New York Times' 36 Hours in Sarasota

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  • SARASOTA

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    SARASOTA

    Where else can one spend the morning reveling in the beauty of works by Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Hals and Botticelli and the afternoon lolling on a powdery white sand beach? That is the lure of Sarasota, the city perched on the Gulf of Mexico where John and Mable Ringling, the circus impresario and his wife, set the stage for a vibrant cultural life after buying land there in 1911. Not only did John Ringling create the old-master-filled John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, but he brought the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus to winter in Sarasota. His elephants even hauled timber for the John Ringling Causeway, which links the mainland to Lido Key. Nature, which initially attracted the Ringlings and other wealthy Midwesterners, provides its own set of pleasures beyond the beaches: whether it’s fishing, watching manatees and sea turtles or strolling past orchids and mangroves in an expansive botanical garden. For more civilized diversions, there is a plethora of restaurants and shops, and even an opera and orchestra. (By Florence Fabrikant, New York Times)

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    Friday, 4 p.m.: FIRST LOOK

     Locals take happy hour seriously in Sarasota, when drink prices often drop to as low as $4 from Monday to Friday. Enjoy the vista and the good value at Marina Jack (2 Marina Plaza; 941-365-4232; marinajacks.com) on the marina between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle, which is chockablock with restaurants and shops. Take in the expansive view of Bird Key as you sip a Southern Peach Tea made with vodka, lemonade and iced tea ($8.25). Music lovers will enjoy the live band that plays every afternoon, or try the quieter outdoor deck where you can admire the yachts in the harbor.

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    Friday, 7 p.m.: FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

    Whether you eat in the series of rooms with dark parquet wood floors, a profusion of plants and smoky emerald green walls covered with art or upstairs in the more casual dining room and bar, don’t pass up the fried green tomato fusion (panko- and cornmeal-crusted green tomatoes pan-fried with sweet chili sauce, $13.50) at Euphemia Haye (5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive; 941-383-3633;euphemiahaye.com). Splurge on the roast duckling ($38.50), if you dare, which is filled with bread crumb stuffing and topped with a tangy fruit sauce. The lush dessert menu includes Key lime pie. If the staff seems unusually friendly, you can blame the owners — Raymond, also the chef, and D’Arcy Arpke — who give 32-year veteran staff members either a bonus or a trip.

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    Friday, 9:30 p.m.: NEWSROOM BAR

    Five years ago a group of investors bought the former Sarasota Times building, a Spanish-style stucco edifice built in 1926, and converted it into Ceviche, a tapas bar and restaurant (1216 First Street; 941-952-1036; ceviche.com), which is as lively as the newsroom once was. For drinks the rooftop open-air bar, illuminated at night by red lanterns, torches and TV screens, is ideal for a Ceviche Island Mojito ($9) and a view of the water. The third floor has a full tapas menu, live music and occasional flamenco. There is a main dining room below with the same tapas menu. (Come soon; it is moving downtown next year.)

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    Saturday, 8:30 a.m.: A TASTE OF FRANCE

    C’est la Vie (1553 Main Street; 941-906-9575; cestlaviesarasota.com) promises everything from chocolate croissants ($2.10) to cheese and ham crepes ($7.85) at outdoor tables painted bright blue, or indoors in a Provence-style cafe. Locals often line up here, so be prepared to wait — it is particularly busy on Saturday when the local farmers’ market sprawls around the restaurant.

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    Saturday, 10 a.m.: BEACH TIME

    Before Sarasota’s loveliest beach at Siesta Key gets crowded with families and a parade of beachgoers, both old and young, head for the wide expanse of soft-as-cotton sand. Siesta Beach was designated America’s best beach last year by Stephen Leatherman, a professor and director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University; its sand is 99 percent quartz crystal and stays white in part because it does not need replenishment from darker sands dredged from the seabed. (Parking lot at 948 Beach Road; simplysiestakey.com/beaches.htm.)

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    Saturday, 12:30 p.m.: WATERSIDE LUNCH

    For buckets of peel–and-eat shrimp ($11.99), or blackened grouper sandwiches with a chipotle tortilla (market price), locals love the Old Salty Dog (1601 Ken Thompson Parkway; 941-388-4311; theoldsaltydog.com) on Sarasota Bay. You can smell the sea and watch the Longboat Key Pass Bridge open periodically for boats heading out into the Gulf of Mexico. The original owners were English and wanted to create a publike atmosphere. Today you can still order fish ’n’ chips ($13.95).

