How to Get to Downtown Sarasota
By Air: Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is served by Delta, Jet Blue, US Air, United, and Air Canada. From the Airport, local SCAT buses ($1.25 one way, $4 for a one-day pass) #2, 15, and 99 operate Monday-Saturday. On Sunday, SCAT route #215 provides the only public bus service to the airport. The #99, operating from 5:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, is the best bus to take to the Ringling Museum. It also serves Bradenton, connecting to MCAT local buses there. (From Bradenton, MCAT bus #6 Cortez travels to Anna Marie Island beaches.)
By Train: AMTRAK buses from the Tampa and Orlando stations stops downtown in front of the Hollywood 20 Movie Theatre. From here, it’s a short walk a block south to Ringling Blvd, where you can catch SCAT routes 1 and 1A.
By Bus: The Greyhound station, at Fruitville Road east of I-75 is served by SCAT routes 1 and 1A.
After You Arrive: Enjoying Sarasota Without a Car
SCAT (Sarasota County Area Transit) operates local bus service. Most routes operate Monday-Saturday. However, a few routes operate on Sunday. For detailed information about CAT routes and schedules, visit httos://www.scgov.net/scat/, or call (941) 861-5000 Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time, or call dispatch (941) 861-1234 and choose Option 2 (dispatch is open whenever buses are running).
Monday-Saturday: 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. A single trip costs $1.25. A one-day pass (available on the bus) costs $4 for unlimited rides for a single day.
Where to Stay If You Don’t Want to Drive
Visit Sarasota County, the visitors and convention center for Sarasota County, suggests staying downtown. Here you can walk to the SCAT main terminal at 1st and Lemon, explore historic downtown Sarasota, and walk or take transit to almost anywhere you want to go. Here are five places to stay that are located in or near downtown Sarasota:
- Cypress Bed and Breakfast: www.cypressbb.com, or call (941) 955-4683.
- Hotel Indigo: www.srqhotel.com, (941) 487-3800
- Hotel Ranola: www.hotelranola.com, (941)951-0111, (941)-951-0444, or toll-free: (866)-951-0111
- Hyatt Regency: www.hyattregencysarasota.com, (941) 953-1234, toll free: (800)-233-1234
- Ritz Carlton: www.ritzcarlton.com/sarasota, (941)-309-2000, Toll Free: (800)-241-3333
Saturday: A Visit to the Beach plus a Day at the Ringling Museum
Are you a beach lover? Then, you’ll want to visit at least one of Sarasota’s Gulf (of Mexico) beaches. You can take a SCAT bus to 2 of these beaches: Siesta Key and Lido Key.
- Siesta Key: Monday-Saturday, take SCAT #11, Sunday: take SCAT #1411
- Lido Key, St. Armands, and South Lido Beach: Monday-Saturday, SCAT #4.
- When you have finished your beach excursion, or maybe earlier (if you don’t want to see the beach), take SCAT #99 to the Ringling Museum.
What You Need to Know About the Ringling Museum
Located at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34243, (phone: (941) 359-5700, or visit www.ringling.org,), the Ringling is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursdays: from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Take SCAT bus #99 from either the Sarasota Bradenton Airport or downtown Sarasota. The cost is: General Admission: Adults $25, Children (6-17) $5, Seniors (65+) $20. Thursdays 5pm – 8pm Admission Adults $10, Children (6-17) $5. Multi-day admission: For $10 more than general admission, you can upgrade to a three-day pass for the current day plus the next two days. Return as much as you want during the three days. On Mondays, the Art Museum is free to everyone. (Normal admission charges apply to the house, Circus Museum, and the grounds. Remember: You can come here FREE if you belong to a participating NARM (National Assn. of Reciprocal Museums) or MARP (Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program) museum. To finda museum near you that you can join (be sure to ask for a membership that includes reciprocal membership privileges), visit either htto://web.wm.edu/muscarelle/membership/narm.htm (for NARM museums) , or httos://sites.google.com/site/marplist/ (for MARP museums).
