Jessi Smith

Correspondent

  • Sarasota, Florida, USA

Jessi Smith is a correspondent who lives in Sarasota and covers the city for Forbes Travel Guide. When the Florida native isn’t trotting the globe and writing about arts, culture and travel, Jessi works with a number of Sarasota-based publications and festivals — including the Ringling International Arts Festival and the Sarasota Film Festival — to enhance Sarasota’s reputation as a top arts destination. Jessi’s work appears regularly in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, This Week in Sarasota and Tampa-based 83 Degrees, among other publications.

  • On July 2, 2014
    Kaley Johannesson is now following Jessi Smith
  • On April 17, 2013
    Mary Connelly is now following Jessi Smith
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    Which restaurants in Sarasota are best for brunch?

    Leisure is a way of life in Sarasota, where the hours between breakfast and lunch often seem to melt together in the sunshine. The options for brunching are vast, but these picks are some of the best.

    1. Station 400. This hip Parisian bistro is a breakfast, lunch and brunch standard in Sarasota. It could be the fresh-baked-daily breads and pastries, the local organic ingredients in dishes like truffle eggs Benedict and fried green tomato BLTs, or simply the atmosphere itself that keeps customers raving. The restaurant occupies a former train depot that was originally constructed in 1852, and features a shaded, patio dining area alongside a brick-paved street of downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District.

    2. The Savory Street. This international eatery in downtown Sarasota lives a double life. In the morning and through lunchtime, The Savory Street is a bakery and café with an extensive menu that covers everything from quiche Lorraine and banana pancakes drizzled in caramel to delectable sandwiches, salads and soups. In the evening, it transforms into an upscale dining establishment. Savory Street’s broad, international menu makes it a brunch favorite.

    3. C’est la Vie. Located along Main Street, the central vein of downtown Sarasota, is C’est la Vie, a family-owned bakery and café noted for serving up authentic French classics, from fresh-baked pastries, baguettes and crepes to the ever-popular croque monsieur. In addition to classic French café fare, C’est la Vie is the place to go for people watching. Grab a spot in the sidewalk seating area and enjoy an espresso while you take in the sights and sounds of downtown Sarasota.

    4. The Toasted Mango. The Toasted Mango Café is the creation of two friends, both veterans of the service industry, who felt that great restaurant service has become a dying art. Friendly service is the first commandment at The Toasted Mango, a quiet neighborhood café that specializes in breakfast and lunch. Try the signature dish — the Toasted Mango Waffle is topped with fresh mango slices, toasted coconut and whipped cream. You’ll be in brunch heaven.

    5. The Sun Garden Café. From healthy to hearty fare, The Sun Garden Café, located within walking distance of the beach on Siesta Key, has a little something for everyone. Start out with fresh-squeezed juice or an energy smoothie if you’re feeling health conscious — or go the other direction with a local favorite, the “Elvis Fried Chicken Plate” with fried eggs, biscuits and gravy. The lunch menu is equally diverse, with options ranging from unusual delights like Boursin-stuffed figs to simple favorites like fish and chips. Enjoy brunch in the café’s sunny garden setting before basking your afternoon away on the beach.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What are the best kid-friendly restaurants in Sarasota?

    Although many Sarasota restaurants feature sophisticated menus that appeal to a primarily adult crowd, there are plenty of family-friendly restaurants that pay special attention to the dining experience of even the youngest patrons.

    1. Square One Burgers. For burger lovers, Square One is a hit with the whole family. In addition to a wide selection of burgers that range from the traditional to the eclectic for adults, Square One also features a “Small Fry” menu with popular kid picks like Angus sliders, mac ’n’ cheese, chicken fingers and hot dogs. Each kids’ menu item is in the $5-and-under range and served with a complimentary fountain drink. In addition to the food, the festive cow-themed atmosphere is kid-approved.

    2. O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill. Located directly on the water in Sarasota’s bayside Island Park, O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill is a popular outdoor dining location for families. Because it is located in the park, there’s plenty of space for kids to romp, and the park playground is even in sight and within shouting distance of the tiki bar and waterside picnic-style restaurant tables. Be sure to order an extra plate of curly fries when you dine at O’Leary’s — those are popular with all ages.

