Set on a lovely island between downtown Sarasota and the Gulf of Mexico is St. Armand’s Circle. This is a unique spot just two minutes walking from the beach which blends the vestiges of classical design and architecture with trendy shops restaurants and storefronts. The little island itself has pristine beaches, handsome hotels and quiet neighborhoods, but the central circle is the hub around which the social activity of St. Armand’s thrives.
Historically much of the land around Sarasota’s waterfronts was purchased and developed by John Ringling. He envisioned an urban setting informed by the classic structures of high art and architecture as even his own property is a complete Venetian mansion. St. Armand’s key is very much a testament to the vision of John Ringling in that it balances quality retail developments amidst fine sculptures, manicured lawns and a laid back atmosphere.
St. Armand’s Circle is a roundabout which has a small park in the center. Much of this area is filled in by statues representing figures from Greek and Roman Myths and the embodiment of virtues. Tall palms are mixed in with ornate lamp stands and a display of rectangular monuments recounts the role many played in the history of the American Circus and early forms of public entertainment. The circle is best reached by direct causeway from downtown Sarasota and parking in the circle itself tends to be difficult. However many side streets fan out in all directions from this circle and they are full of shops, restaurants and more parking spaces.
A popular time of day for visitors is late afternoon to early evening. Many come for a sunset view and to enjoy the restaurants in the evenings. There are around 130 different stores offering everything from boutique fashion, to spa treatments, to specialty stores to restaurants, to jewelers, to travel agencies to medical offices. One of the most coveted restaurant experiences is the Columbia Restaurant that has strong roots in the Tampa area. Many of the dishes here have a strong Spaniard/Cuban influence and are quite memorable. The Surf Shack is also a great place for a refreshing beverage and great seafood tacos. A well run public bus system serves St. Armand’s connecting it with Sarasota and Long Boat Key.
Being a center for artistic intrigue and retail attracts quite a few events to St. Armand’s. The Art festival has been running for over a decade now, there are live music performances, classic car shows, parades and holiday activities and many exciting displays both in and out of season. Christmas decorations are a spectacular sight too. St. Armand’s Circle is a unique place to shop, eat, rest and abide in the refined comforts of culture.
Just five minutes walk from the circle are two of Sarasota’s biggest attractions. Due West is Lido beach where there is ample parking and a large flat stretch of sand to spread out. Due North around a mile away is Mote Marine, an oceanographic and marine biology center that has everything to fascinate from small children to world class scientists.