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www.smallmarketmeetings.com 28 Destination Showcase LOCATION Florida's Gulf Coast ACCESS Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport; Interstate 75; U.S. 41 MAJOR MEETING SPACES Hyatt Regency Sarasota, Ritz-Carlton Sarasota, Westin Sarasota (coming soon) HOTEL ROOMS 5,500 resort and hotel rooms, plus condos and vaca- tion rental homes OFF-SITE VENUES Ringling museum, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium CONTACT INFO Visit Sarasota County 941-955-0991 www.sarasotameetings.com Florida's Cultural Coast By Elizabeth Hey All photos courtesy Visit Sarasota County S A R A S O T A , F L O R I D A O nce the winter home of "The Greatest Show on Earth," performed by the Ringling Brothers Circus, the city of Sarasota and surrounding Sarasota County claim 35 miles of pristine beaches. In 2015, the white-quartz sand of Siesta Beach ranked as the top U.S. beach by Trip Advisor reviewers and among the world's top 15 beaches. Located between Tampa and Fort Myers, Sarasota County and its necklace of islands — Longboat Key, Lido Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key — boast not only dazzling sand and sun, but also abundant culture and ecotourism. "We consider ourselves Florida's Cultural Coast, and in addition to our abundance of arts and culture, we have a unique circus heritage influenced by the Ringling Brothers," said Shelby Connett, meeting and group sales manager for Visit Sarasota County. "Sarasota also has the highest concentration of Zagat-rated restaurants in the state of Florida." Offering more than 10 theaters and 100 galleries, Sarasota County puts a priority on the arts. It supports a professional symphony, an opera company and a ballet com- pany. The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall hosts Broadway shows and world- renowned performers. In addition, the ornate Venice Theatre and Asolo Repertory Theatre feature primarily local performances. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art showcases old masters and modern art through their permanent collection and rotating exhibits. Also on-site at the Ringling, the Tibbals Circus Museum and lavish Ca' d'Zan, the Ringling's 56-room winter home, offer a glimpse into circus life. Along the central Gulf Coast, ecotourism ranges from deep-sea fishing to more than 35 golf courses. Kayaking, canoeing, hiking, biking and bird-watching can be enjoyed year-round. Sunset cruises and wildlife boat tours depart from Marina Jack. Offshore charters give the chance to reel in large fish, and the famous tarpon arrive mid-May through early July. "We're known for our bicycling," said Connett. "Venice is consistently ranked as a bicycle-friendly city, and our variety of trails includes the paved Legacy Trail, which starts at the historic train depot." Above: With more than 100 galleries, Sarasota is an art hub of Florida. Left: Boaters enjoy sunset at Sarasota Bay.