After the Reds have come and gone, there's still plenty left to do

Email|Print| Text size + By Cliff Terry
Globe Correspondent / February 13, 2005

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Granted, many people coming here are interested in sand and surf. No question, the beaches are lovely, the water enticing.

On a recent trip, though my wife and I discovered that, in addition to the seasonal attraction of spring training games (the Cincinnati Reds hang their hats and gloves in Sarasota), there are plenty of things to do year round.

Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary. ''All life is precious," Dale Shields once said. ''We'd take MEN here if they ate raw fish."

Shields is the onetime car salesman and hardware store owner who found an injured brown pelican in 1981 and, four years later, established Pelican Man's Bird Sanctuary, Florida's largest wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. Operating completely on donations (it costs $600 a year, for example, to keep an owl), the sanctuary rescues 4,000-7,000 animals a year (mostly birds, but also turtles and an occasional bobcat) and puts about 4,000 back into the wild. The facility includes a hospital, several rehabilitation habitats, and a baby bird nursery.

''Most of the injuries, sadly, are caused by humans, not nature," our guide told us during the daily tour. ''Many times they get caught in fishing apparatus. Some birds even check themselves in. A great blue heron recently showed up at our back door, with a hook and sinker in its neck. It had been here before, and knew where to come."

Among those in residence recently were yellow-crowned night herons (named Scott and Lisa), a Cooper's hawk (Buster), wood stork (Woodrow), sandhill crane (Siegfried), and sandwich tern (Dijon).

1708 Ken Thompson Parkway


Requested donation, $4.

The Broken Egg. This popular Siesta Key Village place features casual indoor or outdoor dining, as well as a gift shop and art gallery. It's open for breakfast and lunch, and in the morning, be prepared to wait a while. ''Eggseptional Favorites" include omelets, deep dish quiche, banana nut French toast, and crab cake benedict, while lunch offerings can include blackened grouper wrap and Mediterranean duck salad.

210 Avenida Madera


Daily 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Items $2-$14.

Cà d'Zan Mansion. This is the showpiece of the 66-acre John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art complex, which consists of several buildings and was bequeathed by Ringling to the people of Florida. Cà d'Zan (Venetian dialect for ''House of John") has 32 rooms and 15 bathrooms. Designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum, it was built between 1924 and 1926 and reflects the style of the Venetian-Gothic palaces that Mable admired during the couple's travels.

Our guide told us not only the basic background (Ringling made his fortune in real estate, railroads, and the famed circus he owned with his brothers) but also relayed such tidbits as the fact that Cà d'Zan was, in actuality, the House of Mable. (John had only two rooms he could call his own: his bedroom and a bar, which he bought in St. Louis during Prohibition from a financially troubled saloon owner.)

541 Bay Shore Road


Daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Adults $15, seniors $12, students and children free.

Ringling Museum of Art and Museum of the Circus. These museums offer a striking juxtaposition: One deals with 17th-century painters Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Hals, the other with clowns and cotton candy.

Ringling would buy up whole collections of art at auction, and he and his wife collected more than 600 paintings, sculptures, and decorative art objects. Their Italian Renaissance villa-style art museum opened to the public in 1930. The centerpiece of the 21-gallery museum is Rubens's ''Triumph of the Eucharist" series, the only example of a large-scale cycle by Rubens displayed outside Europe. Other works in this Old Master collection include those by artists who worked primarily from 1500 to about 1750 such as Hals, Nicolas Poussin, Sir Anthony Van Dyke, and Pietro da Cortona.

On display in the Museum of the Circus, founded in 1948, are old calliopes, beautifully carved painted wooden wagons, sequined costumes, a full-scale miniature circus with performers and animals, still shots from the 1952 Oscar-winning movie, ''The Greatest Show on Earth" (filmed in Sarasota), an exhibit on Gunther Gebel-Williams and his tigers, and a nifty interactive room for children.

The museum also hosts traveling exhibitions such as this winter's photography show, ''Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius," through April 10.

541 Bay Shore Road


Daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Adults $15, seniors $12, students and children free.

