Sarasota, Florida 2017 – an iPhone Wiki Vacation

Here is the latest installment of my series of Wiki Vacation posts, from a short stay last week in Sarasota, Florida. The timing could not have been better – daytime temperature was around 85˚F. Not too hot – a quick application of sunscreen was good enough for walking on the beach all day long. And not chilly – Gulf water was warm enough for swimming.

Coquina Beach Lifeguard Station on Anna Maria Island

Lifeguard station at Coquina Beach on Anna Maria Island

The range of day trips covered Siesta Key, Lido Key, Longboat Key, Ana Maria Island, and Sarasota City itself. Activities included paddleboarding by the beach, tunneling through red mangrove trees on kayaks, looking at manatees at the aquarium, and marveling at the world’s largest miniature circus at the Ringling museum. It’s amazing that we managed to visit 7 beaches in just a few days: Coquina Beach, Cortez Beach, Lido Beach, Siesta Beach, Crescent Beach and Turtle Beach. In addition, we also packed fine dinning into this busy schedule. For lazy people who woke up every morning to look at tourist maps gotten at the airport before figuring out where to go, this trip was a resounding success.

Points of Interest around Sarasota Bay

Points of Interest around Sarasota Bay

Unlike previous Wiki Vacations, I did not bring a full-frame camera. Heck, I did not even bring the Fujifilm X10 along. All pictures on this trip were taken on an iPhone. In retrospect, I would have gotten very few useful pictures, had I relied on a real camera. Sunscreen, silky sand, salty water, sweat, paddleboarding and snorkeling did not really go well with fiddling of dials and lens on a camera.

Some of these pictures have been uploaded to Wikimedia and used on Wikipedia articles. Wherever applicable hyperlinks are embedded here pointing to full-resolution images on Wikimedia. For instance, the full resolution picture of the lifeguard station shown earlier can be found here. This post has grown so long that it is more like a 90-page booklet than a blog post. I added a Table of Contents to make navigating this beast a little bit easier.

Table of Contents

Home base

We had a place to stay at, near downtown Sarasota. Driving from this home base to various points of interest was relatively painless. We never had trouble finding parking spaces. And there was free access to all beaches.

Home base with a swimming pool

Home base with a swimming pool

We would wake up in the morning, and eat a simple breakfast, while looking at various tourist maps offered by the car rental company at the airport. We have learned from past experiences to rely on local people to tells us the best places to visit. We pick a spot on the map, and drive to it to try our luck. By talking to local folks, we often get great recommendations on where to go next.

Breakfast at the home base

Breakfast at the home base

We arrived at Sarasota in the afternoon. After unpacking, we drove around to see what this city was about. Then we came back and took a leisure walk around the neighborhood.

Neighborhood Treehouse

A treehouse was spotted

Before we knew, we had walked all the way to the Indian Beach overlooking the Sarasota Bay. This turned out to be a “historic” neighborhood, with distinct and grand homes.

A house on the National Register of Historic Places

A house on the National Register of Historic Places

We enjoyed the sunset at the modest Indian Beach. And that was a good first day.

Sunset at Indian Beach

Sunset at Indian Beach

Mar Vista

Being lazy folks, we didn’t wake up the next day until after 10am. Incidentally this explain why I seldom have sunrise pictures in my Wiki Vacation series. By the time we sifted through the ocean of ad brochures and junk maps to arrive at useful info, it was almost lunch time. We decided to take a drive through Longboat Key, to eat at the dockside restaurant Mar Vista which a friend had highly recommended.

Mar Vista Water View

Mar Vista with tables under a Banyan tree

Patrons came by boats and dock at the pier. Some came in jet skis. We drove to Mar Vista. Yet others just walked in.

We gorged on the famed Florida stone crab. It was so good that we actually came back the day after to have the same again. We were told that stone crabs were declawed and returned to the sea to regrow their claws. And that’s why only claws are served.

A happy customer enjoying stone crab

A happy customer enjoying stone crab

Some new folks sat down at the empty table next to us, shown in the picture above. And one of them handed his credit card to the waiter to forestall his friends from paying for the lunch. I heard him, and yelled, “hey, put our lunch on his tap, too, please.” An adjacent table called out the same joking request. It turned out that our good guy James the retired-physician now-cowboy had then instructed the waiter to do exactly that. We were most surprised and humbled when I asked our waitress for our bill.

