48 Hours in Sarasota
Sarasota’s vibrant cultural life — ballet, music and art — is a powerful magnet to visitors, as are its 35 miles of pristine white-sand beaches, mangrove “tunnels” and wildlife. Here, a weekend itinerary that will allow you to steep yourself in Florida’s “Cultural Coast.”
What could be more relaxing than shopping in shorts and a T-shirt at St. Armands Circle, the popular tourist site on Lido Key? Pop into FantaSea (378 St. Armands Circle), where the spray sachets and salt sea air candles are popular. The Met (35 South Blvd. of the Presidents) is a two-story extravaganza of designer clothing as well as a day spa and hair salon. Afterward, indulge your sweet tooth at Le Macaron (382 St. Armands Circle).
A six-minute trolley ride will bring you to City Island and the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium (1600 Ken Thompson Parkway), home of Hugh and Buffett, half-brother manatees — each weighing in at over 1,000 pounds — who keep company with three otters, a green sea turtle and a host of other marine animals.
There are a number of options for Friday dinner, including Indigenous (239 S. Links Ave.), which is set in an 80-year-old restored wood cracker house and is the domain of Chef Steve Phelps, twice a finalist for a James Beard Award. Dine on aqua-farmed sturgeon from Mote served with couscous, preserved lemon chermoula and olives.
Then there’s Jack Dusty in The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota (1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive), a waterside restaurant with creative décor and a locally sourced menu. Whether you gravitate to the bar or a table on the terrace, start with the freshly shucked oysters or the battered local okra. For your main course, try the Gulf Grouper Hoppin’ John, which comes with local brown rice, black-eyed peas and braised Swiss chard, washed down with a handcrafted cocktail like the Young Man and the Sea (Papa’s Pilar three-year rum, smoked salt, egg white, lemon and Angostura bitters).
To avoid crowds, start early at Siesta Key, where the beach was ranked No. 2 in America by Stephen Leatherman, aka “Dr. Beach.” The pure quartz crystal sands are soft and surprisingly cool underfoot. Break for lunch at the Old Salty Dog (1601 Ken Thompson Parkway) overlooking Sarasota Bay, where the culinary crowd-pleasers are peel-and-eat shrimp, grouper sandwiches and beer-battered deep-fried hot dogs.
Next up, a visit to the Ringling Estate (5401 Bay Shore Road), which includes the Ringlings’ private home, the Circus Museum and the Ringling Museum of Art, among other attractions. The Circus Museum houses Howard Tibbals’ 3,800-square-foot miniature circus. The Ringling Museum of Art houses the Gilded Age industrialist’s vast trove of European art, including works by Peter Paul Rubens, Veronese and Velázquez. At the Ringling’s private home, Cà d’Zan, have a peek at Mable Ringling’s Wedgwood and Tiffany china sets.
Drive about 10 minutes south to Selby Gardens (811 S. Palm Ave.) for a fascinating look at the biggest collection of scientifically documented orchids in the world.
For dinner, Louies Modern (1289 N. Palm Ave.) is a trendy newcomer owned by longtime Sarasota restaurateurs. Try the tuna kabayaki, then follow it with the boneless beef short-rib bourguignon or the Anthony Bourdain honey-agave chicken.
For a classic romantic evening, drive out to Euphemia Haye (5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive) on Longboat Key. With its series of intimate dining rooms, polished wood floors, art-covered walls and hanging plants, it feels like an old Southern plantation. Don’t miss the roast duckling with a seasonal fruit sauce.
Enjoy an international breakfast menu including chocolate chip croissants, French toast and eggs Benedict at Lolita Tartine (1419 Fifth St.) in the emerging Rosemary District. Its colorful industrial-style décor gives the café a sleekly urban feel.
After breakfast you can experience some of the Gulf Coast’s natural wonders during a kayak tour. In the 1950s the Army Corps of Engineers dug trenches through the mangroves on Sarasota Bay to get rid of mosquitoes on Lido Key, replacing fresh water with salt water, which repels the biting insects. Today, I Kayak offers tours through the dramatically arched mangrove tunnels that are one of Florida’s most popular ecosystems.
If you can linger long enough to have dinner, consider visiting the eclectic MoZaic (1377 Main St.), where Chef Dylan Elhajoui marries flavors from throughout the Caribbean. That means delicious lamb rack and merguez sausage or za’atar-rubbed pork tenderloin with lentil ragout, all prepared in a colorful, intimate setting.