    3. Cha Cha Coconuts. The arcade area at this Caribbean-themed restaurant on St. Armands Circle is an instant hit among kids, as well as parents looking to enjoy a meal with a side of peace and relaxation in a tropical setting. The games keep the kids entertained, and the kids’ menu has a selection of $5 meals that ensure kids’ tummies remain happily full.

    4. Red Elephant. This pizzeria, located conveniently close to the interstate and Sarasota’s neighboring Lakewood Ranch in a family-friendly shopping and entertainment district, is a favorite among kids and parents alike. Who doesn’t like pizza? Many parents consider the separate gluten-free menu at Red Elephant a blessing when dealing with their tykes’ dietary restrictions on the go.

    5. Yogurtology. There is nothing like a cool and refreshing frozen yogurt to cool down after a hot day at the beach or exploring the sights in Sarasota. The centrally located yogurt shop features a wall of self-serve yogurt flavors that patrons can mix and match to their content. Kids love to create their own adventurous flavor pairings, and the sprawling toppings bar, filled with fruit, nuts and candy crumbles, is a sweet tooth’s dream.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    Where can I go to watch sports in Sarasota?

    During Major League Baseball season, Baltimore may claim the Orioles — but during spring training season, Sarasota adopts the bat-swinging snowbirds who claim Ed Smith Stadium as their training base. In neighboring Bradenton, the Pittsburgh Pirates take over McKechnie Field, stirring up a not-quite-hometown rivalry. With tickets to spring training games selling as low as $8 apiece, baseball fans flock to Ed Smith Stadium and McKechnie Field (less than 30 minutes away) to catch their favorite major league teams, including the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, Toronto Blue Jays and true hometown rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays, go toe to toe with the O’s and the Pirates in the beautiful Florida weather.

    Those who seek a bar stool to settle into for the big televised games need look no further than Evie’s Tavern, a local sports bar with three locations throughout Sarasota. Folks flock to Evie’s Tavern to enjoy the fully stocked bars, wings, burgers and other classic bar bites while catching all the big games on high-definition flat-screen televisions. At Evie’s Tavern on the Range, which doubles as a restaurant/bar and golf center, enjoy a drink and a hand-tossed pizza while you catch the game inside, or move to the outdoor patio overlooking the golf range — sports don’t get much more live than that.

    Championship greyhound racing is a popular spectator sport in Sarasota, where the Sarasota Kennel Club has resided since 1929. Outdoor seating and race-side standing is available, as well as air-conditioned indoor seating in the upscale Miss Whirl Club above the track. Off-season, the track is used for betting and is a popular gathering spot for fans of horse racing to watch televised events on the flat-screen TVs in the Miss Whirl Club.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    Where are the best places to hear live music in Sarasota?

    No matter where you go in Sarasota, you will never be far from live music — in fact, you’ll probably encounter a great deal simply walking down the sidewalk downtown, in St. Armands Circle and Siesta Village. Some of the best places to check out live music, however, are tucked away, off the beaten path.

    One in particular is the Cock & Bull, a gastropub and nationally celebrated beer bar located approximately 15 minutes east of Sarasota’s downtown nightlife focal point. With over 500 bottles and approximately 40 draughts on tap, the beer alone is worthy of the drive for craft beer aficionados far and wide, but that isn’t all the Cock & Bull has to offer. The interior space is packed relatively tightly — no doubt, due to all that beer — but the outdoor patio features two full stages, an outdoor bar, ample makeshift seating and, during the cooler months, a nightly bonfire. The Cock & Bull is the host venue for Sarasota’s annual Noise Ordinance Festival, a day-long event that celebrates approximately 30 local bands and musicians, each of whom perform back-to-back sets on the bar’s rotating stages while the crowd enjoys craft brews.

    The Blue Rooster, a Southern-Americana-meets-urban themed bar and restaurant, and Darwin’s on 4th, a Peruvian-fusion restaurant/lounge and brewery, are located next door to one another in Sarasota’s Rosemary District. While the restaurants could not be any more different in style from the food to the entertainment and atmosphere, they do share a status as two of the hottest live music venues in town. Blue Rooster features Southern comfort food and cocktails with a rotating selection of local and regional blues and bluegrass bands that perform nightly in its acoustically pleasing, spacious warehouse space. Next door at Darwin’s, live DJs spinning thumping bass-lines dominate the swanky lounge some nights, while other nights, feisty salsa and tango beats accompany performers from the local burlesque troupe. The tapas-style Peruvian dishes accompanied by specialty cocktails and beers brewed with Incan ingredients at the restaurant’s in-house brewery are as eclectic as the live entertainment featured in the restaurant each night.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What is the best thing to bring home from Sarasota?

