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Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Courtesy of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

A visit to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is one of the many exciting things you can do in Sarasota.

First thing's first, check in at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota (1111 Ritz Carleton Drive, 941-309-2000), the city’s top hotel and the place to stay. Stroll over to Bayfront Park to take in the Sarasota scenery. The towers and condos of downtown rise in the distance, and a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway leads to the area’s barrier island “keys.” Sailboat slips abound and fountains, lush walking paths and a playground grace the park.

Once you’ve got the lay of the land, walk toward Libby’s Café & Bar (1917 S. Osprey Ave., 941-364-5811), a casual spot offering innovative takes on American comfort food in the trendy Hillview District.

After lunch, explore the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (811 S. Palm Ave., 941-366-5731). This lovely oasis occupies 10 acres on a scenic point overlooking Sarasota Bay. Don’t miss the orchid house and fragrance gardens, and allow time to relax and watch the boats go by.

Sarasota is a city rooted in the arts, and there’s no better example than the city’s bayside jewel, the Ringling Estate. Circus magnate John Ringling developed much of Sarasota and endowed the city with many of its cultural treasures. Start at the Ringling Museum of Art (5401 Bay Shore Road, 941-359-5700), which features paintings by Rubens and Italian baroque masters; period rooms purchased from John Astor’s Mansion in New York; and a courtyard of fountains, formal gardens and columns that date back nearly 1,000 years.

The adjacent Cà d’Zan is Ringling’s seaside mansion, preserved since his death in 1936 and open to tours. Before leaving the estate, explore the Ringling Circus Museum, which offers a Smithsonian-worthy history of the American circus—and Howard Tibbals’ amazing handmade miniatures of a 1920s-era Ringling Bros. circus.

Spend some quality time lounging at The Ritz-Carlton Members Beach Club (941-309-2600) at Lido Key, a quick shuttle ride from the hotel and open only to members and hotel guests. The poolside service is excellent, the beach lovely and adjacent café sublime.

Now that you’re rested and relaxed, dine well at the Ritz Carlton’s Cà d’Zan Lounge (111 Ritz Carlton Drive, 941-309-2000), a clubby, wood-paneled enclave serving upscale burgers on potato-flour buns. Don’t miss the aged cheese, mushroom and tarragon mayo version.

Wrap up your Sarasota sojourn with a symphony concert or theatrical performance at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (777 N. Tamiami Trail, 800-826-9303), Sarasota’s lavender cultural hub on a bay that boasts more than 200 nights of performances each year.

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published in November 2007 by MSP Communications.

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