Day Trippin’: Circuses, Elvis and beaches


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The booth where Elvis dined more than 60 years ago at Waffle Stop is blocked off and displays photos and the story of Elvis' visit to the small diner. PHOTO BY CAM PHILLIPS

The booth where Elvis dined more than 60 years ago at Waffle Stop is blocked off and displays photos and the story of Elvis’ visit to the small diner. PHOTO BY CAM PHILLIPS

Our Day Trippin’ contributor needed to take this month off. We could either reprint an old article by her or improvise. Good thing I just got back from a weekend vacation. I grew up in Sarasota, and went back for the first time in years this June to visit some old friends. We took a trip down memory lane but also hit up some tourist spots.

Here’s a local’s take on Sarasota, which is two hours southwest of Orlando.

Ringling

A city built around the circus, Sarasota has the Ringling name all over the place. John Ringling was one of the five Ringling brothers, and his footprint is cemented in Sarasota history. His and his wife Mable’s waterfront property has been repurposed into a cultural attraction with rich history.

Taking a tour of the property will give you an extensive history of the entire Ringling estate, which includes the house bearing the name “Ca’ d’Zan,” which translates from Venetian to “house of John.” John’s extensive collection of art includes limestone statues of dwarfs, paintings by Jules Dupré and the Circus Museum complete with John’s private railcar, the Wisconsin.

The Ca' d'Zan's architecture alone is impressive, but a tour of the Ringling Museum inside displays unique pieces of art from one of the founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus' collection. PHOTO BY CAM PHILLIPS

The Ca’ d’Zan’s architecture alone is impressive, but a tour of the Ringling Museum inside displays unique pieces of art from one of the founders of the Ringling Brothers Circus’ collection. PHOTO BY CAM PHILLIPS

Art is a big part of Sarasota, maybe even more so than the circus and John. Sculptures, like the controversial sailor statue (look up the history; it’s a story in itself) that goes by the name of “Unconditional Surrender,” is situated by Marina Jack looking over the busy intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulf Stream. Gulf Stream leads to the John Ringling Causeway Bridge, a great place for a run or sightseeing of the Gulf of Mexico. Less than two miles away from the Ringling estate is the Ringling College of Art and Design, another namesake of John.

Elvis ate here

If you’ve ever wanted to see a shrine of the king of rock and roll at the booth of an old-style diner, Waffle Stop may very well be the only option available. When Elvis Presley came to Sarasota in 1956 for a performance, he came to Waffle Stop and ordered three eggs, three slices of bacon, two orders of toast and three glasses of milk. Then, he came back the next morning for more.

The Waffle Stop hasn’t been the same since: A statue of Presley holding a guitar stands next to the ATM (Waffle Stop is cash-only); there are pictures of the King on every wall of the restaurant, and the booth he sat off is blocked off and has framed pictures and a brief history of the restaurant on the table.

Some menu items take their name from Presley hits. You can order a Burnin’ Love Omelette, a Hunka Hunka Burger, or copy the king, and order “Elvis is in the Building.”

Train station or restaurant?

If a shrine to Presley in a restaurant isn’t unique enough for you, what about a brunch spot in a repurposed train station? The restaurant is housed in a building that was originally built in 1852 in Kentland, Indiana, as a train station. The building was disassembled, shipped to Sarasota, reassembled in the Rosemary District and opened as a restaurant named Station 400.

Why not?

A look up as you walk in reveals a model train taking laps around the ceiling of the restaurant. Station 400 serves breakfast and lunch.

The Rosemary District is a picturesque neighborhood, which could provide a nice after-meal walk. Many front yards in the neighborhood aren’t lawns but xeriscapes. Rocks and native plants line the front of these houses. It’s an environmentally friendly alternative to watering and mowing a lawn.

The beaches, of course

What’s a story about a Sarasota vacation without mentioning the beaches? Powdery, bright-white sand is the claim to fame for this beach (that and the terrible reality show MTV made). Siesta Key Beach was ranked the No. 1 beach in the U.S. by Dr. Beach and Trip Advisor in 2017. The Sunday night drum circle is a unique tradition that starts at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays near the newly renovated beach pavilion, which has come a long way in the past decade.

But if you don’t want to drive around in circles in the Siesta Key Beach parking lot for hours on end, there are many other smaller beaches that don’t attract the outrageous number that Siesta Key does. For example, Turtle Beach’s sand isn’t as luxurious, but the shell selection is great (and parking took five minutes).

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