Ringling Museum: Exploring Art, History & Gardens


The Ringling Museum, officially known as The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, is a sprawling cultural and historic complex located in Sarasota, Florida.

Established in 1927, the museum was the brainchild of John Ringling, one of the five original Ringling brothers who founded the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. John, who served as the circus’s primary investor and manager, built a fortune through his ventures and amassed an impressive art collection over the years.

In 1911, John and his wife Mable purchased land in Sarasota to construct their winter home, Ca’ d’Zan, a Venetian Gothic-inspired mansion completed in 1926. In the following years, the couple also developed the idea of creating an art museum on their property to showcase their extensive collection and share it with the public.

Tragically, Mable passed away in 1929, but John continued their shared vision and opened the Museum of Art in 1931. The museum’s initial collection focused on European paintings, particularly Baroque art, with works by renowned artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Velázquez.

Ringling Museum Architecture
Glenn Meyer

Following John Ringling’s death in 1936, the state of Florida took ownership of the museum, in accordance with his will. Over the years, the museum has expanded significantly, with the addition of the Circus Museum in 1948, the Historic Asolo Theater in 1952, and the Bayfront Gardens.

What to See in the Museum?

The Ringling Museum Complex is a multifaceted cultural destination in Sarasota, Florida, featuring a diverse range of attractions that cater to various interests. Spread across 66 acres, the complex is home to several distinct sections, each offering a unique experience for visitors:

  • Ca’ d’Zan: This opulent Venetian Gothic-inspired mansion was once the winter home of John and Mable Ringling. Visitors can tour the meticulously restored residence, admire its stunning architecture, and get a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of the Ringlings.
  • Circus Museum: Dedicated to preserving the history of the American circus, the Circus Museum showcases a vast collection of circus memorabilia, including rare posters, costumes, and circus wagons. The centerpiece of the museum is the impressive Howard Bros. Circus Model, a miniature replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in its heyday.
  • Museum of Art: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of European, American, and Asian art, with a focus on Baroque masterpieces. The museum also features contemporary works and regularly hosts temporary exhibitions, making it a dynamic destination for art lovers.
  • Historic Asolo Theater: Originally built in Asolo, Italy, this 18th-century theater was dismantled, shipped to Sarasota, and painstakingly reconstructed within the Ringling Museum Complex. The theater now serves as a venue for various performing arts events, including plays, concerts, and ballet performances.
  • Bayfront Gardens: The complex also boasts lush, beautifully landscaped gardens overlooking Sarasota Bay. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll through Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden, take in the stunning waterfront views, or explore the various sculptures scattered throughout the grounds.
Ringling Museum Big Garden
David Herszenson

The Ringling Museum Complex offers a rich and diverse cultural experience, making it an essential destination for anyone visiting Sarasota, Florida. With attractions ranging from historic architecture and art collections to circus history and tranquil gardens, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Ca’ d’Zan

Ca’ d’Zan, which means “House of John” in Venetian dialect, is the opulent Venetian Gothic-inspired mansion built by John and Mable Ringling as their winter residence in Sarasota, Florida.

Ringling Museum Cad Zan
Cindy P.
Ringling Museum Cad Front
Jay Larkin

Completed in 1926, the waterfront mansion showcases stunning architecture, exquisite craftsmanship, and lavish interior design. As a part of the Ringling Museum complex, Ca’ d’Zan offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse themselves in the luxurious lifestyle of the Ringlings during the Roaring Twenties.

The meticulously restored residence is filled with art, antiques, and decorative elements that reflect the couple’s refined taste, making it a must-see attraction for visitors interested in architecture, design, and the fascinating history of the Ringling family.

Circus Museum

The Circus Museum, nestled within the enchanting Ringling Museum Complex, warmly invites you to delve into the captivating history of the American circus.

Established in 1948, the museum lovingly presents the golden era of the circus, paying tribute to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As you wander through the museum, you’ll discover a treasure trove of circus memorabilia, such as vintage posters, vibrant costumes, and beautifully crafted circus wagons.

Ringling Museum Circus Museum
Ringling Museum Circus Museum Train
David Herszenson

One of the museum’s highlights is the mesmerizing Howard Bros. Circus Model, a meticulously detailed miniature replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the height of its glory.

John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is home to a remarkable collection of art, spanning various periods, styles, and regions.

Visitors are especially captivated by the museum’s exceptional assortment of Baroque masterpieces, featuring works from renowned artists like Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Paolo Veronese. Rubens’ “The Triumph of the Eucharist” series is a notable example, showcasing his extraordinary talent in capturing movement, color, and emotion.

Ringling Museum Exhibits
Ringling Museum Collections

Beyond European art, the museum proudly displays an impressive selection of American, Asian, and contemporary pieces. This diverse array of art offers guests a rich and engaging artistic journey through time and across cultures.

With such an expansive collection, the Ringling Museum warmly invites art enthusiasts to explore and appreciate a vast range of masterpieces, all housed under one welcoming roof.

Historic Asolo Theater

The Historic Asolo Theater, originally built in the late 18th century in Asolo, Italy, has a rich history. In the 1950s, the Italian government dismantled the theater to save it from potential damage due to a nearby hydroelectric project.

A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr., the Ringling Museum’s first director, discovered the disassembled theater and decided to bring it to Sarasota. The theater was carefully shipped to Florida, where it was meticulously reconstructed within the Ringling Museum Complex, reopening in 1952.

This relocation ensured the preservation of this architectural gem and provided Sarasota with a stunning venue for performing arts.

The Historic Asolo Theater hosts a diverse range of performances and events, showcasing various forms of performing arts. Visitors can enjoy plays, concerts, ballet performances, operas, and even contemporary dance shows.

