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Ringling Museum, Sarasota - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Days Out

If you are staying on the Florida Gulf Coast something which will be enjoyed by all members of the family is the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Just off the 41 opposite University Parkway, it is a short walk from the car park but there is plenty of room to drop off disabled guests at the entrance.

Having bought your ticket you will be given a detailed map of the grounds. Once you have passed through to the gardens there are several courtesy buses waiting to take you anywhere in the garden. The gardens, beautifully landscaped with several small lakes and with many shady spots, are pleasant to walk around on even the hottest days.

To the left, if you walk past the buses and cross the bridge over the lake, you will come to the Museum of Art. Inside the galleries there are permanent collections of Gainsborough, Rubens, and Van Dyck among others. In the Searing wing there are also touring exhibitions. On a hot day it is lovely and peaceful visiting the central courtyard with landscaped garden containing copies of iconic statues.

Wander down to the waters edge for beautiful views of Sarasota Bay and across the Intracoastal Waterway to Longboat Key. There are plenty of seats and sunshades if you would like a picnic lunch enjoying the view.

Also over looking the bay is Ca’ d’Zan the 5-story Gothic Venetian mansion of the circus owners John and Mable Ringling. You may wonder how circus owners could afford such a home where they obviously lived a lavish lifestyle. When John Ringling (one of 8 children) was born his parents were very poor. His father was a harness maker who at one time was asked to repair a harness for a circus owner. At that time there were not many zoos in towns and with no TV, i-pads etc this was the first time that children had the opportunity to see wild animals. Having returned the harness to the circus owner the Ringling brothers decided this was something they could do and as a result became very rich.

Inside the house is very ornate with hardly a surface undecorated. Furnished exactly as it was originally the ground floors can be visited on a self guided tour but the guided tour, which includes the bedrooms, is an additional fee. John and Mabel must have enjoyed entertaining with their large living room over-looking the bay and a dining room which seated 16. Walk through the kitchen area and there are several sets of china and silver cupboards but don’t miss John’s own ‘pump’ room with well stocked bar.

From here it is a short walk to Mabel’s Rose Garden and the secret garden which leads to the spot where John and Mabel are buried.

The Circus Museum is also in the grounds. Sarasota was the winter home of the Ringling Circus. The small town of Sarasota, as it was then, was descended on each winter by some hundreds of circus personnel and their animals. From the guided tour you will learn about the history of the Ringling circus and see many original hand-carved wagons, circus memorabilia and John and Marble’s private train car.

Perhaps most fascinating to all members of the family is the Tibbals Learning Centre. With memorabilia from past circus to Cirque de Soleil and a complete 3, 800 square foot model replica of three Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus it is bound to bring back memories to the older generation and fascinate small children.

There are plenty of picnic spots around the gardens, a café for coffee as you enter the building, the Banyan Café in the gardens for drinks/snacks with inside, under a shady terrace or in the sun and the Treviso Restaurant.

The Museum is open from 10am until 5 pm daily apart from Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. The Museum of Art is completely free on Mondays but a ticket is still required for the remainder of the grounds and buildings.

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