Good guy James, retired-physician, now a cowboy

Good guy James, retired-physician, now a cowboy

We then moved our chairs over and crashed their lunch. We had a jovial conversation about us liberal Yankees and the rural conservative cowboys. I did not know being cowboy was a thing still, in Florida. I’d been now learned. Had our trip been longer we would have taken up James’ invitation to corral his cows with him, on horses. Maybe one day.

James' family and friends

James’ family and friends

It seemed like James’ friends managed to pay for his lunch after all, in the midst of the confusion about our bill, and us crashing their lunch and engaging him in a long conversation. I guess we will just have to “pay it forward” like these good folks did.

Coquina Beach

We drove over the short Longboat Pass bridge to Anna Maria Island. To our left we found the under-appreciated Coquina Beach. This one doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia article. But it sported the same super-fine, silky white sand we found at the world-famous Siesta Beach when we stopped by Siesta the day before, during our quick touring of the Sarasota area.

Have I mentioned the birds? Birds were everywhere. One couldn’t take a picture with water in view without also capturing at least one bird in the picture.

Laughing Seagulls at Coquina Beach

Laughing Seagulls at Coquina Beach

Coquina Beach

Yeah, there was one far behind her

The Ringling

We visited the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art the next day. I don’t know that its long official name is useful. This place is so much more than a “museum”. For sure, it’s got a world-class fine art museum with several buildings housing 10,000 paintings and objects from ancient times through modern days, spanning European, African and Asian arts. But its huge 66-acre campus includes ponds, a playground, a stone gnome garden, Rose Garden, Secret Garden (burial site), Promenade, tree trail, tea house, art library, education center, the historical Ringling mansion (Cà d’Zan), a circus museum complete with Ringling’s personal railroad passenger car (The Wisconsin), and the world’s largest miniature circus at 1:16 scale. Perhaps that’s why the place recently rebranded itself as “The Ringling“. Check out the PDF map of the campus.

A huge mural greeting visitors to the Tibbals Learning Center recalls the glorious days of the traveling circus in a time when local schools and all businesses closed shop the moment the circus rolled into town.

World’s Largest Miniature Circus

I am a sucker for all things miniature. Naturally I lingered in the Tibbals Learning Center. Inside this building one finds a breathtaking 1:16 scale model display of the most powerful Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Baily Circus (in its days) that gave us The Greatest Shown on Earth. The display houses 42,143 items, 8 large tents, 152 circus wagons, 1,500 workers and performers, 7,000 folding chairs, and more than 500 animals.

The display began with the circus train arriving at a town, and various exotic animals being unloaded from the train cars.

Folks started streaming in.

People milled around vending carts and trucks.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Vending Services

Milking unsuspecting folks before they even step into a circus tent

Performers and workers alike have got to be fed. We were told that diners were actually waited on, and food were made to individual orders.

Large areas of the site were devoted to performance preparations.

Finally, there was the big show. I was surprised to find the flag of Taiwan atop the tent. But perhaps it makes sense, as ROC was China during the time Tibbals built these models.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Entrance

Scale Model Circus – Main Entrance

Patrons walked through a zoo tent. For many people in the past, this was their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see exotic animals.

A special, designated area allowed ladies to do last minute cosmetic touch-ups, and for men to fix their neckties, before the main event started.

The big tent showcased all sorts of circus acrobatics at the same time.

Stable tents secluded from the main tents kept workhorses content and fed.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Horses

All lumber needed for the show were harvested onsite.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Logging

The second floor of building housed more scale models. In the reflection, the phone responsible for almost all pictures on this post could be seen.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Special Exhibits

A progressive marching band

The scale model display continues to be expanded.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Artist at work

A artist is currently working on a new exhibit, based on a poster from bygone days.

Ringling Museum Scale Model Circus Current Project

Gardens and tree trails

Walking around the Ringling campus was a pleasant experience. There were surprises around every corner.

Ringling Museum Garden

There were plenty of places for great snapshots.

Ringling Museum Garden

Ringling Museum Garden

Gnomes. Gnomes were everywhere in the Dwarf Garden.

Ringling Museum Garden Gnomes Ringling Museum Garden Gnomes Ringling Museum Garden Gnomes Ringling Museum Garden Gnomes

Cà d’Zan

Cà d’Zan means House of John in Venetian. We didn’t have time to partake in the house tour, unfortunately.