    You won’t need to scour the airport gift shop to find souvenirs. There are plenty of authentic, locally made pieces of Sarasota you can bring home, instead — and those make for the best treasures.

    Sarasota’s well-earned reputation as the small art capital of the United States is reflected in the collection of thriving local galleries and boutiques. Check out madeby gallery in the artsy Rosemary District, which solely sells items created by students and alumni from Sarasota’s prestigious Ringling College of Art + Design. The eclectic gallery carries paintings, sculptures, jewelry, handbags and clothing that represent the diverse style of dozens of current students and several decades of RCAD alumni who currently live and work locally, or who were inspired by the time they spent living in Sarasota as students. Each item is one-of-a-kind — and thus, uniquely yours.

    The Clothesline Gallery and Boutique in the Burns Court neighborhood is also a local original. Clothesline was founded in 2008 as an on-location screen-printing shop that made limited editions of locally designed T-shirts. Today the shop has expanded into an art gallery known for its edgy contemporary exhibitions, with its own exclusive clothing brand that continues to produce high quality, screen-printed limited editions by the area’s most up-and-coming local artists. Don’t be surprised if you see work by the artist whose name is on the tag of that “Clothesline Sarasota” T-shirt you purchased on your vacation in a hip gallery someday.

    If art and T-shirts don’t suit your fancy, perhaps local honey and tea — or something else from Sarasota’s popular farmers market — will. Every Saturday, vendors from Sarasota and surrounding areas descend on the farmers market downtown by the dozens. Along with typical, perishable farmers market fare like produce, several vendors peddle delicious local teas and coffees, honey, organic beauty products, candles and more. For the vendors who attend the farmers market every weekend, Saturdays are as much a social occasion as they are a workday. Whether you’re purchasing items or simply browsing, you’ll likely make a new friend — but go ahead and try a free sample of that Sarasota orange blossom honey, too. We bet you’ll be hooked.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What are the best Sarasota food experiences?

    1. Downtown Sarasota Farmers Market. Sarasota’s downtown farmers market is a long-standing local tradition with humble beginnings dating back to 1979. Today, farmers market vendors fill several city blocks along the central artery of downtown Sarasota each Saturday with fresh, locally grown produce, pastas, plants, confections, beauty products, art and more. It’s not unusual to catch chefs from local restaurants perusing the market early in the morning for ingredients for daily specials — and the friendly vendors are generous with the samples. Because of Sarasota’s year-round warmth, the Pop Craft gourmet popsicle cart, featuring refreshing and adventurous flavors like pineapple-cilantro and white-balsamic-fig, is one of the most popular stops in the market.

    2. A taste of Southern hospitality at Nancy’s BBQ. There is no such thing as bad barbecue — only good barbecue and finger licking good barbecue. The fare at Nancy’s BBQ in downtown Sarasota happens to be the latter, and the superb atmosphere simply sweetens the sauce. The building that houses the restaurant was an oil filling station and garage in a former life, and today the barbecue joint retains the mid-century filling station’s retro charm — it just happens to have a massive smokehouse in the back, full of delicious pork and chicken. On any given day, it isn’t unusual to find rib maestro Nancy Krohngold herself behind the counter, serving up fast, casual barbecue bites with a smile in this popular neighborhood gem.

    3. Waterside brews and brats at the Old Salty Dog. When it comes to casual waterside snacking and drinking, Old Salty Dog has perfected an art form. The family-friendly pub has been a local staple since it first opened its doors in 1986 and it provides some of the finest waterside views in Sarasota paired with a casual menu that’s perfect for snacking. Of course you must sample the restaurant’s signature menu item, the famous “Salty Dog” — a beer-battered, deep-fried hot dog that was featured on Travel Channel’s Man v. Food. Feel free to bring your pooch along on this family outing — the outdoor patio is, of course, friendly to even the oldest and saltiest of dogs.

