Ringling Estate Walking Tour, Sarasota

Ringling Estate Walking Tour (Self Guided), Sarasota

Among other things, the city of Sarasota, FL is renowned for its arts community, historical sites and museums. By far the most notable location that fits all the three categories here is the winter estate of the American circus mogul, entrepreneur, and art collector, John Ringling, and his wife, Mable. Indeed, their 66-acre property, turned museum complex, is one of the Gulf Coast’s premier attractions.

Throughout their lives, the Ringlings aspired to become serious art connoisseurs, pursuant to which they amassed an impressive collection of top-class European artworks. Presently a Florida state museum, the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art is housed in a grand Mediterranean-style palazzo.

Aside from the art museum, the estate also contains the Ringlings' lavish Venetian Gothic-style mansion, Ca' d'Zan, revealing the owners' extravagant tastes, and evocative of their two favorite Venetian hotels, the Danieli and the Bauer Grunwald.

Nearby, Ringling’s Circus Museum documents the impresario’s theatrical successes, while his wife's – Mable Ringling's – rose garden forms part of the beautifully landscaped grounds overlooking Sarasota Bay. Both John and Mable, as well as John's sister, are buried very near this garden, just to the north, in what is called the Secret Garden.

For a more detailed acquaintance with these and other locations associated with the life and legacy of America's flamboyant circus baron and his family, take this self-guided walking tour and spend some quality time in Sarasota!
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Ringling Estate Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Ringling Estate Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Sarasota (See other walking tours in Sarasota)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Author: brian
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
  • Circus Museum and the Tibbals Learning Center
  • Mable Ringling's Rose Garden
  • Bayfront Gardens
  • The Secret Garden
  • Cà d’Zan Mansion
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

1) John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (must see)

Founded by John Ringling (from the Ringling Brothers Circus) and his wife Mabel, this museum was built to store the large collection of paintings and art objects (more than 10,000 items), including sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, and decorative arts, that the founders had garnered over the course of many years. The building itself was modeled after the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and, as such, represents an architectural attraction in its own right.

Here, alongside a wealth of world-renowned (16th–20th-century) European canvases by celebrated grands like Peter Rubens, Thomas Gainsborough and many others, you can see Cypriot antiquities as well as Asian and American artworks. One wing presents some rotating exhibits and one permanent collection of Modern and Contemporary art, and the Searing Wing offers Joseph's Coat, a stunning 3000-sq-ft James Turrell–designed 'Sky Space.' There is also a library, with a total holding of 70,000 items.

With 21 galleries in one place, you may need more than just a single visit to see them all, plus a pair of comfortable shoes. Currently maintained and run by Florida State University, the museum offers performances, lectures, talks, and family programs as well.

In the adjacent gardens, you can enjoy the Museum of Sculpture Art courtyard or opt to have a picnic there, under a Banyan tree. And if you like to eat on the grounds, there’s the Ringling Grillroom (advance reservations are highly recommended here). For sandwiches, baked goods, and salads, try Mable’s Coffee and Tea or The Ringling Concessions.

You can either explore the museum on your own or take one of their 45-minute tours for a more in-depth exploration. Audio tours are also available.
Given the magnitude of the place, prepare to spend more than a few hours here, and make sure not to miss the gift shop by the entrance.
As per John Ringling’s will, the museum offers free entrance every Monday. Also, on Thursdays, between 5pm and 8pm, there's a discounted entrance fee.
Circus Museum and the Tibbals Learning Center

2) Circus Museum and the Tibbals Learning Center

Welcome to the Circus Capital of the World. Everything you want to know about the Ringling Circus is archived here in the Circus Museum. Through an incredibly detailed miniature exhibit, visitors can see what it’s like from the minute the circus arrived in town, how they set up, their day-to-day life of performing, and how they tore everything down. You can even see their tiny living quarters.

Opened in January of 2006, the Circus Museum also houses various wardrobes from circus performers and fun circus memorabilia, props, and wagons. In the hallways, there are posters and newspaper clippings from that era.

Tibbals Learning Center is the newest addition to the Circus Museum, where visitors can enjoy the interactive galleries. Here, they can walk a tightrope, squeeze into a clown car, shoot a foam bullet, and see how it feels to be a ringleader. Plus, on display is an actual train car used to transport the circus troupe.

The Circus Museum doesn’t offer just a history of the Ringling Brothers Circus; guests will also learn about the history of circuses, dating back to 2,000 B.C.