Ringling Museum Cà d'Zan Ringling Museum Cà d'Zan

Ringling Museum Cà d'Zan

Too tired

Ringling Museum Cà d'Zan Garden

Ringling Museum Cà d'Zan

Fine Art Museum

We took a cursory walk through a few art museum exhibits. We shall come back again.

Ringling Museum Asian Arts

Asian Arts wing

Ringling Museum Searing Wing

The Searing Wing

Ringling Museum Statue of David seen from the Searing Wing

Statue of David as seen from the Searing Wing hallway

En route to Cortez Beach

We drove back to Mar Vista to chow down on those delicious stone crab claws again. Then we headed back to Anna Maria Island to look at the Sunset from the beach.

On our way we saw for the first-time the multi-story boat storage locals told us about. This was apparently the norm here, but we were amazed when told. On the other hand, locals recounted their dropped jaws when visiting Manhattan and seeing elevators moving cars from ground level to a parking lot 20 stories high, which to us was the norm.

Boats in multi-story self-storage

Multi-story self-storage for boats

After passing through the Longboat Pass bridge, we ran into a traffic jam. It seemed like the only road to Cortez Bridge was in a grid lock. So we decided to park at the Coquina Beach, like we did the day before, and walk along the shore line to Cortez Beach instead.

Coquina Beach Lifeguard Station

I have a thing for lifeguard stations

Coquina Beach

Cortez Beach

So we walked to Cortez Beach. Have I mentioned that birds were everywhere?

Cortez Beach Seagulls at Sunset

Cortez Beach Seagulls at Sunset

A local just caught a couple of fish by net, standing on the long groin (sea wall).

Net-fishing on the Cortez Beach Goin

Fish on the Cortez Beach Goin

The art of cast-net fishing

Our local fisherman made net casting look so effortless. But I am sure it requires years of practice. Here is a full sequence of this graceful move of casting the net and making it land right on top of your intended victims, trapping them with a nice circular wall of death.

Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 01 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 02 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 03 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 04 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 05 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 06 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 07 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 08 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 09 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 10 of 11 Cortez Beach Cast Net Fishing Sequence 11 of 11

Angling at the end of the sea wall

Other locals caught their dinner by fishing rods, at the end of the groin. With the sun setting on the West, nice pictures were had.

Sunset at Cortez Beach

Certain person couldn’t help but pose before the setting sun.

Cortez Beach, on the sea wall

Cortez Beach, on the sea wall

Sunset at Cortez Beach

Unnamed public beach by Siesta Drive

Another day. Another problem to resolve over breakfast, namely, “where are we going today?” We decided to spend the day on Siesta Key which was in fact the main attraction in this trip.

On our way to the Key, we passed by an unnamed public beach, just before the Siesta Drive took us onto the bridge connecting the main land to the Key. We imagined this place to be a popular lunch-in-your-car beach for nearby office workers. There were even newspaper racks under the trees.

Unnamed Public Beach by Siesta Drive on the Main Land

Unnamed public beach

All travel brochures tell you that you could snorkel everywhere around the Keys. That is completely true, but is also like saying, “you could do your fishnet casting anywhere around this swimming pool.” Apparently there is no colorful fish to be seen anywhere in the Sarasota Keys without diving, or taking a boat trip, with one exception. I was told there was a stretch of rocks at Point of Rocks on Siesta Key that was accessible from the beach, with just snorkeling equipment.

I wasn’t going to bring my snorkeling gear all the way to Sarasota, only to leave without seeing at least one colorful fish. So I dragged my gear to the beach, but realized belatedly that the wind had picked up, causing choppy waves that churned the water into a soup with zero visibility.

Paddleboarding at Crescent Beach

So, this trip to the beach, on day three, turned into a paddleboarding (stand up paddle surfing) trip at the Crescent Beach which borders the Point of Rocks from the North.

The Crescent Beach is another under-appreciated beach. It is physically the southern part of the world-renowned Siesta Beach, with the same silky Quartz-based white sand, and feels cools underfoot even on the hottest days. But unlike the Siesta Beach which is accessible from almost everywhere along the beach, Crescent Beach appears to be almost completely blocked off from the road, by hotels, resorts and time-sharing condos, with one exception. There is a narrow road called “Beach Access 12” just south of the Stickney Point Bridge which leads to the Crescent Beach. This road comes complete with 20 precious parking spaces, as a bonus. But driving out of this dead-end, narrow road from one of the 20 parking lots requires skills, or a car with both front and rear parking cameras.