    4. Brunch at Station 400. Start your day on the right track with brunch at Station 400, the popular breakfast and lunch bistro housed inside a 150-year-old train depot in downtown Sarasota’s Rosemary District. The original depot stood in Kentland, Indiana, and was disassembled, transported and reassembled in Sarasota as a French-inspired bistro, best known for its mouthwatering pancakes — the strawberry-lavender pancakes with strawberry butter and vanilla bean syrup, for instance — and its signature croque madame sandwiches. Seating is available inside the Station as well as on the shaded, charming patio, which is reminiscent of a Parisian café.

    5. Live music and Southern grub at The Blue Rooster. When Station 400 closes its doors after lunchtime, The Blue Rooster, housed in a warehouse next door, kicks its raucous act into motion. The restaurant serves up comfort food, draught beers and a nightly entertainment schedule that features local and regional musicians — primarily that of the blues, folk and bluegrass variety. The cocktails are also Southern-themed, like the traditional Jack Daniels Mint Julep and the Cajun Lemonade with Pimms No.1 and Tabasco. The interior space incorporates rustic elements, like weathered wood paneling and Americana-themed art, without sacrificing the urban industrial vibe created by the exposed brick walls of the warehouse and acoustic-enhancing 24-foot ceilings with exposed metal pipes. The comfort food is so heartily Southern, and the atmosphere so engaging, you may just forget there’s a delightful Parisian-style café next door during the daylight hours.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    Where is the best nightlife in Sarasota?

    Whether you’d prefer to venture out on a craft-beer pub crawl, enjoy tapas and cocktails in the moonlight from an urban rooftop bar, settle down with a tropical daiquiri on a beach deck bar or dance the night away — Sarasota has a splash of exciting nightlife for everyone.  

    Sarasota has a collection of various “nightlife districts,” the primary of which is located at the heart of downtown, the city’s urban core. After the sun retires for the evening, the nightlife scene springs to life along downtown Sarasota’s Main Street, where restaurants and bars with sidewalk seating line the pedestrian-friendly street and local bands provide outdoor entertainment.

    Grab dinner at one of the numerous pizzerias, cafes, sushi bars or upscale international cuisine restaurants downtown before catching a show at one of the theaters within walking distance, like the Florida Studio Theatre or Burns Court Cinema, an intimate theater that specializes in art house flicks and foreign films. If a performance isn’t your fancy, head straight to one of the local beer joints, The Tavern on Main or Shamrock Pub, for a pint of craft beer and mingle with the local musicians who frequent the stage and the bar. Alternatively, you could jazz up your night at the Peruvian restaurant and lounge, Ceviche, where the rooftop bar provides a view of the city that is as delicious as the tapas and cocktails you’ll drink as you dance the night away.

    Moving away from downtown and toward the beaches is Siesta Key Village, a secluded entertainment district where sandals and casual beachwear is always in fashion, day or night, at deck bars that specialize in frozen tropical cocktails, and where the Jimmy Buffet tunes are plentiful. In the Village, every moment feels like a vacation — for tourists and locals alike. Throughout the day and well into the evening, Siesta Village provides a family-friendly atmosphere with a broad selection of restaurants, gift shops and ice cream parlors in an easy-to-navigate, walkable area. After midnight, bars and clubs take over the Village, and the strip transforms into a popping social scene that tempers the Jimmy Buffet crowd with danceable top-40 jams and club beats.

    The Gulf Gate area in south Sarasota is somewhat secluded, but home to several of the area’s longest-standing popular nightlife establishments. The compact business district features a diverse selection of bars and restaurants, ranging from the Queen Anne British Pub that specializes in authentic British cuisine and draughts to Monk’s Steamer Bar, frequently hailed as one of Sarasota’s best raw oyster bars — high praise in a culinary-minded beach town. With bars and restaurants literally packed side by side throughout the strip, bar hopping is never easier than it is in Gulf Gate — and you’ll definitely want to bar hop in order to experience the variety of live music that fills the area each night. If you find yourself out too late with a grumbling tummy, worry not — Munchies 4:20 Café serves food to the bar crowd until 4:20 a.m.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What is the best way to see Sarasota in one day?

    Unless you can figure out a way to actually slow the pace of the setting sun, hitting all of Sarasota’s hot spots in one day is virtually impossible. However, visitors who put a little planning into their trip can get well acquainted with the city, as well as the area’s natural beauty, in just a day. Get a taste of the best Sarasota has to offer with these “Sarasota in a day” recommendations.

