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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Go Gallery-Hopping in Sarasota

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5. Oddball Day


The Circus Museum at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art contains a trove of circus memorabilia.  

Spend a day retracing Sarasota’s storied circus history, which dates back to the 1927 arrival of John and Mable Ringling, who spent winters in this then-sleepy beach town. Grab a quick brunch at Bob’s Train (closed Saturdays), a veritable archive of circus memorabilia housed in four Pullman railcars that are currently being restored by the owner in a former lumberyard. Once you’re fueled up, drive south on US 301 and look for the red-and-white big top of Circus Sarasota. There’s no set schedule here, so check the monthly calendar for events; two-hour flying trapeze lessons have been offered most Sundays at noon ($35) in recent months. Afterward, pick up an Italian hero ($7.25) from The Main Bar Sandwich Shop, opened in 1958 by retiring performers Charlie Borza, a trampoline artist, and his wife Thea, a bareback horse rider. Make sure to look above the booths for black-and-white photos from the couple’s circus days. If you have kids, order your sandwiches to go and walk five minutes south to the Payne Park Circus Playground, which opened last summer with attractions including climbable tigers and an interactive clown car. Then drive ten minutes north to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art ($25), on the grounds of their Venetian Gothic-style Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, to spend your afternoon exploring the Circus Museum. In addition to a renowned collection of van Dycks, Titians, El Grecos, and Rubens, the museum houses a trove of circus memorabilia, including vintage posters, the Ringlings’ private 1905 rail car, and the Howard Bros. Model Circus, a small-scale replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, circa 1919 to 1938. The grounds also include the Asolo Theater, built in 1798 and transfered here from its home in the Italian province of Treviso, which gives its name to the Treviso Restaurant, where you can share small plates of Parmesan truffle fries ($7) and seared tuna with caponata ($14). After dinner, end the night on a racier note with Sarasota’s own Black Diamond Burlesque (check website for venues and performance times), whom you might call the contemporary inheritors to the sideshow legacy.


Published on Mar 14, 2013 as a web exclusive.

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