The theater also serves as a venue for film screenings, lectures, and panel discussions. The versatility of the Historic Asolo Theater makes it a vital part of Sarasota’s vibrant cultural scene and an essential feature of the Ringling Museum Complex.

Bayfront Gardens

The Bayfront Gardens at the Ringling Museum Complex are a beautiful and serene outdoor space that spans approximately 66 acres, offering visitors a chance to enjoy the lush landscape and picturesque views of Sarasota Bay. The gardens are carefully designed and maintained, showcasing a variety of flora, sculptures, and architectural features that make them an enchanting destination within the museum grounds. Some of the key features of the Bayfront Gardens include:

  • Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden: Established in 1913, this formal rose garden was designed by Mable Ringling herself. It features a diverse array of rose species and cultivars, creating a colorful and fragrant display that captivates the senses.
  • Millennium Tree Trail: This walking trail meanders through the gardens, highlighting a collection of rare and exotic tree species from around the world. Informative signs along the trail provide insight into the unique characteristics and ecological importance of these trees.
  • Secret Garden: A peaceful retreat, the Secret Garden features a tranquil pond and quiet seating areas where visitors can relax and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
  • Dwarf Garden: This whimsical garden features a collection of 18th-century Italian statues depicting mythical creatures and classical figures, all set within a carefully manicured landscape.
  • David F. Bolger Playspace: Designed as a fun and interactive area for children, the playspace incorporates elements of art, history, and nature, encouraging creativity and exploration.
  • Sculptures: The Bayfront Gardens are also home to numerous sculptures, both modern and classical, that are thoughtfully placed throughout the landscape, creating an engaging outdoor art experience for visitors.

Ringling Museum Sculptures
David Herszenson
Ringling Museum Garden Sculptures

Hours of Operation and Admission Fees

Hours of operation and admission fees for the Ringling Museum vary, so it’s essential to check their website for the most up-to-date information before planning your visit. Generally, the museum is open daily, with the exception of certain holidays. Visitors can purchase Ringling Museum tickets online or at the museum’s admissions counter.

Admission fees typically include access to the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and Bayfront Gardens. There may be additional fees for visiting Ca’ d’Zan, attending special exhibitions, or participating in guided tours. Guided tours offer an in-depth look at the museum’s various attractions, led by knowledgeable docents who can provide valuable insights and historical context.

Ringling Museum Big Garden Sculptures
David Herszenson

Keep in mind that hours of operation and admission fees are subject to change, so it’s essential to visit the Ringling Museum‘s website for the latest information before your visit. This will ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience as you explore this fascinating cultural destination in Sarasota, Florida.


What day is free at Ringling Museum?

The Ringling Museum offers free admission on Mondays, specifically for the Museum of Art. This provides a fantastic opportunity for visitors on a budget to enjoy the exceptional art collection housed within the museum.

Keep in mind that the free admission may not include access to other parts of the complex, such as Ca’ d’Zan, the Circus Museum, or special exhibitions.

Is Ringling Museum worth visiting?

The Ringling Museum is undoubtedly worth visiting, as it offers a unique and diverse experience for visitors of all ages and interests. With its world-class art collection, fascinating circus history, stunning architecture, and beautiful gardens, the museum provides an unparalleled cultural experience in Sarasota, Florida.

What is The Ringling museum famous for?

The Ringling Museum is famous for several reasons, including its extensive collection of European, American, and Asian art, with a particular focus on Baroque masterpieces. Additionally, the museum is well-known for its connection to the Ringling family and their famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The complex also houses the magnificent Ca’ d’Zan mansion, the former winter residence of John and Mable Ringling, which showcases stunning Venetian Gothic architecture and offers visitors a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the Ringlings.

How long should I spend at Ringling museum?

The time spent at the Ringling Museum can vary depending on your interests and the areas you wish to explore. On average, visitors should allocate at least 3 to 4 hours to fully appreciate the museum’s art collection, Circus Museum, and Ca’ d’Zan.

However, if you plan on attending guided tours, special exhibitions, or spending more time strolling through the Bayfront Gardens, you may want to allow for a full day to make the most of your visit to this extraordinary cultural destination.

How to get to museum?

Getting to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida is quite convenient, with options available for various modes of transportation. Located at 5401 Bay Shore Road, the museum is easily accessible by car, public transportation, or even by bike.

By Car: For those driving to the museum, it’s situated just off of the Tamiami Trail (US-41) in Sarasota. From downtown Sarasota, take the Tamiami Trail northbound, turn right onto University Parkway, and then make a left onto Bay Shore Road. The museum entrance will be on your right.

Visitors arriving by car will find ample parking available at the museum complex. The parking lot is spacious, and there are designated spots for visitors with disabilities near the entrance. Parking is free of charge for all guests, making it a convenient option for those driving to the museum.

By Public Transportation: The Ringling Museum is accessible via public transportation. The Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) operates several bus routes that stop near the museum. Route 30 is one option that connects downtown Sarasota to the museum, making it easy for visitors staying in the city center to reach the complex. You can check the SCAT website for schedules and detailed route information.

By Bike: For those who prefer a more eco-friendly mode of transportation, biking to the museum is another option. Sarasota offers numerous bike-friendly routes, and the museum complex provides bike racks near the main entrance for secure storage during your visit.


In conclusion, the Ringling Museum is a must-visit attraction in Sarasota, Florida, offering a diverse range of experiences for art, history, and nature enthusiasts.

From exploring the opulent Ca’ d’Zan mansion and delving into circus history to admiring world-class art collections and strolling through picturesque Bayfront Gardens, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.