    To make the most of your day in Sarasota, you’ll want to start out early. Not only will setting the alarm early give you a chance to take advantage of those precious morning hours, but hitting the town early also gives you a chance to beat the heat. Before the beach crowd descends upon Siesta Key, take an early morning stroll on the powder white sands of Siesta Beach, ranked America’s No. 1 beach by “Dr. Beach” Stephen Leatherman in 2011. Follow it up with breakfast at one of the numerous cafés, diners or bakeries in charming Siesta Key Village.

    After breakfast, it’s time to take in the natural scenery while the mid-morning sun is still at its mildest. For the adventurous, there are plenty of options for active, aquatic tours. Guided kayak tours and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) tours are some of the most popular ways to take in the sights on the water. From adventures through mangrove passages around Sarasota Bay to tours that pass lavish celebrity mansions and beautiful homes along the canals of the bay and the Gulf of Mexico, these outings generally last approximately two hours. Alternatively, Sarasota offers several eco-boat tour options around the Gulf and Intracoastal Waterway that get visitors up close and personal with dolphins, manatees and more.

    Adventuring works up a mighty appetite, so take a drive over the John Ringling Causeway Bridge, taking in the sights of the glittering bay as you make your way onto the palm tree-lined streets of Lido Key, where you can grab lunch at one of the several cafés, delis, casual dining or upscale dining restaurants on St. Armands Circle. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone or a sweet confection from Kilwin’s Chocolates as you stroll the Circle, window-shopping the area nicknamed “The Rodeo Drive of Sarasota.”

    Once you’ve shopped ’til you dropped or eaten until you’re ready to pop, it’s time to head back across the bridge and into town, where downtown Sarasota’s artsy neighborhoods await. A simple stroll down Sarasota’s Main Street is an adventure filled with hip bars and coffee shops, galleries, independent and antique bookstores, toy stores and more. Venture off Main Street and into artsy neighborhoods like the Rosemary District, where you’ll find quirky art galleries off the beaten path, or Burns Court, a neighborhood filled with a mix of vibrant street art and eclectic, upscale boutiques. Downtown Sarasota is a very pedestrian-friendly, walkable area with history at every step. Pedi-cabs and pedestrian transport services like the Green Hopper also make navigating the downtown area a snap.

    Round out your evening with dinner at one of the many restaurants downtown that represent a range of international and fusion cuisine, followed by a little entertainment. From classic productions in the regal 1920s Sarasota Opera House to live indie rock and bluegrass in the bars, the downtown Sarasota music scene has something to offer for all tastes. You can also catch a contemporary theater or improv comedy performance at the Florida Studio Theatre on any given night, a community production at the Players Theatre downtown, or a national act at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, located just minutes away on the Bay.

    If you’re up for it, have a nightcap or indulge in sumptuous desserts like crème brûlée or Earl Grey cheesecake at Mélange, a late-night full-service restaurant and lounge, before retiring from your Sarasota-packed day.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What are the best places to eat in Sarasota?

    From global-fusion fare to the freshest local seafood, Sarasota restaurants will be a highlight of your trip. Here are a few of the best place to eat.

    1. Indigenous. Chef Steve Phelps’ passion for creating complex, flavorful dishes from sustainable, local ingredients inspired him to open Indigenous, a restaurant that celebrates American cuisine with a rotating menu that adjusts with the seasons. As if the environmentally friendly and community-conscious menu full of succulent, local, organic seafood, beef, lamb and vegetarian dishes wasn’t enough of a selling point, the rustic wraparound porch dining area rounds out the experience with a touch of ambience and Southern charm. 

    2. Mélange. Discriminating midnight snackers with a flair for adventurous flavors flock to Mélange in downtown Sarasota on a nightly basis. Chef Lan Bradeen’s eclectic Asian-fusion restaurant serves up gourmet small plates like duck-brie crepes and rabbit tacos seasoned with curry, fennel slaw and crème fraîche until 2 a.m. While you’re indulging in Mélange’s late-night delights, be sure to accompany your order with a seasonal cocktail by award-winning mixologist Brad Coburn. Pangea, Mélange’s attached lounge and sandwich shop, also offers quick bites on the go well into the wee hours that put Taco Bell’s “Fourth Meal” to shame.