Visiting the Ringling
When you purchase your admission, for an extra $5, you can join a guided tour of the first floor, plus the second floor, of the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion. If possible, select a tour that leaves 1 ½-to 2 hours after you arrive. (You can take a free tram, or walk.) While you can tour the first floor without an extra charge, the 2nd floor and the guide’s helpful comments make this a valuable experience. It did for my wife and me, when we visited in late December, 2012.
The Circus Museums
My wife and I suggest you begin your visit at the Tibbals Learning Center, across from the Visitor Center. Begin your visit by viewing an exhibition of circus posters. Ranging in size from window to barn sized, these colorful posters were plastered on buildings, walls and fences all across America and broadcasted in no uncertain terms that the circus was coming to town.
The highlight of the Tibbals Learning Center—and perhaps of your visit if you are a circus buff—is the world’s largest miniature circus: The Howard Bros. Circus Model. The model is a replica of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1919 – 1938. It was created over a period of more than 50-years by master model builder and philanthropist Howard Tibbals.
The miniature Howard Brothers Circus describes how a visiting circus arrives in a small town, sets up the tents on a vacant lot to create a new (temporary community), what life is like for the performers, the performance and what it means to the town, and after the show when the circus packs up and loads everything onto their train where it will take them to a new town. It brings the circus experience to life for us all!
The second floor of the Tibbals building documents the history of the American circus. If you have time, take a short walk to the original Circus Museum. The Circus Museum celebrates the American circus, its history, and unique relationship to Sarasota. Established in 1948, the museum was the first in the country to document the rich history of the circus. View colossal parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes, and a sideshow banner line that document the circus of the past and of today. See memorabilia and artifacts documenting the history of The Ringling family circus, John Ringling as the Circus King, and the greatest circus movie, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was filmed in Sarasota.
Also on exhibition in the Circus Museum is the Wisconsin, the private Rail car of John and Mable Ringling built in 1905. Built during the golden age of rail, the Wisconsin car provides a unique view into the splendid travel accommodations that John and Mable Ringling enjoyed on their travels around the country on business and with the circus.
Before you leave, take ½ hour to see the film of the life of John and Mable Ringling. It is shown every hour on the half hour (10:30, 11:30 etc.) at the Circus Museum. We found the film to be a real “tear-jerker.” We felt that we really knew Mable and John after seeing this moving account of their lives.
My wife and I said we wouldn’t buy anything here, but changed our minds after visiting the circus store. We purchased a CD of circus marches, a DVD of the Greatest Show on Earth, and a biography of the Ringling Brothers. (My wife also bought a copy of Dumbo the Elephant—one of her favorite childhood books.)
The Ca’ d’Zan Mansion: Home of John and Mable Ringling
This was Mable Ringling’s special project. She personally supervised the work, and prepared the design and plans for it.
The Ringlings’ dazzling palatial mansion is a tribute to the American Dream and reflects the splendor and romance of Italy. Described as “the last of the Gilded Age mansions” to be built in America, Ca’ d’Zan has 56 incredible rooms filled with art and original furnishings. With its Venetian Gothic architecture, the mansion is a combination of the grandeur of Venice’s Doge’s Palace, combined with the gothic grace of Cà d’Oro, with Sarasota Bay serving as its Grand Canal.
- In 1924, construction began on Ca’ d’Zan, which means “House of John” in Venetian dialect. The house was completed just before Christmas 1925, at a cost of $1.5 million.
- Mable Ringling had an oilskin portfolio filled with postcards, sketches, photos and other materials that she gathered on her travels to aid the architect with his design.
- Ca’ d’Zan is 200-foot long encompassing approximately 36,000 square feet with 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms. The structure is five stories and has a full basement. The pinnacle of the structure is the 81-foot Belvedere tower with an open-air overlook and a high domed ceiling.
- Visit the many grand rooms, and (if you purchased the 2nd floor guided tour) see John and Mable’s bedrooms. Then, take time to sit outside on the porch and enjoy leisurely views of scenic Sarasota Bay.
- Tragically, Mable’s was only able to enjoy living at Ca’ d’Zan 9 months over a three year span (the couple lived here during the winter months) before she died on June 8, 1929. A few months later, her husband’s fortune was nearly destroyed when the stock market crashed.
