If you’re looking for something interesting and entertaining to do while spending time in Sarasota, Florida, make sure you pay a visit to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. It’s not just a museum; it’s an experience! And it can easily be a full-day outing that you can enjoy with friends and family (even kids). But, before you head out, you may want to know a bit more about the museum and what to expect from the experience — as well as our own personal thoughts from our visit to the Ringling!
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What Is the Ringling Museum in Sarasota?
The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, founded in 1927 and built on 66 acres of land, is an ode to the incredible John Ringling and Mable Ringling, both of whom started from nothing and made their way to the top. The Ringling Museum is home to some of the most incredible exhibits and attractions for people of all ages to enjoy.
It’s a fun learning experience that allows visitors to learn more about the history of the circus and all the incredible things that have happened in the circus world over the past century. The Ringling Museum is the spot to visit for an entire day of fun and excitement, or even just a few hours.
About John Ringling and the Ringling Circus
John Ringling, a self-made entrepreneur, found success as one of seven Ringling Brothers. As one of the brothers, he agreed to collaborate with the Barnum & Bailey Circus to bring something incredible to people across the country through the art of travel circuses. He played a significant role in helping turn the circus into what it has become today, something families look forward to visiting when they want to see fun and adventure live and in front of their faces.
Choosing to combine two circuses into one for a truly remarkable, one-of-a-kind experience for viewers, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey debuted their new circus at Madison Square Garden for spectators to watch and enjoy. The move would change everything within the circus world as they knew it and quickly led to the Ringling Brothers becoming known as the Circus Kings, John included.
So, what makes John so special? He was the last surviving brother and operated as President of the company, handling everything from logistics to scheduling, management, and more with help from his wife, Mable.
Because of his remarkable success as President, John decided to buy the American Circus Corporation in 1929 for a staggering $1.7 million, becoming the proud owner of every single travel circus in the United States. His commitment to the circus world doesn’t go unnoticed and will continue to live on as people visit the Ringling Museum and learn more about him and his wild journey.
Sarasota – Winter Home of the Ringling Circus
Nearly 100 years ago, John Ringling decided it was the perfect time to transport the circus, known as The Greatest Show on Earth, from its original winter home in Bridgeport, Connect, shifting it to the beautiful, warm area of Sarasota, Florida. It was during a time when John and his wife, Mable, were investing in real estate in the area, ultimately falling in love with everything about the beautiful city of Sarasota.
While it was a huge decision to make, it benefited John Ringling and the winter circus as it became the biggest attraction in the city, capturing the attention of many and turning Sarasota into the place to be during the winter.
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What to See at the Ringling Museum
When visiting the Ringling Museum, you can expect to see and learn a lot. From the impressive gallery full of fantastic artwork to the tour of the Ca’d’Zan Mansion and so much more, you’ll spend hours gaining valuable new knowledge and discovering all the hidden secrets and exciting tidbits about the circus world.
Here are some of the exhibits you can enjoy, and our thoughts about them from our own visit!
Circus Museum at the Ringling
The Circus Museum at the Ringling is one of the best spots to visit during a trip! Honestly, I was a super interested in this at first. But after popping into the exhibit, I can say that this was one of the COOLEST exhibits! We loved it and found the whole collection absolutely fascinating!
The interactive museum has something for everyone, whether traveling alone, with other adults, or with the children. Have a fantastic time learning more about the history of the circus while trying your luck at walking on a wire or squeezing yourself into the bright-colored clown car. Get an inside look at some of the most stunning costumes worn by performers throughout the decades and even review the archives to learn more about past performances and how they’ve changed over the years.
There were so many fun things to explore and interact with at the circus museum. PLUS — they have seriously the coolest gigantic dioramas that show the massive scale of the production when the circus came to town. I knew it was a big deal back in the day, but this really put it into perspective. It was like building an entire town…and then picking it up to move it, and build it again somewhere else!
Do NOT miss the diorama room. You can walk all the way around and it actually takes quite a while. But it is really cool to see.
Ca’d’Zan (House of John) – AKA “The Ringling Mansion”
Would you like to see what it was like living in luxury as a circus leader? If so, you’ll want to stop by the Ca’d’Zan, a place that John and Mable Ringling once called home. Despite their relatively humble beginnings in life, the two would eventually live a life of luxury. The mansion was first built in the 1920s and quickly became the coveted winter home for the couple, who spent most of their winters beating the cold weather by living in this beautiful mansion.
