Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year's Eve in Sarasota (For Grown-ups)

Happy 2016, everybody!

I hope everyone spent New Year's Eve in just the way they wanted to. I was fortunate enough to travel to visit my Dad in his condo in Sarasota again this year, so I thought I would do a post on a great way to spend the Eve, if you find yourself in that part of the country.
A typical Sarasota Bay sunset
This post is marked "for grown-ups" because this is not a typical travel itinerary that assumes you are a 20- or 30-something that wants to party hard and kiss that special new person at the stroke of midnight. But it is a fun and relaxing list of how we spent our New Year's Eve, both this year and last.
January breezes
Start the morning off with a delicious breakfast at C'est La Vie bakery and cafe in downtown Sarasota. This is a real French bakery run by actual people from France. It is so cool to hear everyone speaking French, and the croissants and crepes are beyond delicious. They serve full American style breakfasts, as well as fantastic French bakery items. You can sit indoors in the bustling little cafe or outside on the sidewalk, if the weather allows, just like they do in Paris.
Interior of C'est La Vie bakery (photo from their website)
After breakfast, enjoy a leisurely stroll among the cute shops along Main Street. Two of my favorites are the toy store Toy Lab, recently under new ownership, and chock-full of a huge variety of playthings, and the serenely beautiful Mercantile Home & Apparel, a clothing and home goods store with a carefully curated selection of gorgeous items that look to be right out of the pages of the most stylish lifestyle magazines. (Hint: they have fantastic sales). When I was there, I bought a beautiful wine-colored cotton gauze and sweater knit maxi skirt with gored panels and a beautiful drape. Perfect winter skirt!
Red cotton skirt from Mercantile
The downtown shopping area now has plenty of parking, due to some new garages, in addition to the street parking, but be aware that on New Year's Eve, they will start to cordon off some of the streets in preparation for the street festival that evening (more on that later). So plan to walk a bit from the parking space to the shops/restaurants.
An historic facade in downtown Sarasota
While downtown, you can pick up any groceries you may need for the evening at the really nice and large Whole Foods market there. This is a particularly good one with a big selection and a free parking garage. And after your shopping is complete, you may be ready for a quick bite for lunch. I recommend an authentic New York-style slice of pizza from Il Panificio. This is my (authentic Italian) family's favorite pizza joint in the area. We've never been disappointed by the pizza here, which features a just-crispy-enough-but-not-too-thin crust, as sauce that is a perfect balance between sweet and acid, and good cheese. They even offer gluten-free (although I haven't tried that one!). Come pick up a pie, and check out this little pizza joint, that also sells sandwiches and salads.

Mid-afternoon means it's time for a siesta by the pool. If you are staying at a hotel, I'm sure your hotel has a pool. It might not be warm enough for an outdoor swim (although it was the last two years I've been there), but it will be at least warm enough to lounge around outdoors. If it happens to be raining, just wait a bit because it usually doesn't last. In any case, grab a magazine or book, and just relax for a bit, so you have the energy to stay up to see the pineapple drop. Yes, I said pineapple! (More on that ahead).
The awesome pool at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota
After naptime, it's time to get all dolled up (but not too dolled up that you can't walk in those heels), and head out to an early dinner at Inkanto. This is a little authentic Peruvian restaurant, run by actual Peruvians, and it is fantastic. It is regularly on the best restaurants of Sarasota list, and for good reason. The food is so delicious and fresh tasting. Their specialty is the ceviches. These are cold seafood soups, and though that may not sound good to you at first, please, please give them a try. They are really good. I am not really a seafood or a cold soup lover, and I am a very picky eater, but I tried them and I love them. Inkanto also has a fantastic wine selection, so make sure you order some.

(photo from their website)
After dinner, you need to make a choice based on your feelings about very crowded places. My intinerary for the evening included a walk on the beach, a visit to the street fair, and then back to the condo to watch the fireworks off the balcony. If you dislike shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, I suggest you go to the street fair early, because the closer you get to midnight, the more crowded it will get. To the point that it's really hard to move among all the people and you might find it suffocating. If crowds don't bother you and you want a really party atmosphere, save the street fair for later.

We decided to go to the street fair early, and be home when midnight actually struck. So from Inkanto, we drove back to the downtown/Main Street area and parked in one of the free garages. This street party is good for all ages. Several blocks are roped off so that it becomes a pedestrian-only space. There are food stalls, souvenir stalls selling all sorts of tchochkes and party favors, (like light-up 2016 glasses), some live bands, some carnival rides, and some games. We enjoyed a cotton candy, and walking around people watching and getting in the celebratory spirit. Here is a slightly scary photo of one of the carnival games, where all the prizes were staring at me! Creepy!
Crreepy clowns!!

 After you get your fill of the street fair, I suggest you drive out to Lido Key, and go to the beach, (Lido Key beach), not to swim, just for a moonlit stroll. Bring a cardigan in case it's chilly, and prepare to kick off your shoes, and enjoy the sand in your toes. Although Siesta Key beach gets all the publicity around here for it's baby-powder-like sand, Lido Key beach is my personal favorite. I'm almost afraid to talk about it because I feel it's a little underrated and a bit of a hidden gem. But I love it because it is very easy to get to and park at, and once you park, boom! The beach is right there: no walking for yards and yards to get through a parking lot to the actual beach. It is a lovely one. There are usually not too many people there on New Year's eve, but there are some small groups of like-minded folks. This year, I purchased some of those pretty Chinese Lanterns ahead of my trip, from Sky Lanterns and they were very economical and good quality. It is fun to set them off over the water (they are biodegradable so no worries). Several other people were doing it, too, and they look so pretty glowing over the darkened water. By the way, in case you were wondering, it feels very safe at this beach and there is a quiet spirit of camaraderie with those who walk along the shore on New Year's Eve. It feels meaningful!
Setting off the lanterns at the beach.
After the stroll along this magical shore, head back to wherever your home base is, hopefully somewhere with a upper storey view of Sarasota Bay. At midnight, the town puts on a fantastic fireworks show over the bay that is not to be missed. From our balcony, we watched the fireworks, toasted with champagne, and some fancy chocolates (I recommend these deliciously fresh ones), and gave each other kisses and good wishes hugs for the new Year!

Fireworks over the bay.

All content and photos are my own unless otherwise mentioned and are copyrighted 2016 and can not be used without permission.