Every state has its storied getaways. The Hamptons in New York. Bolinas and Big Sur in California. Palm Beach and Miami in Florida. Even Naples gets a nod with a certain crowd. That doesn't happen with Sarasota. When I tell people I go to Sarasota, and I've been going since I was a teenager, they say, "East Coast? West Coast?" As if knowing this will sort out the fact that they have no idea where it is.
Quietly, though, Sarasota has matured over the years—there's better art and music, the downtown has revived, and its restaurant scene has blossomed. There's been development, and yet not so much that it's lost its mid-century charm or its old-Florida architecture. And while it's a pretty, well-manicured part of the world, there's nothing aloof about Sarasota. Everyone still goes to the mall.
Here are some of the things we do whenever we go, aside from booking it to Maggie's seafood at the farmers market:
There's a lot to do here. Go to the Circus Museum first. If the Summer Circus Spectacular is showing at the Historic Asolo Theater, get tickets and line up an hour in advance—it's open seating and people will be there waiting! The restaurant next to the theater is excellent and makes for a good oasis to plop down in between activities. While the art museum has some good collections from Asia, I'd skip it in favor of touring the Ringlings' house, which is perched on the water. (Keep an eye out for a mango tree on your walk there; we foraged 7 perfect mangoes lying on the ground beneath it—we didn't steal them, we saved them!) The highlight, though, is a new exhibit on the grounds—a meticulous reproduction of architect Paul Rudolph's Walker Guest House. Tiny house alert! The simple 500-square foot beauty makes you question any extra space you might have and how to better use it.
It's not Monterey, but it's pretty great anyway. The dolphin training sessions are mesmerizing and worth the extra ticket.
This park was designed so Sarasota could host the 2017 World Rowing Championships. When it's not being used for races, you can learn to do dragon boat paddling, paddle boarding, and rowing.
If there is such a thing as a professional beach, this is it. Siesta Key Beach is best known for its sand, which is as fine as flour, made of 99% pure quartz sand, and pure white—keeping it cool to the touch. But I love this beach for its seriousness about leisure—the well-maintained volleyball courts, the lifeguard cottages, the rows of showers. If you have a beach need, they've thought of it. And yes, coming from the North, you will be the palest, least cool person on the deep expanse of sand. Pretend you know what you're doing.
During the warm months, snook fishing happens after dusk. I found there are few things more relaxing than casting a line in darkness among the mangroves while watching lightning in the distance. [Call Captain Ryan Ellis to go; 941-504-8203]
They do two things well: thin, Neapolitan-style pizza and gelato. Don't veer from these; you'll be rewarded.
Go early or late so it's cooler.
This Lilliputian cinema is 20 yards from Owen's Fish Camp so we—and usually a dozen other people with the same plan—get an early dinner before moseying over for a movie.
We like to have a beer out on the back porch and watch people play a super-sized version of Jenga. And when you order dinner, don't forget to ask for some Old Bay fries and garlicky green beans.
This is a new restaurant by the same owner of Owen's Fish Camp. The lobster roll is the thing. I'd put the fish and chips at a close second.