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Take State Rte 50 east and then head south a ways on US-41, past Tampa and St. Petersburg, where we embark on the south Gulf Shore segment of the trip. Our first stop is Sarasota and the famed Ringling Estate. It includes 22 galleries of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the lavish Ca d’Zan (House of John) mansion, and Mable Ringling Rose Garden. A visit to the waterfront estate isn’t complete without a leisurely tour of the Ringling Circus Museum where glitzy costumes, wagons, a miniature circus, and fascinating mementos from the historic Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus are displayed. Mote Marine Laboratory is a research facility best known for studying dolphins and sharks. However, it’s also a great place to learn about Florida’s whole host of marine critters. Manatees, stingrays, horseshoe crabs, and a 27’ preserved squid are all part of Mote’s magic. Catch an interactive show at the aquarium’s Immersion Theatre and board a pontoon boat for a narrated local cruise.
From Sarasota, we’ll take US-41 south all the way to Everglades City, with sightseeing stops in Venice, Fort Myers, and Naples. A bygone sharks’ burial ground just offshore makes Venice Beach a Florida hotspot for locating stray shark’s teeth. Try combing the sands around Venice Pier, where numerous individual black and white teeth are routinely found.
The Edison-Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers chronicles and celebrates the eminent careers of inventors-extraordinaire Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. While you’re there, take a river cruise and tour the estates’ laboratory, museum full of inventions, and botanical gardens. Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium may help slow your vacation pace by taking in the tranquil butterfly aviary, stargazing at the planetarium, and exploring “natural” Florida on the center’s boardwalks.
Plan to hit the greens in Naples at the area’s top-rated golf courses before proceeding to Everglades City, an unassuming, small town that hearkens back to early-1900s Florida. As the recognized entryway to Everglades National Park and the site of the Museum of the Everglades, it’s an ideal home base for arranging guided Everglades tours via airboat, pontoon boat, jet boat, canoe, or kayak.
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