    3. The Table Creekside. Situated along the shores of Sarasota’s Phillippi Creek sits The Table Creekside, an upscale waterfront restaurant hailed for both its atmosphere and its adventurous global-fusion menu. Enjoy gourmet twists on classic dishes, like organic chicken spring rolls jazzed up with fontina cheese, portabella mushrooms and apple carrot slaw, or the calamari steak po’ boy sandwich served with Incan aioli and Vidalia ceviche, as you overlook the serene creek below or hang out on the other side of the restaurant at the sleek, posh aqua-blue “Miami-style” bar. The food is delicious, regardless of your choice of view.

    4. Selva Grill. When founding chef Darwin Santa Maria opened Selva Grill in 2002, the original location only offered seven tables. By Selva’s second month in business, those seven tables were some of the most sought-after in town as food connoisseurs jockeyed to get their names on two-month reservation waiting lists. The popular upscale Peruvian restaurant has since relocated to a larger location in downtown Sarasota that receives rave reviews from visitors around the world —  particularly on behalf of its delectable ceviche and adventurous cocktails. Today, Selva Grill maintains the sterling reputation it garnered at the outset, but thankfully, there are enough tables to accommodate Sarasota’s big appetite — without the two-month wait.

    5. Owen’s Fish Camp. As the name suggests, Owen’s Fish Camp exudes an unpretentious, rustic charm. Tucked away in a quaint, banyan tree-shaded bungalow in downtown Sarasota’s artsy Burns Court, the restaurant specializes in Southern-style cooking and fresh seafood — a blend that truly defines traditional Florida cooking. The menu includes a mixture of down-home, Southern-inspired seafood dishes, complete with collard greens and fried green tomatoes, as well as simple favorites like fish and chips that will keep even the pickiest eaters satisfied — so feel free to bring the kids.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What are the best places to stay in Sarasota?

    Comfort and luxury go hand in hand in Sarasota, where the variety of hotels offers world-class amenities for everyone, from the single traveler to the vacationing family.

    The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, located on Sarasota Bay just minutes from downtown, St. Armands Circle and the beaches of Lido and Siesta Key, combines casual Florida living with sophisticated style and luxury amenities. In addition to luxury accommodations, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel features award-winning fine dining, an onsite spa — the Four-Star Members Spa Club, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota — and a par-72 golf course less than 15 miles away, available to resort guests.

    Fresh, homemade muffins and tropical fruits for breakfast are just the beginning of a luxurious stay at the Cypress B&B. The bed and breakfast is located on Sarasota Bay, just minutes from the beaches and downtown cultural attractions. The tin-roofed 1940s home that houses the Cypress B&B is nestled in a tropical garden and shaded by mango trees. The romantic tropical oasis offers five unique rooms furnished with antique décor and Florida charm.

    Hotel Ranola, located directly at the heart of vibrant downtown Sarasota, was built in 1926 as a complex of winter apartment homes for seasonal residents. Today, it is a hip, nine-unit urban boutique hotel, the interior of which features the style and comfort of contemporary living, masked by the building’s historic exterior façade. Hotel Ranola is walking distance to the shops, restaurants, theaters and bars that make up the downtown core of Sarasota — which, like the hotel, represents a well-rounded blend of cosmopolitan vibrancy and charming history.
     
    The Inn on Siesta Key, a six-suite boutique hotel located in one of the oldest houses near Sarasota’s award-winning beach, exemplifies authentic vintage Florida living. Constructed in 1936, the house has been updated to include modern amenities like central air conditioning, free Wi-Fi and a heated pool, but also maintains its “vintage Florida cottage style” in its original hardwood floors and fireplace and its large, screened-in old-Florida porch. The best part? The walk from your bed to one of the top beaches in the United States is only five minutes.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    Where is the best shopping in Sarasota?

    You’ll be tempted to shop ’til you drop during your visit to Sarasota, a city that has a variety of boutiques, unique gifts and treasures at every turn.

    St. Armands Circle is widely regarded as Sarasota’s primary high-end shopping district. Located within walking distance of North Lido beach, St. Armands is designed for balmy, sea-breezy strolls around the Circle, where chic boutiques feature the latest trends in leisure fashion and footwear; galleries showcase unique art, gifts and home décor; spas and salons offer luxury pampering treatments; and outdoor sidewalk cafes tempt the appetite with a cornucopia of casual and fine dining options. The numerous ice cream shops and gourmet confectionary establishments throughout St. Armands provide sweet-toothed window-shoppers with delectable distractions as they explore the coconut-palm-lined sidewalks around the Circle.

