Sarasota has long been home to snowbirds heading south for the winter. These part-time residents have filled the stately homes and spacious condos on Florida’s West Coast for decades. Today, however, a new generation of visitors is discovering that Sarasota isn’t just the land of hip, beach-going grandparents. The city that once served as the winter home for John Ringling’s eponymous circus boasts a lively arts and culture scene rivaling any major city. Here, among the banyan trees and Gulf views, you can immerse yourself in visual and performing arts without ever stepping foot in the sand … but of course you can do that too. From the Sarasota Opera House, which once hosted Elvis Presley, to The Ringling, where 66 bay-front acres are home to the elegant Ca’ d’Zan, a circus museum and the largest collection of Peter Paul Rubens works outside of Europe, those seeking an art-driven experience will swoon.
Should you find yourself designing your own arts-immersive vacation in Sarasota, book your room at the new and noteworthy Art Ovation hotel. This experiential hotel — complete with an instrument rental program — is dedicated to the arts. Where better to rest your head after a day of exploring art, architecture and gardens? In our opinion, nowhere.
Act I: The Accommodations
Art Ovation, an Autograph Collection Hotel, debuted in April 2018 in Sarasota’s downtown. With 162 guest rooms, the boutique hotel is expansive enough for guests looking to meet and mingle while small enough to provide a serene escape. The decor throughout is understated and modern. Gray hues are prevalent while the occasional pop of yellow adds a playful punch. Trust us when we say the look is far from boring. Instead, these subdued schemes allow the art to take center stage.
Cultural Curator Lisa DiFranza, the hotel’s resident arts ambassador, works closely with Art Ovation’s senior curator along with local artists to source the building’s collection, which can be found throughout the lobby, common areas, restaurant and on each floor. Art is swapped quarterly, so repeat visitors will not see the same works twice. Upping the fun ante, each piece features a small plate with artist and title information along with a unique QR code. Guests can scan these codes using their in-room tablets to hear about each work from the artists themselves. This original, interactive aspect embodies what the hotel is about: an exceptional guest experience.
Act II: The Food
The food and beverage scene at Art Ovation sings. Overture’s maestro, Chef Dominic Vaccaro, presents a stunning performance of inspired options that marry classic dishes with whimsical styles. The dinner menu is designed so that guests are guided through a theatrical experience. Preludes (appetizers) include selections like divine deviled eggs and a lobster poached “Pop-Tart.” Interludes (salads) feature local produce. Compositions (entrées) consist of local catch like crab crusted grouper and whole fried crispy snapper. Finally, encores (desserts) like the Florida favorite key lime pie or the kid-worthy ice-cream sundae round out the menu. Overture is also open for breakfast and lunch, or guests can venture to the Perspective rooftop bar and pool for mid-day dining. In-room dining is also available, quite literally, at the click of a button. Make your selections from your room’s tablet … including desired delivery time.
Act III: The Experience
A stay at Art Ovation is more than a spot to relax and rejuvenate; it’s an opportunity to immerse and explore. Each room at Art Ovation is equipped with leather-bound sketchbooks and Faber-Castell colored pencils. Known as “Project Sketchbook,” the idea is that every notebook will be filled with doodles, poetry, song lyrics and drawings with artwork completed by a Ringling College of Art and Design student leading the way. Also available in every room is a colorful ukulele. Some are red, some are teal, but each one is tuned and ready for strumming. If you’re not quite sure how to play a chord, check-out the hotel’s weekly “Creative Guide” to see when the next ukulele lesson in the lobby is. For one-hour, you’ll receive group ukulele instruction complete with a jam session.
Yogis can enjoy sunrise yoga nearly every morning while sunbathers can head to the chic rooftop pool where cabanas provide shade by day and overflow nightlife seating by night. Each evening, guests are treated to live music in the lobby or can discover daily art classes like “paint your own wine glass” and “portraiture.” We tried our hand at “origami,” where intuitive painter and textile designer Lisa L guides students to fold boxes with scraps of her art “that didn’t make it into a frame.” There’s no need to sign-up ahead of time. Let your creative spirit guide you!
Act IV: The Town
Sarasota is home to more than 10 theaters and 30 art galleries, a ballet, a symphony, an opera, multiple botanical gardens and an impressive mid-century modern architecture history. Staying at Art Ovation ensures that all of these things are at your fingertips. Before touring the neighborhood, stop by the front desk and pick-up a walking guide. This numbered map shows different attractions surrounding the hotel, all under a 15-minute walk. We recommend taking in as much as you can. Nearby Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which skirts the shore of Sarasota Bay, is dedicated to the study of epiphytes and features its own rotating art gallery. If you’re looking for a bustling beach, jump in Art Ovation’s complimentary shuttle and head to Siesta Key for pristine sand and sparkling water. For an even more personal and Sarasota-specific experience, plan your trip around Sarasota Architectural Foundation’s Saturday tours. On one Saturday each month, the foundation opens the doors to Paul Rudolph’s iconic Umbrella House.
Whether you intend to take in everything that Sarasota presents or simply sink into the hotel’s offerings, plan to stay at Art Ovation. This centrally located, dynamic, art-centric boutique hotel will have you planning your encore trip before you exit stage left.
For even more ways to explore Sarasota, head to www.visitsarasota.com.
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