The cultural capital of Florida's west coast, Sarasota is home to a host of performing arts, especially during the winter season. To get the latest on what's happening any time of year, call the city's 24-hour Artsline (tel. 941/365-2787). Also check the "Ticket" section in Friday's Herald-Tribune (www.newscoast.com), the local daily newspaper; copies are usually available at the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Performing Arts -- At the FSU Ringling Center for the Cultural Arts, the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41; tel. 800/361-8388 or 941/351-8000; www.asolo.org), presents the Asolo Repertory Theatre. The Asolo Rep has a reputation as one of the finest regional theaters in the country, and hosts a conservatory for training professional actors. In addition to the Asolo Theatre, a 19th-century Italian court playhouse moved here from Asolo, Italy, in the 1950s by the Ringlings, the center uses the 487-seat Harold E. and Ethel M. Mertz Theatre, originally constructed in Scotland in 1900 and transferred piece by piece to Sarasota in 1987. The 161-seat Asolo Conservatory Theatre was later added as a smaller venue for experimental and alternative offerings. The complex is under the direction of Florida State University (FSU).
The city's other prime venue is the lavender, seashell-shaped Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, 777 N. Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), at 9th Street (tel. 800/826-9303 or 941/953-3368; www.vanwezel.org). Recently renovated, it offers excellent visual and acoustic conditions, and a wide range of year-round programming, including touring Broadway shows and visiting orchestras and dance troupes. It and the FSU Center host performances by the Florida West Coast Symphony (tel. 941/953-4252; www.fwcs.org), the Jazz Club of Sarasota (tel. 941/366-1552 or 941/316-9207; www.jazzclubsarasota.com), the Sarasota Pops (tel. 941/795-7677), and the Sarasota Ballet (tel. 800/361-8388 or 941/351-8000; www.sarasotaballet.org).
Downtown Sarasota's theater district is home to the Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave., at Cocoanut Avenue (tel. 941/366-9000; www.floridastudiotheatre.org), which has contemporary performances from December to August, including a New Play Festival in May. Built in 1926 as the Edwards Theater, the Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., between Main and 1st streets (tel. 941/366-8450; www.sarasotaopera.org), presents classical operas (in their original languages) as well as highbrow concerts. Next door to the Opera House, the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, 25 N. Pineapple Ave. (tel. 941/366-5454; www.thegoldenapple.com), presents cocktails, dinner, and a professional Broadway-style show year-round. The non-Equity Theatre Works, 1247 1st St., at Cocoanut Avenue (tel. 941/952-9170), presents musical revues and other works year-round.
The Club & Music Scene -- One of downtown's most popular places for a night out is Mattison's City Grille, 1 N. Lemon Ave. (tel. 941/330-0440; www.mattisons.com). In Siesta Key Village, the Old Salty Dog, 5023 Ocean Blvd. (tel. 941/349-0158; www.theoldsaltydog.com), offers a selection of British ales and an outdoor patio. Strolling St. Armands Circle provides for an entertaining night out, especially if you stop into some of the bustling bars and restaurants. Also on St. Armands Circle, the Patio Lounge in the Columbia Restaurant (tel. 941/388-3987) is one of the liveliest spots along the beach strip, featuring live, high-energy dance music Tuesday through Sunday evenings. And on Siesta Key, the pubs and restaurants along Ocean Boulevard in Siesta Village have noisy rock-'n'-roll bands entertaining a mostly young crowd -- SKOB, 5238 Ocean Blvd. (tel. 941/346-5443; www.skob.com), is a major hot spot, featuring fabulous happy hours and live music nightly; or you can retire to the pleasant confines of the martini bar at Blasé Café (tel. 941/349-9822) for live jazz. On Longboat Key, it's the Haye Loft at Euphemia Haye, 5540 Gulf of Mexico Dr., at Gulfbay Road (tel. 941/383-3633; www.euphemiahaye.com), command central for the cocktail set. Be sure to check out all the beach bars on Anna Maria Island and Bradenton Beach for some salty, sandy nights.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.