If you’re in the Sarasota, Florida, area, and you haven’t visited The Ringling lately, you’re missing out.
This cultural gem–once home to circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable–features an art museum with European baroque art, a grand home right on Sarasota Bay, and a circus museum.
Yet that’s just half the story.
The museum and the home (called Ca’D’Zan, which means House of John) are very worthy of their admission fees--generally $25 per person for the museums and $20 extra for the home tour. (By the way, admission is free on Mondays everywhere except the Circus Museum and the Ca’D’Zan). However, we recently relished in the fact that walking on the grounds of The Ringling is free. As in gratis, no money. Next time you need a break and some fresh air, stop by. We think everyone in Sarasota should be taking advantage of this.
Here’s our guide on 11 things to do at The Ringling Museum Estate, aside from the museums–and here’s a link to a Ringling Estate map to help guide you. If you’ve ever visited the grounds, some of these ideas may be familiar. However, we hope that some will lead you on a treasure hunt.
Revel among the roses. Mable Ringling had a rose garden built at her home, and it’s full of a variety of roses with names like Popcorn, Love Song, and Barbra Streisand. The garden has stone-carved cherubs and benches for quiet pondering. Get your telephoto lens ready for closeups of these floral beauties. Volunteers maintain this Italian-inspired garden.
- Be among the banyans. Banyan trees are special because they form a huge canopy over the ground with its roots and secondary trunks, creating a tangled but lovely mess (see a picture at the end of this article). Find 14 banyan trees at The Ringling. It’s the largest collection of banyan trees in Florida.
- Play. The David F. Bolger Playspace at The Ringling is located near the banyan trees and seems to stay pretty busy. It features a slide, hand-powered fountains, and basket swings.
- Find where this is located (see picture to the right). Let us know when and where you find it!
- Bring a sketchbook and drawing pencils or painting. You’re likely to spot several artists on the grounds. Perhaps it’s a nod to Sarasota’s appreciation for the arts, or perhaps it’s because New College of Florida and the Ringling College of Art and Design are so close. And we know you’ll already have your phone out for Insta-ready pics.
- Find out about native Florida trees. If you’re at Ca’D’Zan facing the bay and look to the left, walk just a few short minutes to find the Millennium Tree Trail, which gives background info on trees that are native to Florida. If you’ve been in the sun all day, the trail provides some welcome shade. Which tree is your favorite?
7. Thought-provoking art–discuss. Although we’re sure some of the art on display at The Ringling changes occasionally, we found this, er, interesting statue during our visit. From afar and from only the back, we assumed it was The Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” Then we saw the face. The Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco created this in 2018 in response to divisive politics in the U.S. Love it? Hate it? Discuss!
8. Take in the horizon. The Ringling has so much beauty to see, but you can put that aside for a moment and just focus on the Sarasota Bay. Check out the water, and you may see fish or even the occasional sting ray. With the right lighting, you may snap a memorable pic of boats on the water. Imagine what it’s like to live at some of those houses with bay views.
9. Pay your respects. Somewhat hidden but near Ca’D’Zan you’ll find the Secret Garden and Ringling Burial Site. The feel of this small area is a little more somber than the rest of the grounds, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Pay your respects to the cultural gift that John and Mable left Sarasota.
10. Get a “free” tour of the museums. Can’t make it to the museums? Then the gift shop is a plausible alternative until you have time or money to visit. Get a sense of the European, Asian, abstract, and circus art at the museums from the gift shop souvenirs.Get some gift ideas for the holidays or for the art appreciators among your friends.
11. Eat. As you walk in to the Visitor’s Pavilion, you’ll find The Muse Restaurant, which pleasantly surprised us with its gourmet vegetarian dishes such as squash gouda dumplings and fried green tomato ALT (avocado/lettuce/tomato). The Muse is operated by The Tableseide Group, which also owns Libby’s and Louies Modern. Later on, find the Banyan Cafe for a snack.
Let us know if you have other fave things you like to do at The Ringling!