Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sarasota, Florida

Our month in Sarasota flew by. There is no shortage of things to do in this area - whether you choose to spend your day relaxing at the beach, hiking through a dense forest, shopping, or visiting one of many theaters.

One of the key attractions to Sarasota County is the 35 miles of barrier islands that lure beachgoers with wide, white beaches and majestic sunsets. In fact, Siesta Key was voted the No.1 beach in the United States in 2011 by “Dr. Beach” (a.k.a coastal scientist Stephan Leatherman) because of its fine quartz sand characterized by a brilliant white color and soft powdery feel.

Inside the courtyard of the Ringling Museum of Art.
Sarasota attracts many people due to its cultural scene and the town proudly claims their cultural attractions will rival any major city. There is the orchestra, opera, ballet, dozens of theater companies, film companies and festivals, and numerous galleries. One of the main attractions is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, a 66-acre complex featuring the Ringling’s elaborate mansion, a stunning art museum displaying their personal collection of baroque paintings, and various buildings displaying circus memorabilia. Ringling willed his estate to the state of Florida so it could be enjoyed by Sarasota residents and visitors and even stipulated that it be free to the public one day a week. (The complexity of this museum requires its own post, so tune in later for more details.)
Gallery with paintings by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1625).
Nature lovers will find no shortage of ways to spend their time. There are ample hiking trails at Myakka (see the previous post: Greetings From Sunny Sarasota) and Oscar Scherer State Parks. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars to these parks because the wildlife viewing, especially birds, is fantastic! Kayakers can choose between paddling in freshwater scenic rivers, through coastal mangrove forests, or in the clear saltwater bays. Sarasota County Parks and Recreation publishes a great 7-page guide to the areas’ kayak and canoe trails which can also be found online.

One of the many freshwater streams and lakes to paddle in.
At Myakka State Park you can rent canoes, kayaks and bikes.
Foggy Christmas morning hike.
For plant lovers, check out the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 14 acres of beautifully manicured gardens bordering Sarasota Bay featuring more than 20,000 colorful plants, including some 6,000 orchids. The Gardens offers changing exhibits, free lectures and classes, a gift shop, two historic homes, a cafĂ©, and a Conservatory. While there, we strolled the grounds, had lunch under the banyan tree, and listened to a lecture on the areas’ bird life.

The showy flowers of the orchid are more than just pretty to look at...they serve the important
role of attracting pollinators.
The Conservatory at the Marie Selby Gardens is full of flowering plants which are constantly being rotated.
Visitors who are looking to spend a little cash will delight in the many outdoor shopping districts. Sarasota’s downtown Main Street has been revitalized into a vibrant shopping district. For blocks, you will find enticing stores ranging from art galleries, jewelry stores, boutiques, and antique stores. Then head over to highly fashionable St. Armands Circle to continue your shopping spree and enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many eateries with outdoor seating. Our favorite was Columbia Restaurant that featured authentic Cuban sandwiches and black beans. The area is very dog friendly and Spirit was a big hit, although it is very hard to walk down a busy sidewalk with an adorable lab puppy.

St. Armands Circle - the place for trendy shops, great restaurants, and where to be "seen."
Spirit making friends.
We spent a couple of days driving a little south of Sarasota to Venice because of their dog park and beach. Spirit enjoyed the freedom of running in the sand and swimming in the ocean while still terrorizing other dogs with her “puppyness”. After the dog park, we stopped in downtown Venice to have lunch outside with Spirit and window shop. Just as soon as she would start to fall asleep, someone would spot her and she would sit up ready to be adored. By the time we got back to the campground we were all beat and it was time for a nap in the warm Florida sun. Sorry to all you in the winter wonderland who only venture outside to shovel snow.
Spirit is somewhere in this mix
of dogs.

Typical lab loving the water.

If you are still looking for activities, take an afternoon and tour the Mote Aquarium and Save Our Seabirds, Inc. Rehabilitation facility located on City Island near Longboat Key. Mote is well known for their marine research and has been leading shark research since 19… I first heard of Save Our Seabirds (a non-profit agency dedicated to rehabilitating and releasing injured birds) while working on a brown pelican banding project in Louisiana with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. A few of our birds wound up at their facility for various reasons including being tangled in fishing gear, broken body parts, and being oiled.

Before leaving the area, we felt the obligation to visit a citrus grove. At Mixon Fruit Farm we sampled tangelos, tangerines, pink grapefruit, honeybell, and various other citrus. The highlight was definitely the orange swirl ice cream but we couldn’t resist buying some fresh squeezed orange juice for our New Year’s Day mimosas.
Mixon Fruit Farms sorts their citrus in three categories based on how it looks - the "good," "bad," and the "ugly."
Only the "good" is sold to the public the rest is used for juice and cow feed. 
One of my favorites kumquats.  You pop the whole thing in your mouth, peel and all.
Mixon Fruit Farms offers a free self-guided tour.
We stayed at Myakka River State Park for our entire visit in Sarasota. The campground was great for raising Spirit. She made many, many friends, learned how to go up and down steps of the motorhome, went for hikes, slept by a campfire, and discovered that squirrels are fun to chase. While we had a great time in Sarasota, we look forward to moving on and experiencing our next adventure with Spirit in tow.

Happy New Year!

Sarasota National Cemetery.
Eye-catching sculpture in dowtown Sarasota.
Spirit leading her friend "Ivy" down one of her favorite trails.
Despite her long hike, Spirit still had more energy in her.
Sorry Ivy, Spirit is not done yet.
Finally no more spirit left in Spirit.  Thanks to our friend Bonnie for bringing Ivy over and the play
dates at the dog beach.

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