Ringling Museum and Mansion
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The Ringling is a complex on gorgeous Sarasota Bay with an incredible amount of things to explore! There is the Venetian Gothic style mansion of circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable, a circus museum, an art museum of works they collected, gardens with huge banyan trees, and an imaginative children's playground. You can enter the gardens, terrace over the bay, and playground for free, but to see inside the mansion and museums, you pay one admission fee.
Ca d'Zan (house of John) is the name of the stunning Venetian-style mansion. Its Venetian glass windows are a shimmering blue-green, its tower reaches six stories, and its facade has thousands of terra cotta tiles in the stucco that catch the golden coastal light. Built directly on the bay, its terrace is surreal. With patterned exotic marble covering an expansive space enclosed with a terra cotta balustrade, the terrace feels tranquil. It beckons you to stay a while, which you can on its wicker chairs.
Inside the mansion, check out the blue murals on the cypress coffered ceilings. In the main parlor with its classy black and white checkered floor, there is a piano. When we were there, a man was playing it and we danced along. He told us that now we had danced where the actress for the good witch in the Wizard of Oz danced!
The circus museum has a fantastic video about John and Mable Ringling that you must watch! Its two buildings contain the Ringling's train car, which is lovely, the human cannonball truck, and all sorts of wagons, props, and costumes from their circus.
The gardens are blessed with huge banyan trees that are such a joy to behold. Sit and have lunch outside at the cafeteria-style Banyan Cafe where you can look into the cool, dark shade of the banyan tree.
The gardens also contain a rose garden with sculptures of ladies and gentlemen playing musical instruments- pure joy! Near the entrance to the complex is a dwarf garden, with statues of dwarfs under a banyan tree.
Behind the Banyan Cafe is an incredible children's playground! It is like a work of art in itself! Here kids can climb to the top of what feels like a treehouse and look out yellow, red, and blue stained windows at the world around them. They can slide down a huge, steep slide. A toddler structure in similar style is beside it, including a playhouse with a steep roof that kids can climb up and slide down. There is a water play area with fresh, clean water surrounded by sand. And lastly there are big woven blue disc swings that kids can lay in and swing under the tall trees!
The art museum is wonderfully done as well! Its courtyard with archways, classical statues, and fountains takes you back to carefree days traveling in Europe. Inside, its works are displayed in rooms as beautiful as the paintings themselves. The rooms are arranged by country and time period, and you feel like you've walked through a tour of the periods in European Art History.
I would love to visit this wonderful place again, and especially to sit on the terrace of the mansion at sunset, looking out over the bay. On the same piece of land overlooking the bay, a short walk to the north of the mansion is New College of Florida.
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The Ringling is located at 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota FL 34243, call (941) 359-5700. There is plenty of free parking.
Open daily 10-5. Museums (but not mansion) are open extended hours, until 8pm, each Thursday. Closed on Jan 1, Thanksgiving (fourth Thurs in Nov), and Dec 25.
Gardens (which are free to enter) are open daily 9:30-6.
Admission to the entire complex (mansion and museums) is $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, $5 for students and children, free for children aged 5 and under. $10 for Florida teachers and active military. Adult admission drops to $10 after 5pm on Thursday.
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Overall Visitor Rating: Unrated.