Destination of the day: Sarasota for the coulrophobic

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A certain member of our family, not a child, is deathly afraid of clowns, a condition known as coulrophobia.

Said person will probably be unhappy that I included this fact in our story, but it’s important that you know this because we’re talking about a place that was the winter home to one if the biggest touring circus families in the business.

In fact, Circus City’s what people traveling through Florida in the 1920s and 30s used to call Sarasota and with good reason. As the winter home of the Ringling Brothers, it attracted artists, illusionsists, and performers of every shape and size.

And clowns.

Which begs the question: How do you accommodate the unique needs of your traveling companions? They don’t do circuses in Circus City. So where do you go?

We started our visit to Sarasota on the beach. There are five islands along the gulf and we stayed in a gulf side vacation rental on Longboat Key. Its beaches are soft and white with gentle waves. And clown-free.

The best time to visit the beach is early in the morning. You’ll need sunglasses because the sun reflects off both the gulf and the brilliant white sand. Bring a net and see if you can catch some of the little fish that swim along the sea foam.

Our next stop was at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. What’s nice about the Mote is there are plenty of hands-on experiences led by scientists studying the species. You can see some of the work pioneered by the laboratory and observe marine biologists at work.

Plus, there aren’t a lot of underwater clowns. Except clownfish, maybe. We aren’t afraid of them. The closest we came to hijinks was with a friendly manatee and a few splashing stingrays. The kids were entertained.

Then it came time to face our fears and visit The Ringling.

During its heyday the center of the action in Sarasota was at John and Mable Ringling’s house. It’s known as the Ca’ d’Zan, but that’s just a really fancy way to say “John’s House”. It remains the center for arts and culture in the area but there are other nearby notable artist havens, including Towles Court.

Today the 66-acre compound, known simply as The Ringling, includes beautiful gardens, museums and a theater dedicated to the area’s history, botany and the performing arts. It’s worth visiting just to see John’s house and gardens, though the Circus Museum and Museum of art are fantastic. We haven’t been to the Historic Asolo Theater since we’ve had kids, but the repertory has always been regarded as first class.

Fortunately, we didn’t even have to face our fear of clowns at the Circus museum. The only evidence of clowns were the costumes and pictures of clowns.

But a certain member of our family, who will not be named, is sure the clowns will be back.

Kari Haugeto

Kari is a serial entrepreneur with an education addiction and a profound curiosity that, more often then not, fuels some pretty incredible adventures. Currently her attention is focused on social and digital media technology and she is developing a project with her family of five and a variety of sponsors to share their cross-country adventures online in an interactive, socially responsible, educational and authentic manner.


  • Carchar

    Nothing to do with coulrophobia, but on a cross-country summer camping trip in the 70′s, we found ourselves camping at Devil’s Lake State Park in Baraboo, WI, former home to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. We couldn’t close our tent properly, because our main zipper had developed a problem. It occurred to me that if a circus city didn’t have a place to mend a tent, who would. Sure enough, we were able to get our tent mended and the fix has held to this day. Keep travelin’. I love reading about it!