Immediately to the south of the Ringling Museum, tucked between U.S. 41 and Sarasota Bay, the Indian Beach / Sapphire Shores neighborhood cultivates a rich, vibrant and vital northern Sarasota community—an often-overlooked waterfront gem located between the airport and downtown, and immediately convenient to the University Parkway corridor.
The Indian Beach and Sapphire Shores neighborhood dates back to 1891, but it got its first boon in 1911, when John Ringling purchased 20 bayfront acres at what is now the westernmost terminus of University Parkway. His historic estate, including the 21-gallery art museum and Ca d’Zan, the bayfront Venetian mansion he built there, spawned a cultured and eclectic residential area immediately to the south that has thrived for more than a century.
Let’s start with the trees. Heading south from the museum, Bay Shore Road is lined with stately towering palms that give the impression of a royal procession. But soon enough, further into the neighborhood, one-hundred-year-old oaks arch over the properties and roadways, creating shady canopies that color the whole comfortable feel of the place.
Interspersed with those old oaks are homes of all ages and shapes in a delightful slew of architectural styles: 1920s Mediterranean Revival to 1950s ranch homes to modern, one-of-a-kind creations. Far from the sunbaked homogeny of newer, preplanned communities, here you’ll find cracker cottages alongside mid-century modern alongside Mizner-inspired masterpieces.
In addition to being key to the area’s personality, these eclectic homes present prospective homeowners with a range of options for both size and price. There are multi-million-dollar bayfront mansions hidden away right here in the heart of the city, and the neighborhood also offers some of southwest Florida’s most affordable waterfront properties as well as one-of-a-kind family dwellings.
Then, there are the people. Residents and homeowners here range from retirees to families to professors and college kids—art students attending the nearby Ringling College of Art and Design, just across U.S. 41, or philosophical free-thinkers from the academically lauded (and notably unconventional) New College of Florida, just north of the museum.
Many people here are patrons of the arts, who savor living a stone’s throw from the Ringling, Asolo Rep and the Sarasota Ballet on the northernmost border of the neighborhood, as well as the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and Sarasota Orchestra a mile and a half to the south. For a peaceful afternoon, the Ringlings’ ample estate is as idyllic as ever, with massive banyan trees and a stunning view from the Ca d’Zan’s marbled terrace. It’s possible to immerse yourself in culture for an entire week and never leave the neighborhood.
Like the varied architecture, the diversity of people contributes to a warm, welcoming attitude. Anything goes.
Everyone greets each other on the street: neighbors on foot or on bicycles, picking up their newspaper in the driveway, walking their dogs, picking up their kids from the crowds of elementary school children attending Bay Haven School of Basics Plus. Because of the way the neighborhood is tucked aside and along the water, it doesn’t act as a through-way for traffic. There are few cars, and the ones that do come through drive slow to take in the scenery. Pedestrianism is part of the culture here; walking and biking are encouraged.
Waterborne recreation takes place, too. In fact, Indian Beach and Sapphire Shores allows almost unprecedented access to the bay for all its residents—not just the ones with waterfront property. Kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders launch their craft at Indian Beach Park, an ample bit of sandy shoreline at the end of Virginia Drive. In addition, there’s the Sun Circle access at Stephen’s Point just south of the museum, as well as the New College waterfront farther north, where sailing students practice their skills and dog owners take their pets for a bit of exercise.
In the evening, neighbors here come together for friendly, extended conversations. People from all industries—college faculty, lawyers, Teamsters, contractors—gather for laid-back, after-work pints at the area’s true neighborhood pub, what was once called Growler’s and has now been renamed “The Mable” in honor of John Ringling’s wife—ostensibly the neighborhood’s founding mother. Whatever its name, this pub has long been the sort of “everybody knows your name” go-to watering hole where conversations carry across the bar.
Others take their evening stroll, wine in hand, down to the Indian Beach Park for nightly, impromptu sunset-viewing ceremonies. There’s a wooden deck with benches and a railing, plus stairs that lead down to the sand, where dogs and children play along the shoreline. On any given night, it’s easy to find friends there. Often the conversations last long after dusk, as the stars come out over the water.
Sarasota as a whole is an eclectic town with stunning natural resources and a vibrant history in the arts and architecture—the sort of place that’s difficult to summarize. Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores manages to bring so many of the area’s disparate delights together in a way that encapsulates the spirit of the city like no other neighborhood.