Among the early tourists to be smitten by Sarasota, Florida, was circus magnate John Ringling in the Roaring '20s. He scooped up property all around the town, moved the circus's winter home there, and built himself a winter residence, an art museum, a circus museum and a college. All these years later, the city of Sarasota is still the undisputed cultural center of the Gulf Coast, but with the added allure of a string of barrier islands flanking its western side. Each of the keys maintains its own identity, with superb beach access being the central unifying theme.
Lido and St. Armands are really just extensions of downtown Sarasota, connected by a causeway and fairly urban. Started as a quiet fishing village, Longboat Key is now strictly the purview of the posh, with tall resort hotels and condominiums and a glut of golf courses. Siesta Key is much more low-rise, with a personality to match. It's relaxed and laid-back, with a high funk-factor. It's the most youthful spot on this part of the Gulf Coast. Casey Key is less of a tourist draw, mostly dotted with single-family homes.
Note: Florida sustained widespread damage during Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Travelers should investigate current conditions prior to planning a visit.
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