Entire vacations can be spent soaking up the sights and culture, and the egregiously pretty beaches, of sophisticated Sarasota. In fact, base your stay here, and the majority of the Tampa Bay area's highlights are within easy reach, while the region's urban bustle remains at a comfortable arm's length.
In 1911, when John Ringling decided to make this struggling town the winter home of his circus, he set Sarasota on the course to what it is today: a welcoming, well-to-do bastion of the arts, one with a performer's weakness for the theater's sodium lights. Ringling's mansion and museums – devoted to his fine art collection and his famous big top – are reason enough to come to Sarasota. And nearby, Siesta Key marries its dazzling beach with its friendly, lively village so well it epitomizes what a beach town should be. Head inland, and the alligators of Myakka River State Park provide even more thrills.
The only things you really need are a car and a good local map (ask at the VC). Sarasota isn't that big, but sights are spread out and not well served by public transportation.