The Mediterranean-style mansion takes up roughly 36,000 square feet, with more than 50 rooms sprawled throughout the property, and is quite the sight to see. Get a feel for how the Ringling couple lived their lives with a tour of this spacious, stunning mansion with its incredible architecture and interior design.
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
Another fantastic sight to see during your trip to Sarasota is the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Long before his death, John Ringling became a collector of artwork who found inspiration and joy in such astonishing pieces crafted by artists across the country. Meeting Mable, someone as enthusiastic about art as him, was like a dream come true.
The couple would eventually spend time attending auctions and bidding on different pieces, including tapestry and paintings, amassing an impressively large collection of artwork to use around their home. Now, much of that artwork is displayed for the rest of the world to see at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. If you’re an art enthusiast looking forward to seeing thought-provoking pieces that can leave you inspired, this is the museum to visit.
How Long Does It Take to Visit the Ringling Museum?
A trip to the Ringling Museum can take several hours, at minimum. It really depends on how much you want to explore. You could just make a quick trip of it, but if you really want to soak in the circus museum, mansion and also the art museum, then I think you do need the better part of a day.
If anything, plan to spend 3-4 hours minimum, just to ensure you aren’t super rushed. Still, I think you could spend even more time if you prefer.
Will Kids Enjoy the Ringling Museum?
Many kids will enjoy certain aspects of visiting the Ringling Museum. In particular, the Circus Museum is a really fun area. There are lots of colorful costumes and also many interactive exhibits, including some videos too. While the Ringling Mansion and Art Museum may be of less interest to children.
When the kids get restless there are open grassy park-like areas in between the various exhibit buildings where the kiddos can work out some of their energy. The David F. Bolger Playspace is a playground area on the property with slides, swings, and fountains too.
Is There Food Available at the Ringling? Or Can I Bring a Picnic?
Coolers are allowed if you’d prefer to save money and pack a lunch (just not during special events). Because you can expect to be there for quite a while, consider packing some snacks for the kids. The Dwarf Garden is a great place to set up a picnic and enjoy a break from exhibits.
But there are also multiple food options onsite around the property. You can visit Mable’s Coffee and Tea to grab a quick sip and a bite to eat or you can stop by The Ringling Grillroom, The Ringling Concessions, and The Wandering Chef Food Truck.
How Much Do Tickets Cost to Visit the Ringling & How Can You Buy Tickets?
Museum admission tickets cost $25 for adults, $23 for seniors at least 65 years old and up, $5 for children between the ages of 6 and 17, and are completely FREE for anyone five and under. Special discounts are available for military members, college students, and Florida state teachers. If you fall under one of these categories, you can enjoy access to the museum at a reduced price!
You can buy tickets directly on the Ringling website HERE, and we recommend you do because it makes it much easier and you can skip any line when you arrive.
Special Events & Free Museum Mondays!
There are many special events held at the Ringling throughout the year. Be sure to check their website for more information. Also, if you are looking to save some money you can visit the Ringling on Mondays when the Museum of Art and Bayfront Gardens are open to the public free of charge!
However, if you want to visit the Mansion or the Circus Museum, those still have regular admission fees even on Mondays.
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Where Is the Ringling Museum in Sarasota?
The Ringling Museum is located in north Sarasota along the bayfront at 5401 Bay Shore Rd in Sarasota, FL. It’s actually nearby the Sarasota-Bradenton airport as well as several local attractions and hot spots, including Sapphire Shores Park, Stephens Point, the New College of Florida, and the Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
The museum is just a short drive north of downtown Sarasota, and a bit further from popular visitor hotspots like Siesta Key (which is south of downtown Sarasota). Wherever you plan to stay, the Ringling is pretty convenient to get to from any part of town.
The Ringling Museum in Sarasota is a fantastic museum to visit here in Florida. It’s the kind of place you can visit with anyone, such as friends, family, and students, with much to do, see, and experience for hours on end. So if you’re looking for a fun way to learn more about John and Mable Ringling, their history with the circus, and their incredible collection of artwork, this is the museum to visit.