The Ringling is the remarkable legacy of circus owner, art collector and financier, John John Ringling, and his wife Mabel. In 1911, they bought 66 acres on Sarasota Bay, and in 1927 moved the winter quarters of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows here.
The Ringlings also built their own winter residence here, referred to as Ca’ d’ Zan, and a Museum of Art, both of which were left to the State of Florida upon their deaths. Since then, The Ringling has grown to include a Circus Museum, Theatre and Library. Stewardship passed to the Florida State University in 2000, and The Ringling is now one of the largest university art museums in the United States.
Visiting The Ringling was definitely on my list of things to do during our Bradenton visit, but the price was a little steep at $25 per person to tour the grounds, the Museums, and the main floor of Ca’ d’ Zan. Some friends had told us that admission was free on Mondays to the grounds, but did not include admission to the Museums or the Estate. Looking at their website, I came across “Art after 5” available on Thursdays – admission to the grounds and the Museums for $10 for adults and $5 for students. That sounded like the deal for us!
We ate a quick dinner on Thursday and headed out, arriving right at 5pm – along with a lot of other people! We bought our tickets, picked up a map, and made our way out to the Bayfront Gardens, bypassing the Circus Museum for now.
The Museums are open until 8pm on Thursdays, and we figured we had just over an hour to enjoy the gardens before sunset.
The Bayfront Gardens feature hundreds of native and exotic trees,
including a large selection of historic Banyan Trees. It reminded me of the Edison and Ford Winter Residences in Fort Myers.
Amazing that this is one tree!!
More Banyan trees, and bamboo, too.
Walking through the gardens, we came across a fun-looking playground.
The slide was huge, and Tom just had to give it a try!
It was a quick slide, so Bryce decided he was going to try it, too.
Next up was some kind of bouncy thing . . .
and then the swings – those looked interesting!
The swings looked harmless enough for me to give them a try,
although they weren’t quite as comfortable as they looked, and they were impossible to jump out of.
Believe me – Bryce tried!
From the playground, we continued on toward Mabel’s Rose Garden, 27,000 square feet laid out in a wagon wheel design - the oldest rose garden in Florida.
The center of the wheel.
Each rosebush in the garden was named for somebody different, including Mabel herself.
Exiting the Rose Garden, we made our way up the driveway to Ca’ d’ Zan, which means “House of John”.
We were surrounded by more Banyan trees, and I couldn’t help but think how much fun Nick & Bryce would have had playing and hiding these trees if we had them in our yard.
I love how the roots grow right down to the ground, and they just mulch around them as if it were another tree.
Then there was this one that formed an arch over the driveway – so cool!
The Sarasota Airport is just down the road, so as we walked around, planes and jets were constantly flying overhead.
We passed by the compass in the driveway,
and the Secret Garden where John and Mabel are buried,
and entered the side yard of the estate.
The sun was dropping lower over Sarasota Bay, and there were people gathering on the huge terrace to enjoy the sunset view.
The setting sun was casting golden rays onto the back of the estate, causing the windows and walls to glow.
Built between 1924 - 1926 at a cost of $1.5 million, its Venetian Gothic style reflects the Ringlings’ love of Italy, one of their favorite vacation destinations.
Who needs a vacation from this view??!!
It really is an amazing place – we peeked in a few of the 1st floor windows, and with the opulent furnishings, it reminded me of the Hearst Castle in California.
We continued along the waterfront, passing by more Banyan trees,
We caught the final moments of sunset from the Millennium Tree Trail.
As we were walking around the grounds, we kept hearing drums, and wondered where it was coming from. As we made our way back toward the Art Museum, we found the source.
There’s a new Museum of Asian Art opening this year, and they were having some type of dedication event. Lots of people walking around with food and drinks, but we couldn’t sneak any!
The view from the party was pretty nice!
The flowers floating in the pond were lights – cute!
We made our way back to towards the Visitor Center, and passed this cute little cabin,
I think it’s part of the Asian Art Exhibit.
We decided to skip the Art Museum, because I wanted to make sure we had time for the Circus Museum . . . and we only had about an hour and a half left until closing . . . but that’s going to have to be another blog post! Stay Tuned!