The Grounds and Gardens
The beauty of the Ringling Museum is not confined to the galleries. The grounds and gardens are also treated and cherished as works of art. Stroll the grounds and enjoy Mable Ringling’sRose Garden, Mable’s Secret Garden, the Dwarf Garden, Millennium Tree Trail and other delights of the estate by the bay. The grounds are open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden is one of the loveliest spots on the Ringling estate and, when in bloom, the most fragrant. The 27,225 sq. ft. garden is patterned after a traditional Italian circular garden design. Just north of the Cà d’Zan Mansion is Mable Ringling’s Secret Garden. Mable Ringling created this garden with plants that were given to her during her winters at Cà d’Zan. Here she would entertain guests with tours. Today, varieties of Bromeliads, Philippine Violets and Variegated Bougainvilleas thrive.
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
The Museum of Art, built by John Ringling to house his personal collection of masterpieces, today features paintings and sculptures by the great Old Masters including Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Veronese, El Greco, Gainsborough and more.
The Courtyard of the Museum of Art features casts of original antiquities and renaissance sculptures, including the towering David by Michelangelo. The Courtyard features two fountains – Fountain of Tortoises, one of three replicas from the Piazza Mattei in Rome, and the Oceanus Fountain, copied from the 16th century original by Giovanni Bologna in Florence’s Boboli Gardens.
We marveled at the beauty of the Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces. The Museum’s serenity was a relaxing and soothing antidote to the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
If you have time, look at Joseph’s Coat:.a Skyspace created by internationally renowned artist, James Turrell. It is a permanent installation. Joseph’s Coat is a space in which you are invited to contemplate light, perception, and experience as you gaze up at the sky through the 24’ square aperture in the ceiling. No matter when you enjoy the Skyspace (during the day, rain or shine) you will have a unique experience. Also, for an extra charge you can view this at sunset when a sophisticated system of LED lights is employed to change the color of the space. In doing so, the artist changes the context in which you view the sky and can radically change your perception of the color of the sky and its spatial relation to you.
Remember: the Museum of Art (as John Ringling stated in his will) is open FREE every Monday. (Tell the visitor center you just want to visit the Museum of Art when you come on a Monday.)
By now, you are probably ready to enjoy a meal out and perhaps return to your hotel or bed and breakfast. Visit www.visitsarasota.org for some restaurant ideas.
If you want an evening out, consider a play, symphony concert, opera, or other cultural activity. Both the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and the Opera House are downtown—a short walk from where you are staying.
Sunday: a Day for Walking and Enjoying Sarasota
Today is a good day for walking. Your choices include:
- A visit to Selby Botanical Gardens: 811 S. Palm Ave. Sarasota, FL 34236-7726, www.selby.org or call (941)366-5731. The Gardens are a short walk from downtown, and are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The admission is $17.
- Mote Marine Aquarium 600 Ken Thompson Pkwy.Sarasota, FL 34236-1004
www.mote.org, or call (941) 388-4441 or (toll-free) (800) 691-MOTE
The Aquarium is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., 365 days a year. Admission is: $19—ages 13-64, $18—Seniors age 65 and older, $14—children ages 4-12, and free for children ages 3 and younger. Long to see manatees, sharks, and stingrays? How about a seahorse nursery? Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory is all that and more. It is a world renowned working Marine Biology Lab. You will have a chance to view the creatures of the sea including the new Sea Lion exhibit, but you will also discover that Mote has been able to produce a safe and sustainable Siberian Sturgeon Caviar raised on a state of the art facility and sold by some of the most well respected purveyors in the industry.
- A Walking Tour of downtown Sarasota: Stroll along the harbor and take in the Season of Sculpture which is a non-profit group which organizes and produces an International Invitational Exhibition of large-scale sculptures along Sarasota’s Bayfront. Their mission is to accessibly display and encourage quality public art in order to enrich the cultural and educational experience of residents and visitors.
