The core of the area is a larger than small, smaller than middle-sized metropolis called Sarasota. It is the virile community on Florida’s west coast. It is home to an international airport, the Ringling Museum of Art, New College (Florida’s public honors college), the Ringling School of Art and Design, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (foremost center for botanical epiphytic plants), the Asolo Theatre (built in 1798) and more than 60 golf courses.
Its satellites are sub-tropical barrier islands called keys, each of which has its own intriguing character. Each of them is just a bridge away from the cultural center of the area.
When the Calusa Indians lived here, the keys were small mangrove islands some of which held game, some fowl and some were good places to fish. In 1917, John Ringling of circus fame bought Bird Key, St. Armands Key and other mangrove islands. He planned a development called Ringling Estates. From 1923 through 1925 three large dredges made solid land out of the mangrove islands and a causeway was built connecting St. Armands Key with the mainland.
The six keys, or tropical islands that contribute to the charm and desirability of the area are listed below.
BIRD KEY is the first alphabetically and the smallest on the Ringling Causeway. It is a community of 500 canal front and bayfront homes, a yacht club with elegant dining facilities open to all. Bird Key is halfway between St. Armands and the Sarasota mainland. In the ‘20’s the entire 250 acre island was the estate of John North and his wife Ida Ringling North. The only structure on it was their palatial home. There are just a few homes available scattered throughout the island today, many starting in the multi-million dollar price range.
CASEY KEY is a seven mile long island south of Sarasota. It has a single north-south road defined by where the ancient Indians’ horses trod. Seagrape leaves brush the side of your car as you slowly cruise the key and it has one of the few swing bridges still in use in the USA, built in 1925.
LIDO KEY encloses the west side of St. Armands Key in a manner akin to a mother’s arm around her child. It has three separate beaches, one of which has wheel chairs that are designed for use on the sand.
LONGBOAT KEY is a 12 mile long island between Lido Beach on the south and Anna Maria Island on the north. It has first class resorts offering 2 golf courses, 21 tennis courts and several award-winning Fodor's recognized dining establishments.
ST. ARMANDS KEY is internationally noted for its many elegant stores, art galleries, boutiques and choice places to dine. Its large traffic circle encloses a lush park that is the venue for world class exhibitions of automobiles, arts and crafts festivals and unique performances.
SIESTA KEY is a three and half square mile sub-tropical island that was visited by three hundred and fifty thousand people last year. Siesta Key Beach has the whitest and finest sand in the world. The total area of the key is 3.5 miles, of which 1.2 square miles is water. There are several distinct neighborhoods around Siesta Key, including Siesta Village area, Turtle Beach area, and the Turtle Beach Campgrounds and RV Park.
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