Crescent Beach Airplane Ad Banner

Arial advertising at the Crescent Beach

I rented a standup paddleboard from a store only a block away from the beach, across the Midnight Pass Road. Why? Because I saw a few chaps standing tall and looking cool paddling on what looked like a big surfboard. I figured that it couldn’t be too hard. After all, I had kayaked for years. And I had been ice skating lately so I probably had good balance.

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

Brought the paddleboard through that narrow access road to the beach

Looking a the picture below, after the trip, I can’t help but realize that I certainly didn’t look cool to other beachgoers the way I imagined I had.

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

Looking nerdy and unsporty beside my rented paddleboard.

I was already having second thoughts, seeing how the board wasn’t really as wide and therefore as stable as I thought. But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

A prayer to the Flying Spaghetti Monster was called for, in my moment of need

Paddleboarding turned out to be quite difficult, with the waves coming in one after another. Pointing the board perpendicular to the waves made it possible to stay on the board for more than a minute without falling. But one couldn’t keep paddling out to the ocean. Signs everywhere warned of rip currents.

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

Paddling out to the ocean

So, yeah, I had to learn to balance well on the board, rocking it left to right as I paddled in parallel to wave fronts. It took about 15 cycles of falling and climbing back before I got in harmony with the ocean.

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

Now was time I terrorized these merrymakers in the water, by zigzagging among them with my newfound paddleboarding skills.

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

Crescent Beach Paddleboarding

I didn’t fall overboard here. I was just walking my board back to shore, I swear.

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Seeing how the northern exit from Siesta Key via Siesta Drive appeared to be completely jammed up, on Google Map, we decided to take the southern exit via Stickney Point Road. This led nicely to another restaurant our friend recommended, Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar.

Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar

While waiting for a table at the bar, we asked the bartender what to order. He unconditionally recommended the Creek Combo Pot for 2 people.

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot Steamed Oysters

Combo pot with two dozen steamed oysters, plus shrimps, etc.

Years of shucking raw oysters at home paid off. I honestly did not think I would have to shuck these steamed oysters, before they brought that pot to me. After all, steamed clams opened up as they screamed bloody hell and got cooked alive. But these steamed oysters were determined to make life difficult for gourmet dinners. I happened to know how to shuck oysters without stabbing my own hand, but I was sure that this place saw its fair share of tourists that ordered steamed pots, and then looked at these dead but recalcitrant oysters in shock.

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot - Shucking Steamed Oysters

Pointing at the point of entry

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot - Shucking Steamed Oysters

Don’t stab my own hand, don’t…

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot - Shucking Steamed Oysters

A tiny drop of lemon juice

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot - Shucking Steamed Oysters

I could barely stop drooling

I thought the waitress was exaggerating when she brought us a big plastic bucket earlier.

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot Steamed Oysters

The last holdout in the pot

But she knew what she was doing.

Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar Creek Combo Pot Steamed Oysters

Bucket full of shells

Guided kayak tour launched from Lido Key

We didn’t have to agonize over itinerary on day four. We signed up online, for a guided kayak ecotour the day before, with Adventure Kayak Outfitters. We launched from the South Lido Park at Lido Key, with a crew of a dozen kayaks, some singles and others tandems.

Adventure Kayak Guided Tour the Fleet

The fleet launched onto the bay

Our fearless leader, Dan, stood up to look for signs of manatees and dolphins in the Sarasota Bay. In fact, he paddled standing up throughout the whole segment of the tour where the fleet was on the bay.

Adventure Kayak Guided Tour Spotting for Manatees

Where are my manatees?

Dan did spot a dolphin soon, and we all oohed and aahed as we watched the dolphin breach. It never did swim close to us, however. But we watched it zigzag from one side of the bay to the other and back. Then it headed off towards John Ringling Causeway, and was gone for good.

Dan also spotted a manatee far away. The most we got to see of the manatee was its nose which surfaced a few times. But its huge body under the surface was unmistakeable. Sadly, I was too focused looking at that giant shadow of a manatee to take pictures.