    Whereas the boutiques and shops on St. Armands are polished and posh, Sarasota Architectural Salvage in downtown Sarasota features a rough-around-the-edges, shabby-chic aesthetic that appeals to treasure hunters. The 10,000-foot warehouse space is home to a variety of unique antiques and functional art for the home crafted from historic architectural and industrial salvage. From elaborate stained-glass windows to nautical artifacts, vintage circus relics, bizarre antique farm tools and high-end furniture crafted from discarded materials from historic buildings like the John Ringling Hotel, Sarasota Architectural Salvage is recognized among design authorities and tastemakers around the world as home to some of the coolest and most unique “junk” in the United States.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What are the best things to do with kids in Sarasota?

    Kids who come to Sarasota will find no shortage of entertainment, and parents can rejoice because many of the family attractions in town are geared toward education as well. (We can just keep that part our little secret, Mom and Dad — the kids will be having so much fun, they won’t even know they’re learning.)

    1. GWIZ. Kids and adults alike won’t be able to keep their hands to themselves at the Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone (GWIZ), where touching the exhibits is not only allowed, but also highly encouraged. The hands-on science and technology museum features interactive exhibits including the Robotics Zone, where museum patrons can operate robots and other gadgets; the Explora-Zone, where kids can fiddle with a gigantic spirograph that creates fun designs while demonstrating principles of motion; and the Wave Zone, where laser guitars and other instruments give kids an opportunity to rock out while learning about light and sound waves.

    2. Mote Aquarium. Dolphins and sharks and sea turtles, oh my! At Mote Aquarium, a leading nonprofit marine research institute, visitors receive a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with all kinds of sea critters. Hands-on exhibits give kids the opportunity to get their fingers wet (and maybe a little slimy) by touching unusual creatures like stingrays, sea urchins and starfish while a knowledgeable, kid-friendly staff leads discussions on marine life and eco-preservation. The Shark Encounter exhibit provides teens and adults with a chance to feed the sharks in Mote’s 135,000-gallon shark tank, and the aquarium’s eco-boat tours provide excellent opportunities for passengers of all ages to learn about manatees, dolphins, osprey and other wildlife in their natural habitat.

    3. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. From tots to teens, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens caters to the entire family. Kids will get a kick out of feeding the fish in the koi pond, exploring the maze of branches in the banyan trees, participating in “plant hunts” and romping on the Great Lawn. The organization recently began construction on the Children’s Rainforest Garden, which upon completion will feature waterfalls, multi-level tree houses, canopy walks and rope bridges, an Amazon village model and a research station geared toward introducing field botany techniques to kids.

    4. The Children’s Garden. Regarded as one of Sarasota’s best-kept secrets, the Children’s Garden is a whimsical, imaginative play-haven that appeals primarily to kids in the 10-and-under age range. It is a world of magic and make-believe, where nature-play reigns supreme. Kids have an opportunity to get their hands dirty and let their imaginations wander at the two-acre playground that features fantastical topiary creatures, fairy gardens, found-object jungle gyms and tree forts, secret mazes, a pirate ship and a dress-up room. The nonprofit garden and playground also hosts age-appropriate art classes for kids and interactive story-time sessions in which volunteer storytellers bring fairy tales to life on stage.

    5. The Sailor Circus at Circus Sarasota. Ever since John Ringling made Sarasota the winter headquarters for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in the 1920s, the circus has been an integral aspect of Sarasota culture. Circus Sarasota, Sarasota’s nonprofit hometown circus, is internationally acclaimed for its world-class artistry and entertainment under the big top and also for its unrivaled youth outreach programs. The Sailor Circus, an extension of Circus Sarasota dubbed “The Greatest Little Show on Earth,” is America’s oldest youth circus program. Sailor Circus performers, who range in age from elementary to high school students, are among the best in their class worldwide, and showcase a powerhouse of inspiring talent that delights crowds of all ages. Additionally, Circus Sarasota’s Big Top Education program gives kids a chance to participate in circus-themed activities that teach basic concepts of physical science in fun and engaging ways.
  • On April 12, 2013
    Jessi Smith answered the question: Jessi Smith

    What are the best things to see and do in Sarasota?

