Saturday, February 13, 2016

Art Show this Weekend in Sarasota

Just a heads-up to check out the 28th Annual Downtown Sarasota Festival of the Arts this weekend, Feb. 13-14, 2016, 10AM-5PM, on Main Street, from Orange Avenue east to Links Avenue, in downtown Sarasota FL.

You'll see high quality original artwork in a variety of media. Enjoy talking about the work with the artists. 

Great opportunity to find unique pieces for decorating your house or condo in Sarasota.

 downtown sarasota festival of the arts 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

St Armands Circle

You can see it as an outdoor shopping mall, a tourist trap, or a traffic circle to navigate on the way to Longboat Key--and it is all of those things. But St Armands Circle, on Lido Key in Sarasota FL, is also a sort of urban-pedestrian-cultural-park worth visiting because it's a beautiful and easy getaway for a few hours of high-tone sitting, sunning and gawking.

Pedestrian crosswalk and seating area, St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL
 A mile or so down the road as you exit the John Ringling Causeway across Sarasota Bay from downtown, the exhilaration of zooming over the bridge immediately slows, as traffic bows to pedestrians in the crosswalks between each block of the "circle" of shops and restaurants that makes up St Armands Circle. 
Pedestrian crossing at St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL

There are eateries representing most types of international cuisine here.

Columbia Restaurant, St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL

Plenty of outdoor sitting and schmoozing takes place in artfully placed nooks between circle traffic and shops.
Pedestrian seating area, St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL

At many of the crosswalks, you can pause to admire white marble statues representing the "virtues", which were inspired by John Ringling's travels to Italy, where he purchased most of them in the 1920s. Several more were added in 2007 by Sarasota organizations dedicated to the ongoing preservation of the Circle.

"Music" statue at St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL, next to "Allegory of Sarasota, it's Seven Virtues" 
"Bounty" statue, St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Getting Away from it All: Lido Beach Scenic Trail

If you drive to St Armands Circle (over the Ringling Causeway from downtown Sarasota), take your 2nd right off the Circle, and you'll find Lido Beach parking. (This is the St Armands Circle entrance to the beach, not the official beach pavillion entrance which is further down on Ben Franklin Drive.) 

After you park your car, head directly towards the wood entry ramp and deck that takes you onto the sands of Lido Beach. 
Lido Beach entrance pavilion at St Armands Circle, Sarasota
Walk about 20 feet onto the beach, and look to your right. You'll see a sandy path that parallels the beach (to the left) and the neighborhood (to the right). 
Lido Beach walking path at St Armands Circle, Sarasota FL
Start walking along the path.  

Sometimes when I'm here, it feels just like hiking in the Rockies high desert where I used to spend summers. The only thing that gives it away as being Sarasota is the sliver of blue-green Gulf at the horizon to the left. 

There's a bench for taking a pause, and the path is wide enough for bicycles. I also enjoy its gentle changes in elevation. A nice break from the flatness of most of Sarasota. 
If you walk the entire path, it eventually curves over (in less than a mile, I'd estimate) to reconnect with Lido Beach. You can then walk back to St Armands Circle along the beach. Or return via the footpath. Your choice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Premiere of Sarasota Seafood & Music Festival in Downtown Sarasota

Premiere of the Sarasota Seafood & Music Festival
This looks like an interesting and fun event to check out this weekend in downtown Sarasota. Five Points Park is in front of Selby Library at the corner of Pineapple Avenue and First Street. It might be easier to park in Burns Square and then walk north on Pineapple a few blocks to the park. Or use the Whole Foods parking garage upper levels, which you enter on 2nd Street.
The Sarasota Downtown Merchants Association announces the inaugural Sarasota Seafood & Music Festival. The event is in Selby Five Points Park in downtown Sarasota on January 23-24, 2016. Saturday 10-7 and Sunday 11-6, free admission and parking.
The mission is to celebrate the diverse nautical and cultural heritage of Sarasota while celebrating community thru camaraderie, great music and scrumptious foods. The event interweaves the freshest sustainable and indigenous seafood with outstanding live musical performances. Included will be seafood cooking demos, fishing workshops, arts and crafts, educational programs and exhibits.
Seafood lovers will enjoy fin-fish and shellfish prepared onsite by local restaurants and food purveyors. The ‘menu’ includes grouper, stone crabs, jambalaya, crab cakes, low country boil and more! 

Musical genres explore the gamut from Rock N’ Roll, R&B, Blues, Rumba Flamenco to Reggae and Jazz by such talented musicians and groups as Holey Miss Moley, Aland Music, Flat Land, Come Back Alice, R.J. Howson, Jah Movement, Kettle of Fish, Twinkle & Rock Soul Radio and the Sarasota Steel Pan Band. In addition, the event showcases original handmade artwork by a select group of local, regional and national artisans.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Celery Fields and Sarasota's Hiking "Mountain"

Located east of I-75 along Palmer Boulevard in Sarasota, the Celery Fields is a 360+ acre site owned by Sarasota County. It serves as the County's primary flood mitigation zone. 

While most of the acreage is relatively flat, it also features Sarasota's only "hiking mountain", a 75-foot-high hill with trails and palm trees. It will give you a good workout and a panoramic view of Sarasota in all directions. 

In the background, you might also hear the distant roars of lions and tigers residing at the nearby Big Cat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary next door.

