“We live where you vacation” is a saying that many a Gulf Coast resident will have proudly proclaimed to their snow covered friends. As if being sun-drenched all year isn’t enough, the area is brimming with exhilarating attractions – boasting the best arts scene in Florida and some of the finest golf courses in the world. As we welcome 2014, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on just how lucky we are to live in such a fabulous place. It sure is easy to get used to the spectacular view as you drive across the Ringling Bridge; the feeling of dazzling white, soft sand between your toes, and the nightly choice of theatrical productions. With that said – here are 10 things you should make time for in Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties for 2014. For visitors, you may just be inspired to plan your next sunny getaway!
1) There’s no Business like Show Business
Widely regarded as Florida’s cultural capital, Sarasota sparkles to life with a scintillating bevy of live stage shows, ballet, opera and art exhibitions. The Michael Saunders & Company marketing team is lucky enough to have two very talented members – Kathryn Parks and Shelley Whiteside – both of whom are regulars on the local theatre stage. You can catch Kathryn in The Player’s Theatre of Sarasota’s production of “Carousel” – a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical set in Maine in the late 1800’s.
2) Life’s a Beach
I know I am certainly guilty of not visiting the beach nearly enough. One of my personal resolutions in 2014 is to make sure I visit the beach at least a few times a month, and explore some of the quieter, little known hideaways in and around the area. Located at the tip of Anna Maria Island, Anna Maria Beach is a great place to relax and escape the crowds of more well-known area beaches. Wading out at some spots can result in a plentiful bounty of sand dollars and other beautiful seashells. Setting your sights further south, the beaches of Venice are where you can start an impressive collection of fossilized shark’s teeth – the area is noted as the shark’s tooth capital of the world!
3) Pack a Picnic
South Lido Park offers a blend of nature, beaches, and playgrounds, perfect for a family outing. Parts of the park are wide open beach and other areas have towering trees which grow only a few yards from the water. Venturing father south, the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park protects 42,000 acres and 70 miles of shoreline. Most of the park is shallow water fringed by mangroves, providing amazing opportunities to view wading birds, manatees, dolphins and other wildlife. If you pack a picnic lunch, there are several picnic benches in beautifully scenic spots along the park’s Eagle Point Trail.
4) Wild at Heart
One of only about a dozen worldwide where you can walk along the treetops, the Myakka Canopy Walkway puts you 25 feet above the ground and extends 85 feet through the tree tops above the Myakka floor. For an historic adventure, enjoy the scenic view of Lemon Bay and meandering nature trails through Indian Mound Park. Here, Florida’s native flora and fauna are beautifully showcased, as well as views of a prehistoric Indian mound site dating back to 1000 B.C. For kayakers, a swift paddle to the south takes you through mangrove islands that offer wonderful bird viewing.
5) A Culinary Adventure
With so many options in and around Sarasota for the food connoisseur, there’s really no excuse not to try something new in 2014. From the spicy curries of southern India at Tandoor in Lakewood Ranch, to the fresh tapas of Spain and Peru at new restaurant Jalea on Sarasota’s Main Street – you will find something certain to take your taste buds on an exciting trip!
6) Get Golfin’
Florida’s Gulf Coast has long been associated with some of the country’s most challenging, sophisticated golf courses ever since John Hamilton Gillespie brought the game to Sarasota in 1886. If you’ve always been intrigued by the sport but never felt the swing of a golf club or the fairway beneath your feet, why not play a round in 2014? Stoneybrook Golf Club in Bradenton offers a challenging course designed by renowned architect Arthur Hills, and tee times can be booked on their website.
7) Shop Til’ you Drop at the New UTC Mall
Set to open on October 16, 2014, The Mall at University Town Center will be composed of 880,000 square feet of world-class retail space, located at I-75 and University Parkway. Stores already announced include Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and Apple. In addition, popular restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, Brio Tuscan Grille and Seasons 52 are set to add culinary flair to the already bustling restaurant scene.
8) Roll Up, Roll Up!
An integral part of the history of Sarasota, the circus has long been an area tradition since John Ringling’s circus train rolled into town in November 1927 – where it remained for the next 33 years. After an absence of many years, Sarasota once again has its own professional resident circus, Circus Sarasota, which also mentors the Sailor Circus youth program to continue the legacy of circus arts. You can catch the show “Extreme Vegas” throughout January at the corner of Tuttle Avenue and 12th Street, under the Circus Sarasota Big Top. Visit the Circus Sarasota website for tickets and more information.
9) Partake in Polo
One of the area’s best kept secrets, the Sarasota Polo Club at Lakewood Ranch has been staging thrilling matches since 1991. Every Sunday afternoon during season, the public is invited to bring out their picnic baskets and enjoy the thrill of the “fastest game on four feet”. With pony and Clydesdale wagon rides, exciting action, tailgating, half-time entertainment, divot stomping and plenty of fresh air, Sunday polo is the perfect place for a family outing. For more information, call 941.907.0000 or visit the website.
10) Stroll Across the Ringling Bridge
As Kathryn Parks, our blogger extraordinaire and native Sarasotan expressed in a recent blog: “There is one spectacular (and free) rite of passage that rests at the very top of my SRQ initiations – go for a walk across the Ringling Causeway Bridge!” The famous bridge, which spans across Sarasota Bay and connects Downtown Sarasota to Bird Key, St. Armands Circle and Lido Key, showcases views so spectacular you will forget you’re actually getting in a great workout. Fun fact: circus elephants were involved in the construction of the bridge, and John Ringling personally christened it driving across in his Rolls-Royce!
What do you plan on doing in the area for 2014? If you can think of something that everyone should experience next year, leave us a comment!
From all of us here at Michael Saunders & Company, we wish you a happy, safe and joyful New Year!