There are 30-minute docent-led tours of the Circus Museum at 12 noon and 1 pm.
Mable Ringling's Rose Garden

3) Mable Ringling's Rose Garden

Inside the Bayfront Gardens sits the gorgeously designed Mable Ringling's Rose Garden. Stop for a moment, and smell the roses. If you love the peace of mind flowers give, enjoy the 1200 individual roses thrive.

Completed in 1913, the Rose Garden is one of the most fragrant spots on the Ringling estate, built before the mansion came along. The garden consists of roses introduced between 1867 and 2013 and includes Tree Roses, Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, miniature roses, shrubs, and Old Garden Roses spread out within the 27,225 square feet.

The Mable Ringling Rose Garden is designed in the Italian wagon wheel style. Marble columns throughout the garden support trellises, while small statues peek through the flowers. In the center, several arches are joined by ornate metalwork, with benches beneath.

The original Rose Garden fell into disrepair with the rest of the estate after Mable’s death in 1926. Recently, the garden has been restored to its former glory.

The Rose Garden is free to visit on Mondays. On other days, it is included with the Ringling Museum ticket price.
Bayfront Gardens

4) Bayfront Gardens

When you need to escape into a garden, make it the Bayfront Gardens. You can sit under the shade of the Banyan tree or Sabal Palmetto tree, have a picnic, enjoy the small stone statues in the whimsical Dwarf Garden, admire the Secret Garden, or even continue your art tour by checking out all the garden’s sculptures.

One of the great garden activities is the Millennium Tree Trail. Located at the southern end of the Ringling estate, the Trail showcases a variety of trees. You can see oak, citrus, holly, and magnolia trees. A stroll through Bayfront Gardens can be wonderfully refreshing in the intense Florida summer heat.

The Bayfront Gardens spread over the Ringling Museum’s 66 acres, including diverse and gorgeous landscapes. There are 14 Banyan trees, a Shaving Brush tree, a Tiger Claw tree, a Bunya Pine tree, a Rainbow Eucalyptus, and several bamboo trees.
The Secret Garden

5) The Secret Garden

John Ringling died on December 2, 1936, in New York City. He was the longest-lived of the Ringling brothers. John was the only brother to reach his 70s. Once one of the world's wealthiest men, he died with only $311 in the bank. At his death, he willed his Sarasota mansion, the museum, and the entire art collection to the State of Florida.

In 1991, John Ringling, his wife, Mable, and his sister, Ida Ringling North, were exhumed from their original resting places and reburied at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, just in front and to the right of the Ca d'Zan Mansion.

The last resting place of the Ringling family is called the Secret Garden. John Ringling is buried between the two women. There is a locked gate around the three graves and tombstones. During the day, the gate is unlocked and opened. On the anniversary of John Ringling, neighboring New College students will often sneak in and place a cigar on John's grave.
Cà d’Zan Mansion

6) Cà d’Zan Mansion (must see)

When you visit the Ringling Museum, you can pay extra to see the Ca d'Zan Mansion. It is worth every penny.

The Ca d'Zan Mansion was the winter home for John Ringling and his wife, Mable. After years of visiting Italy, the couple decided to build a home replicating the Venetian Gothic style. They hired an architect from New York, Dwight James Baum, to design the mansion. However, Mable Ringling oversaw the entire construction, ensuring every detail matched her vision. Work on the house began in 1924.

The Ca d'Zan Mansion was completed two years later and cost $1.5 million. The house was named Ca’ d’Zan, “House of John”, in the dialect of their beloved Venice. It was featured in the Country Life Magazine in 1927 and famously called a Venetian Palace in Florida.

The opulent mansion overlooks Sarasota Bay and is a 36,000-square-foot house with five stories, one basement, 41 rooms, and 15 bathrooms. There are stunning views from the stained-glass windows. The dining table could accommodate 22 chairs and was a perfect size for the many parties that John Ringling hosted. A crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel hangs, in the living room, above a black and white marble tiled floor.

The Ringling couple commissioned Hungarian-born artist Willy Pogany to paint murals in the interiors. The house also has an elevator, the first ever elevator installed in a private home in Florida. Besides Venetian Gothic influences, the mansion has Spanish, Italian Renaissance, and Moorish elements.

After John Ringling’s death, the property was neglected and went into decline. However, when Florida State University acquired the museum and the mansion, the university put in $15 million to renovate the house. Renovations were completed in 2002.

When you visit the Ca d'Zan Mansion, you can take a self-guided audio tour and learn more about the history of this incredible mansion. The audio tour is accessible via a QR code.

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