Vibrant historic circus town, coastal center for the visual and performing arts, top-ranking beacon for higher education, and home to the nation's top beaches: Sarasota's reputation as one of Florida's most sought-after coastal cities is well-earned.  

Modern Sarasota owes much of its cityscape and character to John Ringling, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus mogul, who made Sarasota the circus' winter headquarters in the 1920s. Ringling and fellow 'Florida Land Boom' developers, Chicago socialites Owen Burns and Bertha Palmer, modeled much of Sarasota's own development after luxury resort towns of the Roaring Twenties. 

Today, Ringling's love of the arts defines Sarasota in The Ringling galleries, which feature Ringling's personal collections of Renaissance and Baroque Art, as well as provocative special exhibitions. Sarasota is also home to a diversity of performing arts centers and concert halls, including the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, the Sarasota Orchestra, Florida Studio Theatre, the Sarasota Opera, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, the Asolo Repertory Theatre, and the Urbanite Theatre -- earning Sarasota its nickname, "Florida's Cultural Coast." 

Walkable downtown districts including Burns Court, Towles Court Artist Colony, Rosemary Court and the Sarasota Design District are home to scores of Zagat-rated restaurants, independent cinema, and shopping -- and are located adjacent to the charm-steeped historic neighborhoods of Laurel and Gillespie Park, and breathtaking vistas at Bayfront Park. Minutes from downtown, the Baltimore Orioles Major League Baseball team makes Ed Smith Stadium their springtime home training base. 

St. Armand's Circle on Lido Key is a world-class destination for luxury shopping and dining. Lido Key is also home to world-renowned beachside neighborhoods like Lido Shores, a treasure trove of midcentury modern houses from the Sarasota School of Architecture. Lido Beach and Siesta Key Beach are ranked annually among the top beaches in the United States by Dr. Beach. 

The Ringling College of Art + Design is frequently noted among the nation's top small private arts colleges, particularly for its film production and animation programs, while New College, Florida's public honors college, ranks among the top liberal arts colleges in the United States. Sarasota is also home to USF Manatee-Sarasota, and UF CityLab Sarasota.

Not to be overlooked, south Sarasota County offers an abundance of 'Old Florida' charm, affordable living, and pristine coastal nature in the communities of Osprey, Nokomis, Venice, North Port and Englewood.


Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.