Fun & Free Things to do in Sarasota: the Ringling Grounds

I've lived in the Bradenton-Sarasota area for the majority of my life and been to the Ringling Museum dozens of times, but never knew that the grounds were just open to visitors for free.

With gigantic banyans, abundant shade and meticulously maintained landscaping and gardens, it's a very serene and beautiful place to hang out and a definite must-see for any Tampa Bay area locals and visitors.

Particularly in the winter time in Florida, it's an awesome way to spend an afternoon. Otherwise, it's too damn hot and I suggest that you pay the $25 to go inside and check out the art museum. Pro tip: It's actually free to the public on Mondays and admission price is reduced starting at 5 p.m.

The day we went, the weather was just perfect. Andy and I met my sister and her kids and we brought Publix subs along to have a picnic. I also brought along my trusty Sony a6000 to get some practice in with my new Sigma 30mm 1.4., the best lens ever made for the a6000, IMHO.

I've been asked by clients about photography at Ringling and it gets really expensive when you book a commercial shoot, but if you're just taking photographs for yourself, it's free. It's also helpful that the a6000 is particularly inconspicuous, which is something I really love about it. (I shoved it in my pocket once when they didn't want to let me bring it into The Greek in LA for a Hanson show. Yes, that Hanson)

What to do while you're there

The playground

When you enter through the main ticketing area, which is on the north side, one of the first things you happen upon is this really cool park. We spent the majority of the day here, because, kids, but the swings and slide are big enough for adult butts, too, so it was fun for all of us. There are many picnic tables in this area and it's also quite shady, so it's a great spot to have lunch. We stopped to play here on our way in and then again on our way out.

Side note: this was less than a year ago and already my six-year-old (who was five at that this time) niece, Sofia, already looks so much bigger. She's quickly losing her baby face and it's got me feeling some kind of way... :'( Also, no one can pull off stripes on stripes like this girl can. <3

The rose garden

Arguably one of the coolest things about the Ringling grounds is the meticulously maintained rose garden. You legitimately feel like you've stepped into some kind of Parisian, palatial landscape with the labyrinth layout and many statues. The kids were less impressed by this because they couldn't pick the flowers, and they had to mind the thorns, so we didn't spend a ton of time, but walked through for a few minutes and snapped a few pictures. Is it just me, or does my sister look like some kind of maternal, fertility goddess??

The Ca' d'Zan

While you can't go inside for free, you can walk around and see the beautiful architecture and windows. The house is situated on north end the Sarasota Bay and the huge marble patio faces the water and is open to the public. The stained glass is seriously breathtaking. The weather was so beautiful that we just hung out here for a while on the stairs, which were really fun for a 1-year-old to climb up and down. Sofia's face below says it all - a perfect encapsulation of the feelings of this day.

And more...

The rest of these pictures are just from around the grounds. It's really spacious and a great spot to go if you want to walk around, get some exercise, and have kids that need space to roam a bit while seeing some cool stuff. I hadn't intended on taking so many pictures while we were there, but everything was so beautiful and these kids are so photogenic.

Are there any other fun, free spots in Sarasota or Bradenton that you'd recommend for families and childless adults a-like?

I'd love to hear about it!


© 2020 Self-Obsessed Millennial Photography 

Bradenton, Florida

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