A century in the making, we reflect on the unbelievable history of Sarasota’s hottest destination and what’s next
oday, St. Armands Circle is known throughout the world as a destination for quality and original goods, dining, services and experiences – all delivered in a casual yet luxurious, open-air setting.
It’s certainly a far cry from what it was when Charles St. Amands became the area’s first homesteader, snatching up nearly 132 acres of what essentially was a mangrove swamp at the 1893 price of just under 20 bucks. There, he fished the Gulf and Bay and raised produce to take by boat to the market at City Pier in Sarasota.
Though the pioneer’s name remains on the property (unfortunately misspelled due to an error on a subsequent deed), it was sold in 1917 to circus magnate John Ringling. A rich man with big ideas, his visions for the land included residential lots, a circular shopping area and a bridge and causeway to join it all with the mainland.
For a while, it was a colorful story of elephants doing construction and circus bands playing in the park before the nationwide depression shattered the entrepreneur’s dreams, leaving the site dormant. It would be the 1950s before commerce resumed on the Circle, ultimately evolving into its designer’s vision of palm-lined medians and tropical plantings, providing an elegant showcase for what would become nearly 140 stores.
All these factors – what St. Armands Circle was, is and promises to remain to be – have created what members of its merchants’ association call the “spirit” of their unique community.
In a desire to share that spirit with future generations, the St. Armands Circle Association has paved forward towards refining the community’s brand for a new century. Created in conjunction with the St. Armands Circle Business Improvement District and the City of Sarasota, the campaign is designed to preserve and reinvigorate the Circle as a distinctive destination for local residents, regional visitors and tourists.
According to leaders at the St. Armands Circle Association, the Circle stands alone in its identity and value for visitors. Its setting as an immersive outdoor shopping and dining destination provides a breath of fresh air from the ordinary. Further, it provides a perfect playground for building memorable days drenched in Florida sunshine and rich history.
The Circle’s charming combination of old and new, excitement and serenity blended perfectly into a singular destination for all is on full display at its inner ring. There, the picturesque park provides a conduit to natural beauty and the area’s longstanding connection to the circus. The circle of lush greenery acts as a natural center stage for celebrating circus’ top performers via a series of plaques called the “Ring of Fame.” Also nestled between the palm trees, visitors can find Victorian-style statues and, often, immersive special events.
With the addition of a recently constructed garage, the Circle has some 1600 parking spots available for those driving from nearby Downtown Sarasota or beyond, across the Bay’s sparkling blue waters. Street parking is free on weekends and holidays, and garage parking is free on Sundays and holidays.
With a lot to do in one space, a trip to St. Armand’s can be a full day of enjoyment for visitors. From rich history to natural beauty, world-class shopping to gourmet, mouthwatering bites amid a European feel, there’s something for everyone, now and for the century ahead.
You can sign up for the St. Armands Circle digital newsletter, “Life on the Circle,” here to find the latest on shopping, dining, and event experiences.