By Chelle Koster Walton
Downtown Sarasota and the famed shopper’s haven of St. Armands Circle of Sarasota are a stroll away from your hotel.
Footloose & Car-Free
Step away from the car! There are two Sarasota shopping and entertainment districts permit you to stroll leisurely from hotels to stores, galleries, restaurants, theaters, parks and beaches. Sarasota is most famous for its arts, beaches and dining, most of which are within walking distance of downtown or the famed shopper's haven of St. Armands Circle at Lido Key. Public transportation can deliver you between the two or to other parts of the city worth exploring. At St. Armands Circle, you can catch a horse-and-buggy ride.
When my family is in a cultural, metro-vibe mood, we hit Sarasota's downtown streets, all within less than a square-mile zone. For convenience, we can stay in the artsy The Cypress -- A Bed and Breakfast Inn or the Hyatt Regency Sarasota which overlooks the bay.
For more carefree getaways, when shopping and sunning are foremost on the agenda, Lido Key is our place. Fashionable shops, beaches, and Florida hotels - including Holiday Inn Lido Beach, Coquina on the Beach Resort and Lido Beach Resort - lie along a 1.5 mile stretch.
Walk This Way - Downtown Sarasota
Downtown has developed into a true city center, where people work, live and play. It encompasses diverse districts of antique shops, historic areas, gallery rows, an artist's colony, theaters, a neoclassic design library and heaps of restaurants.
Start at Bayfront Park Sarasota, a scenic spot where boats bob in the marina, residents jog and children splash in a fountain pool alongside animal sculptures. Shop at the marina for a fishing or sightseeing charter. Try LeBarge Tropical Cruises for fun; it's the boat with the palm trees growing on top. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens lie a short walk from the park, a lovely inner-city respite bayside.
Head into downtown's vortex along Ringling Boulevard to Palm Avenue, the heart of the gallery district. If you take a right, you end up in the historic Burns Court neighborhood between Palm and Pineapple avenues, with its specialty antique shops and Burns Court Cinema, which shows independent and foreign films. Circle along Pineapple Avenue back to Ringling Boulevard and continue east to Osprey Avenue. Here, if you head south a couple of blocks to Morrill Street and then turn east, you'll find the delightful Towles Court Artist's Colony, where you can browse studios and galleries and have a bite to eat.
Walk north to Main Street and follow that into the heart of downtown, lined with fun shops in old, restored brick buildings: boutiques crammed with imports, hand-crafted jewelry and the like. An eclectic selection of food stands and restaurants range from local seafood to sushi, tea parlor to power lunch.
At Five Points, five streets converge. Follow Central Avenue to the antique and second-hand shops of Fruitville Road. A block south of Fruitville clusters Sarasota's famed theater district - four theaters including the handsome Spanish-style Sarasota Opera House. Bijou Café is THE place to dine pre- or post-theater in this neighborhood.
Walk This Way - Lido Key
Shopping just steps from a gorgeous sugar-sand beach: This is too good to be true! There's no real need for a guide to walk Lido Key and the St. Armands Circle shopping district tucked into it. You more or less shop in circles and drop at the beach when you're finished.
Start at the center of the circle, a park setting that remembers Sarasota's big-top heritage with a Circus Ring of Fame, commemorating entertainers from the town's Ringling era. John Ringling Boulevard and the Boulevard of Presidents form the spokes of the circle, lined with high-end shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques, ice cream parlors, a cigar store, a book shop, jewelry vendors and restaurants that range from delis to the popular Columbia Restaurant, serving fine Cuban fare, and Café L'Europe, a Continental gem.
Less than five blocks from The Circle's center, and you're looking at the Gulf of Mexico from a wide spread of sands white as snow but warm as toast. Keep walking north to hit secluded North Lido Beach. South takes you to a long a row of accommodations to a pine-shaded nature park.
To learn more about walking Sarasota, visit www.SarasotaFL.org.