City Slicker Sarasota

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It's festival time in this Florida city, so get some culture with your suntan. Ian McCurrach offers a guide


WHY VISIT?

Florida's cultural centre springs into life this month with a series of high-profile events. The 29th annual Jazz Festival (jazzclubsarasota.com) kicks off today and runs until 7 March. There's a daily round of open-air and indoor concerts from such as Dick Hyman at venues such as the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Holley Hall.

Sarasota rolls out its red carpet for the 11th annual Sarasota Film Festival (sarasota filmfestival.com) from 27 March to 5 April. There will be more than 200 films from around the world and screenings every day. Past celebrity attendees include Felicity Huffman, Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson.

Sarasota guarantees warm sunshine year round for visitors to its beaches. There are vast stretches of white sands and colourful Gulf Coast sunsets to enjoy. But beyond the beaches, the historic town has a creative soul, hosting opera and ballet companies, artist communities, art galleries, museums and a dozen professional and amateur theatre companies. Add to the mix some great restaurants – from boho cafés to gourmet dining options – and you have what travel pundits dub "the Greenwich Village of Florida".

It's easy to get to, too; Sarasota is a one-hour drive from Tampa, which has the only scheduled flight from the UK (British Airways from Gatwick). As a result, clearing US Homeland Security is frequently a swift affair here in contrast to the long slow queues you may encounter at Orlando and Miami.



DON'T MISS ...

... Towles Court (towlescourt.com), a neighbourhood dating from the 1930s complete with pastel-coloured clap-board properties that house galleries and restaurants. At the heart of this artist colony, Canvas Café (canvascafesrq.com) is a popular meeting point for locals and serves good American and Mediterranean fare.

... Cortez Fishing Village (cortez village.org). This is one of the last surviving commercial fishing villages on Florida's Gulf Coast. Look out for the working fish market and order fresh-from-the-boat seafood at the Star Fish Restaurant (starfish company.com).

... The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (ringling.org). Sarasota's circus heritage began in 1927 when circus magnate John Ringling set up home here. Highlights on show include 21 galleries featuring works by Old Masters including van Dyck, Titian, Velazquez and El Greco, the Ringlings' Venetian Gothic mansion Cà d'Zan, two circus museums and the Asolo Theatre, dating from the 18th century.

... Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (selby.org). Rare orchids and tropical plants are part of the 9.5-acre living collection of exotic species situated on Sarasota Bay.

... Award-winning beaches. Sarasota has eight islands, including Siesta Key, Anna Maria Island and Lido Key, which are rated as having some of the finest white sands in America by the likes of Dr Beach and the Travel Channel.

... Sandbar Restaurant (sandbar- restaurant.com). This popular institution on Anna Maria Island's north end combines beachside dining and fresh Florida seafood. Grab a table and a sundown cocktail. Guess the exact time the sun will set from the outside terrace and win a bottle of champagne.

... St Armand's Circle (starmands circleassoc.com). Purchased by John Ringling in 1917, this island is now a mix of upmarket boutiques and award-winning restaurants amid Ringling's Italianate collection of statues.



WHAT'S NEW

Lakewood Ranch

This new community living development of seven residential villages, shopping malls and entertainment and sport complexes stretches across a vast 8,500-acre estate, set against a backdrop of preserved wetlands and woodlands. For all that, Lakewood Ranch has an intimate small-town feel. Main Street, one of the seven shopping malls, has a mix of shops, cafés, restaurants, spas and some fine ice-cream stores. And outdoor activities are well catered for too, with everything from polo and cricket to swimming and trail cycling on offer. There is plenty of wildlife around for nature lovers.

Details: lakewoodranch.com.



Circus Heritage Guide

This new tour gives a greater insight into Sarasota as the Home of the American Circus. The art, performance and culture of circus history is explored, taking in some of Sarasota's eight active circuses, including Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus.

Details: sarasotacircushistory.org.



Ceviche

Situated in the historic Times newspaper building dating from 1925, and set over four floors, Ceviche is the restaurant of the moment. The decor is exposed brick and beams, the cuisine tasty Spanish fare such as tapas and paella. After dinner, dance under the Florida stars with the chic crowd in the open-air rooftop bar. Booking is advised.

Details: Ceviche, 1216 1st Street (001 941 952 1036; ceviche.com).

The New Florida West Coast Symphony

The Sarasota Orchestra has been renamed the New Florida West Coast Symphony to mark the celebration of its 60th anniversary and is showcasing a season of new works and videos. Forthcoming highlights include A Thousand and One Nights, Night at the Oscars and Going Green.

Details: sarasotaorchestra.org.



Longboat Key Club and Resort

This recently refurbished beachfront resort on Longboat Key has 218 rooms and suites with private balconies and high-tech in-room facilities such 42in plasma-screen TVs and high-speed Wi-Fi internet access. There is a private white-sand beach, swimming pool, several dining options, a spa with a newly renovated fitness centre and a tennis academy.

Details: 301 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key (001 941 383 8821; longboatkeyclub.com).



The Legacy Trail

When it opened in 1911, the CSX railroad corridor was the main form of transport in south-west Florida and carried the Kentucky Military Institute, the US army during the Second World War and the Ringling Brothers Circus. The railroad closed in 1971 and the line fell into disrepair. A recent redevelopment project has brought it back in to use for recreation. Walk, bike or blade along this 12-mile uninterrupted paved trail, which stretches from Sarasota to Venice. At its rest areas, you can soak up the natural surroundings and local history.

Details: scgov.net/legacytrail.

INSIDER'S SECRET FROM JENNY TAYLOR

Jenny Taylor, and her husband John, own the Londoner Inn

"For real Floridian fare with flair you must visit Ezra Café. The mahi mahi with risotto is divine. The menu stresses fresh local ingredients and you dine surrounded by local art, which is for sale. Eat early, then watch the sun set over Anna Maria Island."

Details: ezrafinefoods.com; thelondonerinn.com.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

Ian McCurrach travelled to Sarasota with British Airways Holidays (0844 493 0758; ba.com), which offers a seven-night fly-drive to Tampa from £471 per person. The cost includes return BA flights from Gatwick and all-inclusive car hire for the duration. Accommodation only at the five-star Ritz Carlton, Sarasota (ritzcarlton. com), costs from £57 per person per night, based on two sharing.



Further information

Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (sarasotafl.org; floridasgulfislands.com).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam