01 FEB 2017: Back in 1927 when circus magnate John Ringling brought his Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus (elephants, midgets and all) to Sarasota, he left behind much more than “the greatest show on earth.” He left a cultural legacy. Known as Florida’s Cultural Coast, Sarasota County has everything from opera, orchestra, ballet and more. All that, plus plenty of sunshine, blissful beaches and great dining to cater to your more hedonistic side.

THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST

Rounding St. Armands Circle

A fine collection of boutiques and eateries surround St. Armands Circle (Sarasota’s answer to Rodeo Drive) where you’ll find a statue of John Ringling and a circus Hall of Fame. The Spice & Tea Exchange carries exotic spices, organic flavoured sugars, salts and more. You might want to take home the Tuscany blend, Bourbon black walnut sugar or espresso steak rub.

Le Macaron, specializing in French pastries will satisfy your sweet tooth. Ivory Coast has unique clothing that caters to the boomer crowd. At Shore Diner Chef Casey Lund puts a sophisticated spin on such diner die-hards as meatloaf, ribs and fried chicken. Piscean platters of Thai curry mussels, crusted tuna and Kung Pao calamari flaunt a distinct Asian kick. www.starmandscircleassoc.com

Michael’s on East

Michael’s is a must for gourmands. Michael’s Wine Cellar is a retail store with lots of bargain boutique wines for less than $20. Monthly Wine Dinners include multi-course feasts with pairings by experts from around the world. For a nightcap, gather round the Piano Bar where Joe Micals tickles the ivories. www.bestfood.com

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Chez Jack Dusty, at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, mixologists merge with foodies. That translates to unique cocktails and fabulous food with imaginative twists. Consider the “Young Man  & the Sea,” a boozy ode to Ernest Hemingway with rum, lemon, smoked salt, egg white and angostura bitters. Now, how about a dozen oysters on the half shell followed by Jack’s catch of the day?

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Hello Kitty

Kay Rosaire, originally from a British circus family, now runs the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, a safe haven for lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, birds and more. Ms. Rosaire and her son Clayton have devoted their lives to giving these animals a loving home. You’ll be greeted by Buck a huge Kodiak bear who has been taught to wave on command.

“He used to be a television actor,” says Kay. The Rosaires encourage interaction with the animals (all of whom have names) so you can feed and pat many of them. Open Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 4 p.m; admission $18 for adults, $8 for kids. www.bigcathabitat.org

Greatest Shows on Earth

Sarasota, dubbed  “circus capital of the world,” lives up to its reputation. Spend the day at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art and you’ll take in several unique experiences.

Ca’d’Zan, the mansion of the Ringling’s is built in the Venetian Gothic style and one wing houses the Museum of Art featuring more than 600 Baroque masterpieces, including arguably the finest Peter Paul Rubens in the world.

The Circus Museum houses a collection of vintage posters and memorabilia, plus the world’s smallest miniature circus. Try walking tightrope or squeezing into a tiny clown car. Outside, explore the Rose, Secret and Dwarf gardens. Admission is $25 for adults and $5 for children and students. www.ringling.org

Beach Yoga

Sarasota boasts 13 public beaches but Siesta Key is reputed to have the whitest and silkiest sand in the world. Join free yoga classes on this stellar strip of sand with instructor Avanada (donations are welcome and encouraged). Classes are held on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Bring a towel and water. www.yogaonsiestabeach.com



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Anita Draycott

Quite aside from being an award winning writer, whose travel articles and photography regularly appear in golf and lifestyle publications and websites, Anita Draycott is a self confessed golf fanatic, who has chased dimpled white balls over five continents.  

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