Led by martial artist Bill Essex, a Shaolin kung fu and tai chi black belt, Shaolin-Do Martial Arts trains children and adults in the time-honored Eastern discipline of combat. At Shaolin-Do, students can prepare to become black belts or train for competitions, but that’s never the main focus. Instead, the instructors hope to instill confidence and skill through a fitness activity they can practice for life. Shaolin-Do blends hard and soft arts to develop internal and external strength simultaneously. Along with kung fu and tai chi classes, students can also participate in month-long boot camps that incorporate martial-arts moves and other exercise techniques for full-body workouts.
Beneath a canopy of towering palms, visitors to Sarasota Children’s Garden trace a winding pathway around a koi pond and animal topiaries. The idyllic environs stem from owner Joan Condon’s vision to provide a playspace immersed in Sarasota’s natural beauty. Garden curators hone in on nature’s whimsical side, dotting the premises with fairy gardens and sculptures of mythical creatures. Beyond providing ample space for frolicking and befriending retired tooth fairies, the garden also strives to introduce stewardship to young minds with classes and events.
Thanks to Hook'um Charters, the name "Hot Rod" has become synonymous with fishing. The 32-foot blackfin sportfish yacht floats the Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico in search of prize catches. Redfish, snook, snapper, and trout swim just beneath the surface of the area's Intracoastal Waterway, while even bigger prizes?including grouper, shark, sailfish, and giant bottles of tartar sauce?populate offshore waters. "Hot Rod," and more specifically its fishing guide Harry, float ready to catch them all. Harry has fished the area for nearly four decades, and he channels this experience during fishing trips. On these expeditions, he supplies anglers with all the necessary rods, lures, and know-how to reel in fish after fish.
In the evening, Hook'um Charters shifts focus to sightseeing. The setting sun casts a warm glow over Tampa Bay and its natural scenery, which serves as the backdrop for cruises. For a bit of dinner, captains can also ferry passengers to the area's many waterfront restaurants.
Across the placid waters of the Sarasota Bay, the Gulf of Mexico splashes up toward the long beaches and rolling dunes of the Florida shoreline, and these nearby bodies of water make the Sarasota area a natural hub for aquatic fun. A short shuttle ride from the Hyatt, wildflower-studded Lido Beach's sandcastle-friendly expanses and calm Gulf waters beckon families in search of space for spreading out picnic lunches and lounging on rented beach chairs, and just to the south, Siesta Beach's powdery white sands and jellybean-hued lifeguard stands complement a coterie of party-inspiring refreshment huts and gathering places. On nearby City Island, Mote Aquarium engages visitors with its star attractions, the frolicsome manatees Hugh and Buffet. Both manatees love interacting with guests and frequently press their noses against the glass near a visitor's face before slowly, comically sinking to the floor. Located on the mainland side of the bay, the Ringling Estate merits at least a half day of exploration with its multiple museums and breathtaking scenery, though its gracious docents are happy to help time-pressed visitors prioritize what they should see. A sunny, 66-acre property peppered with rose gardens and banyan-tree groves, the estate was home to John Ringling (of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus) and today features a fascinating circus museum replete with artifacts from the circus's heyday. Critically acclaimed Asolo Rep Theatre also makes its home on the estate grounds, sharing a grassy lawn with a comprehensive art museum sporting works by Rubens, El Greco, van Dyck, and other celebrated masters. At the estate’s waterfront Ca' d'Zan Mansion, the 41-room palace built by Ringling and his wife in the mid-’20s, Venetian Gothic architecture and exquisite décor bask in streams of sunlight as visitors move from room to room in hushed awe. Amid the bustle of Sarasota's Main Street, fresh seafood lures eaters to family-friendly Barnacle Bill's Seafood, a restaurant and bar renowned for its tart and velvety key-lime pie ($4.50). In the salty breeze outside, pedestrians might find high-school-aged boys strumming acoustic guitars and belting out folk songs while the syncopated rhythms of down-home blues pulse from nearby Mattison's City Grille. There, guests can enjoy outdoor seating and virtuosic live blues and jazz bands whose swinging rhythms buoy diners with the feel of a friendly backyard barbecue. Strangers effortlessly swap stories and good-natured laughs, and old friends lean in to catch gossip and whispered Nintendo cheat codes. When the City Grille closes, the crowd migrates across the street to The Gator Club, a venerated late-night music venue and lounge.
Some restaurant owners prefer to stay behind the scenes. Achille and Massimo Nigri are not those people. At Cafe Amici, each guest is greeted “like a long-lost friend,” according to one happy customer. The homey eatery not only makes diners feel welcome, but also sates appetites with authentic Italian eats such as homemade lasagna, gnocchi with crabmeat, and wild mushroom ravioli. One whole wall inside the sun-soaked dining room is covered with framed accolades from local media outlets and taste buds with the ability to type.
In 2009, the Downtown Sarasota Historic District received a high honor when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, that doesn't mean the city is stuck in the past?especially not when it comes to its culinary scene. Sarasota acts like a magnet for local, regional, and international chefs, all of whom make great use of the area's fresh produce, seafood, and white sandy beaches, which are made entirely of sugar.
Enter Sarasota Culinary Tours' guides, who can often be found beside the chef statue on the northwest corner of Lemon and Main streets. That culinary work of art serves as an appropriate starting place for their walking food tours, which navigate the Historic District and its surrounding neighborhoods, such as Laurel Park. Along the way, guides and their followers make stops at four of the city's best restaurants. The itinerary changes often to showcase a variety of partner restaurants, perhaps Nancy's Bar-B-Q or The Savory Street International Cafe and Bakery. At each stop, guides introduce tour groups to the chefs and proprietors, who can share insights into their menus before handing out tasty samples.