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Bayfront Park

Best New Park Experience: Bayfront Park

Located mid-Longboat Key, the expanded and upgraded Bayfront Park took almost eight years from concept to opening and about $4 million to build, but it shows the value of public green space. There are jogging and biking paths, water access for kayaks, a pavilion, playground, rehabbed recreation center, courts for basketball, pickleball, shuffleboard and tennis and (our favorite) a shaded, fenced-in section for dogs with a bright red fire hydrant that sprays a cool mist on your pooch. 

Best Free Arts Experience: Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion

You’ll never have to pay a dime to visit the Ringling Museum’s new Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion, a soaring 5,500-square-foot, ultra-contemporary shrine to studio art glass. Because it’s adjacent to the museum’s visitor center and acts as the new entrance to the Historic Asolo Theater, it will always be open to the public for free. 

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The view of the bayfront from the Westin.

Image: Gene Pollux

Best New View Of Downtown Sarasota: Westin Sarasota’s Roof Bar

Say what you will about the big-city changes at Gulfstream Avenue and Tamiami Trail, you’ve got to admire the spectacular view from the 19th-floor Roof Bar at the new Westin Sarasota. Order a fancy cocktail and a nibble from the appetizer menu, and groove on a splendid sunset. 

Best Hotel For Arts Lovers: Art Ovation Hotel

Yes, it’s taken longer than expected for the Art Ovation Hotel on Palm Avenue to open its doors. (Blame that old standby, construction delays.) But with its appeal to the arts-minded visitor (on-site curators, in-room musical instruments and easy access to the theater scene), striking design, rooftop bar and location in the heart of the arts district, it’s worth a standing O. 

Best New Architecture: Benderson Finish Tower

The 900-plus international athletes who competed in the World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park last fall crossed the finish line in high style, thanks to the six-story Benderson Finish Tower designed by architect Guy Peterson in his trademark gleaming white, modern style. (Fawley Bryant Architecture also had a hand in its design.) Now you can rent public spaces in the tower for your own event. 

Best New Arts Center: Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center

One of several recent additions to the Ringling College of Art and Design campus, this center houses programs in woodworking, printmaking and photography. Plus it’s home to a “hot shop”—glass-blowing furnaces that are a first for the college. And the 38,000-square foot building boasts a forward-thinking design by Sweet Sparkman Architects. Win-win. 

Best New Gallery: Clyde Butcher Gallery, St. Armands

Fans of photographer Clyde Butcher’s large-scale, black-and-white images of nature could always travel to his Venice darkroom-studio or even to his Big Cypress Gallery over in Ochopee. But how much easier to wander into his new 1,200-square-foot space on St. Armands Circle, where dramatic views of the Big Cypress National Preserve or the Apalachicola River grab your attention. Convenient hours, too. 

Best New Theater Company: Dog Days Theatre

When the long-running Banyan Theater Company folded, lovers of summertime arts and entertainment mourned. Into the breach trotted Dog Days Theatre, an FSU/Asolo Conservatory newbie that mixed professional actors with students in training for some hot-weather fun. The first two shows—the farce Relatively Speaking and the steamy Double Indemnity—got us psyched for this summer’s season two. 

Best Real-Life Drama: Siesta Key

Well before MTV’s reality show Siesta Key aired, locals were fighting about it, particularly when star Alex Kompothecras was revealed to be friendly with the young men who posted a notorious video of themselves dragging a shark behind their boat. The show itself is filled with drama of a less fraught variety, as cast members hook up, break up and make up with the fiery sunsets and powder-white sands of Siesta Key as a backdrop. 

Best Local TV Show: Claws

Few TV shows made for a better escape from the oppressive summertime humidity of last summer than TNT’s Claws, set in a fictional nail salon in Manatee County. The plot follows the salon owner and her friends, who are trying to navigate the muddy waters of the pill mill trade in order to move up the ladder in Southwest Florida. While much of the show is filmed in New Orleans, you’ll spot exteriors from around the area. Season two debuts this summer.

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