Myakka River State Park. The best thing about bird-watching in Florida is that there are so many big birds that are relatively easy for even beginners to identify. Certainly, there are plenty at Myakka River State Park, off Highway 72 about a 30-minute drive east of downtown Sarasota. One morning, we zeroed in on wood storks, sandhill cranes (and their still-fuzzy offspring), great blue herons, great egrets, and red-shouldered hawks.

For many visitors, of course, the top attraction is the alligator. On a tram tour, we were pointed in the direction of Matilda (the park's oldest gator) and numerous babies. There also were Fred and his two lady friends, regular occupants of the water near the concession stand -- where they sell, ahem, alligator stew.

The 58-square-mile Myakka offers such things as noisy airboat rides, rental canoes, kayaks, and bicycles, 38 miles of hiking trails, a 7-mile scenic drive, and children's programs. We opted for the tram tour, conducted by a naturalist.


Vehicles $5.

Mote Aquarium and Mote Marine Laboratory. This is a blend of exhibits and research facilities. The aquarium contains a 135,000-gallon shark tank and hands-on displays in which children (and adults) can touch sea stars, hermit crabs, and Florida fighting conch. A second building houses the Marine Mammal Visitor Center and features two resident, lettuce-noshing manatees, Hugh and Buffett; immense sea turtles; and dolphin, whale, and sea turtle rehabilitation facilities. The aquarium showcases scientific research provided by the Mote Marine Laboratory, an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to excellence in marine science and education. Mote's dolphin research program, in partnership with the Chicago Zoological Society, maintains the longest-running study of wild dolphins in the world.

1600 Ken Thompson Parkway


Daily 10 a.m-5 p.m. Adults $12, children $8.

J.N. ''Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. This is a good day trip out of Sarasota. About a half-hour from Fort Myers (which, itself, is 69 miles from Sarasota), Ding Darling is named after an avid environmental conservationist who was also a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist.

Along a 5-mile wildlife drive (closed Fridays), relatively serious birders jump out of their cars to check on their feathered friends, while others may just shrug and drive on to the education center, bike path, hiking path, kayak tour, or 90-minute tram tour. The tour is a pleasant and informative excursion, led by a friendly ''interpreter" (''I don't call myself a 'naturalist,' " he cracked.). Along the way, often with his help, we spotted a variety of herons (great blue, little blue, tricolored), egrets (great, reddish, snowy), white ibis, white pelican, willet, and several alligators. A number of children on board paid considerable attention, even to a rather lengthy discussion of mangrove trees

1 Wildlife Drive



Daily 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Adults $1, vehicles $5.

Dalí Museum. Another short day trip, this one about an hour north in St. Petersburg, is to the Salvador Dalí Museum. Founded by an Ohio couple in 1982, it houses the world's largest collection of works by the surrealistic Spanish artist.

Even if you don't sign up for a guided tour, it is perfectly acceptable to tag along with one and pick up some insightful, often fascinating, information. The works include massive canvasses such as ''The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus," ''The Hallucinogenic Toreador," and ''The Ecumenical Council," as well as sculptures like ''The Venus de Milo with Drawers" and such objects as ''The Lobster Telephone."

1000 3rd St. South


Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Thursdays til 8, Sundays, noon-5:30. Adults $14, seniors $12, students $9, children 5-9 $3.50, under 5 free.

Dry Dock Waterfront Grill. We were lucky enough to have a friend, a Sarasota-based marine biologist, who one brilliant morning took us out on the waters around Longboat Key to search for -- and find -- the bottlenose dolphins on whom he conducts research (and assigns names, such as Jimmy Durante). Stopping for lunch, he pulled his boat up to the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Longboat, which stretches narrowly for some 11 miles between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay. You don't have to know a local scientist to enjoy the Dry Dock, a pleasant place with great views and wonderful food. Specialties include ''the best grouper sandwich on Florida's West Coast."

412 Gulf of Mexico Drive


Monday-Saturday from 11 a.m.; Sunday from 4 p.m. Entrees $6-$20.

Cliff Terry is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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