The heartbeat of downtown Sarasota, Florida, doesn’t only come from a thriving dining and business district. It also beats from the city’s equally vibrant — and culturally diverse — arts community. Sarasota has been fortunate to have served as a muse for a series of wealthy benefactors, who helped create and endow museums, theaters and other cultural attractions. From live music to theatrical performances, here are five favorite arts destinations that are unique to Sarasota.
The Ringling’s High-Wire Cultural Act
The legacy of the Ringling family, which used Sarasota as the winter home for their famous circus, stands on a 60-acre site along the Sarasota Bayfront. The Ringling features an art museum known for its collection of Baroque paintings, the historic Asolo Rep Theatre and the 30-room Ca′ d’Zan mansion. The sprawling grounds are perfect for enjoying quiet time with a sketchpad and a picnic lunch under the towering banyan trees. The Ringling also showcases the family’s legacy, via the Circus Museum, which takes you on a journey back to the magic of life under the big top. A daily 30 minute docent-led tour allows you to go behind the tent and even test your skills on the tightrope.
Insider tip: The museum’s special exhibition galleries are free on Mondays.
Local Perspective at Art Center Sarasota
As the city’s first arts organization, Art Center Sarasota has promoted local talent with exhibitions and arts education for school-aged children for the past 90 years. Within walking distance of Hotel Indigo Sarasota, the center features several galleries displaying a bevy of themed and juried exhibitions. Meanwhile, a range of art and multi-media classes – from oil painting to sculpture to jewelry making – offer a creative outlet.
Insider tip: Admission is free, making this an ideal spot to get a quick dose of local culture, if you’re pressed for time.
Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall’s Variety Act
Long-time residents affectionately refer to the massive building perched along the Bayfront as “the Purple Cow.” For more than three generations, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has been one of the first places for people here to experience live music and comedy performances. A favorite tradition is to enjoy a pre-show afternoon or evening buffet at Mattison’s Bayside in the grand foyer. The menu varies with fresh, seasonal fare that includes prime rib, local seafood, vegetarian pasta dishes, gourmet cheeses and desserts.
Insider tip: Backstage tours are offered the first Tuesday of the month from October through May, giving you a glimpse of the building’s art collection and the ropes, pulleys and flys used to create the theatrical special effects.
Urbanite Theatre on the Edge
Sarasota’s newest theater continues to command buzz among aficionados for its edgy black box-style performances. Since its 2015 debut with the sold-out show “Chicken Shop,” the Urbanite Theatre has captivated audiences with its sometimes shocking performances. The intimate theater only seats 50 to 70 people, with every seat affording close-up views of the action.
Insider tip: Shows, typically priced at $20, sell out quickly, so don’t hesitate to buy your tickets in advance.
Rock Out at Blue Rooster Sarasota
Inspired by the sounds of Southern rock, Blue Rooster packs in the crowds with a schedule featuring live music from regional and national artists along with some local favorites. The schedule offers something for almost every musical taste: Wednesday is live jazz night, perfect for cocktails and light bites. From Thursday to Saturday, the spotlight shines on blues, rock and country music. Make a date for Sunday Gospel Brunch, which serves up comfort food along with live music and traditional and contemporary spirituals.
Insider tip: Voted as one of the 100 top places to enjoy live music by ticket site Rukkus, the Blue Rooster may also be one of the loudest spots in town.