There's so much more to Sarasota than the beach. Visit Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, and along with its rare and spectacular orchid collection, you can view research that may one day help to save the rainforest.
At Mote Marine Laboratory, a nationally recognized center of marine research, sharks feed in frenzies and the kids can gets hands-on with swimming rays, live crabs and an amazing array of other marine life. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art offers a living monument to the Greatest Show on Earth with its Museum of the Circus, and also houses one of the world's largest collections of Baroque art. The Ringlings' mansion, Cà d'Zan, has been newly renovated to its original splendor and offers tours daily.
In fact, the area from Bradenton to Osprey and Venice is filled with exciting sights and sounds. Do take some time away from the sun to enjoy them all. And before you go, visit attraction Web sites to check out ongoing special events and download valuable discount coupons.
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. Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day, free. www.nps.gov.deso/
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. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m. except for New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the first Saturday in November. Admission: Adults $9.50, seniors $7.50, children over 12 $6, children 5-12 $5. www.southfloridamuseum.org
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. You'll see a slice of history and get a glimpse of Florida plantation life. Open Thursday-Monday. Tours at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. Admission: Adults $5, children 6-12 $3, children under 6 free. www.floridastateparks.org/gambleplantation/default.asp
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. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m. except for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Admission: Adults $7, children 6-12 $3, seniors $5 on Mondays. Discount Web coupon. www.historicspanishpoint.org
Oscar Scherer State Park, 1843 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. 483-5956. One of the area's favorite parks, full of Florida scrub jays, gopher tortoises, gopher frogs and indigo snakes. Consists of pine flatwoods and several lakes; you can hike the trails or take to the water in a kayak or canoe. Open daily dawn to dusk. Admission: $4 per carload to visit, $24.20 per night to camp. In April, celebrates Earth Day with free admission. www.floridastateparks.org/oscarscherer/default.asp
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 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Admission: Adults $15, seniors over 65 $12, children 12 and under free, Florida students and faculty free. Museum only is free to all on Monday. www.ringling.org
Crowley Museum and Nature Center, 16405 Myakka Road, 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. Open Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from May-December and Tuesday-Sunday January-April. Admission: Adults $5, children 5-12 $3, children under 5 free. www.crowleymuseumnaturectr.org.
G.WIZ, Blivas Science & Technology Center, 1001 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. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m. Admission: Adults $7, children 2-18 $5, seniors $6. Group discounts available. www.gwiz.org
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. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. except Christmas. Admission: Adults $11, seniors $10, children 3-12 $7. Discount Web coupon. www.sarasotajunglegardens.com
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. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. except Christmas. Admission: Adults $12, children 6-11 $6. One week each year, usually in September, the gardens are free. www.selby.org
Mote Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota. 388-2451. Sharks, sea turtles, manatees and other creatures of the deep. Also a rare giant squid. Group tours, gift shop available. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 365 days. Discount Web coupon. Admission: Adults $12, children 4-12 $8, children under 4 free. www.mote.org
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. Open dawn to dusk daily 365 days. Admission: $5 per vehicle of 2-8 people. www.myakkariver.org
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. Open daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m. except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Admission: Adults $6, children 4-17 $2. www.pelicanman.org
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. Open daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Discount Web coupon. Admission: Adults $8.50, seniors 65 and over $7.65, children 13-17 $5.75, children 6-12 $4, children under 6 free. www.sarasotacarmuseum.org
The Springs International Spa Resort & Wellness Institute, 12200 San Servano, Venice. 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. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: Adults $14, Florida students $9, AAA and seniors 65 and over $12, children under 12 $5. www.warmmineralsprings.com