Don your sneakers and “Walk like a Local”. The Ringling Bridge is not only a thing of beauty but has become the mainstay for hikers, bikers and saunterers alike. The bridge is one mile long from traffic light to traffic light with a gradual incline and a stream of friendly faces. Bring your camera and be sure to stop at the top and take in the breathtaking views from the unique and elevated vantage point overlooking downtown Sarasota.
Just a few blocks away, make a left and you are at the base of Main Street and downtown Sarasota. Lined with shops and unique eateries, Main Street offers a mixed bag of historic buildings, and new architecture, with big city amenities and small town charm.
As you follow the Bay just a little further south you will arrive at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens which is an oasis of inspiration and tranquility. Perhaps best known for its living collection of more than 6,000 orchids, it is also an established authority on other epiphytes including bromeliads, gesneriads, and other plants. Travel through the orchid room for a truly magical experience or just sit among the native greenery under the Banyan tree and gaze out over the water. Closes at 5:00 pm.
A unique and renowned shopping experience waits just over the Ringling Bridge. Fulfilling the vision of John Ringling in the 1920’s St. Armands Circle has become a destination of upscale, one of a kind shops and restaurants surrounding the historic “Circus Ring of Fame” a “sidewalk tribute of circus stars.” Elegant shoppers stroll along lush landscaped walks and beautiful statuary.
You can also get a free Walking Guide from the Visitors’ Center, located at 701 North Tamiani Trail In downtown Sarasota. Their phone number is (941) 706-1253. It is open Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
A Quick Guide to Attractions Close to Public Transit
Here is a SCAT guide to local attractions that are close to one or more SCAT bus routes:
- Siesta Key: Route #11 operates Mon.-Sat., and on Sundays, #1411- Lake Sarasota-Siesta Key;
- Both stop at the main beach parking entrance.
- Lido Beach: Route #4 – Lido operates to Lido Beach Mon.-Sat.;
- There is a bus stop at the main beach parking entrance.
- Venice: Route 13-Venice stops adjacent to Venice Beach Mon.-Sat.
- The John and Mabel Ringling Museum, including its Ca d’Zan Mansion, and the Asolo Theatre, has its own bus stop on Route #99 – Palmetto-Sarasota Connector, Mon.-Sat.
- The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and the Players Theater, are also served by Route 99.
- The bus stop to use is at 10th St.
- Players Theatre is also directly served by Route #2- Cocoanut Ave., Mon-Sat., and Route #215-Cocoanut-University, on Sundays.
- The Sarasota Opera House is a short walk from the main SCAT downtown terminal at 1st and Lemon.
- Spanish Point historic site is served with its own bus stop on Route #17-Trail, and on Sundays Route #1713-Trail-Jacaranda.
- Oscar Scherer State Park is served with its own bus stop on Route #17-Trail, and on Sundays Route #1713-Trail-Jacaranda.
- Mote Marine Laboratory and the adjacent Save Our Seabirds sanctuary are both served directly by Route #18-Longboat, and MCAT’s Longboat Key Trolley, 7 days a week.
- Sarasota Jungle Gardens is a short walk from the Myrtle Street & U.S. 41 bus stops for:
- Route #99– Palmetto-Sarasota Connector Mon.-Sat.,
- Route #2- Cocoanut Ave. Mon.-Sat., and
- Route #215- Cocoanut-University on Sundays.
- Nathan Benderson Park with its world-class rowing facility is walkable from Route #15-Airport-Cattlemen’s bus stop at DeSoto Rd. and Cattlemen Rd.
- The Ed Smith Stadium Baltimore Orioles Spring Training and Minor League Baseball site is served by Route #12 – No. Lockwood and Route #6 –Beneva, operating 7 days a week. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is served by Route #4-Lido Mon.-Sat. from the Mound Street bus stop.
For More Information
Visit www.visitsarasota.org, or call (941) 706-1253, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday. There are many other attractions you will want to visit. You can get information about attractions, restaurants, and places to stay, and other information you need. You can also request a free Visitors Guide on the website.
Steve Atlas welcomes your comments and suggestions for locations to spotlight in future Car Free Journey columns. Let Steve know if you would be willing to be a “guest columnist” and help me with a Car Free Journey column about your hometown or favorite vacation spot. E-mail Steve at email@example.com.