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Sarasota has long been known as the cultural capital of Florida. The reputation is well deserved. A beautiful Italian Renaissance villa turned art museum, the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art houses a superb collection of Baroque paintings, plus exquisite 17th-century tapestries. Next door, the Ringling residence, Ca' d' Zan (House of John), a 30- room mansion set on scenic Sarasota Bay, is an architectural showcase, modeled after a Venetian palace. The Circus Museum on the Ringling grounds contains memorabilia from the "Big Top" -- parade wagons, photographs, costumes, and colorful posters.
The Asolo Center for the Performing Arts is a superb regional theater, as well as a teaching conservatory providing film and theater training. Honored by the state of Florida for its high quality of artistic production and performance, the Sarasota Opera Association presents four operas in February and March, and occasional concerts. A prestigious, bi-county orchestra, the Florida West Coast Symphony presents concerts with a variety of internationally known guest artists. Sarasota's bayfront is the site of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall which showcases a variety of performing arts. The Sarasota Ballet makes its home downtown in the Sarasota Opera House. Horticulture buffs and anyone who delights in nature's miraculous wonders must visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. This peaceful place specializes in exquisite orchids and colorful bromeliads.
Displays at the Mote Marine Aquarium are a means to explain the work of Mote scientists to visitors and to encourage an understanding and appreciation of the aquatic environment. The lab is world renowned for its scientific research, particularly research on sharks and the assessment of environmental pollutants. The Aquarium offers visitors an informative and close-up look at the sea life that inhabits nearby coastal waters.
Siesta Key, connected to the Sarasota mainland by two bridges, is best known for its powdery white sand beach, the widest and most popular in the county. Since the 1987 "Great International White Sand Challenge," the sugar fine sand here has been officially top-rated. Independent judges selected Siesta Key's sand over 29 other entries, including the Bahamas and Grand Cayman, as the whitest and most powdery sand in the world. Siesta Village, located mid-key, is a vibrant area filled with beachwear shops, art galleries and eateries. Bright umbrellas adorn the outdoor cafés that exhibit a sit-and-relax atmosphere. Board one of the Siesta Key trolleys for an overview of this beautiful barrier island.
St. Armands Circle alone is worth a trip to the area. Here more than 145 elite shops and boutiques carry quality merchandise from accessories by top designers to distinctive T-shirts. Several fine restaurants and fun ice cream parlors also line the Circle. Most shops close during the evening, but offer magnificent displays for window shoppers! Also in the evening, you can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Circle.
For the more active visitor, Sarasota has much to offer. Besides watersports, fishing, and tennis, Sarasota is home to many fine golf courses. A municipal baseball stadium is used for spring training by the Cincinnati Reds. Nearby, greyhounds race at the Sarasota Kennel Club from December through June. To hike, canoe, bike-ride or freshwater fish, travel to Myakka State Park, Florida's largest. So just kick back, relax and let your cares dissolve in Florida's number-one west coast paradise. Sarasota -- the relaxing side of Florida.