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    Saturday, 2 p.m.: MANATEES AND MORE

    Hugh and Buffett, two placid manatees each weighing well over 1,000 pounds, were raised in captivity at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium (1600 Ken Thompson Parkway; 941-388-4441; mote.org). Watch them smush their noses against the glass or consume a few of the approximately 75 heads of romaine lettuce that the pair devour each day. Or gape at Shelley and Montego (two loggerhead sea turtles), sharks, toadfish, convict cichlid fish and hundreds of other kinds of marine life. You’re sure to pick up some stray facts — for instance, did you know that dolphins get arthritis? The admission price ($19) supports research and animal care.

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    Saturday, 4:30 p.m.: SEASHELLS AND COVER-UPS

    Don’t miss St. Armands Circle, where you’ll find coffee shops, formal restaurants and a wide range of shops. If you need protection from the sun, Island Pursuit (357 St. Armands Circle; 941-388-4515; islandpursuit.com) has Scala cotton hats ($39) and multicolored bathing suit cover-ups ($69); FantaSea (378 St. Armands Circle; 941-388-3031;fantaseashells.com) stocks seashell night lights ($11.99) and towels decorated with mermaids ($9.99).

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    Saturday, 6 p.m.: MARTINI TIME

     Head downtown and sit under the umbrellas at Mattison’s (1 North Lemon; 941-330-0440; mattisons.com), where you can order a Blue Lion Martini ($4 until 7 p.m.). The cocktail hour is cooler and plusher indoors at the Bar at Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse (35 South Lemon Street; 941-366-7788; hydeparkrestaurants.com) where you can drop into a deep velveteen sofa or sit at the bar and order a martini (from $9, or about half that much during happy hour).

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    Saturday, 7 p.m.: MEDITERRANEAN MEDLEY

    The chef Dylan Elhajoui came to the United States from Morocco 21 years ago, and at his colorful 24-table restaurant Mozaic (1377 Main Street; 941-951-6272;mozaicsarasota.com) in downtown Sarasota, he combines Moroccan and Southern European cuisine. Among the appetizers are fricassee of escargot and shiitake mushrooms with white wine ($10); for main courses try the tangy tagine of chicken breast and artichoke with couscous ($25). After dinner, check out the CdZ bar at the Ritz-Carlton (1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive; 941-309-2000; ritzcarlton.com); its heavy wood paneling and upholstered sofas don’t intimidate the casual crowd that shows up for the toasted almond martini, $15, with amaretto, Kahlúa, half-and-half and a cherry garnish.

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    Sunday, 9:30 a.m.: HASH AND HOT SAUCE

     With its brightly painted walls and paisley-print booths, the Blue Dolphin (470 John Ringling Boulevard; 941-388-3566; bluedolphincafe.com) is the funky Florida version of a coffee shop. The corned beef hash topped with two eggs ($10.99) is popular, as are the six versions of hot sauce on each table. “Some people even put it on pancakes and some just pour a spoonful and eat it straight,” our waitress said.

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    Sunday, 11 a.m.: THE RINGLING LEGACY

    The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (5401 Bay Shore Boulevard; 941-359-5700;ringling.org) reflects John Ringling’s dual passions: Baroque art and the circus. His collection, which includes five paintings by Rubens, as well as works by Botticelli and Hals, is housed in a mansion resembling an Italian villa, overlooking Sarasota Bay. The Circus Museum, also on the property, has its own share of wonders, including a car from the Pullman train in which John and Mable traveled. There is also a version of the circus in miniature with figurines of more than 900 animals.

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    Sunday, 1 p.m.: OPULENT ORCHIDS

    Situated on Sarasota Bay, the Marie Selby Botanical Garden (811 South Palm Avenue; 941-366-5731; selby.org) has a profusion of orchids and other plants. Here you might learn that twigs from the neem tree were used to fight tooth decay and that its extracts helped cure athlete’s foot, and that leaves from the seagrape, a plant native to Florida and Central and South America, may have been used for writing paper by early Spaniards in Mexico.

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    IF YOU GO

     The Ritz-Carlton (1111 Ritz Carlton Drive; 941-309-2000; ritzcarlton.com) is the toniest hotel in town and includes a nearby beach club with dining on the water and a luxurious golf club; its bar is popular with locals. Rooms start at $329.

    The Hilton Longboat Key (4711 Gulf of Mexico Drive; 941-383-2451; hiltonhotels.com) is in an ideal setting right on the Longboat Key beach. Rooms start at $187.