Steve Carroll / Alamy

Circus culture on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Travel + Leisure
March 08, 2012

If the prefab joys of Disney have faded, hit the historic and enchanting kid-friendly, circus-funded town of Sarasota. A haven for artsy types since John Ringling founded it in the 1920s, the town today houses performance venues, galleries, and lots of circus-themed activities and restaurants for children and the playful at heart.

Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota

Overlooking Downtown’s marina on Sarasota Bay, just across the Ringling Causeway from the city’s charming theater and dining district, the towering Mediterranean-style hotel—housed on the first eight floors—is a great choice for couples, business travelers, and families. Trademark Ritz-Carlton service and style abounds, from the grand classically appointed lobby public rooms to marble bathrooms. The hotel’s marquee restaurant, Verona, serves organic Floridian specialties. There’s also a fitness center and state-of-the-art Europe-style spa, complete with whirlpool, sauna, and private terrace, in additional to a heated outdoor pool. Guests enjoy access the hotel’s private family-friendly beach club—just a short shuttle ride away—on scenic Lido Key, and a Tom Fazio-designed golf course. The hotel is a smart choice for travelers looking to blend a resort experience into a city stay.

Cà d’Zan

Visit the ersatz European mansion built by John Ringling.

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

A miniature circus re-creates the Ringling operation in staggering detail—2,300 pieces.

Main Bar Sandwich Shop

Full of circus memorabilia, the 60-year-old shop serves delicious doorstopping sandwiches.

Yoder's

For dessert, head to this Amish owned and operated shop for homemade pies, like peanut butter cream or Southern pecan.

Helmsley Sandcastle

The property has its own 600-foot-long stretch of crystal white sand; the large rooms are great for groups, and there are two heated pools.

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