I love history, I love Sarasota and I love trolleys because they are so retro and fun. So what’s not to love about taking a trolley tour through old Sarasota? I went on Discover Sarasota Tours’ last City Sightseeing Tour of the Summer and enjoyed an informative, comfortable and (thankfully) air-conditioned ride through parts of the city that I didn’t even know existed, even though I was born and raised here.
Discover Sarasota Tours was founded last October by Tammy Hauser, who moved to Sarasota from Minneapolis and wanted to get to know the city. But she couldn't find a tour that suited her interests. “I couldn’t understand that, because of all the interesting history and neighborhoods,” says Hauser. “[A tour] is the first thing I always do when visiting a new place.”
Hauser, who had been a nonprofit arts consultant for 30 years, runs her tour business from a cute green bungalow, which also serves as a gift shop. Hauser likes to see people come together and make new friends while learning. Plus, it also helps locals (like me) who aren't aware of all the cool historical and trendy spots that Discover Sarasota Tours highlights.
Besides the City Sightseeing Tour, the company also offers a number of specialized tours, like the Circus City Tour, the Amish Experience Tour and the Haunted Sarasota Tour, which is bound to be a hit as it kicks off Halloween season this September. Discover Sarasota Tours operates year-round and tours cost $30 per person.
My tour guide was Jenny, a total gem who has been an actress playing key Sarasota figures in several plays. She began the tour by passing out sweet orange candies, a tribute to Sarasota’s heritage as a fruit-growing city. And after just an hour and a half in an adorable trolley adorned with flower garlands, I was surprised by how much ground the trolley was able to cover. We passed historic neighborhoods and cemeteries, learned about the city's rich African-American heritage and saw gorgeous homes and unconventional specimens of architecture, including relics of old Sarasota—most of which have been converted or updated for more modern use, while others stand proud and barely changed. All in all, it was a fantastic overview of the history and architecture of the heart of Sarasota.
The trolley tour put me in a reflective mood. I am always driving down U.S. 41 to my destination without noticing the sites I pass around the city. The tour helped me see the city with different eyes, and made me feel nostalgic. I recalled my visits in the '90s to Jungle Gardens and a creative writing workshop I did at the oldest house in Sarasota, the Bidwell House, where vigilantes planned the murder of the local postmaster many decades ago. The tour also stops at the Whitaker Cemetery, where, years ago, I tripped and bloodied my knee on a gravestone. My creative writing teacher at the time excitedly asked, “Whose gravestone did you fall on? You could use their name in a story!”
The City Sightseeing Tour is also a tribute to the towering figures who made Sarasota what it is—people like John Gillespie, John Ringling and Bertha Palmer. It made me feel thankful for the rich, visionary and entrepreneurial hotshots of the past who saw the city’s potential, patronizing artists and developing the land and legacies that have put Sarasota on the map. The tour made me realize just how ubiquitous these giants’ ghosts are.
Discover Sarasota Tours start at 1826 Fourth St., Sarasota, just behind The Breakfast House, at different times on different days. Find out when each of the tours are available and book a spot on the company’s website.