The Celery Fields were originally wetlands that were drained for agriculture, specifically celery. In the 1990s, after record-setting rains, Sarasota County purchased the land to avoid future flooding of Phillippi Creek downstream. Since then it's developed bike trails, the hiking and observation hill, and provided habitat for many bird species. 

After a vigorous hike or bike ride at the Celery Fields, you can get a good meal and enjoy live music at J.R.'s Old Packinghouse Cafe, on Old Packinghouse Road, just south of Palmer Boulevard, a couple of miles west of the Celery Fields. The cafe's building was originally a celery-packing warehouse for the celery fields nearby.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Walking Tour of Sarasota Districts

Sarasota FL, a lush and quirky small city on Florida's Gulf Coast, is trying to use principles of New Urbanism to weave its various charming "old urbanism" districts into a cohesive live-work-culture-nature experience.

Blessed with a gorgeous location, nestled alongside the mid-Gulf Coast, an hour south of Tampa, protected by even more gorgeous barrier islands--here called "keys"--including Longboat Key, Lido Key, St Armands Key, Bird Key and Siesta Key--Sarasota is also the arts and culture capital of Florida.

In its very walkable and compact downtown, you'll find theatres, a beautiful opera house, a soaring modern library, a purple-painted waterfront concert hall, a municipal auditorium, upscale shops and restaurants, Whole Foods Market, and many art galleries.

A few blocks away, across the only scenic section of Tamiami Trail (Hwy 41), is the magnificent Sarasota Bayfront Park, lined each winter season with modern sculptures, and featuring a lovely tree-shaded walking path and park, impressive yachts, and two restaurants, one upscale and one of the sea-shack variety.

Several blocks south of Main Street, separated by a non-descript, pedestrian-indifferent office-building-zone, there is a charming antiques district, called Burns Square, along Pineapple and Orange Avenues, with restaurants and boutiques, an art movie house, and a neighborhood of artist studios offering monthly Friday night studio/gallery strolls.

Crossing Tamiami Trail and south a few blocks more, is the tiny retail crossroads called Southside Village, surrounded on one side by a lush neighborhood of old residental streets and on the other by the expansive Sarasota Memorial Hospital Center. Southside Village has been undergoing "upscaling" in recent years, and it's a delightful mix of lux gift shops, gourmet markets, restaurants featuring international cuisines, as well as cozy neighborhood bar-restaurants, bakery-cafes, hair salons and boutiques.

A few winding miles down the road is Siesta Drive, which crosses Sarasota Bay and winds through Siesta Key, a tropical paradise enlivened by Ocean Boulevard with its funky shops and restaurants, leading to an exquisite wide beach composed of soft, powdery white sand that is 99% crystal. Perfect for walking, swimming, sunning, parasailing, and sunset-watching and applauding, which is a nightly tradition on Siesta.

Heading northwest from downtown Sarasota, over a couple of short bridges, you enter the world-famous St Armands Circle retail district. It's a "circle" of short blocks that wrap around a park on St Armands Key. There is every kind of store and restaurant, as well as Lido Beach, a long and deep expanse of not-so-soft sand with unbroken vistas across the blue-green waters of the Gulf.

Over another couple of bridges and you're driving alongside the perfect lawns and landscaping of Gulf of Mexico Drive on Longboat Key, a golf-course- and luxury-high-rise-lined gold coast community with its own long strip of wild beach towards the north end. Cross another bridge and you're on lovely Anna Maria, a key of old houses and cute shops just north of Longboat and west of Bradenton.

All these bridges and keys, taken along with downtown proper, make Sarasota a diverting place to live. Within a few miles of any one spot is another with different views and amenities.

Sarasota Parks

From little neighborhood parks to beaches--which are actually really big parks--Sarasota County does a beautiful job with creating, maintaining and improving its parks. For a full list, go to: Parks Locations & Amenities

Here are some examples:

Neighborhood parks:
  • Payne Park (downtown, east of Rte. 301)
  • Arlington Park & Aquatic Center & dog park (east of Tamiami Trail, near Sarasota Memorial Hospital) 
  • Urfer Family Park (on Bee Ridge, corner of Honore)
  • Vest pocket park at Osprey Avenue & Mietaw, near Hyde Pk Street, in Southside Village)
  • Ackerman Park (east of I-75, between Palmer Blvd and Fruitville Rd)

Scenic parks:
  • Causeway Park (on the mainland side of the John Ringling Causeway bridge)
  • Bird Key Park (at the Bird Key end of the John Ringling Causeway bridge, across from downtown Sarasota)
  • Sarasota Bayfront Park (west end of Main Street, on the bayfront, downtown)
  • Sarasota Bayfront Park, looking towards John Ringling Causeway
  • Centennial Park (10th Street, just north of downtown, includes boat launch)
  • Bay Island Park (on both sides of the Siesta Key (north) Bridge)
  • Phillippi Estate Park (Tamiami Trail & Constitution Avenue)
  • The Celery Fields (Sarasota's only "mountain", a 100-ft high hill garnished with palm trees, great place for a hike, and lots of bicycle paths nearby; approx. 2 miles east of I-75, off Palmer Blvd)

Dog Parks:
  • Arlington Park (east of Tamiami Trail, near Sarasota Memorial Hospital)
  • Lakeview Paw Park (east of I-75, north of Proctor Ave)