By offering a wide variety of enlightening experiences within beautiful surroundings, Sarasota, Florida certainly is a magnet for those seeking the ultimate romantic vacation.
Historians are not quite sure how Sarasota derived its name. One theory is that it was named after the daughter of Hernando De Soto, Sara. De Soto, along with Ponce de Leon and Panfilo Narvez were the first explorers to land on the Gulf Coast in search of gold and silver.
Another maintains that the name may have been derived from the Spanish “sarao sota” translated as “a place of dancing.” I prefer the latter, as the feeling of dancing seems to abound all around you. This is quite noticeable when you consider it to be one huge playground for sunbathing, swimming, shopping, restaurants, abundance of sunshine, unbelievable white beaches and the fantastic cultural scene.
The first inhabitants of Sarasota were the Native Americans, who 3000 years ago lived in the area, when Sarasota Bay was ripe with fish and thick palmetto brush. In fact, most of the land had been covered with cedar forests. Following the end of the Seminole Wars in the mid 1800s, Sarasota began to modernize. Initially, it was a cattle-ranching area attracting many politically disgruntled Scotsmen.
Seduced by the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company’s promotional campaign in Scotland boasting about the abundance of fertile land, splendid citrus groves, cheap land and affordable housing, these newcomers packed up their belongings and boarded steamers to the promised land. Unfortunately, what these adventurers found did not exactly mirror what was promised. Most returned, however one very brave individual stayed, John Hamilton Gillespie.
It was he who built the first hotel in Sarasota, the De Soto, became the first mayor in 1902 and built Florida’s first nine-hole golf course in 1885. To appreciate the difficulties the original pioneers faced, a visit to the Crowley Museum and Nature Center located in Eastern Sarasota is a must.
Sarasota’s sophisticated image as a cultural community was due in large part to a Mrs. Berthe Potter Palmer, a patron of the arts and socialite from Chicago. Palmer was very well connected with British and Parisian royalty, as well as Chicago’s high society. Upon first setting foot in Sarasota in 1910, she fell in love with the area and purchased several tracts of land, eventually building her home and a cattle ranch in Osprey, south of Sarasota.
If you want to learn more about Mrs. Potter Palmer, try not to miss Historic Spanish Point. It is here you will find archaeological exhibits, nature trails, formal gardens and a pioneer homestead.
It was probably due to Palmer that the Ringling Brothers were attracted to Sarasota. Not to be outdone, the brothers began purchasing large tracts of land and became very active in civic affairs. They also made Sarasota the winter home for the famous Ringling Circus. John Ringling and his wife Mable had a profound influence on Sarasota’s cultural image from an unknown entity to a new worldliness, and in so doing transformed the town into an arts capital in the 1920s. A testament to this influence can be appreciated with a visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, affiliated with Florida State University. It is the largest museum/university complex in the USA.
For a town of its relatively small size, it is amazing how daring and dynamic is the Sarasota’s cultural scene! You can probably attend a concert or the theatre every day of the week.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall brings you a world of culture-Broadway musicals, theatre and a wide variety of other happenings. The Asolo Theatre Company (recently renamed as the FSU/Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts) is the only theatre in North America with a winter repertory season. Three, four or even five plays may be performed during the same time frame providing a diverse assortment of programs for the visitor to the area. Other theatres are the Florida Studio Theatre, Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, and the Venice Little Theatre.
Celebrating its 55th season in 2003, the Florida West Coast Symphony offers a wide array of symphonic and chamber music. It is also host to the internationally recognized Sarasota Music Festival held each June. If you are into ballet, you would want to enjoy a performance of the world class Sarasota Ballet of Florida. Are you an opera enthusiast? The Sarasota Opera performs in the 1926 Edwards Theatre during the months of February and March. This should satisfy your appetite, and English translations are projected above the stage. It is no wonder this elegant town is known as “Florida’s Cultural Coast.”
Every Thursday and Friday evenings there is a happening either somewhere in Sarasota or nearby. Downtown Palm Avenue holds an art walk on the first Friday of the month. On the second Friday of the month you can enjoy “Sunset Circle” on St. Armands, and the fourth Friday there is “Smooth Jazz.” All located near Lido Beach. Every third Friday of the month Towles Court, a downtown artist’s colony, holds its art walk. Venice Main Street, located just south of Sarasota, has activities every third Thursday of the month.
The dynamism of Sarasota’s dedication to the arts is not all that beckons the visitor. Recently, the first Florida eco-heritage tourism trail linking more than 150 environmental, educational, cultural and historical sites was opened. The primary objective is to educate tourists and residents alike of the need to protect and conserve the area’s local waterways and historic sites.
Mote Aquarium houses touchable stingrays, sea turtles, and Florida’s only interactive multimedia “Shark Attack.” Jungle Gardens is the area’s only Zoological Park. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens advertises itself as “a tropical oasis in downtown Sarasota,” extending over 16 acres overlooking Sarasota Bay.
Little wonder romantic memories will linger forever after you have tasted the beauty, culture and hospitality of Sarasota.
More Information on Sarasota
Convention and Visitors Bureau
655 Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, Fl 34236