Trees and forests can add a lot of character to a place. While many people associate Florida with palm trees, the banyans of Florida's Gulf Coast are even more unique and intriguing to observe. Banyans are special in that they begin their lives growing off of other trees, sprouting vine-like aerial roots. They're considered mythical and even sacred in countries from India to the Philipines and beyond. The first banyan in the continental US was planted by Thomas Edison at his estate in Fort Myers; originally four feet tall, this original banyan now covers one acre of land. Banyans have spread and made their way north to Sarasota, where they can be seen in the wild and in gorgeously landscaped gardens.
Watch the forest come to life around you as you walk across the Myakka Canopy Walkway, located in Myakka River State Park. People of all ages and hiking ability will be able to conquer this trek with no problem, as long as you aren't intimidated by the fact that you'll be 25 feet in the air! The walkway was built in 2000, on an oak and palm tree hammock, and has a tower that soars even higher into the sky. It's the first in North America of its kind. Climb to the top of the tower and you might be able to spot a few eagles and other large birds, along with a great view of the beautiful trees. The Myakka River and other trails additionally make for a great day at this diverse park that's said to be among the best in the state.
Local nature enthusiast Marie Selby's botanical gardens were left to the public in 1975 for anyone wishing to bask in the endless beauty she cultivated around every corner. The property contains more than a dozen different gardens, all filled with unique flowers and trees like you're not in Florida anymore. The children's area alone is extraordinary enough to have you wanting to stay with the family for hours on end, and there are always new plants to learn about! Marie Selby Botanical Gardens also offers dining options, and the garden is always gaining new exhibits that bring people to the area time and time again. Plan your trip in advance by signing up for a class, or drop in for a random afternoon of relaxation among stunning orchids, twisting banyans, and calming water exhibits - you'll be glad you did!
For those wanting to get out in the sunshine and be right on the water, Bayfront Park and Marina is a great, safe place to head. Human and canine children alike are welcome in the park for a stroll, a glimpse of the dolphins, or playground fun! Aptly named for its location right on the bay, Bayfront Park is a great spot to watch the boats roll in and the waves crash along with them. The park is located in between Ringling Bridge and Marina Jack's, which features great dining spots on the water and live music and events for a whole day's worth of fun. Rent a jet ski or paddle boat for some additional fun, swing on one of the benches in the park, or have a picnic below the shady banyan trees tucked throughout the park.
The Ringling was once owned by one of the famed Ringling brothers of circus! John Ringling and his wife Mable built a mansion with more than 50 rooms here in 1924. The pair began collecting art and books during their travels around the world, and their collection quickly grew and developed into what is now the State Art Museum of Florida. A theater, library, and multiple collections of a variety of art make up this astonishing property that welcomes people from across the world each year. If art's not your forte, the Circus Museum inside might suit your fancy and educate you on the fascinating history of Ringling and his family's legacy. The estate sits right on the bay, providing views and landscaping, so pack a picnic and relax after an afternoon inside. The estate is home to 14 massive banyans that are nearly 100 years old, some that were around when Ringling lived here. It's one of the largest collections of banyans in the country, and they've grown to nearly take over some parts of the garden, even enveloping statuary in their aerial roots.
As you make your way through Florida's unique offerings of historical magic and fun in the sun, you'll find hidden gems everywhere you look. And, be sure to enjoy a tranquil walk through the one-of-a-kind banyan forests of Sarasota!
This Southwest Florida coastal gem is known for its top-ranked beaches boasting quartz white sand, shopping and dining, or even shark teeth to collect. After you’ve had your fill of the beach, enjoy the internationally recognized arts and culture scene or grab a paddle to explore mangrove tunnels.