How would you spend $21.71?
On a new pair of espadrilles? A bouquet of flowers? Even if you’re an expert bargain hunter, you probably won’t find a better buy than the one a French explorer snagged in 1893 when he paid that amount for 130 acres off Florida’s west coast. But thanks to this steal of a deal, you have plenty of places to spend your cash.
Today, St. Armands Circle sits on the Frenchman’s former property in Sarasota, and offers shoppers a roundabout of more than 130 outdoor boutiques and restaurants.
Tropical plants and swaying palms welcome visitors to the pedestrian-friendly circle on St. Armands Key. Paths lead to stores with rare jewelry, designer clothing, and gourmet treats. Shoppers find familiar names such as Lilly Pulitzer, and surprising boutiques such as Cuddlebugs, which sells children’s clothing and toys.
“When you’re done shopping, you can relax at the beach just down the street,” says Marnie Matarese, president of the St. Armands Circle Association.
After careful research―and judicious use of credit cards―we completed our Christmas list, checked it twice, and narrowed down a few favorites you shouldn’t miss before heading to the shore.
St. Armands Gifts & Winery
Forget grapes―from tangerines to passion fruit, the Sunshine State has bottled its bounty. Most of the choices here aren’t available anywhere else in the world. Intrigue your taste buds with more than 30 options, from Cocoa Beach (a chocolate wine) to 40 Karat (made with 100 percent Florida carrots) and Mango Mamma. Sidle up to the tasting counter and sample the quirky concoctions before you buy.
Follow the husky sound of Elvis coming from the jukebox in this retro shop. Coca-Cola collectibles, clove chewing gum, Betty Boop magnets, and James Dean coffee mugs conjure memories among classic car models, Marilyn Monroe photos, and other iconic accessories. Don’t forget to treat yourself to the 32 flavors of ice cream. The Key Lime Pie is worth a double scoop.
Optional Art Fine Jewelry
Custom jewelry designers flaunt all that glitters inside this store. Each piece is one of a kind or from a limited-edition collection. Admire precious-gemstone earrings, black pearl necklaces, and diamond-crusted watches. Or bring your own bling―the jeweler can augment existing pieces for a fresh look.
Dream Weaver Collection
Representing more than 50 fiber artists, Dream Weaver boasts one of the largest “art-to-wear” galleries you’ll find. Hand-painted silks, hand-woven sweaters, and other distinctive pieces never go out of style. Plus, the selection of handbags will impress even the toughest red-carpet critic.
Sports Editions Gallery
Find an odd―but fantastic―mix of nautical treasures and sports memorabilia here. Buoys, ship’s wheels, lanterns, boat propellers, portholes, oars, and wooden signs bring the sea indoors.
If you can’t take your pups to the beach, bring them back a tropical souvenir. You certainly have room in your carry-on for cookies shaped like flamingos or beach shorts. And because your pet has been good all year, pick up a fuzzy sweater or sassy collar for a stocking stuffer.
For more information, call 941/388-1554 or visit starmandscircleassoc.com.
Visiting St. Armands
Where to Shop
St. Armands Gifts & Winery; 800/591-5330 or starmandswinery.com. ScoopDaddy’s; 941/388-1650 or scoopdaddys.com. Optional Art Fine Jewelry; 800/881-1418 or optionalart.com. Dream Weaver Collection; 941/388-1974 or dreamweavercollection.com. Sports Editions Gallery; 941/388-5400 or thestadiumgallery.com. Wet Noses; 941/388-3647.
Where to Eat
Breakfast: The Blue Dolphin Café offers “everything in the kitchen” omelets. Prices range from $6 to $10; 941/388-3566. Lunch: Crab & Fin restaurant serves fresh seafood, salads, and sandwiches. Prices range from $7 to $13; 941/388-3964 or crabfinrestaurant.com. Dinner: Café L’Europe is a fine-dining experience featuring seafood. Prices range from $7 for an appetizer to more than $40 per entrée; 941/388-4415 or cafeleurope.net.
Where to Sleep
The Longboat Key Club & Resort’s holiday rates start around $430 per night; 888/237-5545 or longboatkeyclub.com. Hotel Indigo’s holiday rates start around $164 per night; 941/487-3800 or srqhotel.com. Hotel Ranola’s holiday rates start around $129 per night; 866/951-0111 or hotelranola.com. The Ritz-Carlton’s holiday rates start around $229 for a water-view room; 941/309-2000 or ritzcarlton.com.