History of the Siesta Key/Sarasota Area

For thousands of years the Siesta Key/Sarasota area was inhabited by the fishing villages of the Tocobaga and Caloosa Indian tribes. The area was first explored by Europeans with De Soto’s Spanish expedition of 1513. By the early 1800s most of the Indians were gone by way of the epidemics carried by the Spaniards. European settlers came in the 1840s and were involved in cattle and fisheries.

The Ringling brothers, who had created vast circus wealth were attracted to Sarasota as a winter home around the turn of the 20th century. Many of the extended Ringling family relocated here as well. As well, wealthy Chicago socialite Bertha Palmer was the area’s largest landholder, rancher and developer of Sarasota. The Myakka River State Park preserve was once part of her ranch. She eventually also built a resort that made Sarasota a popular winter destination for the wealthy.

After World War One, an economic boom occurred and Sarasota was flooded with people seeking jobs, investment and the upper crust social scene. Hotels, banks and new housing subdivisions were created by Ringling family and other investors.

In the 1920s Owen Burns and John Ringling formed a partnership to develop the barrier islands off Sarasota. Snowbirds from the northern US began pouring in to purchase seasonal homes in the area.

Then came the crash of the late twenties. John Ringling was down to 400 dollars in the bank when he sold some rare paintings from his collections, barely saving the Ringling Empire. In spite of this serious downturn plans were effectively implemented by professional planners for downtown Sarasota. The Tamiami Trail (US 41) was expanded through town.

Thus Sarasota and Siesta Key continued to grow exponentially through the end of the 20th century.

The 2008 crash in real estate hit Sarasota hard as a much media reported epicenter of the crisis.

In the 2010s, things turned around once again making the area a modern urban beach and cultural center that continues to grow and prosper with tourism popularity. Its coastal beauty was its savior. Today the barrier island keys are heralded worldwide. Siesta Key was voted “Best Beach in the World” by AARP in 2015, and many years prior in the 2010s such accolades have also come from USA Today and Dr. Beach of Florida International University.

There are two easy ways to Siesta Key. Take I-75 south from Tampa to exit 207 Bee Ridge Rd. or exit 205 Clark Rd. then head west following signs 5.7 miles to the beaches. Bridge access offers two ways onto Siesta Key, one from the north through Sarasota with Siesta Dr., and one from the south by way of the Stickney Point Bridge.

There is a third scenic route out of Bradenton Beach going south through Longboat Key on Gulf of Mexico Dr. 789 to St. Armands Circle then onto John Ringling Blvd 789 to South Osprey Ave. Turn right to 758 turn right and follow down to Siesta Key.