Magnetic Attractions

By staff December 1, 2002

Like many visitors to Southwest Florida, you may overindulge your first day at the beach. If so, take a day to nurse that tender burn and visit some of our more shaded attractions.

Sarasota's adventures boast little of the mechanical wizardry that defines Central Florida's theme parks, but they easily compensate in thrills of the soul and mind. The area is flush with examples of Florida's most exotic tropical treasures, from the rare and spectacular orchids of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens to Jungle Gardens' pink flamingos. We even have our own local version of "The Crocodile Hunter"-the "Reptile Man," who's educated visitors for years about the alligators and snakes roaming Jungle Gardens.

You can admire the state's natural wonders at our nature parks, or spend the day exploring our science and aquarium centers.

Or, if art is your passion, visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, where the circus impresario's Sarasota home of Cà d'Zan has been renovated to capture its original 1920s splendor. The museum's collection of Baroque art is one of the world's largest, and a museum devoted to the circus arts is part of the Ringling complex.


De Soto National Memorial, 75th St. NW, Bradenton. 792-0458. Believed to be the site of explorer Hernando De Soto's landfall in Florida, more than 450 years ago. During the winter and spring season, park employees in period dress perform demonstrations and give talks about that era of Florida's history.

South Florida Museum/Parker Manatee Aquarium, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. 746-4131. Exhibits cover our local history from the Indians to De Soto to the Crackers who settled the region. And Snooty the lovable manatee greets guests to the aquarium.


Gamble Plantation and Mansion, U.S. 301, Ellenton. 723-4536. Southwest Florida's oldest building, once part of a thriving sugar plantation,, also served as a hideout for the Confederacy's Secretary of the Treasury when he was on the run from the Yankees.


Historic Spanish Point, 500 Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 966-5214. A unique 30-acre environmental, historical and archaeological site that has been home at different times to prehistoric Indians, the pioneer Webb family and society matron Mrs. Potter Palmer. Period buildings and exhibits on view.

Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 483-5956. One of the area's favorite parks, full of Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoise, gopher frogs and indigo snakes. Consists of pine flatwoods, several lakes.


Cà d'Zan; Museum of the Circus. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. 359-5700. Two of the biggest draws at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art complex are the Ringlings' 1920s mansion, Cà d'Zan, and the Museum of the Circus, with costumes, posters and other circus memorabilia. Open daily.

Crowley Museum and Nature Center, Rt. 2, Sarasota, near Myakka City. 322-1000. Return to the days of early Sarasota pioneers in this reconstructed village, with its walking trails and unspoiled nature. Call ahead for an escorted tour.

G.WIZ, Blivas Science & Technology Center, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. 906-1851. Hands-on science exhibits and activities aimed at kids, including electricity displays, mind-bending puzzles and a butterfly garden.

Jungle Gardens, 3701 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. 355-5305. Jungle Gardens offers 10 tropical acres filled with trees, flowers, pink flamingos and exotic birds. There are also bird and reptile shows each day, a playground, gift shop and snack bar.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. 366-5731. Orchids, epiphytes, bromeliads, banyans and many other green or blooming things live in this oasis along Sarasota's bayfront, where botanical research is also carried on. A Museum of Botany and the Arts and the Selby Home are also located here.

Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. 388-2451. Sharks, sea turtles, manatees and other creatures of the deep, along with a rare giant squid. Group tours are available.

Myakka River State Park, 14 miles east of Sarasota on S.R. 72. 361-6511. Wild Florida thrives on this 28,000-acre preserve that's home to deer, alligators, osprey and even the elusive Florida bobcat. Tram rides, nature trails, airboat tours, canoeing, and camping are available. For a wildlife tour, call 365-0100.

Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary, 1708 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. 388-4444. Set on two waterfront acres, the sanctuary is home to more than 200 permanently disabled birds and also cares for injured animals. Boardwalk, gift shop and public viewing areas.

Sarasota Classic Car Museum. 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 355-6228. More than 100 automobiles beginning with the horseless carriage, a musical instrument exhibit and an antique game arcade.


The Springs International Spa Resort & Wellness Institute, 12 miles south of Venice (exit 34 off I-75). 426-1692. A possible answer for those in search of the Fountain of Youth. This 87-degree year-round spring is especially popular with European visitors.

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