’re the fisherman type, you are in luck because there are plenty of spots to wet your line along the Gulf of Mexico, Little Sarasota Bay or here at the Intracoastal Waterway at Blackburn Point Road. You can fish from several piers or bridges or just set up your chair on the shore. Local guides recommend using live shrimp as bait to catch redfish, flounder, snook, sheepshead and several other species.

799 Blackburn Point Rd, Osprey, FL 34275
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