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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sarasota, Florida

Sarasota - A Pit Stop for Yachtsmen
Sarasota - A Pit Stop for Yachtsmen
You can't quite capture Sarasota without going to see it for yourself.  Now that I've been there, I know that's a fact.

The city - bordered by the Gulf of Mexico to the west, Tampa Bay to the north and Ft. Myers to the south - is a mecca for wealthy retirees, and with good reason.  The city is one of the fastest-growing wealthy populations in the country - a point that can be seen and felt throughout the community.  The would-be sleepy community is in fact a vibrant cultural center with a thriving arts scene, thanks in part to the nearby Ringling College of Art and Design.

The College - one of the few sources of youth in an otherwise geriatric community - is named after John Ringling of Ringling Brothers Circus fame.  Hand-selected as the winter retreat for the circus, the city still bears his namesake in a variety of ways, including streets named after Ringling (that is, of course, when they're not named after tropical fruits, as is the endearing norm).

Sunset over white sand beaches.
Sunset over white sand beaches.
 However, the fantastic dining, theaters, and even opera house are just part of this paradise.  The entire area is comprised of the mainland city plus a string of keys that are connected via mile-long bridges out over the harbors.  The entire layout puts very deep, very soft white-sand beaches at a distant walk to wherever you are.  And the beaches are to - die- for.  Endless stretches of white sand are a mixture of public and private access, and the shallow water extends far out into the jade-green Gulf, showing no signs of trouble from the recent oily turmoil of the BP spill.

Arranged in neat communities are tropical and Spanish-style homes, the likes of which are difficult to find elsewhere.  Towering archways, paver-stone driveways, multi-car garages, fountains, beautifully manicured lawns, and yachts in the backyard are staples of these wealthy communities that make you feel richer just by driving the streets.  In addition, St. Armand's Circle - a mere mile from the mainland downtown - is a circular arrangement of shops and restaurants reminiscent of Epcot in its cleanliness and exquisite city-planning-esque design.

White Sand Beaches in Sarasota, Florida
White Sand Beaches in Sarasota, Florida
Sarasota is directly on the path of the Great Loop, and it's a definite must-stop for passing yachtsmen.  Although the boating scene was mostly reserved for yachts and boats that reside in the backyards of their owners, the marina right in the heart of downtown was spectacularly located and easily entered via the waterways that weave from the Gulf into the harbors, between the beautiful islands.  In Sarasota, you'll have at least several days' worth of adventures to have, including fine dining, taking in a show (or two, or three), shopping, and exploring the numerous parks scattered around the area.

Sarasota Farmer's Market
Sarasota Farmer's Market
One must-see is the farmer's market, which on some weekend occasions is coupled with the arts market to produce a community-wide outing that sprawls across the city streets in four directions.  More robust, mouth-watering produce I've never seen.  Had I not been getting on a plane later that day, I may just have bought enough to store the boat for a year.

The interesting thing about Sarasota is that it's a mix of everything a community could desire.  When the wealthy community decides it needs something, it goes out and buys it - a luxury that makes for a better community to all of the residents at every socioeconomic level.  

If you're looking for the type of community that only money could buy, look to Sarasota.  It won't take long for you to start imagining your own retirement here, in what seems to be nothing short of Paradise.
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