Unwind and Dine: A Staycation In Sarasota
The courtyard at The Ringling’s Museum of Art is a work of art itself. Photo courtesy of Ringling Museum.
Average Americans take only half of their paid vacation time. Health professionals say you need that time off to unwind and recharge. If you do have a little time to refresh yourself this summer and don’t want to spend it in crowded theme parks and busy airports, one tank of gas and long a weekend in Sarasota is just what the doctor ordered.
Sarasota is a Gulf Coast gem offering quite the variety of art, history, dining and some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. Downtown is in the middle of a building boom and is the destination for our getaway.
The Art Ovation Hotel is so new the beds have barely been slept in, and it has location. Sandwiched between the Sarasota Opera House and the Florida Studio Theater, the hotel is two blocks from Bayfront Park and within walking distance of more than 25 galleries. (1255 N. Palm Avenue, 941-316-0808, artovationhotel.com, summer rates $183-$254)
The lobby is a gallery space itself, as are the landings on each floor, thanks to a partnership with the nearby Ringling College of Art and Design. Not only do students and staff host art programs for guests, their work is featured prominently.
Each room has leather-bound sketchpads and real ukuleles; lessons are held on the rooftop. Culture curator Lisa DiFranza says, “We want to help people who appreciate art, get inside of it; feed their inner artist.”
Studies show art is good for your mental health, something to consider nurturing during your summer vacation.
Your Sarasota staycation made easy:
If you can leave early in the day, head straight to the sugary beaches of Siesta Key… and exhale. Otherwise, start with dinner or happy hour at The Table Creekside for sophisticated but relaxed waterfront dining. Order beautiful craft cocktails to go with substantial entrees or small plates such as the Pacific Rim Carpaccio with Wagyu and scallops. The churros for dessert are non-negotiable. (5365 S. Tamiami Trail, 941-921-9465, tablesrq.com)
Check into Art Ovation after dinner and spend the evening at the hotel’s rooftop lounge. It’s a cool vibe, with solid cocktails and an impressive view of the city.
Leave you car keys on the nightstand, next to the built-in tablet, and explore downtown.
Grab a lite bite and a cup-o-joe at local craft roaster, Buddy Brew Coffee. It’s tucked in an alcove behind the hotel, next to Louie’s Modern and the public garage. (1289 N. Palm Avenue, 941-374-7186, sarasota.buddybrew.com)
Now that you’re properly fueled, stroll the bayfront to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, an urban oasis. Selby is one of the only botanical gardens in the world focused on the conservation, research and display of epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants without harming them as orchids and bromeliads do). The collection is spectacular. Allow two hours for leisure exploration. (900 S. Palm Avenue, 941-366-5731, selby.org)
Ask the hotel about free ride options in case you want a lift back to downtown proper for lunch at the award-winning Brick’s Smoked Meats, where central Texas BBQ is done to perfection.
The proteins are plentiful and brisket is king. It’s hard to say no to the candied bacon and creamy mac and cheese. On the lighter side, find vegetarian tacos and smoked “porto” bellies (portobello mushrooms).
The manager is into juicing, so order the Green Ti-Tox with kale, apple, cucumber, ginger, lemon and a splash of Tito’s Vodka for good measure. Set your camera to video for the Smoky Manhattan. This cocktail presentation is a head turner. (1528 State Street, 941-993-1435, brickssmokedmeats.com)
Take a siesta at Art Ovation’s rooftop pool. On the walk back to the hotel, though, check out the farmer’s market and the unique shops and galleries along Main and its side streets.
Dinner at Selva tops the downtown-dining list. The Peruvian restaurant with a trendy vibe has Instagram-worthy food presentations and amazing ceviche. (1345 Main Street, 941-362-4427, selvagrill.com)
Overnight stays in downtown Sarasota are not complete without a stop at the infamous Gator Club for dancing and live music. (1490 Main Street, 941-366-5969, thegatorclub.com)
Enjoy coffee and a croissant at the authentic French bistro, C’est la Vie. If you close your eyes, you might just think you’re in Paris. The crepes and quiche are made to perfection, and be sure to demand a mimosa. (1553 Main Street, 941-906-9575, cestlaviesarasota.com)
Before you pay the bill, check out the case of goodies inside and grab a snack for your next stop, The Ringling. Less than a 10-minute drive north, the winter home of circus icons John and Mable Ringling is fascinating.
Trams and walking paths help you navigate the 66 acres of gardens, galleries and museums, including the world’s largest miniature circus; it’s mesmerizing. Be sure to tour Ca’ d’Zan, the Ringling’s Venetian-style palazzo with Sarasota Bay as its Grand Canal.
The Museum of Art is a pink Renaissance-style palace with 21 galleries, a courtyard full of sculptures and an inspiring gallery of massive paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. Allow four hours for a visit that isn’t rushed. (5401 Bay Shore Road, 941-359-5700, ringling.org)
End your staycation with a late lunch/early dinner at Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar, a casual waterside spot with a thatched roof, colorful tropical cocktails served in real glassware and delectable, award-winning fish tacos.
Bloody Marys are only $4.50 on Sunday; perfect with fresh oysters or a succulent, steamer pot. (5353 S. Tamiami Trail, 941-925-4444, creekseafood.com)
This staycation truly is good for your health: Zen gardens for relaxation, history to stimulate the brain, art to soothe your soul and spark creativity, and dining options that offer both the healthful and the decadent.
Written by Gina Birch, a regular contributor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known media personality in Southwest Florida.
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