Adventure Kayak Guided Tour Cormorant on a Manatee Speed Limit Post

Cormorant on a manatee speed limit post

We tunneled through the red mangrove trees, or rather their roots.

Navigating the red mangrove tunnel

Lobster rolls at the Lido Beach Pavilion

The kayak guide Dan told us that Lido Beach Pavilion made mean lobster rolls. They were of bigly value given their high quality against the low price. He was completely right. The brioche-like bread was sauteed with butter. The lobster roll was fresh and delicious.

Lido Beach Pavilion

Lido Beach Pavilion

Snowy Egret at Lido Beach Pavilion

A snowy egret at Lido Beach Pavilion

Lobster Roll at Lido Beach Pavilion

Lobster roll at Lido Beach Pavilion

Lido Key Beach

We walked around Lido Key Beach after our lunch.

Lido Key Beach

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium

We make a point of visiting all local aquariums wherever we go. This trip was no exception. The Mote Marine was an excellent aquarium. The ticket covers entry to both the aquarium and the Marine Mammal Research Center, across the street, where one could find marine mammals such as Manatees.

Spiny Lobster at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

Spiny Lobster

Spiny Lobster at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium

Looks delicious

Turtle Beach

We headed back to Siesta Key to return the beach umbrella I rented yesterday. But more importantly we wanted to check out Turtle Beach known for being an active sea turtles nesting place. As locals informed us, we found this beach to be much less crowded. And there was a reason for it. The quality of the sand on this beach was subpar, when compared to the rest of Sarasota beaches. Even though this was still a great beach, compared to those around the US, clearly its sand grains were much coarser, relative to Siesta Beach, for instance.

Turtle Beach at Siesta Key

Ophelia’s on the Bay

It was dinner time. We found a popular restaurant near Turtle Beach with a great menu and an excellent view of the sheltered Little Sarasota Bay between the Key and main land: Ophelia’s on the Bay. This place sports a newly-printed menu with different courses every day.

Ophelia's on the Bay

Ophelia's on the Bay

Ophelia's on the Bay

Seared tuna and duckling in three styles

As we were dinning, something in the far distance caught my eye. It was an osprey returning to its nest to feed its young. I grabbed the phone and fortunately got a few usable shots.

Osprey landing at its Nest

Osprey landing at its Nest

Osprey landing at its Nest

Osprey landing at its Nest

Osprey landing at its Nest

Sunset at Siesta Beach

I saved the best for last. After the dinner we drove back north to Siesta Beach, just in time to catch the sun setting on the western horizon.

Siesta Key Beach Pavilion

Siesta Key Beach Pavilion

View from Siesta Key Beach Pavilion

View from the beach pavilion

The enormity of this beach is difficult to describe in words. It is not only extremely long, but also unusually wide – so wide that the city had to install walking mats to help beachgoers get to the shore, where they could then walk on firmer wet sand.

Enormity of Siesta Beach on Siesta Key at Sunset

View from the middle of the beach

Perhaps a few panoramic images will help illustrate the enormity. Control click on each to see it in a new web browser tab.

Panorama of Siesta Beach on Siesta Key at Sunset

Just about everyone was looking at the setting sun.

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

I am also a sucker for sunset. You probably figured that out already by now. Here are a few more pictures of this bigly sunset. These have been uploaded to Wikimedia as well.

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

Folks Enjoying Sunset at Siesta Beach

We lingered a bit longer after sunset.

Twilight at Siesta Beach

Twilight at Siesta Beach

The end.

About Xinhai Dude 辛亥生

The name Xinhai Dude 辛亥生 is a pun in Chinese, as it means both “he who was born in Xinhai” as well as “he who studies Xinhai”. I had an ambitious plan to write something about the great Xinhai Revolution of 1911, thus my blog But after an initial flurry of activities the initiative petered out. One day I will still carry it through. But for now, this website has turned into a conglomerate of my work on various topics of interest to me, including travel pictures, RC model airplane flying, inline skating, ice skating, classical music composition, science fiction short stories, evolution and atheism.
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2 Responses to Sarasota, Florida 2017 – an iPhone Wiki Vacation

  1. Sally Rohrer McConnell says:

    And if you are lucky a nice guy, Dr. James Rohrer, will buy your lunch😁

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