My husband had his yearly work trip to Sarasota, and you can guess who glommed onto that warm itinerary in a heartbeat. Like a (very smart) parasite.
We left the BS that is called winter in New York and flew into Fort Myers. Flying into Southwest Florida International Airport was much cheaper than flying into Sarasota-Bradenton Airport, and it’s only an hour and a half drive between the two cities.
Before we left the Fort Myers area, we stopped by Cape Cod Fish Company. My first instinct was suspicion at a Florida establishment serving up New England fare. My doubts dissipated while I read the fantastic reviews on TripAdvisor/Yelp. By the time we walked up to the outdoor seating area full of mostly geriatric patrons (snowbirds!), I was pretty hungry and excited.
Guys! The clam chowder was so rich and delicious and had the perfect thick consistency. The “lobstah” tacos were good, but the crispy fried cod tacos blew our minds. And we confirmed the place is legit…as in their credentials. The family-owned restaurant has roots in Rhode Island. And our server was Missy from Maine. Please go there if you’re ever in Fort Myers!
This was the third year we stayed at Sand Castle Resort – or what I call senior party central. Because there are a lot of elderly guests, and they like to get drunk, dance, and hit on the hired singer in the pool area. Among the amenities are bike rentals, cornhole (haha), and my favorite thing in the whole world- a heated pool! And they have two! Nothing makes me more happy than a body of water with the temperature of a hot bath. The only thing better is eating pizza while in said body of water.
The view from the room
THIS is cornhole.
Oh YEAAAAH. I don’t care how dated the place is…those heated pools are ALL I need.
The morning routine was biking through the neighborhood to breakfast. We went to the Green Zebra Cafe nearly every day.
This vacay was full of repeat trips to the same restaurant. Ask anyone at this Vietnamese joint where I kept getting their mouthwatering, flavorful grilled pork chop! The servers gave me the “You are here again?” each time. I like your bloody food, ok?!
So back to the cafe. This family-run establishment serves up healthy vegan and non-vegan options. I ordered the Brazilian Acai bowl the first time I went there, but I didn’t find it that tasty. My husband and I also shared the Santa Monica wrap and the Southwestern omelette. I highly recommend both of these – with hot sauce!
A very popular breakfast spot is the Blue Dolphin Cafe, which is actually right next door to the Green Zebra. When you want hearty egg dishes in a diner style setting, this place is awesome. But there is usually a line at Blue Dolphin and no line at Green Zebra (I just realized the names of these cafes- similar thing going on). In addition, my husband and I try to avoid very heavy food in the morning. I recently learned the term “bubble guts”, and that is what we strive to prevent.
Post-brekkie biking to New Pass Grill
We came back to New Pass Grill later for dinner. Skip the fish and chips, but do order the blackened grouper sandwich!
I didn’t really explore the town during the previous two trips to Sarasota. And last year was super cold. When my friend Beverly and I went to Siesta Beach, we were wearing coats. I was ready to do it proper this time! It was a gorgeous 80-degree beach day for me. And luckily, Red Tide was not an issue. If there are high levels of red algal blooms from algae growing out of control, the toxins produced from the algae kill fish. Not only do you see a whole bunch of dead fish dotting the sand, it also means you inhale loads of neurotoxins causing you to cough and look – I don’t know about you, but basking in the sun ain’t ever worth inhaling toxins. So you should check the algal bloom forecast here.
I read online that parking can be hard to find if you don’t get there before 9:30am. Since it’s not high season, there were plenty of spaces as I pulled in around 10am. But as I was leaving around 12:30, there was definitely a line of cars fighting for my coveted spot. There are chairs and umbrellas available to rent, but I opted for lying on my hotel beach towels and getting some work done.
The sand at Siesta Beach is so soft and unreal. Forget sugar; it’s like walking in a parking lot dumped full of Laura Mercier loose powder. And it’s so cool to the touch! Apparently, the sand here consists of 99% quartz. I sat for a good half hour entranced while letting the sand run through my fingers. I probably looked like I was on mushrooms.
It was pretty cool seeing a group of people doing yoga on the beach. I didn’t participate. Instead, I drove over to the much-talked about Yoder’s restaurant in the Amish Village for their fried chicken and homemade pies..
Holy cow! People weren’t kidding. Both were amazing. The fried chicken skin was nicely crispy and had the ideal amount of saltiness. And wasn’t too greasy! I got the peanut butter cream pie taster (smaller than a slice), and I honestly melted into the booth. Such a subtle “fluffy” flavor. I ordered the Amish noodles even though the server seemed to be hinting that I should try the mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. I never had Amish noodles and needed to try them! It was basically chicken noodle soup without the soup.
My next stop that day was the Ringling Museum. I anticipated that the highlight of this excursion would be Ca d’Zan, the winter home that John Ringling (yes, the circus king) built for his Venice-loving wife Mable. Ca D’Zan means House of John in Venetian Italian. The Neo Gothic design and stained glass windows were killer! I bought the guided tour for the first and second floor which came out to a whopping $45. In order to do anything on the museum grounds, you have to pay the Museum Admission fee of $25, which includes the Museum of Art and the Circus Museum. Then there is an additional cost for entry/guided tour of Ca d’Zan. I actually went on a Monday when there is free admission to the Museum of Art. But you have to pay the $25 admission if you want to see anything other than the Museum of Art- which I did. Sad face. But students get free or discounted entry!
The Ringling Museum of Art was actually really impressive! Ringling had an extensive collection of art, and the Renaissance style building and Courtyard were magnificent. I couldn’t believe that I was in Florida.
Now that’s a fireplace.
I like doors.
Hi, Ca d’Zan. You’re pretty.
My favorite part of the mansion were the ceilings.
Although Mr. Ringling lost most of his fortune (he supposedly died with $311 in his bank), I got to see his baller ways. The mansion cost $1.5 million back in the 1920s! And the docent made sure to let us know all that gold shizz is NOT painted gold. It’s real gold.
Back of Ca d’Zan
image via ringling.org
If you do the guided tour (which I recommend), I advise you to take photos as the docent is speaking. The tours seem to operate under strict schedules. The docent would do her spiel, and I would give her my undivided attention throughout it all. And then we would be quickly ushered into the next room. Ya gotta run into the room and do some speedy exploration/rapid fire photo-taking or you miss out!
Thank you for a beautiful time, Sarasota. And for the sun. And for allowing me to have really good Vietnamese food four nights in a row.
Blog post from last year’s trip to Sarasota here.
Extra tips: Station 400 in Sarasota got really awesome reviews for their Truffle Eggs Benedict. I was sad because I didn’t enjoy it that much. But the cheesy grits were BOMB.
We learned that with our Costco membership, we could get cheap car rentals and an additional driver for free. Not only that, but Alamo has an online check-in option where you bypass going to the counter. You just pick a car in your category, show your confirmation at the parking lot booth, and you’re on your way!