Vacationing in Sarasota, Florida

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Falmingos at Sarasota Jungle Gardens. (All photos courtesy of Lina Shah)

Living in Chicago, my family loves going to sunny destinations anytime of the year. This year we choose to go to Sarasota, Florida, the sunshine state, in the month of October. Sarasota has spectacular coastlines and sugary sand beaches with natural beauty everywhere you look. There are plenty of locally owned restaurants, making it a prefect relaxing vacation place. We used Sarasota county’s website visitsarasota.com to plan our whole trip. We flew to Tampa and with rental car made our way down to Sarasota. About an hour ride of beautiful bridges and scenery, which led us to the Embassy Suites in downtown Sarasota.

On Bay Shore Road, we started with Sarasota Jungle Gardens. This is one of Florida’s main tourist attractions and it is perfect for all ages to meet animals and enjoy about 10 acres of botanical plantation. We had a great time at a multi species Animal Show and Jungle Bird show, seeing parrots and a fun petting zoo. The best part was the beautiful free-roaming flamingos. We had an experience of a lifetime feeding the flamingos and ibis’, something we had never experienced before.

Libby’s Avacado wrap.

That day we had lunch at Libby’s on S Osprey Ave, a new American cuisine, lively and casually sophisticated, serving in a stylish space with a copper bar & outdoor dining. We loved all the vegetarian and vegan dishes, especially the Avocado eggrolls with sesame Thai dipping sauce, fried Macaroni and Cheese, Kale Caesar salad, the impossible vegan burger and the vegan truffle fries.

The Ringling Home.
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The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which we included in our itinerary, is the official state art museum of Florida, established in 1927 as the legacy of Mable Burton Ringling and John Ringling. On the Museum campus, we visited the art museum, circus museum, and the Mediterranean revival style winter residence of circus mogul, entrepreneur and art collector John and Mable, called Ca’ d’Zan. The Art Museum offers more than 20 galleries of paintings from Europe, as well as Cypriot (old Mediterranean) antiquities, and Asian, American, and contemporary art. An amazing view of the picturesque courtyard with a 16.5 feet Statue of David, gave us the glimpse of the 16th century Roman era.

We also paid a visit the Sarasota Classic Car Museum on Tamiami Trail, recognized as the second oldest operating classic car museum in the country. It wonderfully takes you back in time and steps you into the future of man’s greatest invention of the automobile.

Embassy Suits at Sarasota.

Staying three nights at the spacious Embassy Suites by Hilton at Sarasota (centrally located in downtown, within walking distance from the shopping and attractions), we enjoyed cook-to-order free breakfast in Bridges restaurant, evening reception, the local transportation shuttle and poolside fun.

Sarasota is also famous for education and research developments, sustainable use of marine biodiversity, healthy habitats and natural resources. We visited Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, and explored lots of information on manatees, sharks, and sea turtles, and delved into the science and conservation behind Mote Marine Laboratory.

Beautiful sunset at Lido Beach.

In the afternoon, we spent a relaxing time at St. Armands Circle, exploring boutique shops, fine jewelers, restaurants and bars, and enjoyed a walk at historic Circus Ring of Fame in the center of it all. We then enjoyed a Sunset at Lido Key Beach. The sunset puts on a great show during the evenings in Sarasota.

Sushi at Rim Pacific.

A very delightful dinner was had at Pacific Rim Restaurant on Hillview St, which is well-known for their creativity specializing in Japanese Thai Fusion Cuisine. We enjoyed vegan varieties and the delicious selection of Sushi. After that, we had vegan ice cream at the very unique and famous coffee shop Rise & Nye’s, run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Next day morning, we visited Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in downtown Sarasota. This 15-acre botanical garden, offers breathtaking air plants of the world, native nature, and soaks up the region’s history. We felt relaxed amidst the natural beauty and scenery. “The Orchid show of 2021: Aerialists from the Tree Top to the Big Top”! took place while we were there, which brought together two of Sarasota, Florida’s most renowned legacies — orchids and the circus.

Local farms and growers showcased the very creative and Vegan friendly shops, at the Sarasota Farmers Market on Lemon Ave., which we explored. We bought fresh homemade soap and enjoyed homemade hummus, salsa, fudge, as well as a variety of Pizza.

The Westin at Sarasota.

The last two nights, we stayed at the Westin Sarasota which has the tallest 19th floor rooftop pool and bar on the West Coast of Florida. There was a wonderful view of Downtown Sarasota, Sarasota Bay, Lido Beach and Siesta Key Beach from the terrace. Very nice intuitive amenities for wellness covering 6 pillars of well-being; Sleep Well, Eat Well, Move Well, Feel Well, Work Well and Play Well were included.

Spacious living rooms scattered throughout at the Evoq restaurant and there were creative, healthy and fresh flavors on the menus. That afternoon, we went to Siesta Key beach and enjoyed the white fine sand, clean water and lovely weather.

The next day, we departed for shark tooth hunting and took a tour with Shark Frenzy on Tamiami Trail, Venice. Tooth hunting is new to us, but Shark Frenzy was very helpful in finding more sharks’ teeth and fossils! We had an amazing experience, and an increased appreciation and love for beach combing. Lunch was at Café Evergreen in Nokomis, with enjoyable, healthy, great tasting and unique foods and drinks. Fun Fact: They are known to use 2/3 less salt than most restaurants.

The Wanderers.

That evening, we enjoyed The Wanderers!, which was a very entertaining winter Cabaret Show, filled with harmonies of ’50 and ‘60s songs, Rock & Roll, jazz and pop music. The show, held at Florida Studio Theater on Palm Avenue in Downtown Sarasota, was a terrific honoring of the dynamic groups of the mid-20th century.

After the show, we strolled around downtown exploring Burns Square and restaurants and shops in the heart of Sarasota at the Rosemary District. We enjoyed dinner at Leaf and Lentil, a family-owned vegan restaurant with a chef driven menu.

Orioles 1966.

On our last day, we took a tour of the Ed Smith Stadium, the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles, and learned about the historical win of the 1966 world championship.

Sarasota Art Museum.

Our next stop was the Sarasota Art Museum, which is a platform for education, exposure and experimentation. The Museum inspires new ideas and new ways of being.

In downtown, I would also add very good eating places, i.e. Circo, a lively eatery offering creative Tex-Mex cooking; and the lovely vegetarian and vegan varieties at Lila.

All in all, our trip to Sarasota was definitely one for the books. Everything from the beautiful flamingos to the masterful pieces of art inspired and entertained us all. I am sure you will love visiting Sarasota and experience it first-hand, just like us!

Lina Shah is a Freelance Writer, Editor, Teacher, Social Worker and Financial Professional. Inspired by her father, she is a multi-talented suburban Chicagoland wife and a mother of two, who also enjoys cooking, social gathering and event planning.

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