To be certain, many of us who love the islands travel in search of beach, beach, and more beach. The soothing hues of aquamarine blues and dreamy greens are the stuff our dreams are made of. When we can't be near the shore, we moon over postcard pictures of white sand and palm trees. But sometimes during an island getaway, even I have to admit, you reach a point where you enjoy a mini break from all that gorgeous beauty. This brings me to the topic of today's blog post. When the Island Runaways happen to be enjoying some of our favorite Gulf Coast isles, like Lido Key, Longboat Key, and Siesta Key, we always stop off at an awesome Sarasota shopping-and-dining destination: St. Armand's Circle. In case you haven't been, let me tell you a little about this Sarasota attraction...
(Historic St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
Sarasota is a Florida city located south of Tampa and southwest of Orlando. Crossing the Ringling Bridge from downtown brings you first to Bird Key and then to the tiny St. Armand's Key, where you'll find "the Circle." Yes, St. Armand's Circle is indeed shaped like a circle, and along its sidewalks are some delightful places to eat, browse, and discover goodies. By goodies, I mean treats like the decadent French macarons at Le Macaron, or Ben & Jerry's ice cream, or Kilwin's tempting fudge. And then there are the clothing boutiques.
(The popular Lilly Pulitzer shop on St. Armand's Circle. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
One of our favorites is Shore, a trendy, modern space with cool t-shirts, board shirts, bikinis, sundresses, and leather flipflops, all the gear you need for an island vacation. Another boutique a lot of people (by "people" I mean particularly women) like to explore is the iconic Lilly Pulitzer, with its happy-go-lucky prints and tropical colors. On the Circle, you'll find Tommy Bahama, Sperry, and many other places where you will be truly tempted to part with your dollars.
(A circle of temptation on St. Armand's Key. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
In the center of the action you'll find a leafy park, and at points you'll also notice statuary. St. Armand's does feel like the opposite of an air-conditioned mall; the experience of strolling down the sidewalk, perhaps with an ice cream or an iced coffee in your hand, is simply laid-back. The sun shines, the palm fronds rustle in the breeze, and life is good indeed. Do you need a gift for a special birthday? I'd head in to Décor de France for some delicious-smelling lotions, Paris-themed mugs, or pretty jewelry.
(Shopping can be a vital part of an island vacation. Photo by Island Runaways/Z.A.)
Then, there's the store called FantaSea which always fills my head with fantasies of owning -- and decorating -- a house on the beach. (Hmmm, which island, do you think? That's a hard one.)
(FantaSea conjures up a quick island getaway. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
Even if shopping isn't your thing, St. Armand's Circle has other attractions: yummy food! The store Shore that I mentioned earlier has a super groovy restaurant up top, with modern American comfort cuisine and tasty cocktails. When the weather's good, especially at night, they retract the "ceiling" and you get to dine under the stars. Then, there's the classic Cuban cooking at the Columbia, or refined seafood at Crab & Fin. Another of our favorites is the authentic Italian pizza at Venezia.
There are lots more shops and dining destinations that I haven't mentioned, only steps away from Lido Key and Lido Beach, and just a few minutes drive from Longboat Key. Despite the fact that Zickie and I have ambled around here many times, there's always something new and fun to see.
This past trip we actually took time to read the historic placards, and learned that in 1893 a Frenchman named Charles St. Amand's bought the land here. But in land deeds his name was misspelled! All this time I'd thought there was a saint named St. Armand, but no: it's simply a case of getting a word mixed up.
(It's just steps away from the Sarasota beaches. Photo by Laura Albritton.)
If you're exploring the islands around the Sarasota area, I hope you have time to investigate St. Armand's Circle. Whether you indulge in an ice cream cone, or a bright red swimsuit, it's a perfect place for creating positive vacation memories, and an awesome idea if you need just a mini break from the beach.