The Tampa Bay Area Sights

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

  • 5401 Bay Shore Rd. Map It
  • Sarasota
  • Educational Institution
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 07/06/2017

Fodor's Review

Administered by Florida State University, the museum encompasses the entire Ringling estate, far more than just the art museum; there's also the Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museums as well as Ca' d'Zan Mansion, the original Ringling home, and its expansive gardens. The entire compound covers 20 waterfront acres and also has the Historic Asolo Theater, restaurants, and a research library.

The Art Museum was a dream long in the making for John Ringling (of Ringling Brothers fame). Finally finished in 1931 after setbacks including a land bust and the death of his wife Mable, this enormous museum was originally built to house Ringling's mind-blowingly expansive art collection. You'll find works ranging from Indian doorways elaborately carved with Jain deities to opalescent baroque paintings from the likes of Rubens. There seems to be an endless number of rooms, themselves decorated in an appropriately gorgeous manner, housing these masterpieces. Contemporary art—both visiting

and permanent exhibits—has dedicated space here, as do rotating exhibits from the museum's permanent photography collection. A newer wing, with its facade of jade-tinged terra-cotta, houses ancient and contemporary works of Asian art. The museum's exit opens out into an enormous courtyard, over which a towering replica statue of David presides, flanked by royal palms.

Circus magnate John Ringling's grand home, Ca' d'Zan, which was built along Sarasota Bay, was patterned after the Doge's Palace in Venice. This exquisite mansion of 32 rooms, 15 bathrooms, and a 61-foot Belvedere Tower was completed in 1925, and today is the crowning jewel at the site of the Ringling Estate. Its 8,000-square-foot terrace overlooks the dock where Ringling's wife, Mable, moored her gondola. Mansion tours occur on the hour, and last half an hour. If you don't want a guided tour, show up on the half hour for a self-guided tour.

Allot some extra time to wander around in the Mable Ringling's Rose Garden, a lush labyrinth surrounded by towering banyans and full of rare roses and haunting statues.

Don't let the name Tibbals Learning Center fool you. This Ringling estate attraction offers a colorful glimpse into a most wondrous element of a bygone era: the traveling circus. The center focuses on the history of the American circus and the collection of Howard Tibbals, master model builder, who spent 40 years building the world's largest miniature circus. Perhaps the center's main attraction, this impressive to-scale replica of the circa 1920s and '30s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is an astonishingly accurate portrayal of a circus coming through town—the number of pancakes the circus cooks are flipping, the exact likenesses and costumes of the performers, the correct names of the animals marked on the miniature mess buckets—you name it. Tibbals's passion to re-create every exact detail continues in his on-site workshop, where kids can ask him questions and watch him carving animals and intricate wagons.

If you're looking for clown noses, ringmaster hats, and circus-themed T-shirts, don't leave before checking out the Ringling Museum of Art Store.

The Historic Asolo Theater is also on the estate grounds and is home to the Asolo Repertory Company.

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Sight Information


5401 Bay Shore Rd., Sarasota, Florida, 34243, USA

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Sight Details:

  • $25 (art museum only free Mon.); $20 Ca d'Zan docent tours

Published 07/06/2017


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