The seat of Sarasota County, the city of Sarasota is the principal city of the designated Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice Metropolitan area. This mid-sized city sits on the Gulf Coast of Florida, about halfway between the top and bottom of the state.
Historians believe that the area now known as Sarasota has been inhabited for some 15,000 years, but the modern history of the city of Sarasota is believed to have its roots in the early to mid 19th century, when pioneering families traveled south from states like New York in search of a warmer, more-welcoming climate.
In the 1840s, the Whittaker/Wyatt family built their home upon Yellow Bluffs, now 11th Street, where they raised 11 children. They were followed in the 1860s by the Webb family, whose Spanish Point homestead near Osprey can still be toured.
However, Sarasota really catapulted forward in the 20th century as word got out about its pleasant weather and abundant sunshine. Socialite Bertha Honore Palmer, the largest landowner in the region at the turn of the century, was largely responsible for the growth of the area and its recognition as a winter retreat for those living in colder climates. She encouraged her wealthy friends to head south to check out the area.
The second and probably the most important boost for Sarasota, however, came from the Ringling Brothers of big-top fame, who built large estates in the city and soon made it the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
Given its quick growth, Sarasota (formerly Zara Zote) was incorporated as a town in 1902 and as a city ten years later. By the end of World War I, the city was booming and had established its reputation as a fine place to live, work, and invest.
Area: 25.93 square miles, which includes Sarasota Bay and the barrier islands of Siesta Key, Lido Key, and Longboat Key.
Population: approximately 53,000 (as of 2006)
Elevation: 16 feet above sea level
Climate: Average highs in Sarasota are about 72 degrees during the winter months and about 90 during the July and August. Lows range from approximately 52 degrees in the winter to 71 in the summer. The largest amount of rain falls in August and September, with an average of about 8 inches during those months.
Demographics: The racial make-up of the city is about 77 percent Caucasian and 16 percent African-American, with the remainder made up of various other races.
About 11 percent of the population claims some sort of Hispanic or Latino
connection. Recent figures show that the median income for a household in the
city was $34,077, and the median income for a family was $40,398.
For a mid-sized city, Sarasota boasts a plethora of cultural offerings ranging from museums to excellent live theater. As a matter of fact, the city is home to the Sarasota Opera, Sarasota Ballet of Florida, Sarasota Key Chorale, the Gulf Coast Men's Chorus, the Sarasota Folk Club, Sarasota Film Society, and several theater companies, like The Players, Asolo Repertory Theatre, and Banyan Theater Club.
The beautiful Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, operated by the city, hosts performances by top-name artists, young upcoming performers, visiting ensembles, Broadway-style shows, family events, and much more.
The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre is one of the most-established equity repertory companies in Florida and presents a full-year's program of well-known and not-so-well-known Broadway-style musicals in an intimate setting, preceded by a delicious buffet dinner. Prices are reasonable.
Within the city limits, those traveling with children will find myriad activities to please even the most persnickety child. Check out the fun G. Wiz Science Museum, a hands-on wonderland that teaches kids about various aspects of science, from weather to energy to today's technology.
At the Ringling estate, kids will love the small but interesting Circus Museum, full of old artifacts from the early days of the Ringling Brothers empire. Equally as enticing is Sarasota's Jungle Garden, where families can explore reptiles of the world, birds of the rainforest, and much more.
Also check out the Mote Aquarium, which focuses of Florida Bay habitats but also has a great selection of marine animals from around the world. Consider booking an eco-boat tour of Sarasota Bay, which depart daily from the aquarium.
The warm weather of Sarasota is – for some – always a reason to celebrate, but the city does indeed host some events or festivals that draw large crowds to the area. Here are some of the most popular.
Sarasota is a pleasant city to explore by car as the traffic is rarely snarled except perhaps during the morning and evening rush hour or on particularly glorious beach weekends when locals and visitors are heading to Siesta, Lido, or Longboat Key for the day.
However, if you don't have a car, Sarasota does have a reliable public transportation system, known as SCAT, which covers the city and even travels out to the islands. Buses are clean and safe and many offer bike racks for those toting their two-wheeled form of transportation.