Monday, July 16, 2012

Sarasota County - It has what you want

Sarasota Bay
Art, theater, all forms of music and dance, cutting edge marine science, innovative eateries, unexpected ecological experiences, tempting shopping, lavish homes and classic architecture and world-class beaches all with a circus flair entertain visitors to Sarasota County.

It's one of those places that no matter how many highlights you hit, you always miss some. Nonetheless, I'll offer a few don't-miss suggestions.

Tip: Levelers, Sarasota is blissfully flat. You'll find steps and stairs - humankind does have this compunction to elevate itself - but no hills.

What to see in Sarasota
Start with the house, art and circus collections of the man whose name was synonymous with exciting entertainment, John Ringling and his wife, Mabel. It's all wonderfully over the top in one of the prettiest settings you can imagine. You'll need most of a day to do it justice.
The Ringling Museum at night.
Ringling Museum of Art is a treasure with its huge exhibition rooms, antique furnishings, impressive collection (big on Baroque) of art and sculpture - except for the worst copy of Michelangelo's David I've ever seen - and gardens all facing Sarasota Bay. Attend an early evening function there and you'll think you've stepped onto the great Gatsby's terrace. Latest addition: Joseph's Coat, the Skyspace installation by James Turrell, who was featured in the PBS's season one of "Art of the Twenty-First Century." Go at sunrise or sunset.

Tip: There are a few steps up to the museum but to the right there is also a ramp. Take trams between the museums and C'a d'Zan and save your walking for what's inside.

Ca'd'Zan from the bay front terrace.
Ca' d'Zan interior.
The bay becomes the Grand Canal to Ca' d'Zan, the Ringling home, a Gilded Age mansion designed after the Doge's Palace in Venice. Living was gracious in this home where there isn't a single clear pane of glass.

Me horsing around in the Circus Museum.
Those who travel without children often snub the Circus Museums (I did until recently) but you'll be missing a treat if you do, especially the world's largest miniature circus, an astounding labor of love by Howard Tibbals.

Historic Asolo theater. Photo courtesy Ringling Museum of Art.
 The historic Asolo Theater, created in Asolo, Italy in 1798 in honor of the 15th century exiled queen Catherine Cornaro of Cyprus, is a gem. It was dismantled, packed up, sent to the Ringling estate and reassembled in the 1940s. The country's only 18th century European theater, the Asolo is the venue for plays, music, dance, films and lectures. Its repertory theater is the state's largest and oldest. If anything is playing during your visit, go.

The Van Wezel as seen from Sarasota Bay.
While we're on the arts, Sarasota is known for them. You can't miss the lavender Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on the bay front. The seashell design was the creation of Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation architect William Wesley Peters, its pink, lavender and purple color scheme the choice of Wright's widow, Olgivanna, inspired by a sea shell she had picked up on the beach.The various groups that fill it and other venues around town are too numerous to list. Seasons for most run October through April, but a few, like, play through the summer months.

Paul Rudolph's 1953 Umbrella House, Lido Shores.
Sarasota Architecture
Sarasota has more than 90 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, many from the Addison Mizner school of Spanish Mediterranean constructed during the boom days. Today Sarasota is known for its own School of Architecture, buildings constructed between 1940 and 1970.

Hiss and Associates, 1955, Lido Shores.
Young architects influenced by the Bauhaus, William Gropius, Mies van der Rohe  and Frank Lloyd Wright found fertile ground, tailoring their designs to climate and using technologies developed during the war.

The Don Chappell House, 2000, Lido Shores.
 You can do a self-guided driving tour using the nifty book, toursarasota ARCHITECTURE, available at Visit Sarasota County's Visitors Center. Even better, take a guided driving tour with Harold Buble, Real Estate Editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, who knows the recent sale prices as well as the history. He's available through the Sarasota Architectural Foundation and the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Paul Rudolph, 1957, Lido Shores.

Next: Sarasota's wild side.


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