Visiting the Ringling Museum and Ca’ d’Zan Mansion

Spend a day exploring the extensive Ringling Museum, a 66-acre museum complex in Sarasota, FL. You’ll find incredible examples of art, historic memorabillia and architecture at the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan mansion, Bayfront Gardens and more.

John Ringling was one of five brothers who founded and operated the famed Ringling Bros. Circus beginning in the late 1800s. His work on “The Greatest Show on Earth” earned him a small fortune and he became one of the richest men in America at the time. John and his beloved wife Mable purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota, and in 1924 began construction on a Venetian Gothic style mansion.

Ca’ d’Zan

Known as the Ca’ d’Zan or “House of John”, the 36,000 square foot mansion was completed in 1926. The staggering $1.5 million estate served as the winter home of John and Mable Ringling. The 41-room bayside home is filled with impressive architectural details and luxurious furnishings. Mable Ringling oversaw every detail of the design and construction of the home, and it was truly her own work of art.

Guided tours of the mansion are available for an additional fee. Check the website for additional pricing and information. Due to the delicate nature of the home and artifacts inside, all visitors must purchase a tour ticket prior to entering the home and photography is not allowed inside.

We recommend the Mable’s Tour of Ca’ d’Zan. You’ll get to experience the first and second floors of the home including the parlor, kitchen and living spaces, John and Mable’s bedrooms, bathrooms and more. We felt the tour was worth the price because it was very informative and not many pictures of the home’s interior are available online. All guests are also given a headset to wear to amplify the docent’s voice so you can hear everything!

photos courtesy of ringling.org

Museum of Art

The Ringling is the State Art Museum of Florida and home to one of the preeminent art and cultural collections in the United States. After the completion of Ca’ d’Zan, John Ringling built a 21-gallery Renaissance-style museum to house his extensive personal collection of paintings and art.

Ringling filled the Museum with European paintings, paneled rooms from the Gilded Age Astor mansion in New York, and ancient and medieval objects purchased from distinguished collections. Upon his death in 1936, Ringling bequeathed the Museum to the people of Florida.

The Art Museum is gigantic. An art lover could happily spend a day in this portion of the grounds alone. The galleries feature everything from antiquities to old masters, modern artists, bronze casts of iconic sculptures (includine Michaelangelo’s David), and the more recent addition of the Asian Art wing.

A 40-minute guided tour of the art museum comes with admission and is available Tuesday-Sunday.

Admission to the Art Museum is free every Monday!

Circus Museum

While the Ringlings did not create this portion of the grounds, it pays homage to the legacy they created with the circus. The museum features memorabilia from the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus like colorful costumes, props and posters. A portion of the museum was under renovation during my visit but is slated to open in early 2020.

The Tibbals Learning Center houses additional posters and memorabilia, plus interactive exhibits like a tightrope walk and clown car. But its most impressive feature is the 3,800 square foot Howard Bros. Circus Model, a 44,000-piece re-creation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This amazing exhibit is a must-see.

Guided tours of the Circus Museum are offered Saturday-Tuesday at 12pm and 1pm, depending on docent availability, and are included with admission.

Bayfront Gardens

The extensive Ringling grounds showcase amazing banyan trees, tropical plants and palms, and Mable’s Rose Garden. You can also view the Ringlings’ final resting place in the Secret Garden near the mansion.

If you choose you can take a guided tour of the grounds on Mondays for an additional fee. But we think it’s just as fun and awe-inspiring to wander the gardens at your leisure.

Before You Go

  • Admission cost is $25 per adult and $5 per child. There are several discounted admission options, so be sure to check the website before your visit.
  • The admission price is only to visit the museums. If you would like to simply wander the grounds and enjoy the views of the bay, it’s free!
  • Open daily from 10am – 5pm
  • We recommend allowing at least 4-5 hours to explore the whole complex especially if you plan to do a guided tour
  • The grounds are expansive – you’ll be doing a lot of walking on your visit to the Ringling. Wear comfortable shoes! The mansion is about a 1/2 mile trip from the visitor’s center. It’s scenic and if it’s a nice day you will definitely enjoy the walk.
  • However, complimentary golf cart shuttles are available to take you between the different buildings if you wish.
  • If you plan on taking a tour of the home, make sure you purchase it at the visitor’s center with your admission. You will need to select a tour time and present a ticket.
  • Parking is free and is available in the front parking lot of the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.
  • Picnic areas are available throughout the grounds and you are able to bring your own food and drink.
  • There is a cafe in the visitors center and another small cafe out in the grounds. The Muse restaurant is also open in the visitors center. We found the dining options to be overpriced and a bit limited. We would suggest eating a big meal before visiting or bringing your own lunch.

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