    Sifting through Sarasota’s bounty of attractions can be tough, so we’ve compiled a list of the top activities to ensure that your trip is filled with the absolute best that this coastal city has to offer.

    1. Hit the beach. With its selection of award-winning beaches, Sarasota is a prime Florida Gulf Coast destination in which to bask in the sun and dip your toes in the surf. Siesta Key, whose Siesta Beach was named the best beach in the United States by Stephen Leatherman (aka “Dr. Beach”) in 2011, is a popular destination for beachcombers from all around the world due to its powdery white sand and inviting turquoise waters. Located just minutes north of Siesta Key are the beaches of Lido Key. North Lido is situated along the Gulf Coast, and to the south, South Lido’s placid, bayside beach park is shaded by Australian pines and has all the amenities for a picnic or barbecue.

    2. Explore the Ringling Museum grounds. Sarasota’s romance with the arts dates back to the arrival of circus mogul John Ringling in the 1920s. Ringling’s lavish Gilded Age Venetian-Gothic mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, is adjacent to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which is the official state art museum of Florida and houses Ringling’s exceptional collection of Baroque and Renaissance art, in addition to hosting a series of thought-provoking special exhibitions with contemporary themes. The 66-acre estate is also home to one of only three All-American Rose Selection (AARS) gardens in the state of Florida, the Mable Ringling Rose Garden. The Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center, located on the Ringling grounds, feature a family-friendly environment that brings Sarasota’s circus history to life through interactive exhibits and a 3,800-square-foot model that represents the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus during its heyday (circa 1919-1938) — a must-see for circus buffs of all ages.

    3. Catch a festival. Sarasota’s temperate year-round weather provides an excellent atmosphere for a variety of festivals throughout the year. Artists from across the globe travel to Sarasota to participate in outdoor festivals like the artsy Chalk Festival and the Sarasota Blues Festival, annual events which both take place each autumn. In spring, the Sarasota Film Festival takes over the town for one week to feature more than 200 independent films, serving as a magnet for droves of cinema fanatics and celebrities alike. Savor Sarasota, a two-week June festival, celebrates Sarasota’s outstanding culinary scene with exclusive deals that slash fine-dining prices to bargain rates at dozens of restaurants throughout the city — a city which, by the way, happens to be home to the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in Florida. Throughout the summer, the Carreño Dance Festival, the Sarasota Music Festival and the Ringling International Arts Festival bring internationally acclaimed performing artists to Sarasota, ensuring that the city serves as a year-round host to the finest art, cuisine and entertainment that the Florida Gulf Coast has to offer.

    4. Have a wet and wild outdoor adventure. However tempting it may be to settle down with a rumrunner and bask on the beach for the duration of your trip, the opportunities for aquatic adventure on the ecologically diverse waterways of Sarasota are not to be overlooked. Firsthand encounters with dolphins, manatees and other marine life are a high likelihood during nature cruises on Mote Aquarium’s Sarasota Bay Explorer boats. For those who seek an active vacation, guided kayak and stand-up paddleboard (SUP) outings are engaging, interactive ways to experience wildlife native to Florida’s aquatic habitats while getting a fun workout. Adventurous anglers are also welcome in Sarasota, where more than 230 species of fish reside in the salty Gulf of Mexico and the freshwater inland flats. Several of the nation’s most experienced fishing experts live and work locally, guiding deep sea charter fishing expeditions that are sure to create quite a splash among fishing enthusiasts of all ages.

    5. Go to a show. From the intimate Players Community Theatre where Montgomery Clift made his humble acting debut in 1932, to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall that showcases nationally touring musicians and performers, Sarasota is host to a smorgasbord of performing arts. Sarasota’s contemporary theater, Florida Studio Theatre, features a variety of avant-garde professional performances throughout its season, as well as an abundance of laughs courtesy of the FST Improv crew. The historic Asolo Repertory Theatre, located on the Ringling Museum campus, is the largest professional not-for-profit theater south of Atlanta, staging as many as 15 productions each season that range from classical works to provocative contemporary theater and musical performances. The Sarasota Opera House, built in the 1920s, is a downtown landmark rich in history and reputation. In a previous life, the opera house hosted popular national acts of the day, including Elvis Presley in 1956. Today, the venue stages opera performances from the classic European repertoire, as well as lesser-known American operas in its ambitious “American Classics Series.”