There may not be a more iconic landmark in Sarasota than the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. This wondrous 66-acre complex overlooks Sarasota Bay and consists of the State Art Museum of Florida, the Circus Museum, the Ca’ d’Zan, and the Bayfront Gardens. For many Floridians, it is considered the hidden gem of the Gulf Coast. A family can spend an entire day admiring the countless treasures inside and still have more to discover during another day.
Address: 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34243
The Ringling is easily accessible by car or bus. Parking is free. It is open daily, from 10 am to 5 pm. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
The Ringling began being built in 1927 as the legacy of John and Mabel Ringling. John, arguably the best-known of the seven Ringling brothers, was an avid art collector. Five of the Ringling brothers merged the Barnum & Bailey Circus with their own Ringling Bros World’s Greatest Shows to create a virtual monopoly of traveling circuses. In 1919, the Ringling Brothers made the decision to move their winter quarters to Sarasota. In 1926, John became the last surviving brother, the same year that his 30-room mansion, the Ca’ d’Zan, was completed. John Ringling, now one of the wealthiest men in America, willed his property and art collection to the State of Florida upon his death in 1936.
Since the mid-1930s, more than 150,000 square feet have been added to the campus, which also includes the historic Aslo Theater.
If you are thinking about visiting, here are some things you should know.
Looking like a pink palace, the art museum is what many come to see with its 31 amazing galleries and a U-shaped courtyard that allows visitors to walk out and breathe the fresh saltwater air between exhibits. The types of priceless art on display are truly astounding; from paintings, sculptures, and photographs; many of which John and Mabel collected from their numerous travels around the world. Some art pieces are loaned from other collections and change periodically. More than 10,000 objects are on display, from ancient through contemporary periods. Maps are available if you prefer a self-guided tour. Tours are available and these are included with regular admission.
If you have children, allow them to have fun out in the courtyard, which is full of statues and fountains. You will probably see a few games of hide and seek at any given time. When it is time to eat, there is an outdoor Banyan Café that offers sandwiches and other light fare. There is also a contemporary restaurant, Muse at the Ringling that serves American cuisine. There’s even a museum coffee shop. Guests are also permitted to bring their own lunch and eat it in the picnic area.
The Ca’ d’Zan is a short walk from the Art Museum and is just as spectacular. This was the 36,000-square-foot Venetian-Gothic residence of John and Mable Ringling in the roaring 20s and the five-story building offers stunning views of Sarasota Bay. To tour this house requires a separate fee, but it is well worth the price of admission. There are several private and self-guided tours available for guests. Highlights include the lavish furnishings and artwork, the 82-foot high tower, and a crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. If you want to learn more about the Ca’ d’Zan, bring earphones or earbuds. There is an app you can download and listen to as you walk through the building.
The Ringling Museum wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to the circus, and the Circus Museum includes historic wagons, lavish costumes, props, and circus exhibits on the first floor. The 12,000-square-foot second floor contains archives of rare circus handbills, posters, art prints, business records, and photos.
During its heyday, the Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey Circus traveled with 800 animals and 1300 staff members, plus tents, wagons, and sideshows. John and Mable Ringling had their own upscale railcar, which has been restored and is now on display.
The Bolger Playspace:
The playground features slides, a three-story playhouse, climbing ladders, basket swings, and even a water area, and is perfect for kids of all ages. The playground is located near the Banyan Café and the Circus Museum.
For updates and ticket prices, please visit https://www.ringling.org/.