If You Go ...
Where to Stay:
Radisson Lido Beach Resort
Tropical-themed resort on 300-foot private stretch of Lido Beach with 222 guest rooms, two restaurants, beachfront tiki bar, two beachfront pools, three Jacuzzis, fitness center, watersport rentals, guest laundry, children's activities and shuttle to St. Armand's Circle (upscale shopping and dining area on Lido Key).
Courtyard by Marriott
Hotel a mere quarter-mile away from the Ringling Museum of Art and Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts with 81 guest rooms, outdoor pool and whirlpool, exercise room, cafe serving full buffet breakfast, lounge serving beer and wine, and guest laundry.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel
Luxury hotel on Sarasota Bay with 266 guest rooms, two restaurants, bar with outdoor terrace, outdoor pool and 15,000-square-foot spa.
Where to Eat:
Cafe of the Arts
Reservations are suggested for lunch and dinner at this eatery just south of the Ringling Museum of Art and FSU Center for the Performing Arts, a finalist in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune Readers' Choice Award for Best French Restaurant this year. Signature dishes include the rack of lamb Dijonnaise.
The remedy for cultural deprivation? A trip to Sarasota, a pretty waterfront community that boasts a surprisingly lively arts scene livelier, some say, than that in big-city Tampa, only an hour's drive north on Interstate 75.
Much of the activity can be found in and around the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (5401 Bay Shore Road, 941-359-5700, www.ringling.org),0a division of Florida State University and the State Art Museum of Florida that bills itself as the largest museum/university complex in the nation. The museum itself, a pink-stucco Italianate structure that late circus entrepreneur John Ringling built in the 1920s to house his growing art collection, boasts works by the likes of Rubens, Van Dyck and Velazquez and a terraced sculpture garden featuring a 17-fooo-high bronze cast of Michelangelo's "David." Northeast Ohioans will find a unique connection at the museum in Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design 1927-1936, an exhibit that runs through Jan. 4 and explores the critical years of photographer and Cleveland native Bourke-White.
Also on the 66-acre property is a circus museum and the Ringlings' magnificent Venetian Gothic mansion, Cà d'Zan ("House of John" in Venetian dialect). The 32-room, 15-bath terra cotta-and-stucco structure reopened in 2002 after the last three-year-long phase of a $15 million restoration was completed, making it the hottest attraction in town. Museum officials suggest calling ahead for tickets, which include a timed tour of Cà d'Zan and admission to the art and circus museums.
Next to the museum grounds is the FSU Center for the Performing Arts (5555 N. Tamiami Trail, 1-800-361-8388, www.asolo.org). The Asolo Theatre Company performs classic Alays in rotating repertory November through May in the center's elegant 500-seat Harold E. and Esther M. Mertz Theatre, originallyübuilt in 1903 as an opera house in Dumfermline, Scotland. Theatergoers can attend up to four plays by this professional company during nine weekends throughout the season. The center also houses the 160-seat Jane B. Cook Theatre, where the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training presents a mix of classic and cutting-edge productions through May 2.
The Mertz theater is home to the Sarasota Ballet (1-800-361-8388, www.sarasotaballet.org) Dec. 20 through April 26. However, more popular productions "The Nutcracker," for example are staged at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall (777 N. Tamiami Trail, 1-800-826-9303, www.vanwezel.org), a 1,700-seat facility designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that looks like a giant purple seashell from the outside. The hall serves as a venue for national and international touring artists and productions, everything from the Moscow Festival Ballet and Broadway musical "Miss Saigon" to Don Rickles, B.B. King and Wynonna.
The Florida West Coast Symphony (941-953-3434, www.fwcs.org), which performs in three counties through May 14, splits its time in Sarasota between Van Wezel, the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center's 450-seat Holley Hall (709 N. Tamiami Trail), and the 1,033-seat Sarasota Opera House (61 N. Pineapple Ave.). But the main draw at the Mediterranean Revival-style opera house is the Sarasota Opera (941-366-8450, www.sarasotaopera.org), which presents a quartet of operas in rotating repertory Feb. 7 through March 27. Opera lovers can see all four operas during the first three weekends in March a scheduling perk that draws fans from around the world.
The city also hosts a number of annual festivals and events. Standouts include the Sarasota Jazz Festival (March 21 through 27, 941-366-1552, www.jazzclubsarasota.com), Sarasota Film Festival (Jan. 23 through Feb. 1, 941-364-9514, www.sarasotafilmfestival.com), and the Florida Winefest and Auction (April 15 through 18, 941-952-1109). For a comprehensive listing, log on to www.sarasotafl.org.